'Leadership transmission': a muddled metaphor?

Buchanan, David; Caldwell,, Raymond; Meyer, Julienne; Storey, John and Wainwright, Charles (2007). 'Leadership transmission': a muddled metaphor? Journal of Health Organization and Management, 21(3) pp. 246–258.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.1108/14777260710751726


The purpose of this paper is to examine critically the concept of 'leadership transmission', considering what theoretical and practical value this metaphor brings to the healthcare modernization agenda. The paper develops understanding of the transmission metaphor while reviewing theoretical perspectives on leadership including debates which shed light on the concept by focusing on the phenomenon of distributed or dispersed leadership. The transmission metaphor is perhaps misleading, by implying that 'leadership can be caught' like a disease. However, defining leadership in terms of influence, a novel typology of transmission processes is introduced; top down (one-way), inter-organizational (bi-lateral), and dispersed (multi-directional). Recent research suggests that organizational changes are often led by the spontaneous concertive action of staff at all levels, not just by senior elite groups. The way in which dispersed influence processes arise, unfold, and are transmitted into organizational outcomes can be understood through theoretical narratives, which capture event sequences and combinations of factors unfolding over time in a given context.

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