Sub-theme 48: Theorizing Power in, through and from Leadership Development

Jonathan Gosling
University of Exeter, UK
Magnus Larsson
Copenhagen Business School, Denmark
Brigid Carroll
University of Auckland, New Zealand

Call for Papers

Research into leadership development has certainly accelerated over this last decade with wider interest in research, not just from the perspective of how development is undertaken, but in the development site as a space where organizational phenomena are engaged with and enacted in ways that give insight into the fundamental dynamics, processes and structures of organizations. This sub-theme seeks to explore power and its close associates-struggle, influence, control, resistance, mobilisation-as central in the development of leadership as its sits between organizations, development participants, facilitators and professionals, wider communities and societies in a global world. We note we understand leadership to mean the multiple interactions involving leading and following throughout intersecting configurations of social actors.

This sub-theme builds on a number of coherent strands of recent literature such as the production of identities from development interventions (Ford & Harding, 2007; Ford et al., 2008; Gagnon & Collinson, 2014; Sinclair, 2009) through processes of subjectification, normalisation, surveillance and self- technologies. An additional line of research has been built from researchers who understand themselves as complicit in the power relations of leadership development in their roles as providers, teachers, facilitators, presenters and assessors (Ford & Harding, 2007; Ford et al., 2008; Sinclair, 2009; Nicholson & Carroll 2013; Carroll & Nicholson 2014).

However, a far wider range of theoretisations and approaches to power are available to explore the complexities of how leadership is developed and sustained both in designated development interventions and informal relational and contextual moments. Thus this theme invites those who would call themselves leadership development researchers but equally those interested in exploring power and its effects in the practices, processes and structures that do constitute or play some part in the development of what we call organizational leadership.

For instance process, practice and actor network theories would understand power as emerging in interactions between actors, artefacts and contexts over time and made visible in discursive, relational ways. These broaden the scope of leadership development beyond formal programmes, informed by post-disciplinary theories of power functioning "infra-politically" (Fleming, 2014, p. 2) through enrolling/ tapping into the informal organization sphere, 'the whole person', life style, and non-work attributes. Equally critiques of power focusing on elites and those marginalised or complicit in organizational 'power games' or relational psycho-dynamics (Oshry, 1999; Aram et al., 2012) offer intriguing future directions. Underdone currently is attention to corporeal experiences of participants and, the demands faced by developers, trainers, coaches, academics, facilitators, administrators, assessors; and the experiences of dependency and autonomy in 'being developed' deserve closer scrutiny (Sutherland, 2013). This includes the emotional and aesthetic labour of 'looking good and sounding right' (Butler, 2014).

This sub-theme creates a space where multiple approaches to power, its appropriation, misuse, distribution and transformation can critique leadership development and its actors, organizations, institutions, entities, artefacts and communities. We invite papers addressing but not confined to the following questions:

  • What forms do power, resistance, struggle and control take in leadership development? How are these forms shaped and who is involved and how do these differ internationally?
  • What agencies, discourses, relationships, practices, processes and artefacts associated with leadership development invite an exploration of power, resistance, struggle and control? How are these produced, transformed and consumed in the process of developing leadership?
  • Why is the development of leadership attracting interest, resource, institutional legitimacy, and a global industry?
  • What are the relationships between power, powerlessness and empowerment in the development of leaders and leadership?
  • What illusions, fantasies, myths, stories, archetypes and conflicts have power in leadership development? For whom? To what end?
  • Can we understand the aesthetics of leadership/power development, its senuousness, pleasures, beauty and ethical satisfactions?




  • Aram, E., Baxter, R., & Nutkevitch, A. (eds.) (2012): Group Relations Conferences. Tradition, Creativity, and Succession in the Global Group Relations Network. London: Karnac Books.
  • Butler, C. (2014): "Wanted – straight talkers: stammering and aesthetic labour." Work, Employment and Society, 28 (5), 718–734.
  • Carroll, B., & Nicholson, H. (2014): "Resistance and struggle in leadership development." Human Relations, 67 (11), 1413–1436.
  • Fleming, P. (2014): "When 'life itself' goes to work: Reviewing shifts in organizational life through the lens of biopower." Human Relations, 67 (7), 875–901.
  • Ford, J., & Harding, N. (2007): "Move Over Management. We Are All Leaders Now." Management Learning, 38 (5), 475–493.
  • Ford, J., Learmonth, M., & Harding, N. (2008): Leadership as Identity. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.
  • Gagnon, S., & Collinson, D. (2014): "Rethinking global leadership development programmes: the interrelated significance of power, context and identity." Organization Studies, 35 (5), 645–670.
  • Nicholson, H., & Carroll, B. (2013): "Identity undoing and power relations in leadership development." Human Relations, 66 (9), 1225–1248.
  • Oshry, B. (1999): Leading Systems: Lessons from the Power Lab. San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler.
  • Sinclair, A. (2009): "Seducing Leadership: Stories of Leadership Development." Gender, Work & Organization, 16 (2), 266–284.
  • Sutherland, I. (2013): "Arts-Based Methods in Leadership Development: Affording Aesthetic Workspaces, Reflexivity and Memories with Momentum." Management Learning, 44 (1), 25–43.


Jonathan Gosling is an independent academic, holds a Chair in Organisation and Leadership Development at Bled School of Management in Slovenia, and is Professor Emeritus at the University of Exeter, UK. He has authored or edited seven books, 40 peer-reviewed articles, several special issues, and numerous case studies. He is on the editorial boards of six journals and held visiting positions at universities in Canada, China, Denmark, France, India, New Zealand and Slovenia. He represented UK universities at the Rio+20 UN Sustainability summit and served three terms as President of the Exeter UCU (academics' trade union).
Magnus Larsson is Associate Professor in the Department of Organization at Copenhagen Business School, Denmark. His research focuses on identity processes and the practice of leadership, via inteview studies, observations and micro analyses of recorded interaction. He is currently PI for an externally funded project on the organizational effects of leadership development in the Danish public sector. He is a reviewer for several leading journals.
Brigid Carroll is Research Director at the New Zealand Leadership Institute, and Associate Professor, Management & International Business, University of Auckland. She contributes to critical leadership studies, leadership development theory and discourse/ narrative theory and methodologies. As a researcher and leadership developer she is interested in the dynamics of identity, power and struggle within and around leadership development – the focus of recent publications.