Perspectives on Leadership: A Synthesis of Types and Theories

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Variations in other regards also exist, such as how researchers may select the unit of observation. For example, consider researchers examining leadership in networks. One example is the definition proposed by Huxham and Vangen , which include structures and processes in their operationalization of leadership. As relational leadership scholars have become more interested in the nature of leadership in networks, the unitary leadership approach is giving way to more collective understandings of leadership in these contexts Currie, Grubnic, and Hodges ; Ospina , but this is still not sufficiently recognized in network research.

Indeed, network scholars often do not make a clear distinction between leadership and management activities, as a result of which measures of leadership become blurred with those of management.

Again, the findings regarding leadership may not be interpreted in the same way. Performing meta-synthesis on studies that do not acknowledge the key distinctions they bring to their research, in terms of paradigms, methodologies, units of observations, and measures represents a very hard task.

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The point is not to ask researchers to make their studies similar in these dimensions, but to make their choices more explicit in order for the meta-synthesis to be possible. This will also make it possible to highlight in the meta-synthesis the contribution of different research perspectives, thus reflecting the complex reality under study.


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Thus, the third good research practice we propose is to be more precise in publications on the descriptions of measurement so as to better understand how measurement could be a factor in explaining differences in findings. Whether it is in an appendix or in the main text, readers should be provided with the details about how each of the variables or concepts are operationalized or measured and observed.

A common but rarely followed research principle is that enough detail should be provided so that the study could be replicated.

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This level of detail is necessary not only with regard to information about quantitative measures, but also with regard to how concepts are operationalized. If the study is within the interpretive paradigm, we would aim for ensuring sufficient detail about the path from observations to analysis to interpretations to ensure transparency and clarity Ospina, Esteve, and Lee If similar methods and measures are used to study different networks, then we can begin to compile evidence on commonalities across networks or how context may intervene. In the long term, this practice would allow for meta-synthesis by integrating findings based on similar operationalizations or analyzing how different findings may result from different operationalizations or measurements.

A related complexity for synthesizing the research on PONs is that these networks are per definition a stratified or layered phenomenon. Though the idea of a PON is of organizations working together, oftentimes their interorganizational relations are actually formed by individuals representing their organizations. The individuals and their relationships are in turn at least partially affected by their membership in sub-networks or clusters within the wider network Brass et al.

In addition, these individuals and organizations are at the same time embedded in multiple other networks Rethemeyer and Hatmaker , which may or may not overlap with the network being studied. In turn, even most PONs do not have clear boundaries Nowell et al. In order to inform practice properly, developing a full understanding of the functioning of PONs requires examining the multiple levels simultaneously and the effects each level has on another.

There are, though, at most a handful of studies that examine cross-level interactions in networks in general Berends, van Burg, and van Raaij ; Moliterno and Mahony ; Raab, Lemaire, and Provan It would be easy to call for more cross-level studies, but the data collection requirements and the lack of theoretical underpinning to guide those studies present real challenges to researchers.

More cross-level studies would also not integrate the distinctive potential of different epistemological standpoints. For instance, postpositive modeling techniques are particularly suitable for testing effects of one level predictors on outcomes at another level. Interpretative approaches, on the other hand, can reveal how perceptions, narratives, or processes at one level inform understanding of outcomes at another level.

The stratification of PONs hinders integration, because studies at different levels are often rooted in different epistemologies and use different research methods; e.

This diversity of approaches is also a strength in itself. Jacobs , for example, uses narrative inquiry with individuals working in partnerships, revealing complexities that would not have surfaced by research at the organizational level. This also suggests that paradigm interplay is necessary to integrating across approaches in order to integrate across levels through meta-synthesis. Without an understanding of whether and how cross-level interactions influence findings in individual studies, synthesizing across studies may mislead interpretation of findings, especially when findings diverge.

Using the full potential of the diversity of approaches at different network levels requires some good research practices. Though there could be great value in synthesizing studies that examine different levels, assumptions would have to be made about whether and how the findings can be connected. The fourth good research practice we propose, therefore, is being more explicit about the level of observation and being more thoughtful in considering the appropriate level of analysis for the study of certain dimensions of PONs.

