Can a Unitary Theory Link Relational and Leader Centric Perspectives?

Year: 2019

Author: English, Fenwick

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

Relational leadership is proffered as the emerging new conceptual vision for the field of educational leadership (Uhl Bien and Ospina, 2012). This ""relational turn,"" largely though not exclusively anchored in sociology, also has roots in many other academic disciplines (see Eacott and Niesche, 2018, p. 26).

Various advocates of relationality refer to it as a theory, a framework, a methodology, or even a possible new paradigm. Despite the conceptual ambiguity and the advocates' denials that relationality eschews binaries, the relational perspective is most often presented as a binary to what has been considered the traditional postpositive view of leadership (Alvesson and Sveningsson (2012).

Using a model of social power developed by Michael Mann in 1986, the presentation will advance the idea that both views regarding leadership may be correct, and instead of being the antithesis of one another, are actually different dimensions in time space of a singular process, that is, the development of social power from primitive social groups to more complex and highly stratified societies. These result in the emergence of civilization accompanied by social rules, social stratification and the state. Leadership becomes one component in this development and only turns into an independent variable in one sequence of historical developments. It is in these specific sequences that various forms of leadership become functional, early on very relational and later on quite role specific with more elaborate duties, specialization and stratification.

The presentation will attempt to illustrate how the development of social power as advanced and explained by Mann (1986) could possibly provide a unitary theory that may reconcile what appears to be a conflicted binary conflict between relational leadership and leader centric views of leadership.


Alvesson, M. & Svkeningsson, S. (2012). Un-and Re-packing leadership: Context, Relations, Constructions, and Politics. In M. Uhl-Bient & S.M.Ospina (Eds.) Advancing relational leadership research: A dialogue among perspectives(pp. 203-225). Charlotte, NC: Information Age Publishing, Inc.

Uhl-Bien, M. & Ospina, S.M. (2012). Advancing relational leadership research: A dialogue among perspectives.Charlotte, NC: Information Age Publishing, Inc.

Eacott, S. & Niesche, R. (2018). The relational turn in social sciences. In S. Eacott and R. Niesche (Eds.) Beyond leadership: A relational approach to organizational theory in education(pp. 25-42). Singapore, Springer.

Mann, M. (1986). The sources of social power, Vol. 1: A history of power from the beginning to A.D. 1760. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.