Foundational bibliography on relational leadership at CCL

What is relational leadership and why is it important? At the Center for Creative Leadership we have point of view on relational leadership starting with Making Common Sense (1994). Reading these in chronological order gives a sense of the evolution of the field and its history at CCL.

Core Reading:

(This is the first publication at CCL based in what we now call “vertical” theory. Although it focuses on individuals it is a step toward a co-constructive, relational framework.) Based on a theory of lifelong development proposed by Robert Kegan, this article explores the idea that certain important and typical managerial strengths and weaknesses arise from the personal meaning systems of managers. This article asserts that strengths arising from a stage in the development of personal meaning characterized by self-differentiation and identity formation are highly prized by most organizations. In seeking to be effective and successful in such organizations, managers are consequently fixed in this stage of development. The strengths of this stage have concomitant weaknesses that successful managers cannot avoid. The author concludes that further development in the meaning systems underlying organizations and managers will be necessary in the future.

Adopting the constructivist view, we can see leadership as a tool that people use in their relations with one another. The purpose of this tool is to make sense, to make meaning. Leadership in organizations can likewise be seen as more about making meaning than about making decisions and influencing people. The process of making meaning in certain kinds of social settings constitutes leadership. In other words, we can regard leadership as meaning-making in a community of practice.

Maybe it’s time to let go of the idea that leadership starts with a leader of some kind; time to let go of the idea that to get good leadership, you need to start with a good leader. Maybe it‘s time to stand that idea on its head. Instead of getting leadership by starting with some kind of a leader, what if you got leader-ship by starting with a community or workgroup or organization of people making sense and meaning of their work together? This process of meaning- and sense-making would then produce leaders as a result. In other words, what if good leaders were the end product of good processes of leadership and bad leaders were the result of bad processes of leadership?

In this book, the question of how we know leadership when we see it plays a central role. I propose that we know leadership when we see it because we share an organizing knowledge principle in common with other people. This alters the usual way to approach the topic of leadership. Usually leadership is assumed to be something out there in the world that exists more or less independent of how we think about it.  The names I propose for the three leadership principles are personal dominance (first principle), interpersonal influence (second principle), and relational dialogue(the third, and for me, the embedding principle). The following sections will introduce these principles in their basic form. The rest of the book is devoted to a more detailed exploration of the meaning and usefulness of each principle.

This article argues that the current, widely accepted leadership ontology — leaders, followers, and shared goals — is becoming less useful for understanding leadership in contexts that are increasingly peer-like and collaborative. The further development of leadership theory calls for a corresponding development at the level of leadership ontology. Thus, an alternative leadership ontology is proposed: direction, alignment, and commitment. A theoretical  framework based on such an ontology is sketched out. It is argued that such a framework can integrate emerging leadership research and ultimately stimulate the development of new leadership theory and practice.

In September 2005, the Connected Leadership Project Team (Bill Drath, Rich Hughes, Cindy McCauley, John McGuire, Patricia O’Connor, Chuck Palus, and Ellen Van Velsor) undertook to design and implement a case-study research project to better understand “interdependent” leadership in organizations.  Our assumption was that for organizations to effectively deal with increasing complexity, new approaches to leadership are needed—approaches that are more developed than current approaches.  We relied on constructive-developmental theory and related frameworks (Beck & Cowan, 1996; Kegan, 1994; Torbert and Associates, 2004; Wilbur, 2000) to hypothesize about these new approaches, however, there was limited research examining organization and leadership development through a constructive-developmental lens.  We chose a multiple case study research strategy because it allowed for a detailed investigation of leadership phenomenon in several different organizational contexts.

  • McCauley, C.D., & Fick-Cooper, L. (2015). Direction, alignment, and commitment: Achieving better results through leadership. Greensboro, NC: Center for Creative Leadership.

If your team isn’t getting results, you may think the problem starts with a failure in leadership. While the person in charge may have issues, a leadership problem doesn’t necessarily mean you have a “leader” problem. Leadership is not just about the people at the top, but is a social process, enabling individuals to work together as a cohesive group to produce collective results. This book will show you how to diagnose problems in your team by focusing on the three outcomes of effective leadership: direction, alignment, and commitment. By assessing where your group stands in each of these outcomes, you can plan and implement the changes necessary to get better results.

