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Leadership from a Communication Perspective

Summary and Keywords

Leadership has fascinated people from antiquity and has been studied extensively by academics for many decades. A variety of theoretical perspectives have taken hold—most notably that of transformational leadership—and have sought to explore the processes whereby leaders influence followers, to delineate the factors that put limits on such influence, and to determine the interrelationship between the attributes that leaders bring to their role and the contexts in which they find themselves. There has also been a growing interest in followership and how the behaviors, cognitions, and emotions of followers both contribute to organizational and group outcomes and help to shape leader behavior. The issue of followership, however, remains very much a nascent area of inquiry within the broader field of leadership studies.

Recently, explicitly communication perspectives have been brought more frequently to bear on leadership studies. This has assumed two main forms. First, “discursive leadership” has looked at both the linguistic mechanisms by which leader action and effects take place and how larger frames of leadership discourse can be said to constitute both broader leader–follower dynamics and our understanding of them. Associated with this, some complexity leadership theorists have stressed the “relational” dynamics implicit to leadership processes as a means of countering what they see as an excessive focus on the traits and actions of individual leaders. These approaches emphasize the importance of context and the relational dynamics between leaders and followers embedded in such contexts. Second, some communication scholars influenced by process theories of organization have begun to sketch out the means whereby communication is central to how organizational actors make, refuse, and enact claims to leadership agency, particularly in contexts where such claims may be contested by many. The role of follower dissent and power relations more generally is viewed as a crucial area of inquiry.

Accordingly, communication approaches to leadership have adopted a variety of theoretical perspectives. Many scholars from communication backgrounds have researched communication processes whereby leaders influence others. More recently, critically oriented communication scholars have explored the often conflicted dynamics between leaders and followers, focusing on such issues as power, domination, and control and their implications for leadership theory. Both explicitly and implicitly, these have therefore challenged dominant leadership perspectives, particularly but not exclusively that of transformational leadership.

Keywords: discursive leadership, relational leadership, complexity leadership, processual perspectives


Leadership is one of the most studied issues of our time. Grint (2011) notes that people have been fascinated by it from antiquity, with figures such as Alexander the Great and Julius Caesar ensuring that the written record contained fulsome accounts of their activities and victories. The corollary is that our record of doomed challenges to their power, such as that of the slave revolt leader Spartacus, is paltry. Thus, from the earliest days, leadership and communication have been indissolubly linked. Indeed, as Hargie (2010, p. 4), notes: “The oldest essay ever discovered, written about 3000BC, consisted of advice to Kagemni the oldest son of Pharaoh Huni, on speaking effectively in public. Similarly, the oldest book, the Precepts, written in Egypt by Ptah-Hotep circa 2675 is a treatise on effective communication.”

This fascination endures. In November 2015 Amazon listed 174,260 books on the topic. There are at least 50 academic journals with “leadership” in their title. The Leadership Quarterly and Leadership are among the most notable. Other academic journals also produce a steady stream of leadership-related material. A series of prestigious edited handbooks have been published. These include The SAGE Handbook of Leadership (Bryman, Collinson, Grint, Jackson, & Uhl-Bien, 2011), The Handbook for Teaching Leadership: Knowing, Doing, and Being (Nook, Nohria, & Khurana, 2012); The Oxford Handbook of Leadership (Rumsey, 2013), and the forthcoming The Routledge Companion to Leadership (Storey, Hartley, Denis, ‘tHart, & Ulrich, 2016). The four-volume Major Works in Leadership anthologized 66 major articles on leadership dating from 1947 to 2010 and remains an invaluable resource with which to trace the development of the discipline (Collinson, Grint, & Jackson, 2011).

This article looks at leadership from a communication perspective. In doing so, it will discuss some of the key theories of leadership that have emerged and consider the communication implications they pose, either explicitly or implicitly. It should be noted that, despite the centrality of communication to leadership practice, it has been surprisingly neglected in much mainstream work on the topic. On the other hand, Mumby (2007, p. 3290) notes that “organizational communication scholars study the dynamic relationships between communication processes and human organizing.” They have therefore always had an interest in leadership, since it is so heavily implicated in many aspects of organizing. This was reflected in the postpositivist and highly influential work of Charles Redding (see Redding, 1985), the organizational communication audit sponsored by the International Communication Association in the 1970s (Goldhaber & Rogers, 1979), and in the work of Fred Jablin (1979), particularly in his attention to superior–subordinate communication, and subsequently continued in work by many of his students.

Reflecting on wider developments within the field, Mumby (2007, p. 3293) goes on to note that communication scholars interested in leadership have increasingly tended to see it “as a communicative, interaction-based phenomenon that is more widely distributed in organizational life” (Mumby, 2007, p. 3293). Such a view is consistent with the growing interest in social constructionist perspectives within the field (Fairhurst & Grant, 2010; Tourish & Barge, 2010). This has facilitated a much stronger focus on discursive leadership (Fairhurst, 2007) and on process perspectives that take communication as a defining aspect of leadership practice (Tourish, 2014). These approaches challenge some of the conventional theorizing on leadership, including charismatic and transformational models, where a transmissional rather than relational view of communication has been commonly employed.

Fairhurst and Connaughton (2014, p. 8) highlight what they term “communication value commitments” that underpin much of this emergent approach:

  1. (1) Leadership communication is transmissional and meaning-centered.

  2. (2) Leadership (communication) is relational, neither leader-centric nor follower-centric.

  3. (3) Influential acts of organizing are the medium and outcome of leadership communication.

  4. (4) Leadership communication is inherently power-based, a site of contestation about the nature of leadership.

  5. (5) Leadership (communication) is a diverse, global phenomenon.

  6. (6) Leadership communication is alive with the potential for reflexivity, moral accountability, and change.

It is clear from even this brief summary that communication-based approaches to leadership are much more inclined to have a critical edge than can be typically found in mainstream discussions of such theories as transformational leadership, authentic leadership, or servant leadership. The aforementioned approaches tend to stress leader agency more than they do that of other organizational actors. As Banks (2008, p. 11) puts it: “Conventionally, leaders show the way, are positioned in the vanguard, guide and direct, innovate, and have a vision for change and make it come to actuality. Followers on the other hand conventionally track the leader from behind, obey and report, implement innovations and accept leaders’ vision for change.” Visionary leadership is regarded as powerful, exciting, and necessary, with leaders acting as a force for good whose efforts almost invariably produce positive outcomes (Collinson, 2012). Much of this attributional process is vested in the persona of the CEO and other senior organizational figures. Leadership is studied in terms of how such leaders influence others rather than in terms of the relational processes suggested by Fairhurst and Connaughton (2014). This article will explore these communicative and relational perspectives. It will then consider their implications for a selection of main theories in leadership studies to show and contrast the direction of travel initiated by the communication turn in the field. Briefly, it will also look at notions of authentic and servant leadership in the same light.

