The Quest for a General Theory of Leadership

The Quest for a General Theory of Leadership

New Horizons in Leadership Studies series

Edited by George R. Goethals and Georgia L.J. Sorenson

In this compelling book, top scholars from diverse fields describe the progress they have made in developing a general theory of leadership. Led by James MacGregor Burns, Pulitzer Prize winning author of the classic Leadership (1978), they tell the story of this intellectual venture and the conclusions and questions that arose from it.

Chapter 7: Causality, Change and Leadership

Gill Robinson Hickman and Richard A. Couto

Subjects: politics and public policy, leadership


1 Gill Robinson Hickman and Richard A. Couto This chapter includes the invaluable contributions of our late colleague and friend, Fredric M. Jablin, who provided his seminal insights during the conceptualization and outlining phase of this project. CONCEPTUAL PERSPECTIVES ON LEADERSHIP AND CHANGE During the early stages of discussions at Mount Hope, we realized that scholars in the project were working from different assumptions about human nature and the conditions that give rise to leadership and change. Project leaders divided the group into three teams – Purple, Red and Gold – to discuss our assumptions and write a short paper summarizing each group’s perspectives. Our different viewpoints roughly corresponded to essentialist and construc­ tionist beliefs. In general essentialists maintain that social and natural realities exist apart from our perceptions of reality and that individuals perceive the world rather than construct it (Rosenblum and Travis 2003, p. 33). Conversely, con­ structionists believe that humans construct or create reality and give it meaning through social, economic and political interactions. Specifically, reality cannot be separated from the way people perceive it (Rosenblum and Travis 2003, p. 33). According to the constructionist view, therefore, people can change real­ ity by changing their perceptions of it. Gold Team members, including the two authors of this chapter, took a relatively constructionist position in contrast to the other teams. We contended that: Humans make sense of their world and seek meaning through processes of imagina­ tion and interpretation, which are situated within social constructions of reality and affirmed through...

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