Leadership, change and talk:A linguistic ethnographic study of workplace conversations

Murphy, Anne (2023) Leadership, change and talk:A linguistic ethnographic study of workplace conversations. PhD thesis, UNSPECIFIED.

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This thesis combines leadership theory with linguistic ethnography to develop insights that have practical relevance for managers in organisations. In learning and development practice, designs are largely based on distanced understandings of leadership which miss much of the detail of how leadership actually happens. The research investigates how close attention to language can extend our understanding of leadership so that leadership development interventions can better support people in leadership positions. The study comprises three case studies which examine the language practices of five female corporate executives - a total 15 hours of observed, recorded and transcribed interactive data. These data were collected ethnographically in a process that was designed with equal emphasis on research objectives and leadership learning opportunities. For the analysis I adopted the framework of activity analysis to identify critical episodes for more detailed analysis of interactional strategies using discourse analytic tools of linguistics. The findings reveal felt but invisible leadership processes which instantiate the moment-by-moment co-production of direction, authority and power. The study furthermore provides evidence that linguistic and conversational choices made by managers in the flow of interaction, are neither bound by binary oppositions nor related to decontextualised notions of leadership style. Empirically, the study extends applied linguistics leadership scholarship by providing deeper insights into the dialectical relationships between agency and authority, confirming and giving away power, and doing and changing work. The theoretical contribution to the applied linguistics leadership literature comprises a challenge to the way a foundational task-versus-relationship conceptualisation of leadership practice shapes analyses. In terms of praxis, this thesis has provided deeper insight into ways some binary traps are embedded in in-situ language practices. Overall, the study suggests a role for linguistic analysis in identifying and describing how alternative linguistic choices interconnect in the production of leadership practices.

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Thesis (PhD)
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21 Jul 2023 13:10
Last Modified:
26 Sep 2023 00:31