Episode 8: Leadership

In the first part of the episode, we start by talking about the gendered connotations of leadership and Erika mentions the results she got when searching for images of a “boss”. Here is the first image showing a boss in a workplace context that came up on the Google image search: 

We also mention the advertising campaign that pen maker BIC (see also episode 5 on customers talking back) ran for International Women’s Day 2015 and for whose sexism they later had to apologise. Here is the ad that Erika mentions: 

We then move on to different leadership styles and how some are perceived as masculine and others as feminine. Good overviews of so-called transactional and relational styles, and their language and communication aspects, are provided in 

Baxter, J. (2010). The Language of Female Leadership. Basingstoke: Palgrave. 

Holmes, J., & Stubbe, M. (2003). Power and Politeness in the Workplace. London: Longman. 

The same idea is captured by psychologists Alice Eagley and Mary Johannesen-Schmidt, who talk about agentic and communal behaviour: 

Eagley, A. H., & Johannesen-Schmidt, M., (2001). The leadership styles of men and women. Journal of Social Issues, 57(4), 781.797. 

It is important to stress though that these different leadership styles are culturally connoted as masculine or feminine and are used by good leaders of all genders as the situation demands. 

Two examples of leadership communication that we mention are from the First Minister of Scotland, Nicola Sturgeon, and the Belgian health minister, Maggie De Block, who both gave very clear directives to the population about what to do and not do during the coronavirus outbreak. A press briefing by Sturgeon can be found here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vs2jWH9-Cqs (starts 9 minutes in). 

We contrast this leadership style with the early communication of British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, an example of which can be found here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-v1xduw1mQE. In this context, we introduce the notion of double-voicing (see glossary), which was formulated for leadership communication by Judith Baxter:

Baxter, J. (2017). Double-voicing at Work: Power, gender and linguistic expertise. Basingstoke: Palgrave.

Stressing the importance of context, Veronika then makes reference to Keith Grint’s now classical work, in which he distinguishes between commander, manager and leader functions for different kinds of problems: simply put, emergencies such as a train crash require commanders, so-called tame problems, e.g. drafting a railway timetable, call for managers, and wicked problems, such as developing a public transport strategy, need to be addressed by leaders. (“Wicked problems” are also mentioned by the second interview guest, Roshni Moneeram.) 

Grint, K. (2005). Problems, problems, problems: The social construction of ‘leadership’. Human Relations, 58(11), 1467-1494.

When we recorded this episode of the podcast in early April 2020, the importance of communication for leadership was highlighted due to the “lockdown” in reaction to the global coronavirus outbreak. People in leadership positions suddenly found themselves leading teams remotely, and Forbes magazines among others urged them to “promote communication to critical”:  https://www.forbes.com/sites/nigeldavies/2020/04/07/how-to-be-a-strong-remote-leader-during-lockdown/#4291958f18e2. More on leading virtual teams can be found in these book chapters:

Schramm, M. (2018). The virtual coffee break: Virtual leadership – how to create trust and relations over long distances. In: Kolbaek, D. (ed.) Online Collaboration and Communication in Contemporary Organizations. Hershey, PA: IGI Global, pp. 256-275 .

Darics, E. (2017). E-leadership or “How to be boss in Instant Messaging?” The role of nonverbal communication. International Journal of Business Communication57(1), 3-29.
This article from Erika is also open access!

Towards the end of the first part, we talk about the different functions of humour in the workplace; an important publication on this is

Holmes, J., & Marra, M. (2002). Having a laugh at work: How humour contributes to workplace culture. Journal of Pragmatics, 34(12), 1683-1710.

The first, shorter interview in the leadership episode is with Professor Louise Mullany, founder of the agency Linguistic Profiling for Professionals: https://www.nottingham.ac.uk/lipp/. Louise also runs a free online course called “How to read your boss”: https://www.futurelearn.com/courses/how-to-read-your-boss/2/steps/38185. She is moreover centrally involved with the Language, Gender and Leadership network, as indeed is our second interview guest, Dr Roshni Moneeram. 

Apart from talking about her consultancy work in the corporate sector, especially the functions of humour and politeness (see also episode 4 on talking to customers) in workplace communication, Roshni also mentions a collection of stories (see also episode 7 on storytelling) about women leaders in various African countries. These narratives can be found here, and we can really recommend reading them: https://www.nottingham.ac.uk/lipp/language-gender-and-leadership-network/narratives.aspx. Another topic addressed in the interview is that of global or world Englishes. There is a branch of sociolinguistics that particularly looks at how English is used in non-native, including post-colonial contexts, and how different varieties of English develop as a result. A recent book on the subject is

Nelson, C. L., Proshina, Z. G., & Davis, D. R. (eds) (2020). The Handbook of World Englishes. 2nd ed. Chichester: John Wiley & Sons. 

