A collaborative auto-ethnographic account: A critical analysis of a decade of lived leadership experiences

Year: 2015

Author: Harold, Barbara, Stephenson, Lauren

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

Leaders typically move on a forward-looking trajectory as their practice shapes and is shaped by current and evolving theories. Seldom do they pause to reflect and critically analyze how their own theorizing and practice has grown and changed over time.
Drawing on Chang et al. (2012), the authors present a collaborative auto-ethnographic account that charts a decade-long journey of learning and change in leadership practice and research from 2005 – 2015. Collaborative auto-ethnography focuses on self –inquiry where the researcher has a dual role as researcher and research participant. As part of the larger social context, the researchers’ experiences are analysed, interpreted and presented as they shape and are shaped by specific contexts This approach is done through a highly personalised account in which the authors invite their audience to relive experience and events with them. When doing collaborative auto-ethnography, the researchers retrospectively, selectively and analytically write about remembered moments, within specific contexts, that have significantly impacted them.
To ensure the authenticity of the account the authors drew on qualitative data gathered over a period of ten years when they worked together in undergraduate and graduate teaching and research, and leadership roles within their academic context. Data were drawn from individual reflection, narratives of self, dialogue, self-observation and document review. This yielded rich, descriptive data about their leadership ‘work’ and the learning that occurred over the decade.

Data were analysed and interpreted retrospectively, concurrently and sequentially, probing, reflecting, making meaning and identifying themes. Gradually, after reading and rereading the data, some indicative themes and significant events emerged. Themes included linking theory to practice, rethinking theory and practice, the emotional dimension of leadership, failure and success, and exerting influence. The significant events included those over which the authors had some impact (e.g. project leadership) and those over which they had no control (e.g. external policy changes).