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Title: Developing relational leadership within a civil service entity : an action research inquiry
Author: Lawrence, Josette Kimlon
ISNI:       0000 0004 7658 0160
Awarding Body: University of Liverpool
Current Institution: University of Liverpool
Date of Award: 2017
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The research draws on relational leadership theory to explore and understand leadership within a departmental context, situated in a wider civil service setting. The underlying premise was to understand how leaders could become more relational and to explore the resultant outcomes of this relationship. In particular, how this relationship is developed and sustained, and what aspects emerge as a result. The research explored the power of conversations or dialogue and how this helps to build relations, in addition to understanding how power works within relational dynamics. As background, the role of the civil service leader is becoming challenging amid internal and external pressures. There is a renewed interest in leadership as it is viewed that developing leaders could help the organisation achieve its objectives. The relational dynamics with citizens are changing since they are becoming increasingly involved in the decision making processes. The conventional top-down approach to leadership is no longer viable and it calls for alternative ways of thinking about leadership. The method used fell under the umbrella of action research, namely Participatory Action Research (PAR). This involved co-researchers within a participatory and collaborative framework to explore the research area, and as such a Collaborative Inquiry Team was formed within the department. Data collection included face to face interviews and visual methods such as having participants draw a diagram of what they thought a leader is and explain the image. Results from interviews were analysed and incorporated into planned action interventions to understand what happens to relational theory when it is applied to practice. The planned interventions were conducted in real time situations, which helped to inform other action interventions to a point of saturation. The findings revealed a disparity between how leadership is conceptualised by upper and middle management. There is a relational disconnect which fuels on-going frustrations, in particular, the lack of genuine conversations between the two groups. Data revealed reverberations from public sector reform has impacted both groups, and barriers to leadership were identified as being an overly bureaucratic system. Tensions are being felt from power distance relationships, resulting in attitudinal outcomes. Content analysis of drawings captures self-disclosures of participants' conceptualised leadership through metaphorical representations, such as a ship on a rescue mission, a sphere of connectivity, an ant colony, and so forth. These models point to some relational leadership activity between members. The research adds value to practice as a better understanding is gained of how conversations can be used to create shared meaning and facilitate collective leadership activities, while reducing power distant relationships. It extends understanding of how leadership can be sustained and reciprocated through daily dialogue, in addition to using positioning within conversations. The limitations of the research include generalisability of findings, given that the research was conducted in a single entity within a local public sector context, and may not be relevant to all public sector institutions. Findings of this research should be approached as a source of inquiry, and as an opportunity to engage in further discussions on public sector leadership.
Supervisor: David, Higgins Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (D.B.A.) Qualification Level: Doctoral