The Social Construction of Leadership Power

Bev Rogers

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterpeer-review


What is called into being as “leadership” is what is intelligible as leadership through norms and “truths” at the time. It is not just based on the intent or characteristics of the leader, but on how subjects of the “truths” of the leader are constituted and hence conduct themselves. Leadership and context are connected and hence socially constructed. In fact, traditional, views of “universal” leadership traits as possessed by the leader do not help us explain or understand what has happened in Australia during the last 2 years of the pandemic, seen by most as a crisis in leadership. Having presided over closed international borders and a majority of closed internal borders and lockdowns for most of 2020/2021 the federal government provided heavily interventionist wages support for most businesses and workers in that time. Given the closure of international borders, and the priority given to suppression of the virus, the coordinated test, trace, and isolate practices delivered in each state were largely effective. With 90% of people double-dose vaccinated across the country in November 2021 and 9 days into the Omicron variant, the international borders and most state borders opened completely or with exemptions available. The Prime Minister “declared his aspiration to get the government out of people’s lives… [becoming] a government in name only… " (Felk, 2022). Infections, and deaths skyrocketed and the test, trace, and isolate regime broke down in most places with long queues and people waiting for days for results. The new pushing through and moving forward “truths” were a major change in how leadership of the pandemic was now presented. By understanding leadership as deploying techniques of governmentality, how most people are asked to reconstitute themselves as “responsible” individuals who now valued their freedoms above social obligations of protecting others from the virus can be examined. In the new narratives of “leadership, " deaths are less important than hospitalizations and managing health systems. The resurgence of the priority of the economy shows a swing from one extreme of zero-suppression of the virus to the other, described by some as the “let it rip” strategy with one of the highest rises in daily cases and deaths in the world. The health/freedom/economy paradox remains and it is uncertain if the government can “strike the most effective response to it” (Grattan, 2022). By understanding leadership as techniques of governmentality where narratives attempt to tell “truths” for a period of time that constitute people in certain ways according to rationalities of governing, how construction of compliance or not and “leadership” or not through norms of intelligibility happens can be apprehended and therefore imagine something better. “Living with Covid” might be a better balance between more distanced pushing through, moving forward, and taking individual responsibility alongside social obligations and restrictions on freedoms that prioritizes living in addition to the economy.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationThe Palgrave Handbook of Educational Leadership and Management Discourse
EditorsFenwick W. English
Place of PublicationSwitzerland
PublisherSpringer International Publishing
Number of pages19
ISBN (Electronic)9783030990978
ISBN (Print)9783030990961
Publication statusPublished - 2022


  • Governmentality
  • Intelligibility
  • Leadership
  • Regime of truth
  • Social construction


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