Leadership: Need for Contextualization
Various reviews of leadership best practice (James & Burgoyne, 2001; Fulmer & Wagner, 1999; Conger, 2004) have highlighted that although there are a number of dominant themes common to organizations perceived as offering best practice, the emphasis is towards contextualization.
Implicit in the best practice recommendations (notably of James & Burgoyne, 2001) is a connection with informal, naturalistic experiences, such as assignments, hardships and bosses (McCall, 1988). These implicit systemic influences within complex situations have not been explored in depth and within particular contexts – hence the need for this study.
For example, the development of leadership practice appears to draw on societal interpretations of leadership but is significantly shaped by local meanings and historic embedded practices.
If such practice is required to change then interventions would need to recognize the local influences and historic practices to enhance intervention success. Further, both best practice recommendations and extant theory on informal experience are also content to conflate leader and manager concepts rather than isolate these two particular phenomena.
Certainly there was no research available, at the time of writing, which was explicit about revealing underlying influences within organizations that are perceived as specific to learning leadership. In a paper entitled ‘The brave new world of leadership training’ Conger (1996) argues that the old models of leadership are no longer appropriate for coping with the consequences of the magnitude of change which is facing organizations.
He argues that leadership development must change and become contextualized, yet his research has identified that organizations are turning, more than ever before, to outdated ‘off the shelf’ interventions that have questionable efficacy in terms of applicability to local situations. The thrust of his vision for leadership development is towards an acceptance that:
in many organizations leadership training is merely a deceptive play with words. They say they are concerned about developing leaders, when in reality they feel more secure with managers. The art of leadership development is still in its infancy. (Conger, 1996: 57)