Dilemmas for Doctoral candidates

October 4, 2014

Doctoral candidates face the two challenges of making a contribution to knowledge and of defending their claims against the toughest of scrutiny. The methodology of conceptual mapping and examination of dilemmas offers an additional research approach

The principles were outlined in 2006 in the first edition of the book Dilemmas of Leadership, a post-graduate teaching text. An earlier LWD post gives a brief overview.

The approach

The approach draws on a social constructional treatment of knowledge generation and validity testing. In its initial use, it was offered to business executives to assist in their evaluation of leadership texts. In this post, it illustrates a way of simplifying the epistemology offered on doctoral courses in business and the social sciences. In its earlier application, executive MBA students are encouraged to study emerging leadership news stories, deriving a conceptual map from each. This ‘map reading’, like any life skill, improves with active and regular practice. ‘Map-testing’ includes processes found in research methods courses for investigating the reliability of the information and its validity. These two processes feed into the third, in which the derived and tested maps of a story are examined and compared with the personal map of the student. This process permits personal and experiential learning. Termed ‘map making’ this is the revised map of the student beliefs about leadership for personal reflection and class discussion.

Beyond the basic system A range of additional procedures are introduced to support the basic system. These include a search for dilemmas as significant hard-to-resolve decisions confronting the actors in the stories, these include the personal dilemmas for the student (‘the most important leader you study is yourself’).

Extending the process to doctoral research The process offers possibilities for modification for direct application in research studies even at the level of doctoral investigations. A workshop opportunity has arisen which will be reported here in a future post.

Update for Doctoral students The brief for the doctoral workshop was The Evolution of Leadership and Management and its links with Theories of Organisation: Bringing it all together. The syllabus indicated that the workshop follows the student’s journey through different perspectives on organisation and management theory (modernism, scientific management & Bureaucracy); neo-modernism (human relations and culture management); critical perspectives; postmodernist organisation theory). Students were advised to revise these topics to be prepared for discussion at the workshop.

Further updates

Further updates will report on the workshop and add discussion points from subscribers.

October 24th 2014

An illustration of the mapping approach applied to a leadership text which asks the question ‘are managers sacked for breaking the rules and leaders sacked for not breaking them?’

November 1st, 2014

Bridging the gap between the empirical and the social

One substantial difficulty for doctoral students is the gulf between the methods of enquiry in the empirical sciences and the social sciences. The former retains the methodology of the dominant rational model. This perspective is one I acquired in my schooldays and have retained as a technical manager trained to examine technical and economic problems through the methodology of scientific inquiry.

My attraction to a second approach involving the methodology of the social sciences grew, as I became familiar with the ideas of the social construction of reality. Nevertheless, I felt that moving completely from a scientific to a social scientific approach was likely to be switching from one horn of a dilemma to another.

November 3rd 2014

Two authors helped me find a way of bridging the gap.

The first was Professor Gail Fairhurst in her book Discursive Leadership in which she shows how social constructionist approaches are able to co-exist successfully with the more dominant model of cognitive psychology.

The second insight came from the work into what Jim Collins called ‘the  Genius of the And’.  Fairhurst and Collins had in quite different ways addressed a way of dealing with dilemmas. In each case, the approach was a form of creativity to escape from ‘either-or’ thinking.  The outcome is a bridging of the gap between the dominant rational model of the sciences and the social constructionist approach of the social scientist

January 5th 2015

This leadership case is a nice way to test understanding of ways of applying a qualitative analysis

A Blog is Born: Advice to a new blogger

January 10, 2014

Tudor Rickards

You have started a business course and you have to write a blog post based on a current news story. Here’s one approach based on experiences of writing and publishing over a thousand such posts

I write two leadership blog posts each week for Leaders we deserve. In six years, I have never failed to find suitable news stories. Here are some tips which have worked for me as I clocked up over a thousand posts for Leaders We Deserve.

The Mapping principle

I think of what I am doing as map reading, map testing and map making. You can find a lot of posts if you search for map making on this Leaders we deserve site. A fuller explanation is to be found in Chapter 1 of Dilemmas of Leadership.