Communication and Issues of Leader Agency

Communication is concerned with the interaction processes among those who identify themselves as belonging to organizations (Langley & Tsoukas, 2010). In communication terms, this view is best captured by the influential work of what has become known as the Montreal School, which has significant implications for the study of leadership. As Cooren, Taylor, and Van Every (2006, pp. 2–3) express it:

organization emerges in the interplay of two interrelated spaces: the textual-conceptual world of ideas and interpretations and the practical world of an object-oriented conversation directed to action . . . The resulting image of organizational interaction is of an essentially fluid and open-ended process of organizing, in which inherited positions of strength are exploited creatively by the participants.

Consistent with this view, some communication theorists have suggested that we replace the notion of organization as a single entity by one in which it is constituted “by its emergence as an actor in the texts of the people for whom it is a present interpreted reality” (Robichaud, Girous, & Taylor, 2004, p. 630). Interlocking patterns of communication can therefore be viewed as the driving force behind many organizational phenomena, including leadership. In line with this, the recognition that sensemaking, agency, and the processes whereby co-orientation between organizational actors is mediated through language means to acknowledge that organizing is “an act of juggling between co-evolutionary loops of discursive phenomena” (Guney, 2006, p. 34). The metaphor of “juggling” suggests tension, including between leaders and followers, and an omnipresent prospect of breakdown. Organizations therefore struggle to create shared meanings between organizational actors.

What has been termed the “communicative constitution of organization” (McPhee & Iverson, 2009, p. 49) in turns means the communicative constitution of leadership. “Leadership,” in this view, emerges through the interaction of organizational actors and has a contested, fluid meaning for all of them, in a given social situation for determinate amount of time. It is fundamentally an ongoing process of becoming rather than a finished accomplishment (Fairhurst, in press). Meaning is constructed, deconstructed, and reconstructed between those in leadership positions and those that they lead (Fairhurst, 2007; Fairhurst & Grant, 2010; Smircich & Morgan, 1982). In contrast to traditional approaches, leadership is not viewed as a discrete phenomenon with easily observable causal relationships, inherently powerful and charismatic leaders, measurable outcomes, and clear demarcations between categories of meaning and behavior. For example, Barge’s (2014) auto-ethnographic account of how he assumed the role of interim head of his academic department following the sudden death of his predecessor pays close attention to the importance of conversation between a leader and others. Barge describes the period covered in his paper as one of “pivotal leadership” and discusses how communication processes helped multiple actors deal with ambiguity, role anxiety, grief, and the unexpected. He notes that in contradistinction to the transmissional view of leadership often depicted in the literature, what he describes as “conversational language” became of first-order importance. This dialogic perspective is inherently processual in nature and emphasizes how the behavior of leaders is co-constructed in the course of interaction between them and those who might be depicted as followers.

From this standpoint, organizations are sites where “socially constructed institutions are reproduced and transformed by the accounting activities of people in interdependent (joint) action as they make sense of what they do together” (Varey, 2006, p. 191). Accordingly, the reputations of powerful leaders, particularly CEOs, emerge as a phenomenon that is co-produced and co-reproduced (within certain limits) by the discursive interactions between organizational actors (Sinha, Inkson, & Barker, 2012). This perspective draws attention to what has been described as “the dance between leader and led and its language of connectedness, temporalness, and embeddedness” (Fairhurst, 2007, p. 24).

Fairhurst’s work (2007) has been particularly important in this regard. Some key arguments can be distilled from her work that are central to this emphasis within leadership studies:

  • Discursive leadership challenges attempts to identify an “essence” of leadership in the form of comprehensive definitions, competency statements, or behavioral prescriptions that apply in multiple contexts. Rather, it explores how attributions of leadership agency are made by a variety of organizational actors, in particular contexts for finite amounts of time. An appreciation of temporality is key. It rejects the notion that there are core traits or skills that will invariably be recognized as positive by differentiated organizational actors. This is consistent with a broadly social constructionist perspective on leadership in particular and organizations in general.

  • There is a difference between “little d” discourse and “big D” discourse. The former refers to the micro-processes of talk in interaction whereby organizational actors “do” communication, and attempt to influence each other. Big “D” discourse, in line with Foucault’s writings, “refers to the general and enduring systems for the formation and articulation of ideas in a historically situated time” (Fairhurst, 2007, p. 7). Thus, our broader conceptions of power relations become standardized Discourses that frame and influence the micro-interactions in which we engage. This influences the theorization and practice of leadership. For example, “Discourses” that assume leader power has an uncontested legitimacy within business organizations are reflected in mainstream theorizing on transformational leadership, where the legitimacy of leader action is typically taken for granted. It is also reflected in leader action and their micro-talk, when, as one instance, opposition to change initiatives initiated by a leader are seen as resistance to be overcome rather than useful feedback.

Nicotera (2013), in looking at how it can be said that organizations are communicatively constituted, argues that what is constituted is “(a) the collectivity, (b) the social significance of the collectivity as an entity whose interests are represented in individual and collective activity, and (c) the distinct entitative being that transcends and eclipses any individual and the collective itself as it is attributed both identity and authority” (p. 67). Essentially, organizations do not exist independently of communication since it is through communication that they find entitative form. From a leadership perspective, however, it is primarily leaders who claim the entitative status for those organizational structures that institutionalize their role as leaders. But this only works to the extent that the entitative claim is recognized and responded to by others. Anyone can claim leader status in an organization, but this claim will only acquire agency if it is granted, however reluctantly, by others (DeRue & Ashford, 2010). Leadership, Tourish (2014) argues, is therefore a communicative process whereby agents claim entitative status for emergent social structures. Moreover, without such claims being made, negotiated, and formalized, there would be no overarching organizational entity within which leaders emerge from leadership processes.