Providing clarity about levels upfront allows for easier comparison across studies. Also, future integration could be facilitated if authors reason through how their findings may be influenced by other possible levels of analysis. This reflection and reasoning on levels would facilitate dialogue between the different paradigms for developing a more complete picture of the functioning of PONs at multiple levels. PONs face a continuous tension between stability and flexibility Provan and Kenis For that reason, several scholars have called for time-sensitive network theories e.

The dynamic nature of networks challenges efforts to integrate the research on PONs, because it is difficult for static research to capture the ebb and flow. With the comings and goings of people and organizations in and out of networks over time, it can be difficult to isolate real changes in networks over time from changes due to data collection methods and response biases see Lemaire et al.

The potential inconsistencies between studies, e.

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For example, studies on the consequences of network centralization might require a time window of several years to identify the extent to which an institutionalized core agent might provide collective benefits to the network, mainly coordination benefits, while studies with a short time window might mainly identify the short-term information advantages for the core agent itself. An additional important consideration is that different research methods and perspectives can generate substantively different insights into the dynamic nature of networks.

Whereas SNA allows for studying snapshots of the network structure over multiple years, interpretive methodologies, like ethnographic research or narrative inquiry, can provide insight in the underlying social processes and dynamics that can explain any changes in network structure over time. Berthod, Grothe-Hammer, and Sydow discuss how to combine SNA with ethnography and propose the value of conjoining the two for examining research questions specific to the study of PONs. A consistent approach toward studying the dynamic nature of networks is key for the ability to synthesize the research on PONs.

A potential mismatch between time windows used for observation and measurement, and the actual duration of the substantive processes Zaheer, Albert, and Zaheer might be detrimental to understanding how PONs function.

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Comparisons that fail to consider the relationship between the time window of the study and the findings could lead to flawed conclusions at the meta-synthesis level. Accordingly, the fifth good research practice we propose is being mindful of the time dimension and considering the appropriate temporal perspective necessary to examine a research question. We recommend that authors be explicit about the temporal dimensions of their study, both in regard to data collection and the networks being studied, so as to allow comparison of findings while accounting for how time might explain where there are convergence and divergence.

We encourage researchers to reflect on how the time window for when the study was carried out may influence the findings. We also urge researchers to identify the time window in relation to the temporal timeline of the networks being studied. This last suggestion means providing details about the stage of development of the network itself. Providing information on stage of development upfront allows for synthesis that considers how convergence and divergence of findings may be due to the temporal stage of the network as well as the temporal window of the research.

This last suggestion on the temporal stage of the network is related to the final challenge that we identify, the network context. The final challenge we consider is related to how varied the contexts of different networks are. The need to consider variation of network types is already evident in the literature as often times a distinction is made between policy networks, governance networks, and service delivery networks. In addition to this distinction, the purpose or context behind the network may be an important factor to consider in synthesizing across research studies.

For instance, there is currently a debate in the literature on emergency management networks as to whether centralization is necessary for effective network functioning. Some scholars argue that centralization is necessary Moynihan , consistent with the findings on mental health networks Provan and Milward ; whereas other scholars find evidence suggesting that centralized emergency response networks are not effective Marcum, Bevc, and Butts Yet other scholars adopt a more nuanced stance.

For example, in the case of the EU, Boin, Busuioc, and Groenleer conclude that the current network model is a logical outcome of the punctuated and fragmentary process through which crisis management capacities have been created. They also note, however, that the shortcomings of this model may necessitate elements of a lead-agency model, leading to a hybrid model that is uniquely suited for the peculiar organizational and political creature that the EU is.

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Whether their recommendations translate back to the local emergency response in the US context, which is the context for both the studies by Moynihan and Marcum et al. The challenge, therefore, is how to interpret these different findings at a meta-synthesis level when implicit contextual factors may be a key factor.

In addition to the purpose or context behind the network, how PONs are bounded for studying may also influence findings. As Rethemeyer and Hatmaker have shown, service delivery networks are often nested in policy networks and analyzing these overlapping networks independently is as flawed as analyzing organizations as closed systems. But bounding a network is often necessary for research and how to bound a network is a challenge even for formal PONs.

