Discursive Leadership. A Sustainable Leadership Approach?

Academic Paper, 2019

12 Pages


Table of Contents

Discursive Leadership: A Sustainable Leadership Approach?

Literature Review and Definitions


Future Research




Leadership is a critical element in any field. Countless amount of research has been poured into the study of leadership (McElreath, et al., 2014). Yet seemingly there is always room for more as social constructs change within our societies. While there are certain constants that have been proven within the leadership field, the uncertainties have been faced with creative leaders at the right place, right time. Unknown to many as a style of leadership, the discursive leadership methodology seems to utilize the art of framing words and ideals through a common language set to build upon organizational values and standards. Further, it places more responsibility on subordinates to pave the way for the organization’s future; all the while, the leader of the organization is simply guiding their intent to meet their endstate but subordinates feel as if they were the ones to have created and made the change possible. However, as with any subject, discursive leadership methodologies need much more research to validate its potential as a sustainable leadership approach.

Key Words: discursive leadership, framing, leadership, communication

Discursive Leadership: A Sustainable Leadership Approach?

While the study of leadership is nothing new to the civilized world, there still remains a mystery as to what method can produce the best results or what method is the best based off of type of organization, institution, country, etc. Many researchers agree that the study of leadership can be seen as one of the most sought after areas of research (Clifton, 2012; Collins, 2011; Fairhurst, 2008; Koivunen, 2003). Yet there remains a sense of uncertainty and consistent struggle to unify leadership under a set of established power dynamics and ideals (Collins, 2011). Further, Koivunen (2003) emphasizes the fact that for many, leadership is a popular and controversial topic that by nature creates emotional responses from personal beliefs and experiences. Furthermore, a significant growth in leadership studies have created a broad social construct that have created broad definitions, constructs coupled with a vast amount of methods and perspectives without sustenance (Fairhurst & Grant, 2010).

Arguments between researchers in the leadership field stems from portraying leadership through social constructs either as an evaluation of: “leadership as an inner motor of leader and increasingly follower traits, states, emotions, and cognitive processing styles that as independent variables cause messages and behavior to be produced,” versus the “concept by classifying leadership with other mechanisms of domination, such as culture and structure” (Fairhurst, 2008). Fairhurst (2009) combines the two arguments with portraying leadership through looking at the person, the situation, and the combination of the two. By doing so, leadership is then judged off of the measures taken by a leader under a set of particular/ situational circumstances in which future leaders can then interpret and implement the leadership style needed for their current situation. Regardless the stance, individuals that want to become leaders or are selected to fulfill leadership positions must analyze the context of their role and persuade both themselves and others they are leading (Doss, et al., 2016).

Despite the increase in leadership studies, discursive leadership is one method of leadership that remains as a lesser-known leadership methodology or style. While the name might not be familiar, the strategies used with the leadership style are becoming more prevalent in the workplace. Discursive leaders are normally seen as individuals that are problem oriented and focus much of their energy diving deep into the factors creating the current problems or success of the organization in which they are leading. Furthermore, this style is being accepted more and more due to the approach of the style. Discursive leaders simply analyze what the roots of the issues are and interpret them to allow subordinates to see issues in a different manner (Fairhurst, 2009). The discursive leadership style tends to focus more in the art of language being utilized more and more as leaders distribute responsibility or empower their subordinates. Reality in turn is what the organization “talks it, write it, and argue it.” (Clifton, 2012).

Literature Review and Definitions

Discursive leadership is a communication-based style of leadership that relies upon “framing” statements within an organization that affect current operations, future operations, and/or the pursuit of organizational change (Minei, Eatough, Cohen-Charash, 2018). Clifton (2012) describes it as a “language game” where the leader manages meanings. Novicevic (2017) defines it as “a social-influence dialogical process that is grounded in the leader-constituent member flow of meanings (in Greek, dia =flow and logos =meaning).” Torres & Fyke (2013) expand upon these definitions by defining this leadership style as a “process-focused” style that takes the emphasis away from the leader and distributes it among multiple, influential members of the organization. By doing so, the focus is shifted among the social, cultural, and organizational systems as they are defined by the members (Doss, Sumrall, McElreath, & Jones, 2013).