Such processes are both discursive and material, in that the tangible architecture and artefacts that we see in organizations are also employed to bolster entitative claims (Ashcraft, Kuhn, & Cooren, 2009). As Ropo, Sauer, and Salovaara (2013, p. 379) have argued, “places and spaces construct and perform leadership,” albeit in interaction with the nonmaterial. For example, the imposing symbolism of a CEO’s office transforms the discursive dynamics between its occupant and those in “subordinate” positions who visit to report, account for themselves, engage in discussion—but rarely to critique. Nonleaders are complicit in the performance of leaders who assert entitative claims for social structures that facilitate their exercise of agency. This co-constructive complicity is manifest every time they follow instructions, embrace organizational rituals, or acknowledge the primacy of formal leaders. Leadership is therefore a first-order means whereby the entitative claims of organizational actors are both disputed and enacted and by which their sense of agency is enabled and constrained.

Leadership, Dissent, and Upward Communication

Most previous research has tended to visualize influence as flowing from managers to subordinates, rather than the other way around (Tourish & Pinnington, 2002). Where research into upward communication has occurred, it has tended to reflect this orientation. This is perhaps consistent with the transmissional view of communication endemic to transformational models discussed above. An earlier and influential review of the literature in the area noted that “communication upward from subordinate to superior is reported to take four primary forms: (a) information about the subordinate himself/ herself, (b) information about co-workers and their problems, (c) information about organizational practices and policies, and (d) information about what needs to be done and how it can be done” (Jablin, 1979, p. 1202). This suggests that, although information about organizational practices and policies is highlighted, upward communication has rarely been conceived of specifically in terms of the transmission of information that is openly critical of declared organizational priorities. It tends to be explored from the perspective of feedback that deals with job performance or neutral information about organizational performance that can enhance the implementation of a predetermined management agenda (Morrison, 2014). One consequence is that, as Zoller and Fairhurst (2007, p. 1332) note, “Writers in the managerial tradition often address how leaders can deal effectively with employee dissent, from shutting down ‘illegitimate’ forms of dissent to encouraging employee voice in the interest of improved decision making.” For example, research has found that “managers view employees who engage in more challenging forms of voice as worse performers and endorse their ideas less than those who engage in supportive forms of voice” (Burris, 2012, p. 851).

Such approaches are inconsistent with the communication view that organizations are information processing entities. This recognizes that people are active and questioning agents in the process of decision-making. A growing volume of scholarship therefore takes a critical approach to these questions, exploring the processes that prevent critical upward feedback in many organizations, the benefits that are often found to accompany it where it exists, and the practices that are more likely to facilitate it (Tourish, 2005; Tourish & Robson, 2006).

Leadership as a Dialectical Nexus of Fluid Relationships

A communication and process perspective recognizes what Collinson (2005, p. 1435) has described as the “deep-seated asymmetrical power relations of leadership dynamics . . . From this perspective, control and resistance are viewed as mutually reinforcing, ambiguous, potentially contradictory processes. Followers’ resistance is one such unintended outcome. In its various forms, dissent constitutes a crucially important feature of leadership dialectics, requiring detailed examination by researchers.”

It follows that leadership is less one person doing something to another (with their more or less willing compliance). Rather, it is a process whereby leaders and nonleaders accomplish each other through dynamics of interaction in which mutual influence is always present. Weick (2007, p. 281) has argued that: “To treat leading and following as simultaneous is to redistribute knowing and doubting more widely, to expect ignorance and fallibility to be similarly distributed, and to expect that knowledge is what happens between heads rather than inside a single leader’s head.” Such approaches seek to embed accounts of leadership, including those that attempt to ascribe causality, in deeper process studies of preceding and succeeding events, mediated through linguistic and nonlinguistic artefacts.

This standpoint offers a dynamic conception of power dynamics, since from a communication perspective, “power is conceptualised primarily as a struggle over meaning: the group that is best able to ‘fix’ meaning and articulate it to its own interests is the one that will be best able to maintain and reproduce relations of power” (Mumby, 2001, p. 601). Recognizing this, communication perspectives acknowledge the potency of leader agency, but also take fuller account of the agency of other organizational actors and the degree to which this agency is complicit in the construction of leader agency and action. Greater attention is therefore placed on the positive value of dissent and resistance and on the notion of followers as knowledgeable and proactive agents with multiple prospects for action and deep vestiges of power at their disposal (Tourish & Robson, 2006).

This view of leadership is more inclined to see it as an unstable, continuously evolving social construction embedded in what Gergen (2010, p. 57) has characterized as “turbulent streams or conversational flows.” Once leadership is conceived in these terms, it ceases to be a discrete “event,” an observable interaction within clearly bounded organizational structures or a unidirectional flow of influence in which A has a causal impact on B. Rather, it emerges as a communicatively organized, fluid process of co-orientation and co-construction between myriad organizational actors, whose “essence” varies of necessity between each occasion of its occurrence. It is therefore argued that there is no essence of leadership waiting to be discovered and then summarized in formal definitions or lists of competencies and desired behaviors torn from particular social, organizational, and temporal contexts (Ford & Harding, 2011). It follows that discursive closure—that is, seeking to achieve a finished definition of leadership and how it works to which all will unquestioningly subscribe and which will apply in multiple contexts—is neither a desirable nor an attainable outcome of leadership practice or of leadership theorizing.

Leader–Member Exchange (LMX) Theory

A variety of perspectives has always coexisted, and competed, within the realm of leadership studies. One approach that has drawn significantly on communication and is therefore of particular note in this entry is leader–member exchange (LMX) theory, now at least four decades in development (Dansereau, Graen, & Haga, 1975; Graen & Cashman, 1975). Fairhurst’s (2001) discussion of LMX identified 91 studies within the tradition that had an explicitly communication focus, and more such studies have since been conducted. A key aspect of LMX was its recognition that leaders had different types of relationships with each follower (Dulebohn, Bommer, Liden, Brouer, & Ferris, 2012). As Fairhurst (2001, p. 419) notes: “More than most leadership theories, LMX has been very concerned with relationship development.” The theory therefore also highlights how followers influence leaders, a departure from many approaches, some of which remain popular, that stress leader agency and pay minimal if any attention to that of other organizational actors. One of its essential postulates is that “leaders discriminate in their treatment of members by using their discretionary resources to reward those willing to go above and beyond job expectations while withholding those resources from those who do not” (Fairhurst, in press).

Sheer (2015) summarizes this in terms of in-group and out-group formation. Those whom the leader regards in a favorable light form an in-group while those who have a lower quality of LMX form an out-group. Through these varied dynamics a process of co-construction is engaged during which leaders and followers socially construct their respective identities. This approach is consistent with the broader tradition of social exchange theory in social psychology. Conversations and language games are thus essential to how such relationships are enacted and have been studied with particular care in a range of qualitative LMX work in the past (e.g., Fairhurst & Hamlett, 2003).

