Democratic Leadership: Drawing distinctions with distributed leadership

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This article delineates the distinctiveness of democratic leadership in comparison with distributed leadership. The impetus for the exercise arises from the escalating interest in distributed leadership within the field of leadership and organizational studies. More particularly, this article addresses the danger that the idea of democratic leadership may be eclipsed or colonized by discourses on distributed leadership. A view of democracy is developed in which particular attention is given to critical theoretical roots in Marx's notion of alienation and the pervasive power of Weberian instrumental rationality. The article builds on theoretical modelling by the author (Woods 200372. Woods, PA. (2003). Building on Weber to Understand Governance: Exploring the links between identity, democracy and ‘inner distance’. Sociology, 37(1): 143–163.

View all references) of a type of governance (organic governance) in which democratic rationalities are an infusing and challenging feature. Two of the rationalities give to democratic agency its distinctiveness – namely, decisional and ethical rationality. The latter is discussed more fully, as it tends to be given least explicit attention in much literature on democracy. Essential to democracy is the recognition – and, today, the reassertion – that advancing truth is worthwhile, social and possible. Ethical rationality, linked in with the other democratic rationalities, requires, inter alia, creative spaces in a dynamic organizational structure that allows for movement between tighter and looser structural frameworks; a recombination of creative human capacities which overcomes the tension between instrumentally‐rational and affective capacities; and open boundaries of participation. Implications for understanding democratic leadership are highlighted in the discussion.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)3-26
JournalInternational Journal of Leadership in Education
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2004


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