Sub-theme 52: Developing Leadership for the Good Organization

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

Call for Papers

Leadership development is an arena where aspirations for the good organization are enacted (or aspired to be), and some of the struggles for achieving it are voiced and reflected on. This theme accordingly seeks to explore the role of leadership development in constructing and reconstructing organizations and organizational ideals, values, visions, and identities in the pursuit of goodness and all that goodness can signify.
Questions of goodness often begin as philosophical questions and we invite submissions that want to pursue how philosophical concepts such as virtue, ethics, morality, truth and the human condition are played out in leadership development and the broader system that sustains it. Indeed whenever thinkers have sought to define a good, just or even ideal state, they have expounded on the means to develop leaders able to bring about and govern such a state. Plato, Aristotle and Confucius are just some of the more obvious in this category. Likewise philosophical theories such as hermeneutics, phenomenology, existentialism and pragmatism all bring a rich array of nuance and complexity to investigate anything that might claim to be good. As Ladkin (2008, p. 3) asserts “pursuing leadership from a philosophical standpoint invites us to reformulate the way we inquire into it”. This sub-theme welcomes such a reformulation in terms of leadership development, subsequently contributing to a deeper problematization of leadership and leadership development in an organizational context.
Equally it seems wise to assume that the actual practices that constitute leadership development may reveal plural, contested or contradictory notions of a good organization (Sinclair, 2009). The strength of using leadership development as a site of such an inquiry is that such notions come into collision as different stakeholders-organizational senior leadership, executive teams, HR, development providers and professionals and program participants reveal their voice, assumptions, mind-set and desires in the negotiation and crafting of the leadership development intervention. What is good after all is inherently political. For instance if good organizations are ‘just institutions’ (e.g. Ricoer, 1992; 2007), we might look to leadership development as an overtly political process by which responsibility is worked out – hence we would be keen to see studies of ‘responsible leadership’ programs. Such studies might examine ways in which justice is (or is not) contested, the interests served by such contest and its outcomes. Alternatively one might attend to attempts by some contemporary leaders (and their colleagues) to bring about reformed capitalism, wider justice and planetary benefits. What role does leadership development play in this? Again, one might inquire into new forms of good organization implied by digitization (the virtues of the virtual organization) or globalization (worldly wisdom). We expect such studies to contribute to connect to the existing discussion of philosophy, politics, and power in organizations, thereby stimulating a broader engagement with these themes within leadership studies.
Research into leadership development has already identified theoretical ‘faultlines’ which point to places where the good organization either rises or falls (Gagnon & Collinson, 2014). Attention to effects has largely so far focused the potential development of individual capacity, in terms of skills and psychological variables (Avolio et al., 2010). Leadership development is here seen as a resource for developing the human capital in the organization, supposedly contributing to organizational efficiency and survival. However other studies have focused how identities are (re-)constructed or destabilized (Carroll & Nicholson, 2014; Nicholson & Carroll, 2013; Petriglieri & Petriglieri, 2010; Petriglieri et al., 2011; Gagnon, 2008) through leadership development. Identities are value laden and carry implications for the good organization. Exploration of identities and identity work thus potentially also reveals the value laden struggles for the good organization, whether these concern efficiency, beauty, or freedom. Process, practice and actor network theories would understand the struggle for the good organization as emerging in interactions between actors, artefacts and contexts over time and made visible in discursive, relational ways. These interactions might occur in the leadership development programs, where new practices and understandings might emerge, or in the everyday work, where such practices and understandings might be employed as new resources. Much of the leadership and leadership development literatures has implicitly assessed goodness on performance or managerial assumptions hence this sub-theme hopes to bring explicitness and visibility to what goodness is aimed at, who defines such goodness and what ultimately this goodness is for?
One can’t talk about good organizations without raising the spectre of ‘not good’ organizations. The shadows of the dark side of leadership surely stalk any quest for the good organization. Much of this literature seems to draw on too simplistic dichotomies of good and evil in their characterisation of toxic (Benson & Hogan 2008), destructive (Einarsen et al., 2007), bad (Kellerman, 2005) and aversive (Bligh et al., 2007) leadership. If however we were to understand darkness more as shadows that are the consequence of the unforeseen, unanticipated complexities of holding and pursuing different interpretations of goodness then we can explore what is arguably one of the biggest leadership dilemmas of our time; the unintended consequences of leadership decisions and actions such as marginalization, disenfranchisement, exclusion and waste. If however the opposite of good is not evil but indifference (Wiesel, 1986) then we open up terrains where organizations and their leadership have struggled to genuinely connect to such as compassion, justice, democracy, hope and beauty. As such attention to aesthetic experiences of leadership and leadership development may illuminate different notions of the good organization (Sutherland et al., 2015). Leadership development could be envisaged as a journey towards a more enlightened, liberated or potent future; or as activating an embodied, visceral, emotional state of being in the present (Ladkin, 2008). Here the good organization is sensed rather than defined, and we therefore invite contributions related to the aesthetics of organization, and the relationship between arts-based leadership development and good or beautiful organizations (Sutherland, 2013). We hope to bring a nuance and complexity that has been lacking in evoking the dark side of leadership.
We anticipate this sub-theme being a space where multiple theorizations and approaches to the good organization are brought robustly and critically to leadership development and the actors, organizations, institutions, entities, artefacts and communities which intersect in the process and practice of leadership development. By connecting the notion of the good organization to leadership and leadership development, the sub-theme aims to stimulate a deeper engagement with organization and context within leadership studies, and to stimulate debates and discussions of the practice of leadership development reaching beyond the current dominating focus on individual benefit.
We invite research addressing, but not confined to the following questions:

  • How do notions of the good organization emerge in leadership development production, translation and consumption? What gestures, responses, consequences result?
  • What agencies, discourses, relationships, practices, processes and artefacts associated with leadership development invite an exploration of the struggle for the good organization?
  • What illusions, fantasies, myths, stories, and archetypes about the good organization come into play in leadership development? For whom? To what end?
  • Leadership development has been viewed as a site where identities are regulated, prescribed, resisted within programs and interventions but what identity positions without broker, negotiate, champion, facilitate, sustain leadership development on the part of broader organizational/ community interests?
  • Can we analyse and interpret the aesthetics of leadership development, its sensuousness, beauty and ethical satisfactions?



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  • Bligh, M.C., Kohles, J.C., Pearce, C.L., Justin, J.E., & Stovall, J.F. (2007): “When the romance is over: Follower perspectives of aversive leadership.” Applied Psychology, 56 (4), 528–557.
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  • Einarsen, S., Aasland, M.A., & Skogstad, A. (2007): “Destructive leadership behaviour: A definition and conceptual model.” The Leadership Quarterly, 18 (3), 207–216.
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  • 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.
  • Sutherland, I., Gosling, J., & Jelinek, J. (2015): “Aesthetics of Power: Why Teaching About Power is Easier Than Learning for Power, and What Business Schools Could Do About It.” Academy of Management Learning & Education, 14 (4), 607–624.
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Jonathan Gosling is Professor Emeritus of Leadership at Exeter University, UK. Jonathan has authored or edited 8 books, 40 peer-reviewed articles, several journal special issues; chaired international conferences, research grant panels, etc. He is currently researching malaria elimination and contributing to international management development initiatives including the forward institute and He has supervised over 12 PhDs and examined many more, 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).
Brigid Carroll is an Associate Professor in the Department of Management & International Business, and the Director of Research and a lead facilitator at both the New Zealand Leadership Institute and the University of Auckland. She teaches organization theory, critical organization issues and leadership to undergraduates and postgraduates. She designs, delivers and researches leadership development using a constructionist, critical pedagogy to a range of sector and professional groups. Her research interests lie primarily with identity work, discourse and narrative theory and methodology, and critical leadership theory and practice in contemporary organizations.
Magnus Larsson is Lector at Copenhagen Business School, Denmark. His research has focused identity processes and the practice of leadership, with interview studies, observations and micro analyses of recorded interaction. Recently, he has engaged in an externally funded project on the organizational effects of leadership development in the public sector in Denmark.