Map reading refers to your examination of the primary source or sources of your news story.
Map testing is when you look more carefully at the news story to assess its credibility. That is why looking at more than one source of the same story is valuable. Here I like to use my imagination by trying to guess the most urgent dilemmas facing key decision makers.
Map making is ‘getting personal’ by relating the news stories to your own experiences. If you understand the post you can change that map and comment on what you have done. Even more important, you may have made some change to your own personally important knowledge. For example, a story may show you a new interpretation about a piece of information or of your belief. The map making refers to changes in your maps or to your version of the original news story.

Here is a post with a three minute test with ten questions. You can take it to test your understanding of the mapping principle.

Active search

Each day I search actively for a breaking news story which has an easy to understand main point often expressed in its headline. If I see such a story with a leadership implication. I become more interested, and test if it is attracting social media interest on Twitter.

Writing your post

Stage one is reporting your map reading in your own words.I cut and paste the core of the story, always with the source acknowledged, I hope. However, if you are working on a student assignment, check with your tutors and with examination regulations if you are worried about word limits, citation style, and acceptability of cut and paste efforts.

Beyond factual reporting and IMHO

The post becomes more interesting and will gain more approval and ‘likes’, even from examiners, if you add something new. Map-testing is one way. Introducing interpretations or personal judgement is fine, but make sure you indicate that you are not mixing beliefs with assertion of accepted facts. On the Internet this is still sometimes signaled by IMHO which stands for In My Humble Opinion.

An example

This week I carried out my active searches as usual. On Monday [January 6th 2014] I reported on on typical story about the future of Hollywood blockbusters. You can read it as an example of my mapping approach. My map reading showed the debate about the future of blockbusting films in face of new technology. My map testing suggested to be that there was plenty of evidence to suggest that Hollywood faced dilemmas of escalating costs of movie making and risks of trying out original story lines.

Map-making suggested that I had seen something similar in a quite different context, namely in the pharmaceutical industry, and this gave me a hook for the story. Maybe leaders in Big Pharma face similar dilemmas to those facing movie makers. The old models are failing: should they work harder to fix them or change to new business models? Can they risk the company on one or two as yet undiscovered innovations?


If you want to try out this system, to help you write a blog, start today. Look at the breaking news stories. Try to capture their core point or headline. Test the assertions in the reported stories. Look for tough decisions or dilemmas facing leaders. See if the process links with your personal beliefs, the O in IMHO.

And revise thoroughly

And for most people, thorough revision pays off.

Good luck in your future blogging.

Trial of leadership and map-making quiz

November 29, 2013

LWD subscribers are invited to test-run a short [three minute, ten item] quiz. It is being designed for use by tutors on courses using the textbook Dilemmas of Leadership to reinforce the materials in chapter one [2nd edn] on the map-reading, map-making, and map-testing concepts.

Try your knowledge/intuition by clicking here

Improvements to the test could include more feedback on true/false answers, although there is a benefit from leaving an incentive to encourage students to take the test ‘before and after’ reading the required chapter of the textbook.

Tutors may keep records of class averages, also on a ‘before and after’ basis.

Political Mannequin Helena Torry in Prison Exchange Scheme

January 14, 2013

Helena TorryA bizarre story from Aberdeen in Scotland tells of a life-size dummy “arrested” and its creator released in what has been called a prisoner exchange scheme

In a recent Aberdeen City Council election, [April 2012] a creative protest saw a mannequin entered as a candidate with the name Helena Torry. Its purported election agent was Renee Slater, in real-life a political activist.

The authorities were not pleased, and began legal procedures against Renee for election fraud. At some stage Renee was incarcerated in a police cell briefly. When the dummy was recovered by the police, it was “held in custody” and Rene released.

Prisoner exchange

The “facts” of the case were taken and turned into the story of a political exchange between a dummy and its creator. Fact: the name of Helena Torry was entered on the electoral role. Fact: its purported agent Rene Slater was charged under the Representation of the People Act 1983. Fact: Slater claimed to have spent some time in a police cell and was released after the dummy was held by the police [Habeas Corpus act, 1649 to apply]

Renee Slater, who put the name Helena Torry forward to stand in the elections in protest against the candidates and their parties, won the case which had been brought by a council returning officer under the Representation of the People Act 1983. From these facts a story was constructed which is told with relish on the BBC politics show, where you can also find a U-tube of the interview, in which Renee tells the interviewer Andrew Neil [Jan 2013] that she had been in a police cell and was initially exchanged for the dummy.

