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 9: Contemplating Context

J. Thomas Wren and Elizabeth Faier

Subjects: politics and public policy, leadership

Extract

J. Thomas Wren and Elizabeth Faier In the following dialogue, historian J. Thomas Wren and anthropologist Eliza­ beth Faier, both original members of the General Theory of Leadership group convened in 2001, embark on a journey to ‘contemplate context’ within a gen­ eral theory of leadership. As discussed in Chapter 1 of this volume, initial discussions within the general theory group exposed rather deep rifts concerning the importance and role of context in the leadership relation. These early debates inspired Wren and Faier to sit down and reflect more thoroughly on the troubling issue of the role of context. As the ensuing exchange makes clear, the two have some basic disagreements. It is evident that the more traditionalist Wren and the more constructivist Faier diverge in their approaches with regard to the role of context. Wren perceives context as an environment in which leadership takes place while Faier considers context more abstractly, as a space constructed by participants through performance. Despite the disparate starting points, Wren and Faier approach some middle ground through the creative exploration of metaphors and applications. The ensuing dialogue is a conceptual piece, de­ signed not to establish authoritative answers but to lay bare essential questions regarding the ways in which context might inform theoretical thinking about leadership. * * * T. OK, Liz. We have decided that the best way to approach our topic of the role of context in leadership theory, given our different perspectives, is by having a dialogue. The working title is ‘Contemplating Context.’ We’ve...

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