Relational leadership is a relatively new term in the leadership literature, and because of this, its meaning is open to interpretation. In the present article, I describe two perspectives of relational leadership: an entity perspective that focuses on identifying attributes of individuals as they engage in interpersonal relationships, and a relational perspective that views leadership as a process of social construction through which certain understandings of leadership come about and are given privileged ontology. These approaches can be complementary, but their implications for study and practice are quite different. After reviewing leadership research relative to these two perspectives I offer Relational Leadership Theory (RLT) as an overarching framework for the study of leadership as a social influence process through which emergent coordination (e.g., evolving social order) and change (e.g., new approaches, values, attitudes, behaviors, ideologies) are constructed and produced. This framework addresses relationships both as an outcome of the investigation (e.g., How are leadership relationships produced?) and a context for action (e.g., How do relational dynamics contribute to structuring?). RLT draws from both entity and relational ontologies and methodologies to more fully explore the relational dynamics of leadership and organizing.
Research Professor. Director at Learning Change Project – Research on society, culture, art, neuroscience, cognition, critical thinking, intelligence, creativity, autopoiesis, self-organization, rhizomes, complexity, systems, networks, leadership, sustainability, thinkers, futures ++
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