A key concern has been with the outcomes of the leader–follower relationship. A range of claims have been made for the impact of high-quality LMX on both attitudes and behaviors, including higher levels of performance from those in the in-group (Gerstner & Day, 1997; Ilies, Nahrgang, & Morgeson, 2007). In line perhaps with the notion of transactional rather than transformational leadership, low LMX relationships are seen as having a focus on the immediate and goal-oriented relationships between leaders and followers, rather than the development of mutual obligations and reciprocity (e.g., Liden, Sparrowe, & Wayne, 1997). Despite the wealth of work that has been conducted, there is an ongoing need for more studies that explore the communication practices that lie behind the relationships formed between leaders and followers.

Communication and Complexity

Complexity has been described as “one of the fastest growing topics of research in the natural and social sciences” (Morrison, 2011, p. 1). Its relevance for communication-based approaches to leadership is evident. Complexity perspectives offer a view of organizations as “dynamic systems governed by nonlinear relationships” (Thietart & Forgues, 1995, p. 22). Such systems are inherently hard to predict, although prediction remains one of the key objectives of most positivist approaches to social science (Griffin, Shaw, & Stacey, 1998; Anderson, 1999; Hernes, 2014). In contrast, complexity theories focus on the nonlinearity of organizational processes, the potentially infinite number of variables at play, and the porous boundaries of organizations, which further confuses the challenge of delineating definite causal relationships within clearly defined social systems (Czarniawska, 2013; Morel & Ramanujam, 1999). Although constraining and enabling structures exist, Osborn, Hunt, and Jauch (2002, p. 823) argue that “Each time an agent interacts with another, the agent is free to follow, ignore or slightly alter the institutional arrangement . . . Where the organization faces a dynamic and unpredictable environment, the feedback is nonlinear. Small changes could have very large consequences (the butterfly effect) for subsequent operations.” The result is uncertainty about such issues as how systems can behave collectively when they are composed of unpredictable parts; how any system interacts with others; difficulty in delineating the environment in which a system finds itself; and any attempt to describe how elements of the system change over time (Allen & Boulton, 2011).

A complexity perspective challenges leadership theories that stress the role of active, purposeful leaders guiding relatively compliant organizational actors to predetermined and predictable outcomes through the reliable use of particular techniques. In stressing uncertainty, unpredictability, and contingency, complexity theory suggests that the social world may be more irrational, unpredictable, and unresponsive than many leaders and leadership theories are inclined to acknowledge.

Thus, complexity leadership theory suggests that “. . . leadership is an emergent event, an outcome of relational interactions among agents” (Lichtenstein et al., 2006, p. 2). Implicit here is the view that leadership is a process and that leaders are socially constructed through the communicative actions of organizational actors (Marion, 2013). Leaders and followers “live in a relational world—a world in which leadership is co-created in systems of interconnected relationships and richly interactive contexts” (Fairhurst & Uhl-Bien, 2012, p. 1043). It follows that “. . . a complexity leadership perspective requires that we distinguish between leadership and leaders. Complexity Leadership Theory will add a view of leadership as an emergent, interactive dynamic that is productive of adaptive outcomes . . . It will consider leaders as individuals who act in ways that influence this dynamic and the outcomes” (Uhl-Bien, Marion, & McKalvey, 2007, p. 299).

In summary, such emerging complexity perspectives have much in common with social constructionism, in general, and overtly discursive and communication perspectives, in particular.

The Contribution of Habermas

In this context it is pertinent to consider how this stress on constitutive interaction and co-construction between leaders and nonleaders can be advanced by considering the work of Habermas. This is because of Habermas’s theoretical focus on communication and because some leadership theorists (e.g., Fryer, 2011) have suggested that his approach can provide a framework in which leader action is open to challenge and can assure greater legitimacy for forms of leader agency that adopt a particular approach to that challenge.

In key writings, Habermas has focused on communicative action and discourse ethics, developing such notions as “ideal speech acts” and considering how these might promote more rational human behavior and forms of communication. What he saw as the autonomy of the individual, with the elimination of suffering and the furthering of concrete happiness” (1974, p. 254), was central to this preoccupation, and became even more manifest in his later work on communicative action (1984, 1987). For Habermas, communication is bound up with attempts to create the shared understandings and cooperative relationships that underpin enduring forms of social organization. Morrison (2011, p. 159) sees such an approach as a means whereby leaders sensitized to complexity theory can re-energize “employees by valuing them as human with freedoms, voice, equality and openness to participation.”

Habermas’s (1984, 1987) notion of communicative action is particularly pertinent for this discussion. Central to this is the idea of the ideal speech situation. This puts a particular stress on how validity claims are raised and the degree to which they may be challenged. All “speech acts” invite a listener to accept a person’s authority to raise issues, put trust in the accuracy of the speaker’s content, and have some conception of what the speaker hopes to achieve by it. It also follows that people have the right to query such claims. In leadership terms, shared understanding could be envisaged as a goal of collaborative action. But this will only be achieved to the degree that followers respect the speech acts of leaders in the terms described here. They therefore have the right to query the validity content of a leader’s communication, thereby embarking on a process of negotiation to construct some kind of shared meaning. From this perspective, a leader’s “vision” is there to be openly challenged rather than blindly acclaimed (Clifton, 2012). Habermas would acknowledge that disagreement inevitably results from such debate, but then assumes that it will be mediated constructively through the normal processes of human communication. Critically,

Rationality carries with it connotations based ultimately on the central experience of the unconstrained, unifying, consensus-bringing force of argumentative speech in which different participants overcome their merely subjective views and, owing to the mutuality of rationally motivated conviction, assure themselves of both the unity of the objective world and the intersubjectivity of their life world. (Habermas, 1984, p. 10)

Thus, the normative legitimacy of leadership (or anything else) does not derive from the existence of absolute moral standards or universally agreed definitions of right and wrong. Rather, it is determined by the degree to which all organizational actors are able to advance and challenge the validity claims of others—in Habermas’s terms (1984, p. 115), on the degree to which we have “reciprocally raised validity claims.” The challenge to notions of leadership which put undue stress on leader agency is obvious. In Habermas’s (1990) terminology what he describes as a normatively legitimating speech act occurs when

Every subject with the competence to speak and act is allowed to take part in the discourse.

Everyone is allowed to question any assertion whatever.

Everyone is allowed to introduce any assertion whatever into the discourse.

Everyone is allowed to express his or her attitudes, desires and needs.

