Syn-kinesis, an empirical inquiry in the relational process of leadership

  • Chrysavgi Sklaveniti

    Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


    This thesis explores the relational process of leadership, problematising individual-centric thinking in leadership studies (e.g. Gergen, 2009c; Hosking, 1988, 2011b). Spanning from trait to collective theories, there remains an attachment to viewing leadership as determined by the acts of individuals. The thesis regards this individualistic stability as problematic in the fluctuating, ever-changing process of becoming (Chia & Holt, 2009), and proposes a relational understanding that goes beyond dualistic assumptions of separation. On a meta-theoretical level, individualism in leadership is the founding premise of two broad literature streams, which in turn emphasise and extend the dominance of the individual. The first stream of individualism reduces leadership to the impact of the individual leader, and prescribes the route to effectiveness in terms of an ideal leader exerting control on external variables. For the second stream of inter-individualism, leadership starts from individuals and extends to a network of individuals. The thesis follows a third, emergent stream of relationality. Relationality eschews the assumption that leadership lies in bounded and self-contained individuals, suggesting instead a focus on relational processes. Such a focus proposes that leadership is an entangled process (Hernes, 2007), and 'individuals' are temporary expressions of their relations. Conceptually, the thesis' approach to the relational process of leadership rests on relational constructionism (Gergen, 1994a, 2009c; Hosking, 1988, 2006, 2008, 2011a; Hosking, Dachler, & Gergen, 1995), which methodologically calls for a research approach different from individual-centric ones (Alvesson & Sköldberg, 2009) in order to address emergence and relational dynamics (Chia, 1996). This implies following leadership from within in real-time, which is challenging, and could perhaps explain why empirical developments have not kept pace. An immersed episodic fieldwork methodology has been developed to highlight direct and real-time involvement in research that takes place in meetings in organisational settings. The unit of analysis is turning points that punctuate flow in relational dynamics, identified as such by research participants themselves. Research took place in two research sites in the UK from May to October 2013, with the methods of non-participant observation (pre, post and during meetings), shadowing (in one research site) and reflective research notes. The empirical material included the analysis of 106 turning points, which were first analysed into leadership movements joined together with turning points dealing with the same issue, spreading across meetings. Turning points were then analysed in terms of Gergen's (2009c) responsive interplay, and their combinations composed 16 patterns that made up the four leadership expressions: challenging, creating, operating and progressing. Next, leadership movements were revisited and analysed in terms of the passage from one turning point to the next. The main contribution this thesis seeks to make is to provide a new, dynamic way to talk about leadership from a relational constructionist perspective. This is conceptualised as syn-kinesis, which is an ongoing, polymorphic process in constant metamorphosis, in pursuit of direction. The syn-kinetic process of leadership emerges in relational dynamics, and does not belong to specific individuals or locations, rendering accountability present at each turning point. Along these lines, the proposition is not yet another leadership label, but rather a description of relating and working together.
    Date of Award11 Aug 2015
    Original languageEnglish
    Awarding Institution
    • University Of Strathclyde
    SupervisorBarbara Simpson (Supervisor) & David Mackay (Supervisor)

    Cite this