Discursive leadership: a note on leadership style

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.

Comments

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5 Responses to Discursive leadership: a note on leadership style

  1. Allan Cameron says:

    Do the academic models of leadership styles have any enduring resonance outside the leadership literature or training class room? Not in my experience. Most organizations have competency frameworks that cover management and leadership roles with implied styles of behavior. However, these frameworks tend not to use the familiar descriptions of leadership style that are found in the literature. In the recent press coverage about Ed Milliband’s leadership potential (or lack of it), the criticism most frequently reported was the public’s doubt about whether he was up to the job. How would one of the leadership celebrity authors describe that? Hmm, perhaps he is a manager not a leader, perhaps he hasn’t reached Level 5 yet, maybe needs to work on his charisma, maybe he is not a blue ocean guy, perhaps he needs to improve his EQ?

  2. Harry Gray says:

    I think ‘leadership’ is just a weasel word and carries little agreed meaning. You cannot turn anyone into a leader by precept or even by training because every leadership situation is unique and is contextual.Much better to think about what ‘leaders’ actually do – basically they talk and listen or listen and talk. I prefer the ideas of conversation and dialogue as being the essence of leadership and management (its alternate term).Doing the right or appropriate things depends on ubderstading the situation and that can take a lot of talking.

  3. Thoughtful posts by Harry and Allan,

    I didn’t express clearly enough that Fairhurst supports the social constructionist perspective. She is a communications Prof writing about a conversation with cognitive psychologists.

    So she is helping to pop Harry’s weasel!

  4. Declan McKeogh says:

    Interesting post. Given that the ‘assumption of Mary’ was indoctrinated by the catholic church 600 years after the ‘event’ and the consequent constructed reality has since been followed by billions of Catholics, it’s not a big leap to at least consider the notion that leadership traits etc. are socially constructed. Extreme example I know. Hard to know where to begin and end with social constructionism. Looking forward to the workshop tomorrow.

  5. Ha, Declan

    I have skirted the issues of faith-based perceptions. Maybe during the workshop….

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