It had been suggested that the dummy had shown more charisma than any of the other candidates.

You say Torrey I say Torry

The BBC is favouring the spelling Torrey. Other earlier stories and election posters have the spelling Torry.

Scotland the brave

There is a wit and vibrancy in this gesture which auger well for the forthcoming referendum on the possibility of an independent future for Scotland outside the United Kingdom.

Note to MBA students

You may find it instructive to apply the map reading and map testing approach to examine this blog post.

Government Minister says definition of child poverty is flawed. What does that mean?

November 15, 2012

David Laws speaking on behalf of the Government says that the definition of Child Poverty is flawed and needs changing. But to understand what he means you need a ‘map’ about the nature of definitions

Tudor Rickards

The Government Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith will say in a speech today [15th Nov 2012] that simply focusing on income levels is too narrow and other factors should be considered.

The newly appointed Schools Minister David Laws added:

“Traditionally we have defined poverty simply by income. But this is not enough. The experience of child poverty is about more than whether their family income this week is low.”

Debate on the nature definitions may seem abstract and academic while children in deprived financial circumstances are in need of practical measures to help.

In one sense I agree. Progress is less likely if a subject is not understood.

Working definitions

I find it useful to think in terms of ‘working definitions’ which are provisional and useful ways of promoting conversation. If we agree in discussion, we have reached a common ‘platform of understanding’.

Lexical definitions

A dictionary provides a set of lexical definitions, sometimes indicating which are archaic [no longer of common usage].

‘Correctness’ of definitions

Based on the context of the Minister’s remarks, he was talking about a search for a definition that would be ‘correct’, that is to say a true representation of something which may be empirical or conceptual. Politicians and law-givers can create one form of legitimacy for a definition ‘Child Poverty is as it was defined under the Poverty of Children act’, or ‘the Poverty of Children investigation’. Politicians would naturally prefer to have a say in what the ‘correct’ definition is. This makes it easier to defend policies by reference to the definition.

It is important to be aware of a pervasive belief that there is a ‘correct’ definition in the stronger sense of capturing the essential features of whatever is being defined.


Professor Keith Grint has argued in his books that definitions of leadership assume ‘essentialism’, [the ‘real stuff’] whereas it may be more value to consider leadership as being defined in terms of non-essential terms such as interpretations of reality ‘as we see it’.

Theoretical definitions

Investigative research requires yet another kind of definition which makes clear the ‘map’ being examined in the research, and offers scope for further enquiry or ‘map-testing’. In this case, the ‘map’ is that of Child Poverty. IThe politicians are attempting to help in the drawing up of the new map.

Where’s the pain?

The clinical and ‘scientific’ approach sets aside real world suffering and pain. Political scientists have the trickier task of indicating they are primarily concerned with more than definitions.

The answer to the question “what’s the difference between map-reading, map-making and map-testing?”

January 27, 2012

Why is is often difficult to distinguish between conceptual map-reading, map-testing, and map-making? Set theory provides one explanation

Big maps have little maps…

One explanation is that any conceptual map draws on other previously created maps. Sometimes you will find yourself reading a map, which itself indicates some map-testing that had gone on during the map-making. From that starting-point it can be seen that map-reading, map-testing, and map-making are not totally isolated one from the others.

Sets within sets

In set theory, the concept might be examined as overlapping sets (Venn diagrams). This offers hope of isolating out the three ‘pure’ processes, plus various examples of overlaps, including the triple overlap of map-reading, testing, and making.

Recursiveness in systems

A related way of looking at it (another mapping) is through the wider systems notion indicated above of recursiveness. This proposes that systems replicate fundamental aspects of themselves at different levels of system. (Think biological cells, organs, individuals, sub-species etc).

That’s why the question does not have a simple answer

We have two theoretical possibilities suggesting why the question does not have a simple answer.

