student profile: Ms Pam Ryan Ryan


Map

Thesis work

Thesis title: Understanding and responding to destructive leadership in education: An Autopoietic perspective

Supervisors: George ODHIAMBO , Rachel WILSON

Thesis abstract:

Leadership is integral to the health and wellbeing of individuals and organisations. Relevant literature typically assumes a conception of ethical influence for good purpose, yet it is not always so. When exercised destructively, leadership has the potential to cause personal distress, group dysfunction and cultural fracture. Although some theoretical literature discusses such leadership, there are few empirical studies. The current work applies autopoietic theory in order to explore what can be known about the existence and impact of destructive leadership in educational environments, and what may be learned about prevention and intervention.
The research methodology used in the study is phenomenography, which seeks to understand a phenomenon by defining variation in collective experience. Fifteen interviews were undertaken with school leaders who identified with having past experience of leadership practices they defined as destructive. The purposive sample population was cross-sectoral and cross school phase. The study is framed by three research questions that aim to identify the qualitatively different ways by which the phenomenon can be understood.
The findings suggest that leadership: causes significant, lasting and pervasive harm to individuals and to organisations when it is exercised as power and control without adequate checks and balances; derives from personality dispositions, professional inadequacy or aberrant values; and impacts in personal, interpersonal or intrapersonal cycles, mediated or mitigated through individual or social conditions. Four theoretical contributions emerge: a phenomenographically-derived framework to analyse a dysfunctional social system; an autopoietically-derived interpretation of individual, organisation and ethical impact; reinforcing vicious and virtuous circles of control and trust, and a theory of ‘dysergy’, whereby the sum of the parts of a dysfunctional system constitute a diminished whole.
Understanding dysergy and the pathology of a dysfunctional system triggered by leadership and recognising alternative integrative or disintegrative responses can inform prevention and counteraction. Acknowledging and confronting destructive leadership can lead to personal and organisational learning and growth.

Selected publications

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Books

  • Ryan, P. (2017). Action and reflection tools for busy school leaders. Australia: ACER.
  • Ryan, P. (2016). Wise heads, wise hearts: Conversations with Asia-Pacific school leaders. Camberwell Victoria: ACER Press.
  • Ryan, P. (2015). Leadership in education: Learning from experience. Ultimo, New South Wales: Halstead Press.

2017

  • Ryan, P. (2017). Action and reflection tools for busy school leaders. Australia: ACER.

2016

  • Ryan, P. (2016). Wise heads, wise hearts: Conversations with Asia-Pacific school leaders. Camberwell Victoria: ACER Press.

2015

  • Ryan, P. (2015). Leadership in education: Learning from experience. Ultimo, New South Wales: Halstead Press.

Note: This profile is for a student at the University of Sydney. Views presented here are not necessarily those of the University.