  • Our view of leadership development (2010). Intro chapter by McCauley, Van Velsor, & Ruderman in C. D. McCauley & E. Van Velsor (Eds.), The Center for Creative Leadership Handbook of Leadership Development, 3rd Ed. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

In this Introduction. we present a framework for understanding concepts that underlie the chapters that follow. We distill what we have learned into a model of leader development that can serve as a scaffold for more specific models presented in the chapters. We explain how we understand leader development to be one aspect of a broader concept of leadership development and discuss a leadership model that has implications that go well beyond our traditional work with individuals.

  • Jean-Louis Denis, Ann Langley & Viviane Sergi. Leadership in the Plural. The Academy of Management Annals, Volume 6, Issue 1, 2012, pages 211-283.

This paper reviews the literature on forms of leadership that in one way or other imply plurality: that is, the combined influence of multiple leaders in specific organizational situations. We identify four streams of scholarship on plural leadership, each focusing on somewhat different phenomena and adopting different epistemological and methodological assumptions. Specifically, these streams focus on sharing leadership in teams, on pooling leadership at the top of organizations, on spreading leadership across boundaries over time, and on producing leadership through interaction. The streams of research vary according to their representations of plural leadership as structured or emergent and as mutual or coalitional. We note tensions between perspectives that advocate pluralizing leadership in settings of concentrated authority and those concerned with channeling the forms of plurality naturally found in diffuse power settings such as professional organizations or inter-organizational partnerships. It is suggested that future research might pay more attention to social network perspectives, to the dynamics of plural leadership, to the role of power, and to critical perspectives on leadership discourse.

  • Palus, C.J. McGuire, J.B., & Ernst, C. (2012). Developing interdependent leadership. In The Handbook for Teaching Leadership: Knowing, Doing, and Being. Snook, S., Nohria, N. & Khurana, R. (Eds.). Sage Publications with the Harvard Business School. Chapter 28, 467-492.

The most important challenges we face today are interdependent: They can only be solved by groups of people working collaboratively across boundaries. In this chapter we offer four practical arts for teaching and developing the forms of interdependent leadership required to meet these challenges. Behind these four arts is an ontology of leadership we refer to as the DAC framework, based in the three essential leadership outcomes of shared direction, alignment, and commitment. DAC is produced (that is, leadership can be created) through three epistemologies, the leadership logics of dependence, independence, and interdependence. The four arts represent the four social levels at which people create shared DAC: society, organization, group, and individual (the SOGI Model). All four levels are engaged in developing interdependent leadership.

Embracing collectivistic leadership approaches requires broadening leadership development beyond an exclusive focus on individuals. Over the last decade the leadership development community at the Center for Creative Leadership (CCL)—of which we are members—has shifted its view of leadership. We now approach leadership as an accomplishment of collectives rather than as the actions of individuals identified as leaders. This shift has led us to reconceptualize and evolve our practice of leadership development. In this commentary, we will expand on the focal article by offering examples that illustrate collective leadership development in action.

  • Uhl-Bien, Mary  & Sonia M. Ospina (Eds.) (2012) Advancing relational leadership research: A dialogue among perspectives. Introduction. Mapping the terrain. Information Age Publishing. Charlotte, NC. xix-xlvii.

The ‘relational turn” has arrived to the scholarly field of leadership studies; as it arrived earlier in other fields and disciplines. Many leadership scholars now acknowledge that both leaders and followers are “relational beings” who constitute each other as such—leader and follower . . . leader or follower—in an unfolding relafionship. Ken Gergen (2009) goes further in his book’s conclusion: “ . . .  virtually all faculties traditionally attributed to the internal world of the agent—reason, emotion. motivation, memory, experience, and the like — are essentially performances within relationship“ (p. 397).

Extensions: Reading List

CCL has a distinct body of research and practice which builds on a relational view of leadership. In each of these topics, leadership is regarded as an aspect of a complex social system.

Network Leadership

Boundary Spanning

  • Boundary Spanning: A Leadership Essential
  • Ernst, C., & Chrobot-Mason, D. (2010). Boundary spanning leadership: Six practices for solving problems, driving innovation, and transforming organizations. McGraw Hill Professional.
  • Ernst, C., & Chrobot-Mason, D. (2011). Flat world, hard boundaries: How to lead across themMIT Sloan Management Review52(3), 81.
  • Donna Chrobot-Mason, Chris Ernst and John Ferguson (2012). Boundary Spanning as Battle Rhythm. White Paper.  Greensboro: Center for Creative Leadership.

Vertical Development / Transformation 

Leadership Culture & Leadership Strategies

The DAC Framework


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