Relating this notion to what he terms facilitative leadership, Fryer (2011, pp. 31, 32) asserts that such leadership “would include active processes for individual and collective self-determination, critical self-reflection and associated self-transformation . . . the status of a leader should not be taken for granted . . . Habermasian ideal speech offers more than a framework for organizational decision-making; it also offers a constitutional procedure by which a leader’s right to occupy their roles needs to be justified.” The implication is that followers should be able to challenge, and perhaps even disobey, the commandments of their leaders.

Problematizing Habermas

Many scholars have been appreciative of how Habermas’s work opens a greater space to explore participatory communication and decision-making in organizations (e.g., Cheney, 1995; Deetz, 1992). However, applying Habermas to the context of leadership has also been problematized by other leadership scholars, who draw attention to the asymmetrical power relations that characterize most if not all organizational contexts. Thus, the implications of his work continues to be debated. Deetz (2001, p. 30) notes that “the attempt to reach understanding presupposes a symmetrical distribution of the chances to choose and apply speech acts that can be heard and understood.” Although not directly addressing Habermas, the work of Barge (2004) specifically addresses the importance of the value commitments that organizational actors bring to their interactions, recognizing that these will vary and are therefore open to contestation.

From a critical perspective, asymmetric power relations are more prevalent than the suggestion of ideal speech acts seems able to take into account. Tourish (2014) argues that some form of domination—among much else—is inherent to any leader–follower relationship, or indeed to any human relationship at all. It may therefore be difficult or even impossible to enact ideal speech acts as proposed by Habermas. Thus, Fryer (2011, p. 37), echoing Habermas, suggests that facilitative leadership should seek to promote situations in which, for example, “all are able to introduce any assertion whatsoever into organizational discourse.” Tourish (2014) challenges the extent to which this is possible, arguing that most human interaction—from parenting, to work, to civil partnership, to marriage—might become problematic were this injunction to be indiscriminately applied.

As the discussion of critical upward communication above has argued, the constrained communicative actions of those in lower-status positions in organizations is partially induced by leader positions of dominancy, but also (in a dialectical sense) by followers’ own interests in ingratiating themselves with authority and therefore in avoiding overt challenges to managerial power. Silence as a form of followership can be viewed as one means of avoiding responsibility for organizational decisions (Grint, 2010)—a conscious positional choice, in pursuit of perceived self-benefit. Leaders often inadvertently enhance this effect, since an excessive stress on their indispensability for effective decision-making further “mitigates the responsibility and accountability of followers” (Bligh, 2011, p. 428), and thereby diminishes the significance of follower voice. Silence, of course, may also have a more oppositional intent, depending on the circumstances in which it occurs and the motives of those involved.

Such communicative hesitations could be regarded as examples of what Habermas (1984, p. 332) referred to as “systematically distorted communication” (his emphasis). He goes on to argue that “Such communication pathologies can be conceived of as the result of a confusion between actions oriented to reaching understanding and actions oriented to success. In situations of concealed strategic action, at least one of the parties behaves with an orientation to success, but leaves others to believe that all the presuppositions of communicative action are satisfied.” However, even when leaders and followers have a primary purpose of reaching understanding, it is possible that the inherent complexity of their role will frustrate the full accomplishment of ideal speech acts. Moreover, paradox arises from the fact that any decision reached in an organization also communicates that it could have been different, and that it is therefore subject to further challenge and debate. Communication is uncertain, contested, and ambiguous. It produces disjunctures and dissonance, as well as rapprochement and consensus (Kuhn, 2012). Leadership, when viewed as a never-ending communicative process rather than the formal position of an individual within an organizational hierarchy, is therefore not the resolution of difference and critique, since the potential for critique is embedded in the act of deciding. The quest for discursive closure, implied by the notion of absolute understanding between organizational actors, is arguably self-defeating.

Critical upward communication may serve as a useful illustration of these issues. The reluctance of employees to be openly critical of leader action is well documented in the literature (Morrison, 2014). However, this reluctance is often a display of perceived self-interest. Deciding not to contest the validity claims of organizational actors who possess considerable powers of sanction can be a display of power and agency, albeit one that violates what Habermas would see as the conditions needed for an ideal speech act. An insistence on the contestation of the validity claims of more powerful organizational actors may easily become another form of imposition (“You must always tell me what you really think”). Communication and process perspectives can ameliorate some of these problems if, rather than aspire in the first instance to the creation of fresh normative conceptions of leadership, they focus on capturing leadership dynamics in a more fluid, contested, and multi-faceted manner than has so far been seen (Tourish, 2013).

A dialectical rather than purely Habermasian perspective puts much more focus “on the dynamic interactions or push-pulls between opposing forces that enact social reality” (Putnam, 2013, p. 24). It argues that contradiction is inherent to all forms of communication and leadership (Putnam, 2015). This is often manifest in unequal power relations that are resistant to consensus. In this view, ideal speech acts as the foundation of more facilitative forms of leadership are therefore beside the point. While Habermas’s emphasis on the role of validity claims and his criticism of any assumption that some communicative actors should have privileged rights in making such claims is useful, a dialectical approach problematizes his emphasis on agreement as a precondition for rationality or the basis for the construction of less contested forms of leadership. It sees the mutual contestation of validity claims as an enduring feature of leader–follower relations, rather than a prelude to resolution.

Thus, leadership can be defined by what “is”—what leaders do, believe, and intend. But it is also defined by what is not, by what can be and by what actors think ought to be. It is necessarily born from conversation, ideological positioning, and hence conflict. It is a perpetual clash between the “real”—if “real” is defined as “what is”—and the “ideal”—if ideal is defined as the multitude of other possibilities that always exist. Rather than having an objective presence “out there,” separate from the human communication that produces it, it may be more useful to acknowledge that:

leadership (is) something that resists full presence as an object of knowledge. It is something that cannot be encountered directly through the senses or through language and that lacks a positive ontological foundation, or logos, through which we can discern its inner workings and content. Instead, ‘leadership’ as a concept or term should be understood as an absent presence; one that must always be described and represented by somebody or something else. (Kelly, 2013, p. 906)

Actors’ awareness of these possibilities is mediated through communication. If, as Latour (2013, p. 42) suggests, we should recognize that “to organise is always to reorganize,” and organization is thus viewed as an ongoing but never-completed process, it follows that leadership can be best understood as a temporally bounded communicative process of becoming and unbecoming, enacted in transient human interactions, during which differences between actors can be explored but will never be fully resolved.

