Leadership from a Communication Perspective
- Dennis TourishDennis TourishProfessor of Leadership and Organization Studies (Management), University of Sussex
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.