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Searching for leadership, democracy and participation

Sutherland, Neil



In this thesis I will examine how leadership is understood and performed within leaderless organisations. Rather than assuming a stance more readily associated with ‘mainstream’ leadership theory and suggesting that leadership can only happen if there are individual, permanent and stable leaders to enact it, I instead seek to highlight and build on ideas put forward by Critical Leadership Studies (CLS) scholars: that ‘leadership’ may best be (re-)conceptualised as an inherently collective phenomenon; a socially constructed process constituted by meaning making and reality definition (Smircich and Morgan, 1982). The main contributions of this thesis are (a) highlighting that democratic meetings can encourage a more collective form of leadership and organisation (b) showing how leadership and meaning making (through framing) can be performed in the absence of leaders, and (c) linking this all back to notions of discourse. These three points are inextricably linked, and ultimately this thesis will demonstrate that if we reconceptualise leadership as a process constituted by meaning making, it is possible to see that it may be performed in a more democratic and collective fashion amongst a variety of actors.


Sutherland, N. (in press). Searching for leadership, democracy and participation. (Thesis). University of Essex. Retrieved from

Thesis Type Thesis
Acceptance Date Mar 4, 2014
Keywords leadership, ethnography
Public URL
Award Date Mar 4, 2014