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

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2 Performances of leadership

Performances of leadership in this week’s learning stand for all of those verbal, interpersonal and relational practices followed at work. This week you will learn about some common processes through which leadership is practised. The word performance is used deliberately to evoke the aesthetic dimensions of enacting leadership – of exciting the feelings and senses of those involved.

Activity 2 Performances of leadership in your workplace

Timing: Allow about 10 minutes

Let’s analyse and break down the performances of leadership in your workplace.

Think about a typical day at work. How do people tend to interact? Is it face-to-face, formally in meetings or informally and in a more ad hoc manner? In these forums, how do people communicate? Do they tell stories, make mini speeches, emphasise exploration through asking questions or prefer a more confrontational attitude towards one another?


Performance is a provocative way of thinking about how leadership is enacted at work. It implies actors, artists and an audience willing to express their feelings in return. All organisations perform leadership differently, depending on a coming together of all kinds of things – people, traditions, spaces and technologies. Ideally, the performances through which an organisation conducts its business are aligned with its professed values and goals. For example, if an organisation is committed to listening to and involving its volunteers, it performs in such a way as to do just this. Performance can feel wooden and be poorly received if it is not believable, convincing or moving in the moment – think of a badly acted stage play, for example. Likewise, at work if leaders say that they are committed to inclusion but act differently in practice, we can say that this is an example of a poorly executed performance.

In the following sections you will learn about some examples of performances that we believe are important for leadership. These represent some important ways of practising leadership for decision making, galvanising support and taking action. These are:

  • Critical reflection
  • Constructive debate
  • Asking awkward questions
  • Telling powerful stories.

Note, these processes, amongst others, will be expanded upon in much greater detail in the successor course, Collaborative leadership in voluntary organisations [Tip: hold Ctrl and click a link to open it in a new tab. (Hide tip)] .