Action Learning in Improving Leadership


This chapter aims at discussing the main aspects of the research methodology chosen for this project. It is expected to investigate the consistency of the methods in regards to the research question and approach identified in the previous chapters. The evaluation of the methodological aspects helps to improve the project from the practical and theoretical perspectives by creating effective frameworks (Fairclough, 2010). In this research, a Relational Leadership Theory will be offered as the main theoretical framework and discussed in two different types of ontologies and methodologies, and action research will be defined as the best practical perspective for the researcher which may help to consider numerous economic, political, and social issues in terms of leadership and its impact on people’s development. This project is social research. Therefore, it is necessary to clarify all method decisions made during the working process, establish the theoretical underpinning for discussions, identify ontological and epistemological issues, and choose an appropriate paradigmatic positioning.

The study methodology is influenced by the approach of Manson (1996) about the importance of the ontological and epistemological issues which may be challenged within the frames of the research context. The choices have to be made comprehensively and systematically (Denzin, 2008). The choice of the study methodology is the process that underlines the relation between an object and the researcher in a particular social construction. All choices and decisions have to be considered in terms of the interests of the researcher and based on the five questions developed by Mason (1996) and applicable to all qualitative studies. The ontological position question includes the nature of leadership discussed as a process and as a practice. Ontological considerations show how the chosen social phenomenon, leadership in family firms, could exist in two forms, practice and process, in the real world. Epistemology determines the worth of knowledge of social reality. Under the chosen critical research paradigm, epistemology aims at understanding the existing leadership conditions and promotes the changes to hide the shortages and underline the strengths of the topic. With the help of crucial analysis, action learning will be discussed as the main method to promote the development and support of leaders in family firms. However, the purpose of the research is not only to explain how action learning could be used to improve leadership as a practice and as a process but also to identify which areas of family firm leadership have to be developed in a better way in comparison to the current state of affairs to use action learning as the best method of learning for leaders and their followers.

Researching Leadership as Practice: Knowledge of the Process to Conduct Evidence-Based Research

In this project, the researcher considers the leadership-as-practice approach as one of the main methods to explore the peculiar features of interpersonal and intercultural relations, the exchange of personal experiences, and the results of observational practices. This approach helps to release leadership from a rule-driven type and combine the peculiarities of shared, distributed, and collective leadership (Raelin, 2016). Practice theory is a part of social theory that could influence the chosen discipline and develop specific recommendations for leadership practice in family firms. With the help of this method, it is possible to investigate the gaps in knowledge and leadership traditions, explain the role of leaders and their followers, and promote sustainability and the importance of personal experiences. The chosen method is also closely connected to the theoretical framework and discusses the connection between social interactions and actual leadership practice.

There are several important constructions in the leadership-as-practice approach, including mutual adjustment, dialogues, and collaborative learning. These social processes could be repeated but never ignored because they help to gather the information and compare different situations that could occur in the field of leadership. Raelin (2011) underlines the necessity to depict leadership-as-practice as a shared process with several collaborative techniques. For example, it is not enough to connect leadership with the interactions of the individuals, who have their goals, principles, and demands. It is more important to identify leadership as a combination of process and practice. On the one hand, leaders are free to make decisions, reflect on their actions, reconstruct their approaches, and do the required amounts of work. On the other hand, they may develop self-correcting activities and discussions and use leadership as a crucial basis for learning during which the participants listen to each other, reflect on each others’ approaches, and use collective reflection as the way to create effective leadership.

Therefore, a critical research paradigm is the best solution for the researcher because of the possibility to investigate the reality and directed social biases of leadership as practice (ontological perspective) and understand what conditions of action may be hidden due to the existing gap of knowledge (epistemological perspective) relying on the results of critical analysis and the literature review. Leadership as a process helps to understand the decisions and the outcomes of the decisions made by leaders and their followers. Leadership as a practice helps to investigate the nature of such decisions and learn how to adapt to the changes and improvements that are required.

Reflective and Critical Discussions of Current Issues in Leadership-as-Relational-Process Research

In addition to the practical approach discussed in the previous section, the methodology of research should be based on the theoretical framework. It is suggested to rely on Relational Leadership Theory as a means to understand the relational dynamics better and comprise the connection between leadership and organizing (Uhl-Bien, 2006). This theory is used to explain leadership as a process with the help of which structuring of organizations is possible. As a rule, people have to work together under certain conditions and circumstances. They try to develop appropriate professional relations by asking questions, defining their skills and opportunities, and using the resources available to them. Such cooperation influences people in two different ways: individual and collective. On the one hand, people have to explain what they can do to define their relationships and generate leadership as a process that could influence the structure of the work. On the other hand, the participants should clarify what they could do to move the process and make leadership work. Therefore, Relational Leadership Theory explains the development of the relations between leaders and their followers, their impact on social order, and the possibility to structure or organize the work. For example, Uhl-Bien (2006) proves the chosen theory from the entity and relational ontologies and methodologies to explore the relational dynamics that could promote leadership in organizations. As an entity, realist ontological assumptions could be used to view individuals concerning specific situations and organizations. As a relational phenomenon, people’s knowledge has to be defined as an independent construction.

In this research, it is also expected to compare cognitivism and constructionism as two main approaches to understanding leadership as a process where individuals can perform several cognitive operations and understand the things around as they are and where people have to be interrelated with the existing cultural and historical processes to identify what they can do as direct participants of leadership as a process.

Action Research as the Main Method

In this project, a variety of methods, including ethnography, case studies, and interviews, are used to prove the effects of action research as the possibility to combine first-person contributions with the results of a cooperative inquiry. According to Reitz (2015), action research is the way to combine several methods that help to improve practice, develop practical knowledge, and bring together such concepts as action, reflection, theory, and practice. Action research is defined as the method within the frames of which scientific traditions are used to explain personal observations and experiments. The dialogue between practice and theory occurs on a democratic basis where political, economic, and emotional interests matter. Action research helps to produce knowledge in action (Reitz, 2015) and rely on the results as soon as the work is done, as well as in several days or years. Besides, action research encourages people to work and develop personal opinions on the same issues to identify the strengths and weaknesses of leadership in a certain organization and choose the methods which help to improve and stabilize the situation.


Denzin, N.K. (2008). Symbolic interactionism and cultural studies: The politics of interpretation. Cambridge, MA: John Wiley & Sons.

Fairclough, N. (2010). Critical discourse analysis – The critical study of language. Harlow, UK: Longman.

Mason, J. (1996). Qualitative researching. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE.

Raelin, J.A. (2016). Leadership-as practice: Theory and application. New York, NY: Routledge.

Reitz, M. (2015). Dialogue in organizations: Developing relational leadership. New York, NY: Springer.

Uhl-Bien, M. (2006). Relational leadership theory: Exploring the social processes of leadership and organizing. Leadership Institute Faculty Publications. Web.