Challenging Leadership Stereotypes Through Discourse

Hello, ESPers worldwide!

Have you considered how the ESP Project Leader Profiles (36 published to date with projects on six continents) might be viewed as research data that can give us a deeper understanding of leadership itself? Please keep this question in mind as I share with you in this TESOL Blog post a new book that explores leadership using discourse analytical approaches.

“Challenging Leadership Stereotypes Through Discourse: Power, Management and Gender” (edited by Cornelia Ilie and Stephanie Schnurr) is described by the editors as follows:

The various case studies in this volume move beyond questions of who is a leader and what leaders do, to how leadership is practiced in various communities of practice and how leadership makes change possible. The different cross-cultural and interdisciplinary approaches used across the chapters provide deeper insights into the competing, multi-voiced, controversial and complex identities and relationships enacted in leadership discourse practices. They thereby provide an enhanced understanding of how leadership is discursively constructed, deconstructed, and reconstructed in a variety of formal and informal leadership activities from organising and motivating to managing change and making decisions. (p. 2)

As I read their description of leadership as a social construction, I began to think of how the ESP Project Leader Profiles published in the TESOL Blog provide readers with insights into how leadership is conceptualized in the world of ESP practitioners and researchers.

In comments about Ilie and Schnurr’s volume, Gail Fairhurst, who is known worldwide for her discursive leadership theory (see Fairhurst, 2007), writes,

For those who feel passionately that a psychological lens is not the only way to view leadership – and that an equally viable lens positions leadership as relationally constructed in communication and through discourse, this is the book for you. Cornelia Ilie and Stephanie Schnurr have edited an exciting volume of papers that grounds leadership in issues of power, context, meaning, and interaction process. Incisive analysis of leadership and other stereotypes are a focus in this book, but certainly not the only gems that readers will soon discover. (Gail Fairhurst, Distinguished University Research Professor, University of Cincinnati, USA)

I was pleased to read Fairhurst’s comments for two reasons. First, I have been looking at leadership discourse as a linguist and argue that there is much to learn about leadership with such a lens. Second, I have used Fairhurst’s (2011) book, “The Power of Framing: Creating the Language of Leadership,” with undergraduate students in my leadership seminars and highly recommend it.

If you have been reading publications about leadership and discourse, I assume that many of the authors in Ilie and Schnurr’s volume will be familiar to you:

  • Janet Holmes
  • Jonathan Clifton
  • Cornelia Ilie
  • Stephanie Schnurr, Angela Chan, Joella Loew, and Olga Zayts
  • Kevin Knight
  • Nick Wilson
  • Judith Baxter
  • Diana Boxer, Lennie M. Jones and Florenscia Cortes-Conde
  • Catherine Nickerson and Valerie Priscilla Goby
  • Momoko Nakamura

Though I do have a chapter in this volume, I am happy to promote the book because it really is a valuable collection of chapters for scholars of discourse and leadership. I mentioned the first author, Janet Holmes, and the Language in the Workplace Project in New Zealand in the ESP Project Leader Profile of Susan Barone.

So let me ask you to consider the following questions:

  • When you read the definitions of leadership and the narratives about leadership action and communication provided by the ESP project leaders in the profiles, what are the stereotypes of leadership that you see?
  • How is leadership being conceptualized in the profiles?
  • Why are these important questions? What can an investigation of the ESP Project Leader Profiles teach us about leadership?

Ilie and Schnurr’s volume can be a helpful resource in addressing these questions because the volume gives us the opportunity to learn about leadership, stereotypes, and discourse analysis.

The ESP Project Leader Profiles, which continue to be published on the TESOL Blog, can be accessed in the ESPIS Library and also in the About This Community section of ESP News (the newsletter of the ESPIS). For easy reference, I have also listed the links to them here in this post. Please enjoy, analyze, and learn!

