Bristol Leadership and Change Centre is delighted to be hosting the 18th International Studying Leadership Conference in 2019 at Bristol Business School, UWE Bristol.
Call for Contributions
Theme: Putting Leadership in its Place
In contemporary tumultuous societal landscapes, some commentators claim that answers for problems are located in heroic individuals, whereas others take a more holistic approach and call for an understanding of context, culture and place in leadership practice. Only through understanding the relationship between leadership and the environment, they argue, will we be able to develop more effective and sustainable forms in the future; forms that are responsive, flexible and sensitive to change. We will define the concept of place in due course, but before note that researchers and scholars interested in studying place and leadership share some common similarities.
Most significantly, they challenge the notion that leadership is the sole responsibility of one individual who acts as if in a context-free vacuum. That is, mainstream approaches to leadership tend to valorise the quest for locating a ‘magic recipe’ of leadership attributes that can be farmed out to any individual to allow them to become effective in any situation. Very little attention is paid to other factors outside of the individual that may impact on success, largely because the ideal-type leader is seen to be so omniscient and omnipresent that place is deemed irrelevant. Despite the continued popularity of this simplistic approach (as evidenced in contemporary airport texts and ‘how-to’ guides), scholars from a diverse range of backgrounds take issue with the a-contextual nature, claiming it to be overly prescriptive (Graeff, 1983), to represent a North American bias (House, 1995) and to fail in capturing the nuanced and fundamentally idiosyncratic character of day-to-day leadership practice (Sutherland et al, 2014). They fail to ask questions such as: Why does leadership style vary from place-to-place? Why do certain leaders work well in some contexts and not in others? Why has the magic recipe of leadership not yet been found, in almost 100 years of formal leadership research?
We propose that focussing efforts primarily on individual leaders is problematic and reductionist. Instead, concentrating on the relationship between leadership and place can offer a deeper and more representative account of how leadership activity occurs. In some cases this may involve investigating how place influences leadership (e.g. how leaders have to conform to particular societal codes) and in others it may note how leadership influences place (e.g. the part that leaders play in shaping organisations and subordinates). Whilst we are reluctant to concretely define what we consider the concept of ‘place’ to encompass, there are some broad strokes we can draw at this stage, and would encourage those interested to submit work centered around the following questions: What is place? What aspects of it are important to consider for leadership practice?
What is place? What aspects of it are important to consider for leadership practice?
- Geographical place. Scholars interested in ‘Worldly Leadership’ have long spoken about the importance of considering national culture and context on leadership practice, noting that for too long leadership studies has assumed a predominantly Western slant. Rather, geographical place bears influence over possibilities and constraints for doing leadership, and gives rise to a variety of different forms.
- Societal values & beliefs. Leading on from the former point, within issues of geographical location come the associated values, beliefs and ethical assumptions. Indeed, if we view these as inherently socially constructed, it seems clear that there can be no overarching way of defining what ‘good’ leadership is constituted by. Rather, we must develop approaches that acknowledge the importance of local constructs.
- Organisational culture and space. Moving beyond the macro level, consideration must also be paid to the organisational environments in which leadership happens. In what ways do leaders influence culture? In what ways are they influenced by existing cultures? What influence does the layout of space have on the day-to-day experience of doing leadership?
- Structure, power & politics. The imagined structure of organisations and enmeshed power relations also constitute a part of place. Attention must therefore be paid to existing social relationships, roles and responsibilities, hierarchical assumptions and reporting relationships. Indeed, all of these aspects influence how effective certain styles of leadership may be. Do more autocratic styles of leadership work better in highly centralised organisations, compared with more fluid approaches in flatter groups? Does the structure of an organisation change with different forms of leadership, or vice versa?
- Historical developments. Leadership styles, types and leader-follower relationships are also determined by history. Human beings cannot separate themselves from the ‘baggage’ of experience, and from this perspective we might note that deeply enmeshed relationships have positive or adverse effects on future leadership possibilities. Here then, we may focus on issues of time, not just considering what we wish future leadership to look like, but how we may learn from present and past practices.
How might we go about researching place and leadership practice?
With this in mind, attention must also be paid to the methodologies employed for investigating leadership. Indeed, if we are to welcome the notion of place, then we must (re-) consider how leadership is studied. To date the most common method continues to the questionnaire and survey (Bryman, 2005), and whilst interviews are increasingly in popularity we argue that further steps can be taken to understand the complexity of the task, including but not limited to: Ethnography; Collaborative inquiry / action research; Historiography; Narrative inquiry; Sensory methods. Headway is being made with this recently, with Sutherland (2016) arguing for deep participant observation as a way of understanding organisational discourses and leadership work, and Shortt (2014) promoting creative and visual methods to capture the day-to-day experiences of organisational actors. Whilst these approaches vary considerably in philosophy, style and outcome, all allow for a deeper appreciation of the interrelationship between myriad concepts of place and leadership. This stands in stark contrast with a more traditional approach of simply examining one piece of the puzzle: an individual leader and their personality.
