The possibilities of relational leading: rethinking gender, power, reason and ethics in leadership discourse and practice

Jennifer Binns

    Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis

    174 Downloads (Pure)


    This dissertation is located within debates around post heroic leadership. It takes as axiomatic the argument that we need to rethink leadership in ways that are not irredeemably bound to ideals of instrumental rationality, hegemonic masculinity and competitive individualism but are, instead, informed by the ‘feminine’ principles of mutuality, care and what Deborah Kerfoot (1999) terms ‘emotional intimacy’. I call this alternative construct ‘relational leading’ in order to underline my position that leading is about connecting (in an authentic, empathic and ethical way) with others and across functions. This alternative understanding of leadership draws on Joyce Fletcher's (1999) model of a relational practice grounded in the ‘disappeared’ feminine. While positing relational leading as a feminist alternative to dominant masculinist conceptions of leadership, this dissertation attempts to avoid reinvoking dualistic representations. It does this by thinking leadership as a practice undertaken by complex, embodied subjects whose capacity to creatively transcend binaries of masculine/feminine, reason/emotion, and power/powerlessness opens up possibilities for, in the words of Amanda Sinclair (1998), ‘doing leadership differently’. There is, however, a cautionary note in the recognition that identities and practices are discursively regulated or culturally patterned, so that men and women who ‘do’ leadership face constant pressures to masculinise or feminise their identities. Such processes perpetuate both gender stereotypes and the privileging of a masculinised notion of leadership that Sinclair (1998) calls the heroic archetype. Nonetheless, the dissertation ends on an optimistic note, proposing reflexive practice as the agent of change and the condition for being/becoming a practitioner of relational leading, against the grain of masculine heroism and rational instrumentalism.
    Original languageEnglish
    QualificationDoctor of Philosophy
    Publication statusUnpublished - 2006


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