3. Paradoxes of perspective: leaders, leading and leadership

Author : Richard Bolden

In this chapter Richard Bolden draws on his experience of studying leadership in a range of different contexts, including health care, higher education and international development, to highlight the limitations of traditional perspectives on leadership and to offer some alternatives. He explores concepts such as heroic, toxic, relational and distributed leadership and the different perspectives that each of these gives into the nature and processes of leadership in a complex and contested world. Through this analysis three paradoxes are identified that have significant implications for how we research, develop and recognise leadership in organisations and communities.

  • Introduction
  • The enduring allure of heroic leadership
  • Towards a relational perspective on leadership
  • Leadership as a distributed process
  • New leadership for new times
  • Conclusion
Questions for reflection and discussion  
  1. How is leadership recognised, rewarded and developed in your work context? What are the effects (both intended and unintended) of this on individual and group behaviour?
  2. What competing goals and priorities can you identify in your work? How do you and/or colleagues navigate between these tensions?
  3. What kind(s) of challenge(s) do you face at work? To what extent are these linked to wider factors outside your control? How might taking a systemic perspective change the way you think about these issues and how to resolve them?
  4. Identify three unsung heroes at work or in your community? How might their contribution be acknowledged in terms of leadership?
  5. What are the key identities you carry at work, home and in the community? Are there any tensions/conflicts? How might it be possible to reframe these to give a broader, more inclusive sense of self?
Leadership Paradoxes: Rethinking leadership for the 21st Century – Richard Bolden, University of the West of England, March 2015