Implications for Conventional Leadership Theorizing

Transformational Leadership

In considering the implications of communication perspectives on leadership, it is perhaps most useful to look at the dominant theorizing in the field, that of transformational leadership (TL). Most interest in TL dates from the late 1970s. At that point, Burns (1978) proposed that leadership could be conceptualized in two factor terms, as being either transactional or transformational. His work is considered seminal in the field. Within transactional models of the leadership process, the independence of both leaders’ and followers’ goals is a given (Flauto, 1999). Goods, services, and other rewards are exchanged so that the various parties achieve their independent goals. The emphasis is on exchange relationships between followers and leaders, in line with the traditional nostrums of social exchange theory (Anand, Hu, Liden, & Vidyarthi, 2011). Burns (1978, p. 425) critically observed that the object of this transactional approach “is not a joint effort for persons with common aims acting for the collective interests of followers but a bargain to aid the individual interests of persons or groups going their separate ways.” The culture that results from a transactional approach to leadership is likely to be one characterized by dissent, which may be more or less tolerated, and reduced cohesion—outcomes which most leaders instinctively reject.

Traditionally, leadership research has assumed “that the leader is at the centre of change, manoeuvring and motivating players and directing organizational response as issues arise” (Marion & Uhl-Bien, 2011, p. 395). Consistent with this emphasis, transformational leadership stresses the role of powerful individuals in reconfiguring the cognitions, behaviors, and emotions of followers to ensure that they are aligned with centrally sanctioned goals (Hartnell & Walumbwa, 2011). Such theorizing presumes that the goals leaders determine for followers reflect the unitarist interests of most or all organizational stakeholders (Bass, 1985; Bass & Riggio, 2006). Researchers typically seek to explore the mediating mechanisms, such as psychological empowerment, whereby this influence and its associated positive effects are achieved (e.g., Avolio, Zhy, Koh, & Bhatia, 2004) and identify moderating factors that establish boundary conditions, such as neuroticism and locus of control (e.g., De Hoogh & Hartog, 2009). Bass (1990) extended Burns’s ideas from the political sphere into small group and organizational settings. This trend has been maintained in the research of others, including Tichy and Ulrich (1984), Tichy and Devanna (1990), and Aryee, Walumbwa, Zhou, and Hartnell, (2012).

Three transformational attributes have been consistently identified in this literature: charismatic leadership, individual consideration, and intellectual stimulation (Diaz-Saernz, 2011). The transformational leader possesses and energetically communicates “a vision” for the organization. A vision has been defined as a mental image that a leader evokes to portray an idealized future (Conger, 1989). As Awamleh and Gardner (1999, p. 346) point out, “an idealized vision is generally considered to be a prerequisite for a leader to become transformational or charismatic.” Charismatic leaders have been defined as people who “by the force of their personal abilities are capable of having profound and extraordinary effects on followers” (House & Baetz, 1979, p. 339). Thus, charisma is something that has variously been described as residing in the person (House & Howell, 1992), a behavioral phenomenon (Conger & Kanungo, 1994), concerned with some aspects of social exchange (Bryman, 1992) or ultimately an attributional phenomenon (Lord & Maher, 1993).

The vision performs an integrative role, combining the members into a collective whole with a shared set of aspirations capable of guiding (or molding) their everyday behavior. The act of communicating such a vision is highly dynamic, requires intense charisma, and transforms relational dynamics throughout the workplace. In particular, Shamir, House, and Arthur (1993, p. 577) summarize the literature on this by saying that transformational leaders “cause followers to become highly committed to the leader’s mission, to make significant personal sacrifices in the interests of the mission, and to perform above and beyond the call of duty . . . Theories of charismatic leadership highlight such effects as emotional attachment to the leader on the part of the followers; emotional and motivational arousal of the followers; enhancement of follower valences with respect to the mission articulated by the leader; follower self-esteem, trust, and confidence in the leader; follower values; and follower intrinsic motivation.” Accordingly, “Leaders transform followers. That is, followers are changed from being self-centered individuals to being committed members of a group” (Sashkin, 2004, p. 175).

From a more critical perspective, these prescriptions are viewed as a series of limiting ideological assumptions (Alvesson & Karreman, 2016). It is argued that they downplay the existence of asymmetrical power relationships in organizations. They therefore assume that whatever common interests exist between organizational actors are more important in shaping relationships than the interests they do not have in common. Tourish (2013) argues that there is no a priori reason to presume that the goals proposed by a transformational leader represent a deeper mutual interest among organizational partners and hence express the best interests of all concerned. If a leader secures sufficient power to adjust the psyche of his or her followers, in the form of transforming their independently determined goals in a common direction, such power could be used for the sectional good of the designated leader. This dilemma has been widely recognized. It has been dubbed “the Hitler problem” (Ciulla, 1995): In essence, can Hitler be viewed as a transformational leader? Is he in the same category as Martin Luther King, or other more moral leaders? If not, who sets the standards for what constitutes morality, using what criteria, and validated by whom?

Transformational leadership theorists argue that leaders should seek to influence the identity of their followers in order to indirectly increase their commitment (Chemers, 2003). Leaders need to satisfy followers’ needs, values, and goals and confirm their identities as part of a process of shaping attitudes to ensure that they are consistent with a common, unitary interest. In the process, personal and organizational goals are aligned, heightening employee commitment (Bass, 1985). Thus, an organization’s “vision” becomes one that is described as “shared” by employees and leaders (Conger, Kanungo, & Menon, 2000). Empirical studies also suggest that transformational leadership fosters much closer identification with both the leader and the designated work unit—an outcome generally viewed by its advocates as desirable (Kark, Shamir, & Chen, 2003). A powerful expression of such thinking is provided by two of the foremost advocates of transformational leadership:

Transformational leaders . . . are those who stimulate and inspire followers to both achieve extraordinary outcomes and, in the process, develop their own leadership capacity. Transformational leaders help followers grow and develop into leaders by responding to individual followers’ needs by empowering them and by aligning the objectives and goals of the individual followers, the leader, the group, and the larger organization . . . transformational leadership can move followers to exceed expected performance, as well as lead to high levels of follower satisfaction and commitment to the group and the organization. (Bass & Riggio, 2006, p. 3)

From a more critical perspective, Alvesson and Sveningsson (2012, p. 203) observe, in overviewing the field of leadership, that “there are no limits to what leadership is supposed to accomplish in terms of improving the feelings, thinking, values, ethics, change-mindedness, satisfaction, and performance of followers.” In addition, the view of organizations implied by authors such as Bass and Riggio is unitarist. They argue that “Transformational leadership involves inspiring followers to commit to a shared vision and goals for an organization or unit” (Bass & Riggio, 2006, p. 4).