The ESP Project Leader Profiles

  1. May 5, 2015: ESP Project Leader Profile: Kristin Ekkens
  2. June 2, 2015: ESP Project Leader Profile: Charles Hall
  3. July 14, 2015: ESP Project Leader Profile: Ronna Timpa
  4. August 11, 2015: ESP Project Leader Profile: Evan Frendo
  5. September 8, 2015: ESP Project Leader Profile: Jaclyn Gishbaugher
  6. October 6, 2015: ESP Project Leader Profile: Anne Lomperis
  7. October 20, 2015: ESP Project Leader Profile: Ethel Swartley
  8. November 3, 2015: ESP Project Leader Profile: David Kertzner
  9. December 1, 2015: ESP Project Leader Profile: Margaret van Naerssen
  10. December 15, 2015: ESP Project Leader Profile: Marvin Hoffland
  11. January 12, 2016: ESP Project Leader Profile: John Butcher
  12. January 26, 2016: ESP Project Leader Profile: Karen Schwelle
  13. February 23, 2016: ESP Project Leader Profile: Esther Perez Apple
  14. March 8, 2016: ESP Project Leader Profile: Kevin Knight
  15. April 5, 2016: ESP Project Leader Profile: Shahid Abrar-ul-Hassan
  16. May 3, 2016: ESP Project Leader Profile: Robert Connor
  17. May 17, 2016: ESP Project Leader Profile: Jigang Cai
  18. June 14, 2016: ESP Project Leader Profile: Ismaeil Fazel
  19. June 28, 2016: ESP Project Leader Profile: Yilin Sun
  20. July 26, 2016: ESP Project Leader Profile: Tarana Patel
  21. August 23, 2016: ESP Project Leader Profile: Prithvi Shrestha
  22. September 6, 2016: ESP Project Leader Profile: Robin Sulkosky
  23. October 18, 2016: ESP Project Leader Profile: Philip Chappell
  24. November 2, 2016: ESP Project Leader Profile: Jie Shi
  25. December 13, 2016: The 25th ESP Project Leader Profile: Laurence Anthony
  26. January 24, 2017: ESP Project Leader Profile: Barrie Roberts
  27. February 7, 2017: ESP Project Leader Profile: Jen Cope
  28. February 21, 2017: ESP Project Leader Profile: Susan Barone
  29. March 21, 2017: ESP Project Leader Profile: Debra Lee
  30. April 18, 2017: ESP Project Leader Profile: Kay Westerfield
  31. May 2, 2017: ESP Project Leader Profile: Stephen Horowitz
  32. June 14, 2017: ESP Project Leader Profile: Pam Dzunu
  33. July 11, 2017: ESP Project Leader Profile: Marta Baffy
  34. August 8, 2017: ESP Project Leader Profile: Vince Ricci
  35. September 6, 2017: ESP Project Leader Profile: Kirsten Schaetzel
  36. October 5, 2017: ESP Project Leader Profile: Elizabeth Matthews

Finally, if you are interested in developing your leadership skills, TESOL International Association provides the following opportunities:

The Leadership Development Certificate Program is for TESOL members only (and free!) and offers you the opportunity to hear the success stories of TESOL International Association leaders. (We encourage ESPIS leaders to register for the self-study program because you can learn how to be a leader in TESOL International Association.) The ELT Leadership Management Certificate Program gives you the opportunity to discuss leadership with other participants worldwide. The stories of leadership that are shared by the participants reflect their professional situations. Personally, I have been able to learn about “leadership” in both programs.

Good luck learning about leadership and growing as a leader!

All the best,


Ilie, C., & Schnurr, S. (Eds.). (2017). Challenging leadership stereotypes through discourse: Power, management and gender. Singapore: Springer.

Fairhurst, G. (2007). Discursive leadership: In conversation with leadership psychology. London: Sage.

Fairhurst, G. (2011). The power of framing: Creating the language of leadership. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

About Kevin Knight

Kevin Knight
Kevin Knight (PhD in Linguistics, MBA, MPIA) is an associate professor in the Department of International Communication (International Business Career major) and has also been working in the Career Education Center of Kanda University of International Studies in Chiba, Japan. In the TESOL ESP Interest Section (ESPIS), he has served as chair and English in occupational settings (EOS) representative, and he is currently the ESPIS community manager. He was also a member of the Governance Review Task Force (GRTF) appointed by the board of directors. In addition, he has been a TESOL blogger in the area of English for Specific Purposes (ESP). He has more than 30 years of professional experience working for private, public, and academic sector institutions including Sony and the Japan Patent Office. His doctoral research on leadership communication (i.e., discourse) as a basis for leadership development was under the supervision of Emeritus Professor Christopher Candlin and Dr. Alan Jones.
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