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The Language of Leadership


  • Dr Stephanie Schnurr
  • Dr Jonathan Clifton, Université de Valenciennes, France
  • Dr Dorien van de Mieroop, KU Leuven, Belgium
  • Dr Seongsook Choi, University of Edinburgh
  • Dr Nor Azikin Mohd Omar, former PhD student The University of Warwick
  • Anastasia Stavridou, PhD student The University of Warwick
  • Dr Magnus Larsson, Copenhagen Business School

Research focus:

This project proposes a new approach to leadership by focusing on language to address some of the questions that leadership research is still grappling with:

  • What exactly is leadership? How can we capture leadership in action?
  • Is it really always ‘the leader’ who is doing leadership?
  • How is leadership done in teams that don’t have an official leader?
  • Can teamwork be leadership?
  • What can we learn about leadership by exploring the stories that people tell about leaders and leadership?
  • Is the way people do and talk about leadership really influenced by culture? If so, in what ways?


The project uses audio- and video-recordings of authentic interactions collected in a range of different teams and workplaces to gain a better understanding of actual leadership practices. The particular focus of our research is not so much what people say, but rather how they say it. This approach to analysing authentic interaction enables us to capture leadership as it takes place rather than having to exclusively rely on reported (rather than actual) leadership practice as is typical for much other leadership research.

Key findings:

  • Focusing on language provides new insights into the often collaborative processes of leadership.
  • It helps identify and describe the intricate processes through which leadership is done – often independently of official titles and positions.
  • Such an approach provides empirical evidence to support or challenge current scholarship on leadership

To find out more:

Choi, Seongsook, Schnurr, Stephanie. 2014. Exploring distributed leadership: solving disagreements and negotiating consensus in a 'leaderless' team. Discourse Studies, Volume 16 (1), pp. 3-24

Schnurr, Stephanie, Chan, Angela, Loew, Joelle, Zayts, Olga. 2017. Leadership and culture: when stereotypes meet actual workplace practice. In: Ilie, Cornelia; Schnurr, Stephanie; (ed.), Challenging Leadership Stereotypes through Discourse: Power, Management and Gender, Springer Singapore

Schnurr, S., & Schroeder, A. (2019). A critical reflection of current trends in discourse analytical research on leadership across disciplines. A call for a more engaging dialogue. Leadership 15.4: 445-460

Clifton, Jonathan, Stephanie Schnurr & Dorien van de Mieroop (2020). The Language of Leadership Narratives. A Social Practice Perspective. Abingdon: Routledge.