The good news

The good news is that those same principles can be put to positive use, as you reflect on your own mapping processes. If you believe you are primarily map-making, that’s your map of what you are doing. If you are testing (beliefs), you are map-testing (beliefs). This ‘get out of conceptual goal’ card relies on another powerful map known as the interpretative or sometimes the sense-making map. But that would be the subject for another post

An example from Tennis

I’m ‘reading’ (literally, on my PC) an account of the tennis battle at the Australian Open between Andy Murray and Novak Djokovic. The score is one set all. The commentators say that Djokovic is fatiguing. That’s their ‘read’ of what’s happening. Someone adds ‘he sometimes appear to be struggling but isn’t’. That’s testing the fatigue idea.

I am noting the evidence that Murray may be having a mid-match slump or nerves. That’s testing another idea.

Djokovic recovers from his apparent fatigue. Does this test conclusively refute the ‘fatigue’ idea? Do we need the more subtle idea of ebbs and flows of energy?

Commentator says: “Whoever wins this set wins the match. That’s not a fact, that’s just what I think might happen”. Notice how the commentator shows awareness of the difference between a fact and a ‘map reading’ of ‘what might happen’.

Djokovic eventually wins a close match lasting nearly five hours. Murray on interview ‘reads’ the experience as evidence he is getting closer to the play of the World No 1 (and to Nos 2 and 3, Nadal and Federer)

Think map-reading as sense making

The Tennis story also shows how conceptual map-reading is rather like examining and making sense of a map.

I watched David Kelly’s evidence to the Parliamentary Committee

August 14, 2010

My recollection is that Dr David Kelly was under extreme stress while giving his evidence the the Parliamentary committee. I also recall on learning of his death that I was not surprised that the circumstances at the time pointed to suicide

Time plays funny tricks on memory. My current recall may be more based on TV replays of snippets of the original broadcast I had seen. I later became interested in the accounts of the ‘sexing-up’ of the ‘dodgy dossier’ and the unprofessional standards of journalism at the time which led to severe criticism of the BBC’s reporting and of their reporter Andrew Gilligan at the time.

My recollections were further refreshed by the Economist account this week as the story re-opened. That summary fits the standard narrative:

David Kelly was ..one of the world’s foremost experts on nuclear, chemical and biological weapons. He advised the British government on the matter, particularly in connection with Saddam Hussein’s Iraq. He was also one of the main sources for a claim by Andrew Gilligan, then a BBC reporter, that Tony Blair’s government had rewritten publicly-released intelligence to make it “sexier”, in the hope of justifying the Anglo-American invasion of Iraq in 2003. After Gilligan made his claim, Kelly was quickly identified as the source of the leak. A few days after a stressful appearance before a Parliamentary committee investigating Mr Gilligan’s allegations, he was found dead in the woods near his Oxfordshire home. The official account (given in the Hutton Report) was of suicide. Dr Kelly had cut one of his wrists and swallowed over two dozen painkillers.

The current renewal of interest [August 2010] follows a letter published in the Times by a group including medical experts calling for a further enquiry, and picked up widely in the media including including a report in The Daily Mail.
Conspiracies about conspiracy theories

So-called conspiracy theories make good study material for students to practice their own powers of analysis. I have become fond of the idea of ‘map-reading’ (the material) ‘map-testing’ (exploring the merits of the material) and ‘map-making’ (deciding for yourself how you chose to make sense of the story). With experience the map-tester looks for the evidence of motives behind the text. John Rentoul in The Independent, and The Economist, for example, suspect ‘The Murdoch Press’ of the temptation to ‘sex up’ what may be a ‘dodgy story’ (Heaven Forbid).

My own map-testing alerts me to the possibility that any report using the term conspiracy theory is also throwing doubt on the maps of other people… The Mail, and The Times stand accused of supporting a conspiracy theory that Dr Kelly was murdered, probably by agents of the State. Both John Rentoul, and the Economist’s blogger (‘Blighty’) find it difficult to account for the resurgence of the story on rational grounds. They point to the lack of plausibility of alternatives to the official line on Dr Kelly’s sad death. I find their arguments persuasive. However, conspiracy theories have a strength which goes beyond the rational. They can call fourth the response “You can’t be sure…” And we find ourselves engulfed in the complexities of conspiracies about conspiracies.

