Discursive leadership: a note on leadership style

June 23, 2014

Book review: Fairhurst, G.T., (2007) Discursive leadership: in conversation with leadership psychology, Thousand Oaks, Ca: Sage

Tudor Rickards

I became interested recently in Discursive leadership through reading a book on the subject by Gail Fairhurst, an American Professor of Communication Studies.

Many leadership styles have been proposed by practitioners and theorists. They include the charismatic style; those based on theories X, Y, and Z; Machiavelli; authenticity; and moral rectitude.

Discursive leadership may appear to be yet another leadership style. It may also provide challenging insights to a different way of thinking about leadership and the nature of styles.

Discourse and discussion

Readers not acquainted with the term discursive will recognize the similarities with the more familiar concept of discussion. Readers acquainted with post- modern writings will already be aware of discourse theory, which explores the processes of constructing social reality through texts and other narrative structures.

Professor Fairhurst is not describing a style. Indeed, the book rejects the popular view that leadership styles exist as objective phenomena. The departure point is whether a leadership style exists as an objective phenomenon with a measurable and observable essence. The widely- accepted view is that it does, so efforts to study and measure the style are afoot. Professor Fairhurst subscribes to the social constructionist belief that leadership and its various modes are beliefs constructed in social action. It is a point that has been applied to leadership by other scholars such as Keith Grint

This set me wondering whether such a discursive approach could be applied to other leadership concepts. Might charismatic leadership be considered as socially constructed? And how about Authentic Leadership not considered as a style, but as arising from the way in which a social group develops its notions of authenticity?

If Fairhurst’s ideas become more widely accepted, cherished notions of leadership style will receive much-needed revision.

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