The conventional view of leadership is that of a phenomenon that enables an organization to establish and achieve its goals. In this respect, the literature portrays two main streams of leadership thought. Historically, based almost entirely on studies stemming from the positivist research paradigm, the notion of the heroic individual has prevailed, where, through superior traits, skills and qualities and with overarching control and influence over subordinates, a designated individual guides an organization to success. More recently, based upon studies stemming from the interpretivist and constructionist research paradigms, this notion of leadership has being challenged. Instead, a more collective notion of leadership is being proposed; one in which a contextually-contingent set of shared practices that are distributed throughout an organization, manifest appropriately in response to organizational challenges and needs.
Implicit in both of these notions of leadership is the importance of people to organizational success. In the heroic model of leadership, the individual leader mobilises his/her supporters through charisma and skill. In the collective model of leadership, the importance of social relationships is stressed and, in particular, the access which these provide to the relationship-based intangible resources (such as trust, commitment and resilience) required for organizational success. In both cases, people are motivated to collaborate in ways required to ensure organizational success and to express their ‘collective intelligence’ as a service to the organization.
This research, located within the interpretivist paradigm, explores the specific link between organizational leadership and a particular set of relationships – those between the IT function and the rest of the business - in a global telecommunications organization. Through a phenomenological case study, the dialectical relationship between leadership practices and the workplace relationships that constitute the IT-Business nexus, is explored in three of the operating companies of this organization. The rich interview data generated by this research portray the complex interplay between workplace relationships and current leadership practices in each of these three operating companies; the analysis of which uncovers a number of spheres of influence that impact the IT-Business nexus. These influences include: the formal organizational structure and competing functional priorities; formal and informal leadership practices; organizational culture; and those social practices that either generate or mediate workplace tension.
The major contribution of the study is in its rich portrayal of the complex array of distributed leadership practices that influence business success within a large global organization. In particular, the study highlights the reciprocal relationship between these leadership practices and the IT-Business relationship, in particular, and other workplace relationships, more generally. In this respect, the research findings highlight the critical role that context plays in the effective execution of leadership practices; the absence of commentary on the importance of the relationship-based intangible resources in the IT-Business relationship literature; and the impact of more recent practices, such as that of outsourcing, on the IT-Business relationship.