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Durham University

Department of Anthropology


Publication details for Dr Jeremy Kendal

Offord, M., Gill, R. & Kendal, J.R. (2016). Leadership between decks: a synthesis and development of engagement and resistance theories of leadership based on evidence from practice in Royal Navy warships. Leadership & Organization Development Journal 37(2): 289-304.

Author(s) from Durham


To understand the role of interaction in the process of leadership. Interaction has been claimed to be a leadership competence in earlier research into leadership in the Royal Navy. The aim of this research is to define how interaction works within naval teams.

The research uses Grounded Theory. Following a series of leadership discussions in separate focus groups, discussion topics were coded and subjected to recursive qualitative analysis. The grounded approach is used to synthesise and develop existing leadership theory strands as well as to extend the trait-process approach to leadership.

The research discovers the key interaction behaviours of engagement, disengagement and levelling. Our findings support recent developments in follower-centric perceptions of leadership and in interaction specifically. We develop engagement theory by combining it with the less well researched area of leadership resistance. We then re-frame resistance as social levelling, a more comprehensive interaction mechanism.

Research limitations/implications
The research is highly contextual because of its qualitative approach. Some of the detailed reactions to leadership behaviours may not found in other naval or military teams and are unlikely to be generalizable to non-military environments. However, the mechanism described, that of engagement, disengagement and levelling is considered highly generalizable if not universal.

Rather than develop new theory fragments in an already confusing research environment, we fuse engagement and resistance theory to extend trait-process theories of leadership. The result is a coherent and integrative model of leadership dynamics which frames leadership in the mundane interaction of leaders and followers.

Practical implications
Interaction as a competence is strongly supported as is the encouragement of cultures which promote interaction. Selection procedures for future leaders should include interaction skills. The use of subtle methods of resistance are highlighted. Such methods may indicate poor interaction long before more overt forms of resistance are apparent.

This research uniquely uses Grounded Theory to extend current theories (competence based leadership and trait-process theories of leadership), explaining the complexity of leadership-interaction. The research also synthesises and develops engagement and levelling (resistance to leadership) theories for the first time. As such the project suggests a full range model of follower response to leadership including subtle forms of resistance to power. The value of group-level analysis using focus groups is recommended, especially for other collective leader-follower approaches to leadership.

The research is of interest to those studying leadership process theories, competencies, leader-follower traditions, engagement and power/resistance research.