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Developing leadership practice in voluntary organisations
Developing leadership practice in voluntary organisations

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6 Thinking critically about your work

Do these significant problems with person-based views of leadership mean that thinking of leadership in person-related terms should be abandoned entirely? The course authors do think there is some value in thinking of leaders in symbolic terms and you will spend the rest of this week thinking in just these terms. Leaders can act as symbolic resources that allow you to critically analyse and think about the organisations in which you work. In other words, thinking critically about your leaders is one effective way of thinking critically about your organisation’s practices.

Every organisation is distinctive in its own way – its practices, ways of talking, habits and routines. This collection of practices adds up to a picture of what an organisation seems to value and what it does not value. The argument made earlier is that people who personify these values and practices often end up in positions of leadership. When people in leadership positions do not embody dominant organisational characteristics, conflict and/or significant uncertainty often ensues. These periods can ultimately, of course, be productive and necessary for organisations, as they adjust to new ways of working and thinking. Sometimes it can be impossible to see outside the dominant frames of thinking and speaking and outsiders are needed to shake things up.

Activity 3 Stories of leadership

Timing: Allow about 20 minutes

Pay attention to the kinds of stories people tell in your organisation about its leaders, past and present. The following questions may help as prompts when you write your thoughts up in your learning journal [Tip: hold Ctrl and click a link to open it in a new tab. (Hide tip)] :

  1. What type of leader does your organisation seem to favour?
  2. What kind of people tend not to be favoured?
  3. What kinds of behaviours and characteristics tend to be accentuated in these stories?
  4. Are these people current leaders or leaders from the past?

Make sure you title the post with the week number and the number of this activity, Week 2 Activity 3.


The activity asked you to engage with leaders as symbols of organisational practice. You were also asked to think carefully about the kinds of people your organisation tends to portray in a negative light.

This activity should have helped you think more critically about the organisation in which you work. Prioritising certain types of behaviour and people (for example, very caring people who like to spend significant amounts of time talking to others about their feelings and opinions) means that you diminish the value of other kinds of behaviour and people (for example, more distant and coldly analytical people).

Interestingly, the people organisations tend to vilify can be equally informative. This is because every identity is as much composed by what it is not as by what it is. We need negativity in order to establish our identities. You can only know someone to be accessible, for example, because you know what inaccessible people are like to work with. The negative is therefore as much a part of us as the positive. You will now conclude the week by considering the key practice of critical engagement, which has been a recurring theme throughout.