The view of communication here can be viewed as transmissional or unidirectional. That is, communication is a means whereby powerful actors influence others much more than those actors influence leaders. In the terms posed by Fairhurst and Connaughton (2014), which are outlined at the beginning of this article, it is a leader-centric rather than follower-centric view of leadership. In place of contestation, it also sees leadership acts in terms of their legitimacy, in that those who hold formal leadership positions are assumed to have a legitimate right to exercise power over others. The research into TL also pays little attention to context, in the belief that the effective behaviors that are associated with TL will be effective in a wide variety of contexts (Ladkin, 2010). These assumptions are explicitly challenged in the work of Fairhurst (2007), Tourish (2013, 2014), and Collinson and Tourish (2015). However, some of these issues have also been acknowledged in work that has largely promoted the idea of TL.

In particular, Conger (1990, p. 44), acknowledges that “. . . though we tend to think of the positive outcomes associated with leaders, certain risks or liabilities are also entailed. The very behaviours that distinguish leaders from managers also have the potential to produce problematic or even disastrous outcomes for their organizations. For example, when a leader’s behaviours become exaggerated, lose touch with reality, or become vehicles for purely personal gain, they may harm the leader and the organization.” Collinson and Tourish (2015) stress that the majority of leadership studies still focus on the positive benefits of leadership, with few of them looking at dysfunctional leadership. Thus, Conger (1990, p. 50) acknowledges the following possible liabilities in the leader’s communication and impression management skills, of particular importance in this case:

Exaggerated self-descriptions.

Exaggerated claims for the vision.

A technique of fulfilling stereotypes and images of uniqueness to manipulate audiences.

A habit of gaining commitment by restricting negative information and maximizing positive information.

Use of anecdotes to distract attention away from negative statistical information.

Creation of an illusion of control through affirming information and attributing negative outcomes to external causes.

It may be that the emergent work on discursive processes and communication perspectives on leadership have the potential to fruitfully address these deficits in leadership behavior and theory.

Authentic Leadership (AL) Theory

This is generally viewed as a development of transformational leadership and an attempt to accommodate the criticism in some accounts that “bad” leaders (such as Hitler or Stalin) could be viewed as transformational. Indeed, some of the pioneers of TL introduced the term into leadership studies, arguing that genuinely transformational leaders must by definition be moral individuals, since to be otherwise would render them no more than pseudo-transformational leaders (Bass & Steidlmeier, 1999). In this view, authentic leaders are moral agents who “expand the domain of effective freedom, the horizon of conscience and the scope for altruistic intention” (p. 211). Subsequent work in this area encourages leaders to get in touch with their true, innermost, and authentic selves, to find the sources of moral virtue that they can then use as the basis of their relationships with other people (e.g., Avolio et al., 2004; Gardner, Avolio, & Luthans, 2005). The purpose of leadership development is to facilitate a leader’s encounter with his or her positive inner self, through encouraging self-knowledge and self-awareness.

In doing so, “Authentic leaders . . . retain their distinctiveness as individuals, yet they know how to win acceptance in strong corporate and social cultures and how to use elements of those cultures as a basis for radical change” (Goffee & Jones, 2005, p. 88). From a communication perspective, the first issue to note here is that, as with TL, agency is viewed as primarily in the hands of leaders, who are entrusted to act on the agency of others to produce what the leader defines as morally defensible outcomes. Strong corporate and social cultures are generally unproblematic: they liberate rather than constrain. The authentic leader has the (legitimate) power and hence agency to ensure that change proceeds in a manner consistent with “strong” organizational cultures, which will be based on a high level of moral purpose, underpinned by the leader’s sense of authenticity.

High moral values are by this definition inherently positive and also generally consistent with those of the organization (Algera & Lips-Wiersma, 2012). In discovering and then promoting them, authentic leaders will be “relatively immune to situational pressures” (Gardner, Fischer, & Hunt, 2009, p. 468). That is, they will be consistently authentic and largely unaffected by contextual constraints, unlike their inauthentic counterparts.

Some critical scholars have interrogated these assumptions. They seem to assume that “the self” is an integrated whole, relatively divorced from issues of context. Arguing from a social constructionist perspective, Fairhurst (2007) is among those to highlight how the self may be more plausibly depicted as an ongoing process of construction. Holstein and Gubrium (2000, p. 57) describe the self as a working subjectivity, in that the self is “not only a polysomic product of experience, it is also a byproduct of practices that diversely construct it in response to varied senses of what it could, or need, be.” This suggests that “the self” is inherently protean, and that it makes little sense to propose the existence of an authentic core that is relatively divorced from time, space, and context.

Consistent with this critique, Fairhurst (2007) and Tourish (2013) are also among those to question the assumption that the “authentic” inner selves of some leaders will be consistent with high moral values. There are, as they suggest, many leaders driven by evidently baser moral values but who appear to be untroubled by them. They constitute a consistent inner self with which the leader is fully in tune. Most notably, Ford and Harding (2011, p. 476) suggest that the theory of AL means there is “little possibility of freedom of speech or thought: if the model was successfully implemented then to demand such things would result in being seen as inauthentic and thus unsuitable for the organization . . . Only the leader, and thus the follower . . . who mimics the organization and its demands will be acceptable.” From this standpoint, and consistent with the communication perspectives discussed earlier in this article, the problem with AL theory is that it does not acknowledge asymmetrical power relationships in organizations, assumes that leaders retain the right to determine the values and action of others (if the leader can be assured that this is consistent with what they are satisfied is a high moral purpose), and understates the extent to which leader identities and roles are co-constructed through communicative interaction between leaders and followers, often via dissent and conflict. In short, there may be less agreement between organizational actors than is sometimes imagined as to what constitutes a high moral purpose, legitimate courses of organizational and leader action, and viable goals to which all organizational actors can subscribe.

Servant Leadership Theory

As conceived by Greenleaf (1977, p. 7) “The Servant-Leader is servant first . . . It begins with the natural feeling that one wants to serve, to serve first. Then conscious choice brings one to aspire to lead . . . The best test, and difficult to administer, is this: Do those served grow as persons? Do they, while being served, become healthier, wiser, freer, more autonomous, and more likely themselves to become servants? And, what is the effect on the least privileged in society? Will they benefit, or at least not further be harmed?”

