Rethinking Leadership

Rethinking Leadership

A New Look at Old Leadership Questions

New Horizons in Leadership Studies series

Donna Ladkin

A must-read for serious leadership studies scholars, Rethinking Leadership offers a radical reconceptualisation of leadership as a contextually embedded, physically embodied phenomenon. The book arrives at original and surprising answers to perennial questions such as ‘What is leadership?’ and ‘How do leaders lead change?’, by addressing them from a philosophical, rather than psychological or sociological standpoint.

Chapter 3: Why is it so Difficult to Study Leadership?

Donna Ladkin

Subjects: business and management, business leadership, politics and public policy, leadership


When something ‘ready-to-hand’ is found missing, though its everyday presence has been so obvious that we have never taken notice of it, this makes a break in those referential contexts which circumspection discovers. Our circumspection comes up against emptiness, and now sees for the first time what the missing article was ready-to-hand with, and what it was ready-to-hand for. The environment announces itself afresh. Martin Heidegger Being and Time (1962, p. 105) In the previous chapter I made the case that one of the reasons for the plethora of leadership theories is that its enactment has as many different expressions as contexts from which it arises. This alone makes it a very difficult phenomenon to study but the problem is exacerbated by its socially constructed nature, implying that leadership is held in the invisible, constructed and cognitive worlds of those who experience it. Rather than being content with its social construction as the primary cause for its elusiveness however, this chapter considers insights phenomenology brings to the difficulties associated with researching it. Why is it that on close examination leadership often seems to ‘disappear’? (Alvesson and Sveningsson 2003). Given this aspect of its nature, how might those aspiring to study leadership do so appropriately? As a starting point, let us consider the ‘disappearing’ nature of leadership a bit more closely. THE CLOSER YOU GET TO IT, THE MORE QUICKLY IT DISAPPEARS Although many researchers have highlighted the difficulties with studying leadership, this chapter focuses on two approaches which draw particular...

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