Since we had two interviews in this episode, and because humour needs a lot of context, we have moved the usual data analysis to this blog post. The example below, and its analysis, is taken from

Mullany, L. (2007). Gendered Discourse in the Professional Workplace. Basingstoke: Palgrave. 

We are grateful to Louise Mullany for providing the example. 

Example: “I’m just pulling your leg”

In this extract from a team meeting, Amy uses humour to voice criticism aimed at her status equal, James. Whilst Amy does mitigate her criticism of James, she does this using humour functioning in a rivalrous manner, invoked by the use of stereotypically masculine strategies of banter and jocular abuse. 

James has just detailed that his department have had the most  successful sales week.

1.  Amy: ((smile voice)) is that why you came to 

2. [the meeting?    ]

3.  James: [I’m sitting here] next to three (xxx) and 

4. business is dealt by the three thirty eight 

5. thank you very much erm=

6.  Amy:   =you don’t come all these weeks when 

7. it’s down and then when it’s up he’s here 

8. ((laughter from many))

9.   James: I’ve been quite stretched (xxx) (-)

10.  Amy: I know you have I’m only pulling your leg James

Lines 1-2 and 6-7 illustrate Amy using banter, followed by jocular abuse, to criticize James for not attending the sales group meeting in previous weeks. In lines 1-2 she asks him if the only reason he came today  was because his team had performed well for the first time in weeks, using a smile voice. She continues her critique with jocular abuse, accusing him of attempting to avoid criticism, only attending when he knew he would receive praise. Amy’s change of pronoun from ‘you’ to ‘he’ (line 7) signals an attempt to place some distance between James and the rest of the group. Amy’s accusation is found to be amusing by many members. However, following James’ responses where he defends himself, Amy uses the idiomatic expression ‘I’m only pulling your leg’, to overtly state that she was only joking, suggesting that James has misinterpreted her intentions if he is taking her seriously. This is therefore an example of the ambiguity of humour, and how participants can deny the force of an unfavourable message. Even by idiomatically stating that she was using humour, and thus by implication that James shouldn’t take her seriously, the critical force of Amy’s message remains. 

To close this blog post, let us share some humour posted on Twitter during the coronavirus crisis. Bernard and Veronika, who both love dogs, recommend the tweets by @MrAndrewCotter. A well-known sports commentator in the UK, he got so bored in the absence of sporting events that he started a commentary on the behaviour of his two labradors – enjoy!

https://twitter.com/MrAndrewCotter/status/1248313303270596610?s=20

Listen to the episode here

Full transcription of the episode

References and Further Reading

Baxter, J. (2017). Double-voicing at Work: Power, gender and linguistic expertise. Basingstoke: Palgrave.

Baxter, J. (2010). The Language of Female Leadership. Basingstoke: Palgrave. 

Darics, E. (2017). E-leadership or “How to be boss in Instant Messaging?” The role of nonverbal communication. International Journal of Business Communication57(1), 3-29.

Eagley, A. H., & Johannesen-Schmidt, M., (2001). The leadership styles of men and women. Journal of Social Issues, 57(4), 781.797.

Grint, K. (2005). Problems, problems, problems: The social construction of ‘leadership’. Human Relations, 58(11), 1467-1494.

Holmes, J., & Marra, M. (2002). Having a laugh at work: How humour contributes to workplace culture. Journal of Pragmatics, 34(12), 1683-1710.

Holmes, J., & Stubbe, M. (2003). Power and Politeness in the Workplace. London: Longman.

Mullany, L. (2007). Gendered Discourse in the Professional Workplace. Basingstoke: Palgrave.

Nelson, C. L., Proshina, Z. G., & Davis, D. R. (eds) (2020). The Handbook of World Englishes. 2nd ed. Chichester: John Wiley & Sons.

Schramm, M. (2018). The virtual coffee break: Virtual leadership – how to create trust and relations over long distances. In: Kolbaek, D. (ed.) Online Collaboration and Communication in Contemporary Organizations. Hershey, PA: IGI Global, pp. 256-275 .

Skovholt, K. (2015). Doing leadership in a virtual team: Analyzing addressing devices, requests, and emoticons in a leader’s e-mail messages. In: Darics, E. (ed.) Digital Business Discourse. Basingstoke: Palgrave, pp. 101-121.

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