Leadership as narrative: Connecting narratives to find shared purpose

Year: 2019

Author: Victory, Michael

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

Leadership development frameworks (e.g. DET 2007, AITSL, QELi) promote education leadership as knowledge, skills, and dispositions, or competencies to be attained. Leadership is presented as external to the persons involved in the process of leading or being led. This paper proposes that leadership development programs might be enhanced by understanding leadership as narrative.

The author has completed a narrative inquiry (Clandinin and Connelly) into an influential, if controversial, historical leader, Paul of Tarsus (Saint Paul). The inquiry was prompted by Paul’s new relevance in a conversation between theology and philosophy (Badiou, Žižek, Caputo) and emerging research on Paul as an educator (Judge, Smith, Edsall).

The mainstream narrative of Paul is that he adopted a new framework, Christianity, and travelled the Mediterranean, imposing this worldview. In contrast, this inquiry reveals Paul living in communities, connecting with the narrative of others, and leading communities to a renewed life, in which all were emancipated from their past and freed from the restrictions of identity. Paul introduced language and lived practices in each community that were open to all who committed to learning about a new life. (The practices foreshadow Dewey’s philosophy of pragmatism). Approaching Paul through narrative inquiry, suggests that Paul’s legacy may be a model for leading people to discover shared purpose, in which narrative is brought to the fore.

Drawing on Clandinin and Connelly’s three-dimensional model of narrative inquiry, and this new research on Paul, this paper suggests that leadership development programs might consider:

* The Dimension of Place – leadership narratives develop in specific places or a sequence of places. The agency of the individual impacts on the structures, and the structure influences the narrative of those who work within the place.
* The Personal and Social Dimension – narrative is developed in relationship with others, and so will include the inner feelings, the hopes, aesthetic reactions and moral dispositions of every person in the narrative. A leader must understand themselves and discover the narrative of those who they would lead.
* The Temporal Dimension – every person’s narrative has a past, present and future which constantly changes. Leaders, and those who would be led, will view the past and the future considering their experience in the present (Mead).

The paper argues that narrative, which begins from within, and which is experienced in relationship with others, might have value for educational leaders committed to the struggle for a socially just world.