The way a researcher chooses to bound a network will more than likely influence findings, since it is often times difficult to know how findings might be different if the perspectives of actors not involved in the network were captured. Key to a meta-synthesis would be considering how approaches to bounding networks, and trade-offs made in the process, for individual studies may explain convergence or divergence of findings across studies. Thus, our last good research practice is to provide detail about the context of the PONs being studied.

We must pay more attention to the treatment of context in studies of PONs so that we can use paradigm interplay to mutually enrich our understanding of the relationship between context and PONs. This would help to ultimately synthesize findings by accounting for how context may explain divergence.

For example, in interpretivist studies, rather than a separate factor, context is assumed to be inherently relevant to understand the various dimensions of the social phenomenon under study. It is presupposed that context and networks shape one another if such a clear distinction can be made at all , and the researcher explores how the particularities of the context help understand the network dimensions of interest—structure, process, governance, leadership, outcomes and so on—to tease out the mechanisms by which these emerge.

This perspective contrasts with postpositive studies drawing on variance theories, but highlights how important context is as a factor. Postpositive studies can be more descriptive in regard to network context and attempt to capture how context may be a variable to consider. Specifically, we recommend that details of the network to be provided by the researcher, if known, are the task domain s of the network, its coordination structure, governance form, how and why it was convened, and how long it has been in existence.

In addition, other details about the context it is embedded in—geographical, political, historical, etc. Keeping the theoretical perspective and methodology constant, or at least accounted for, future attempts at meta-synthesis thus can examine questions on whether different network contexts and tasks influence findings. In this article, we asked what the challenges are to synthesizing the current landscape of network research, notably the study of PONs, and what is required to address these challenges. After discussing barriers to meta-synthesis of the PONs research, we conclude that it is unrealistic to propose meta-synthesis before these challenges are addressed.

However, to truly strive for state of the art, more synthesis of the existing research is needed. Given the trade-offs that are often necessary with research, and which are especially a factor with the complexity involved in studying PONs, the field will continue to be plagued with sacrificing depth versus breadth or vice versa. Efforts to incorporate different theoretical perspectives or multiple levels of analysis will come at a cost to generalizing across network context.

Efforts to generalize across network contexts or over time will come at a cost to the inclusion of different theoretical perspectives, methodologies, or levels of analysis. Therefore, if meta-synthesis is to be an aspiration, because it offers a way to advance the field by leveraging the research that is being done by individual studies, then addressing the challenges to this aspiration is a first and important step. We believe that the way to reach the aim of meta-synthesis is through paradigm interplay, but both paradigm interplay and meta-synthesis require greater transparency of epistemological assumptions and consistency in how the choices researchers make in the research process are reported.

We argue that the field is better off when all perspectives are used in a complementary fashion, on the basis of an open, multi-paradigmatic conversation. Our call for consistency with epistemological assumptions, on the one hand, and paradigm interplay, on the other hand, may seem to contradict one another because strict consistency in terminology and methodology within one paradigm might constrain interplay between paradigms.

However, we are not calling for epistemological rigidity, but for clarity around the assumptions and choices we make, striving for multi-paradigmatic dialogue. We believe that transparency in the perspectives we take and the methodological choices we make are essential for enabling dialogue, mutual learning, and cross-pollination between research rooted in different epistemological perspectives. Although we do not aim for consensus per se, we believe such paradigm interplay is needed for furthering integration of our field of research.

And to reach that point, the first necessary step is to overcome the six challenges that we discussed in this article. In view of enabling paradigm interplay and perhaps future meta-synthesis, we suggested several ways to improve our research so as to begin to address the challenges identified above. We proposed six good research practices as a way to lay the groundwork for future synthesis of the research.

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Table 1 summarizes these practices along with the challenges they are intended to address. Perhaps meta-synthesis may not be a possibility as of yet, but if we work to better overcome some of the challenges as suggested, we as scholars will have a better sense of how to integrate our own research with that of other scholars. As indicated earlier, the identified challenges and proposed practices are not intended to be all encompassing.