Changing the leadership narrative

Written by: Chrystie Watson Manager, College Operations College of Business, Law & Governance | JCU | September 27, 2018

Leadership development is a multi-billion dollar global industry. However, despite this massive investment we continue to see one public leadership disappointment after another. Is this a true reflection of our leadership capacity or are we just focusing in the wrong place for leadership inspiration?

As the conversation around leadership evolves, the answer to the question, ‘what is leadership?’, becomes less clear. The many perspectives on leadership contribute to a lack of clarity in identifying a specific, commonly accepted definition of leadership. Leadership is often considered from the perspectives of traits, skills, behaviours, positions or situational elements that are seen as desirable or conducive to effective leadership. Regardless of which perspective you take, what is clear is that leadership is a complex topic. Cultural nuances in the interpretations and expectations of leadership between organisations and around the world further contribute to an already complex discussion.

Despite the surface variations of leadership discourse there is a common theme that emerges from leadership discussions; that is, of an individualistic view that takes as its focus particular leadership styles or behaviours. Leaders are typically  characterised in terms of heroic, charismatic or ego-centric ideals. Traditional approaches to leadership development focus on how an individual can become a better leader. However, we now find ourselves in the midst of economic, social and political change that is unforgiving of an ego-centric approach to leadership. Given the economic and political catastrophes we have witnessed of late, perhaps the common good of the organisation should be foregrounded in our approaches to leadership development. Is it time for us to change the leadership narrative so as to give greater attention to the common good and associated concerns with socially responsible and inclusive decision making?


“We work directly with organisations to build the leadership capabilities of staff through the application of real workplace scenarios, shared learning environments and reflective practice.”


I suspect it is in fact time for the narrative and rhetoric around leadership to change so that we can move away from the sensationalisation of individual leadership toward a more collective sense of accountability and responsibility which serves the common good. As we transform toward more distributed and interconnected economies, we must also look to disrupt leadership so that it too is distributed. Building social capital in leadership may be the key to driving the evolution of our economic and social frameworks. 

Jacob Morgan represented the ‘Evolution of the Employee’ in 2014 which depicted the characteristics of the employee in the past and what he predicted at the time to be the characteristics in the future. Now in 2018, these predications are no longer in the future; they are the present. 

Morgan characterised such changes in the following ways:

• In the past focusing on knowledge but in the future focusing on adaptive learning.
• In the past having institutions that offer corporate learning and teaching, whereas in the future there would be democratised learning and teaching environments.
• In the past a quest to climb the corporate ladder; in the future creating your own ladder.
• Previously hoarding information versus now sharing information.

If we are to truly embrace these changes, we must consider the potential benefits of a distributed leadership approach that creates a more expansive and holistic view of leadership. The empirical research into distributed leadership remains limited and often encounters cultural norms as barriers to changes in practice. However, savvy organisations and individuals are starting to invest in developing a better understanding of how best to implement contemporary leadership practices which transcend traditional approaches. 

At JCU we have been building our own capacity in the leadership space so as to be best placed to develop leadership capabilities for a changing business environment. We are expanding and adapting our suite of postgraduate level programs to meet the demands of local and international markets whilst also investing in the development of research expertise to enable evidence based educational and consulting practices.

For example, in our Leadership Development and MBA programs at JCU we expose participants to opportunities for transformational learning. We do this in our MBA Global program through a global case study that runs through the entire degree so that participants get exposure to the many considerations and perspectives at play in complex global environments. In our Leadership Development programs, we work directly with organisations to build the leadership capabilities of staff through the application of real workplace scenarios, shared learning environments and reflective practice. These organisational initiatives are now expanding further into specific case study projects within the organisations which guide the transition to distributed leadership practices.

Of great importance is the collective intent of organisations, individuals, government and educational institutions to partner in the quest to align leadership practices with sustainable economic and social structures. This is an approach to leadership that we can all be proud to be a part of.

For more information contact:

MBA Global: 

Leadership Development Programs: 

Distributed Leadership Case Study Research: 


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