What are the benefits of including place on the leadership research agenda?
In addition to reflecting on the place of place in leadership research, and the ways in which it may be studied, we also encourage thoughts on the various opportunities and potentialities that a place-based approach to leadership can bring. For example:
- That it allows us to move away from the wild goose chase of mainstream approaches, and rather than seeking to find a ‘one best way’ of doing leadership that works in any situation, understand the leadership is an inherently context dependent act that requires a deep knowledge of individual situations.
- This may in turn lend to a greater appreciation for ‘alternative’ styles of leadership. Indeed, in casting our gaze beyond the conventional singular heroic individual, we may observe that this dominant narrative may become challenged by currently marginalised alternatives. That is, more distributed or hybrid configurations of leadership may receive more attention and gain traction as actionable and practical alternatives to the ideal-type individual leader.
- A place-based approach can also promote a general appreciation of continual reflection and organisational learning. In situating place as central on the research agenda, we acknowledge that flux is inevitable and situations are in constant transformation. Therefore, a significant part of leadership effectiveness is being able to keep up and respond positively to change. Through accepting reflection and being open to learning, leadership may become a more socially sustainable act.
- Finally, this place-based approach could be central in fostering connections between communities. Rather than seeing organisations as separate from their environment, Hambleton remarks that this perspective can allow leadership to “play a significant role In advancing social justice, promoting care for the environment and bolstering community empowerment” (2015).
- Professor Sonia Ospina, Professor of Public Management and Policy at the NYU Wagner Graduate School of Public Service, USA
- Professor Elena Antonacopoulou, Professor of Organizational Behaviour at the University of Liverpool Management School, UK
- Professor Peter Case, Professor of Organisation Studies, Bristol Business School, UWE, UK and Professor of Management and Organisation Studies, James Cook University, Australia
There will be a conference dinner in central Bristol on the night of 16th December to which all delegates are invited.
Following the conference delegates will be invited to submit their work for a special issue of the international peer-reviewed journal Leadership on the conference theme of ‘Putting leadership in its place’. Additional activities and opportunities will be confirmed nearer the time
Whilst we encourage submissions linked to the conference theme we will also welcome abstracts on any theme linked to research on leadership and allied fields.
Submissions to the conference should be in the form of a 750-word (excluding references) abstract and should be forwarded to the conference organisers from 1st June to 1st September 2019 at email@example.com. The conference committee will consider abstracts as and when they are submitted and a decision communicated to authors soon after submission.
All submissions should include on the cover page:
- Name of author(s)
- Organisation affiliation/position(s)
- E-mail address
- Topic Area and Stream
The submissions should be:
- A word or PDF file
- Written in English
- Indicating word count clearly on cover page
Early bird rate (inc. conference dinner) by 30th September 2019 – £295 per person
Standard registration (inc. conference dinner) from 1st October 2019 – £345 per person
Student fee (subject to availability) – £245 per person
Please note: conference fees do not include accommodation which should be arranged separately by conference attendees.
Delegates can book accommodation at the Holiday Inn Filton for the below reduced rates by quoting the reference “UWF”:
- Sunday 15 December – £79.00
- Monday 16 December – £99.00
To book this accommodation please contact Holiday Inn Filton on 0117 910 4270 between 8:30am – 5:30pm (Monday – Friday) or email firstname.lastname@example.org
The conference is co-sponsored by the Bristol Leadership and Change Centre (BLCC).
Please refer all initial queries regarding the conference to Dr Gareth Edwards or one of the other conference committee members, see below:
- Dr Gareth Edwards – Gareth3.email@example.com
- Dr Neil Sutherland – firstname.lastname@example.org
- Dr Doris Schedlitzki – email@example.com
- Professor Richard Bolden – firstname.lastname@example.org
- Josie Englishbyemail@example.com
For general queries about the conference please email firstname.lastname@example.org.
For specific advice on your submission please contact Dr Gareth Edwards at Gareth3.email@example.com.
Bristol Business School
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Graeff, C. L. (1983) The Situational Leadership Theory: A critical view, Academy of Management Review, 8, 285-291.
Hambleton, R. (2014) Leading the Inclusive City: Place-based innovation for a bounded planet. Bristol: The Policy Press.
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Schein, E. H. (1992) Organizational Culture and Leadership. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
Shortt, H. and Warren, S. (2019) Grounded visual pattern analysis photographs in organizational field studies. Organizational Research Methods, 22 (2), 539-563.
Sutherland, N. (2018) Investigating leadership ethnographically: Opportunities and potentialities. Leadership, 14 (3), 263-290.
Turnbull, S. Case, P., Edwards, G., Schedlitzki, D. and Simpson, P. (eds) (2011) Worldly Leadership: Alternative wisdoms for a complex world, Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.
Western, S. and Garcia, E.J. (eds.) (2018) Global Leadership Perspectives: Insights and Analysis, London: Sage Publications.