A common problem in leadership studies is the tendency for constructs to grow in complexity over time. While Spears (1995) suggested that servant leadership initially began with 10 major characteristics, a recent review suggests that this has now grown to 44 (van Dierendonck, 2011). These include courage, vision, the ability to exercise transforming influence (while empowering others), and humility. Likewise, van Knippenberg and Sitkin’s (2013) exhaustive and critical review identified 58 moderating variables in the literature on transformational leadership that have relationships with 37 dependent variables. They also found 52 mediators predicting 38 different outcomes. This poses implementation challenges, since attending to so many characteristics in one’s leadership practice may challenge the abilities of even highly effective individuals. Servant leadership might suffer from similar problems. Tourish (2014) also critiques what he sees as the implied dominance of leader agency and an attendant assumption of leaders’ superiority over followers. For example, the theory accepts that leaders can determine the growth needs of others, and in a manner that will be unlikely to inflict harm. While this may frequently be the case, a more critical appreciation of the power dynamics within which leader and follower relationships are embedded may suggest that the variegated interests of organizational actors could render its operationalization somewhat more contentious than is often assumed.


Grint (2011) provides a succinct and useful overview of the development of leadership scholarship stretching back to antiquity. In more modern times, it is widely accepted that Thomas Carlyle sparked renewed interest in the issue in 1840, when he delivered six lectures devoted to celebrating how heroes had a decisive impact on history and therefore the fate of humankind. Traces of this approach remain until the present day, with an ongoing tendency to attribute primary responsibility for organizational success or failure to individual leaders above all other factors. More scientifically, trait theorists have attempted to identify the personality attributes of effective leaders and the degree to which they are inherent or acquired through experience (Taylor, 2015). It is, however, far from clear precisely how important these traits are, the extent to which they are inherent to individuals or otherwise, and the degree to which context impacts on their effectiveness.

Reflecting this concern, and growing out of the influential “Ohio State Leadership Studies” in the 1940s, researchers began to place much more emphasis on the importance of context. Stodgill (1948) recognized the importance of some traits, but also acknowledged that the social, cultural, and organizational contexts within which people worked had a huge effect on the degree to which they became apparent or were effective. He also identified the importance of dynamics between leaders and followers in bringing particular traits to the fore and enabling some traits and individuals to be effective in some situations but not in others. This emphasis is evident in relational leadership studies today.

The Ohio State Leadership Studies also helped inform contingency studies which stressed the importance of leader power, task structure, and leader–member relations in determining leader behavior and outcomes (e.g., Fiedler, 1972). One particularly important manifestation of this was leader–member exchange theory, which focused on interaction between leaders and followers, and in particular on what determined the overall quality of leader-member exchange (LMX) (see Dulebohn et al., 2012, for a meta review of LMX research). Communication is therefore a central concern in this body of research, both directly and indirectly.

By the 1970s, however, it became increasingly common to find scholars arguing that “by any objective measure, the study of leadership has failed to produce generally accepted, practically useful, and widely applied scientific knowledge” (Sashkin & Garland, 1979, p. 65). Several factors explain this disillusionment. As has been noted by many, no agreed-upon definition of leadership had ever emerged, something that remains true to the present day. More substantially, clear prescriptions for leadership effectiveness had not been developed. In addition, the 1970s were parlous times for the American economy, and indeed its society overall. Spector (2014) has suggested that this context created receptiveness to arguments in favor of the need for powerful, charismatic leadership as the way forward. Transformational leadership theory therefore emerged at a propitious time. Given its overwhelming importance in the field, it has been discussed in this article with a particular focus on its communicative implications.

There has been a further proliferation of theorization in leadership studies in the decades since, even though transformational leadership theory remains dominant, even if no longer unchallenged. As discussed elsewhere in this article, they include authentic leadership, complexity leadership, servant leadership, and discursive leadership (Fairhurst, 2007). Each has attracted a large volume of literature, both favorably and critically disposed. Summary introductory chapters on each can be found within the SAGE Handbook of Leadership (Bryman et al., 2011).

Given the primary emphasis here on communication, this article has focused on the discursive and communication turn within leadership studies, discussed extensively above. Of particular note in terms of discursive approaches is Fairhurst’s (2007) book on the issue, which may be considered seminal. Relational leadership research, championed by scholars such as Mary Uhl-Bien, clearly belongs to this tradition (Reitz, 2015). The emergent subfield of critical leadership studies also draws attention to issues of power, conformity, resistance, and oppression much more directly than mainstream theorizing and has made considerable use of associated process and communication based theories in doing so (Carroll, Ford, & Taylor, 2015; Collinson & Tourish, 2015).


Leadership remains a fertile field of inquiry. Indeed, the proliferation of publications, prescriptions, and theoretical perspectives—in books, journal articles, and the practitioner-oriented literature—shows no signs of slowing down. Yet as this article has shown it also remains beset by controversy. This includes how the subject is researched. For example, Alvesson and Karreman (2016) note that the favored methodology of leadership researchers is the questionnaire, and they wonder if researchers are sometimes more interested in researching questionnaire-filling behavior than researching leadership. While questionnaires may be a suitable form of inquiry for some leadership issues, it may also be that deeper studies of leadership in actual practice require different approaches, such as in-depth observation, interviews, longitudinal studies, and even analysis of extreme forms of leadership behavior, in order to distill essential points that have wider contextual significance.

The evolution of communication perspectives on leadership also reflects a shift within the broader discipline of communication studies, in which organizational communication scholars have shown a greater tendency to embrace postpositivist theoretical frameworks and methodologies. This has involved greater engagement with leadership discourse, broadly defined, and an attendant critical interrogation of leadership purpose, processes, and practice. While at least some of this work is consistent with mainstream theorizing, much of it, as this article shows, is not. A creative tension between competing frameworks is an inevitable feature of academic discourse. In the case of leadership studies there is little sign of it being replaced by a strong consensus on theoretical frames, methods, values, and objectives. This offers both challenges and opportunities for communication scholars interested in leadership studies.

There is enormous scope for additional contributions.

Further Reading

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        Collinson, D. (2005). Dialectics of leadership. Human Relations, 58, 1419–1442.Find this resource:

          Collinson, D., Grint, K., & Jackson, B. (Eds.). (2011). Major works in leadership (Vols. 1–4). London: SAGE.Find this resource:

            Fairhurst, G. (2007). Discursive leadership: In conversation with leadership psychology. London: SAGE.Find this resource:

              Fairhurst, G., & Connaughton, S. (2014). Leadership: A communication perspective. Leadership, 20, 7–35.Find this resource:

                Gardner, W., Avolio, B., & Luthans, F. (2005). “Can you see the real me?” A self-based model of authentic leader and follower development. The Leadership Quarterly, 16, 343–372.Find this resource:

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