Framing, a critical component to discursive leadership, in turn is simply taking the situation at hand and shaping it through communication measures to include and exclude key points in order to create an opinion favorable to the individual “framing.” Fairhurst and Grant (2010) continue by emphasizing that framing when used correctly, can mitigate damage done to an organization and help recover organizations that have had significant past failures or mistakes. Further, framing should not be seen as a leader being insincere or inauthentic but rather rebuilding social realities or concepts of an organization going through a time of criticism or difficulty. Minei et al (2018) describe framing as selecting strategic statements within a culture specific to the organization and reproduce the same statements with a different point of view. Framing can also assist leaders in strategically motivating subordinates (Doss D. A., et al., 2016). Hidden messages in plain sight can assist leaders instilling values and morals within their employees with out demanding it from them.

With this in mind, discursive leaders tend to influence through engagements with subordinates, both in person and digitally, while continually insinuating the organization’s shared values. Influencing with shared values paves the way for the leader to subtly influence subordinates reality and can begin measures of directing change with inspired subordinates making the changes the leader wants while they believe that they are the reason for positive change. However, the leader frames more difficult change by taking or exhibiting a more sensitivity towards the issue (Novicevic, 2017). Furthermore, building relationships with subordinates continuously through everyday routines and rituals pave the way for a discursive leader to emphasize the organization’s values while creating a shared understanding among each of its members. Members within an organization never work alone, social relations or interactions will occur. Therefor, discursive leaders must utilize every opportunity to frame the momentum of the organization forward through social interactions (Koivunen, 2003).


Discursive leadership, though not studied and researched often within the leadership philosophies, has a broad array of applications within a multiple professions. Koivunen (2003) breaks the style of leadership down into 4 discourses of with application to leadership within professional orchestras. The 4 discourses that were analyzed were: Art against business, Dislike of authority, Heroic leadership, and shared leadership. Each discourse was then pared with common themes that emerged from the profession and built collective discursive leadership failures and successes between two mainstream and famous orchestras. While both orchestras displayed the four discourses, like anything dealing with a large, diverse workforce, many contradictions were also found between the two and within the two. Despite this, both were considered successful under the their leaders that have chosen a discursive approach.

With the broad array of applications, Fairhurst (2008) explains discursive leadership is an attempt to answer two questions within an organization. Both questions encapsulate what the organizations perceptions are of defining leadership and the social context upon which they interact. To study the effects of these questions in which discursive leadership aims to answer, the major discursive approaches include: “conversation analysis, interaction analysis, speech art schematics, discursive psychology, Foucauldian analyses, critical discourse analysis, and narrative analysis.” These types of analysis simply connect and confirm what many of the authors have describe discursive leadership not only as being but also the importance of the social context that has plagued leadership throughout the beginning of time.

In the educational or higher leaning field such as a university, discursive leadership is ideal for a chancellor to use as they initiate change and/or settle current hot topics that affect the well being of the school, the community, the students, and the critical support of the alumni. Novicevic (2017) provides an example/ case study of discursive leadership within the University of Mississippi’s Chancellor, Dr. Jeffrey Vitter. His case study showed how the discursive leadership process frames the change wanting to occur. Key to the framing process is sensitivity towards both the parties requesting change and the party demanding no change. From keeping the name “Ole Miss” and “Rebels” as the mascot, Chancellor Vitter appeased some while framing the removal of playing “Dixie” at sporting events and removing the state flag from campus. Chancellor Vitter displays the root philosophy of the discursive leadership style simply by removing his authority over the decision and letting the key players make the decision; all the while he is back framing the outcome that he believes should be through analyzing research and points from each side of the argument.

In conjunction with utilizing discursive leadership for driving organizational change, this leadership philosophy can be used to build constructive resilience within the workspace (Torres et al, 2013). Leaders create and portray the vision of the organization through language that creates the symbols in a manner that incorporates social knowledge to frame and create their own social realities. By doing so, subordinates utilize their social knowledge to understand the constant changing atmosphere of the world and build resiliency to social changes and unrest by creating new and better methods for the organization to adapt to outside influencers.


Excerpt out of 12 pages


Discursive Leadership. A Sustainable Leadership Approach?
Mississippi State University
Catalog Number
ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
discursive, leadership, sustainable, approach
Quote paper
Chad Prosser (Author), 2019, Discursive Leadership. A Sustainable Leadership Approach?, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/458907


  • No comments yet.
Read the ebook
Title: Discursive Leadership. A Sustainable Leadership Approach?

Upload papers

Your term paper / thesis:

- Publication as eBook and book
- High royalties for the sales
- Completely free - with ISBN
- It only takes five minutes
- Every paper finds readers

Publish now - it's free