How reliable are the maps?

I’d rather any reader of my personal reflections to reach a personal conclusion. In a fast-breaking episode within a longer historical story it is difficult but probably advisable to draw provisional conclusions. I’m not sure that anything I write will change the views held by those who seem to have reached a state of total conviction about the affair.

“If you knew the difference between managers and leaders what would you do with the information?”

July 12, 2010

“Leaders and managers. What’s the difference?” The question is posed in management textbooks, and answered in some of them. But a more interesting question is “If you knew the difference between managers and leaders, what would you do with the information?”

Tudor Rickards

The following is written for students of leadership although professional managers and others with leadership responsibilities may also find it useful. Before addressing the more interesting question, let’s look at the apparently simpler one. “What’s the difference between leaders and managers?” It turns out that the question has been answered in different ways.

Yukl’s view

Gary Yukl, who has written a best-selling multi-edition textbook on leadership, provides one of the crisper of analyses of the issue. He notes that in writings about leadership, there is general agreement that the concepts of management and leadership are not identical. There is also considerable controversy over the degree of overlap of the two concepts. Yukl is among several leadership scholars who quotes Bennis and Nanus to the effect that “managers are people who do things right and leaders are people who do the right thing” (p 21 in Yukl’s 1985 edition).

Yukl then identifies a modified view. He lists a range of scholars including Henry Minzberg, Bernard Bass and John Kotter, all of whom conside that “leading and managing are distinct processes but they do not assume that leaders and managers are different sorts of people”. Yukl expresses his own conclusion that “defining managing and leadership as distinct roles, processes, or relationships may obscure more than it reveals if it encourages simplistic theories about effective leadership” (p6).

Northouse’s view

Peter Northouse, another author of an influential leadership text, follows Yukl, but gives more emphasis to the differentiation perspective, citing Zaleznik as an important example. Northouse identifies John Kotter as holding the milder view of differentiation between processes not persons. He notes that in his textbook “we will treat the roles of managers and leaders similarly, and not emphasize the difference between them.” (p10 in Northouse’s 2004 edition).


Confused? There are differences in the perspectives of what might be called the extreme differentationists such as Bennis and Nanus, (and Zaleznik before them) who consider leaders and managers to be distinctly different types of people; the milder form of differentiation (of processes but not necessarily people) supported by Kotter; and the view that there is a considerable degree of overlap in both the processes and the people (Yukl).

In the text-book Dilemmas of Leadership, http://cw.routledge.com/textbooks/0415355850/ these perspectives would be characterized as different maps. Note that they are not completely different, but retain shared features derived from earlier and well-respected maps of the terrain of management and leadership.

So does it matter?

The difference between leaders and managers seems to have been of importance to the distinguished authors mentioned above. They offer their particular perspective on the subject early in their text books, as if to get an important issue clarified or at least addressed (or in some cases as the theme of the article) they were writing. We can learn something from the writings of the authorities on leadership, but the issue remains unresolved, as we are offered differing answers. Some are clear-cut, distinguishing different kinds of people as managers and leaders (Bennis & Nanus; Zalenik). Others, such as Yukl, warn against the presumption of any clear-cut answer which risks over-simplification of underpinning theories of leadership and management.

Students of leadership will have to get by without a definitive answer to the question “what’s the difference between a leader and a manager?” And that brings me to my proposed different question. “If you knew the difference between managers and leaders what would you do with the information?”

This suggests that each leader, and each student of leadership, has to work out the answer based on personal circumstances. Earlier maps will need to be tested for relevance. Maybe it matters if you have to sit an examination on leadership. Or perhaps it matters if you believe you have a professional need to identify cohorts of people for two types of job, the one labelled jobs for leaders and the other jobs for managers. I have come across organizations whose recruitment process operates in such a way. It comes with a belief that people’s traits are more important than people’s capabilities to develop into roles they find themselves in.

To go more deeply

The various references and leadership authorities cited in this post can be found by reference to any of the three key texts mentioned: Yukl; Northouse; and Rickards and Clark (Dilemmas of Leadership).