Leadership, anxiety and the search for liminal space: a visual auto-ethnography

Lucas, Mike (2015). Leadership, anxiety and the search for liminal space: a visual auto-ethnography. In: ACSCOS Conference 2015, 29 Nov - 1 Dec 2015, Macquarie University, Sydney, Australia.


Recent scholarship on leadership identities (Nyberg and Svenningsen, 2014; Ford, 2010; Svenning and Alvesson, 2003) views the process of identity construction, or the creation of a narrative self-image, as intrinsic to the practice of leadership. Some see this as part of the symbolic work required to establish and maintain leadership (Grint, 1999; Sims, 2010) while others view it more as a symptom of the narcissism engendered in the assumption of a leadership role (Pullen and Rhodes, 2008). All recognise however the anxieties that underlie the process, assigning them in turn to: struggles over authenticity (Nyberg and Svenningsen, 2014); the expectations of followers and crisis addiction (Grint, 2010); dissonance between self-image and practice (Pullen and Rhodes, 2008); personal psychological history (Ford, 2010); and the absence of time or space for reflection (Simpson and French, 2006).

While recognizing these theoretical interests in the causes of leadership anxiety, this paper examines the lived experience of a manager in a leadership role (an Associate Dean in a University Business School), exploring the manifestation of anxiety in the adoption of a set of practices which are spatially enacted. The starting point for this is an understanding of leadership as situated practice which is both embodied (Fisher & Robbins, 2015) and aesthetic (Grint 1999; Sims, 2010). While recognizing the importance of debates about the discursive nature of leadership (Collinson, 2012), the paper challenges dominant textual discourses absorbed by practicing managers (Ford, 2008) which appear to constrain narrative identity construction, by exploring an embodied narrative of fragmented, mobile spatial experience

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