Monday, 6 March 2017

Finding a Doctoral Space

In reflecting in two years just gone, I can point to a time when I moved from simply toying with undertaking a doctorate to deciding that there was room for me in that 'doctoral' space.

It was when, at an early 2015 planning meeting for a board I am on, that I was speaking to a colleague who was in her final doctoral year. She is such a calm and measured person, humble and possessing great mana, and told me about the kindness of others and how much she had enjoyed the process and the experience; her highs and her lows, and the openness of those around her in sharing their emotions, tools and assistance in making her stronger.

The story she was telling me opened a window for me on leadership. That she had been led, and was in turn unconsciously leading others by sharing the fear and doubt, but also the achievement and professional development that she was seeking and attaining.

A spark appeared during that conversation, and more strongly coalesced afterwards, that her experience was a quiet leadership story in the career field. I started to wonder if there was a PhD in that.

Professional career practice in New Zealand is a small field, and over time, people of significance rise as our Kaumatua and Kuia, apparently raised to this position by the population, not by the people of significance themselves - our Kiwi career leaders have conveyed - not sought - mana. I wondered if this slow rise to perceived career leadership in this sector was a New Zealand thing, or if this pattern was repeated around the world.

I thought that I could (a) survey the membership of the Career Development Association of New Zealand to see who the members 'thought' were the leaders in the field, then (b) interview those whom the mantle of leadership was settled to get their personal stories of their career development and leadership, then (c) repeat the same in Australia and (d) compare the two sets of stories for thematic similarities and differences.

That should give me some idea of what the career leadership path might look like between the two nations, and if it is different.

I had some ideas for people with whom I could study: Professor Polly Parker at the University of Queensland, who presented at the International Leadership Association conference in Auckland in 2013.

I also had a template to follow: Steve Kempster's work on leadership stories for the methodology, although I would be using the method in a different context and with a  different theme (2009). All good.

But then I got seduced by the dark side: AUT said they would pay my doctoral fees, and have a topic area for me to research within. I spent six months working up a new topic to fit their needs, they bailed, so I took my work to Griffith instead.

So I have banked my idea of emergent career leadership... banked, but not forgotten.

It can be my first piece of post-doc study on leadership instead, I feel.

  • Reference: Kempster, Steve (2009). How Managers Have Learnt to Lead: Exploring the Development of Leadership Practice. UK: Palgrave Macmillan