6.2 Participative and relational practice
We have already stated that identity is shaped by and through practice. Identity is not static but something that moves and changes with practice. For example, every time you write something about your organisation or yourself on a website or social media forum, you influence the way in which you are seen, and perhaps also the way you see yourself.
Participative leadership practice throws into play your own and your organisation’s identity. It does so because practice is relational. Practice does not happen in isolation but exists in the spaces between people (Cunliffe and Eriksen, 2011). Leadership is something that is generated between people and their bodies, as they learn to respond to one another in sensual ways (Carroll and Smolović Jones, 2018). A simple illustration of the point is that it is impossible to think of leading without the presence of following – not everyone can lead all of the time and, likewise, not everyone can follow all of the time (Ford and Harding, 2015).
Focusing on leadership as a practice inevitably means you think about the kinds of practices you create together, rather than looking inwards at the kinds of people you think you are (Raelin, 2011). It is a subtle but important shift in thinking: leadership is less about you as an individual and more about the practices your relational work generates. If you think of leadership as a practice, then you should also think about how you can nurture and develop the most helpful parts of your practice and challenge those aspects of your practice that are less helpful.
Practices are informed by your identity, but your identity is also shaped by your practices. The two are locked together to such an extent that the lines between the two blur significantly. Participative leadership practice recognises the fact that you are mutually dependent on one another and tries to draw out and learn from your experiences of practice.
Activity 4 Your organisational identity
Spend 15 minutes thinking about the kind of person you tend to be in your organisation, rather than at home, socially or in the community. Make some notes along the way. Are you a commander? A facilitator? A provocateur? A mentor? Or someone else?
Spend another 10 minutes thinking about where these identities come from – from your workplace or somewhere else, such as your educational background or your identification with a particular place.
Now visit the discussion forum. Make sure you post your comments within the correct thread for this activity. Summarise and describe your thoughts. Ask a question of at least two other learners – these questions should help your fellow learners open up their thinking. Examples might include:
- Have you always been like this or are your habits things you have developed at work?
- Can you think of any examples to illustrate your point?
- Are there things related to your values that could explain such behaviours?
- Where do you think your values come from?
You should spend around 30 minutes on this part of the activity.
Throughout this course you will learn, we hope, as much from one another’s practices and thoughts as from what is written in the formal part of the course. How can you recognise your own deeply held passions for leadership but also be responsive and open to the thoughts of others?
Practice for the week: doing identity work
Identity work conveys the active nature of approaching identity as something that is both done to you and something that you craft with others. You are usually very task focused when going about our practice at work, and rightly so. However, it is also worth thinking actively about how the work you are doing also shapes your identity, and vice versa. Holding a collaborative identity means that you need to think of your work as closely related to your own identity – as open, participative practitioners.