Lecturer, CLE, HKUST

Professional Interests

  • English for academic and specific purposes
  • Blended learning and online language education
  • Applied English linguistics
  • Content and language integrated learning


2023 Working Paper

Opening of a Literature Review - Leadership



The opening of this literature review begins by offering an introduction to leadership along with a brief history, before attempting to define this highly contested concept and linking it to the education sector.


Introduction to Leadership

Stogdill (1974) famously stated – almost 50 years ago – that there are ‘almost as many definitions of leadership as there are persons who have attempted to define the concept (p. 259).’ Though expansively studied and theorized, academics and practitioners have struggled to produce a universally agreed upon definition of the term, which has only exacerbated over time. However, there is seemingly consensus within the literature regarding the reason. This is because leadership is viewed as a ‘complex and multifaceted concept associated with ever-changing ideas and theories’ (Gigliotti & Shankman, 2021, p. 15). Nonetheless, leadership is deemed an important notion, and while fundamental definitions may be scrutinized, the myriad wide-ranging interpretations support the idea that it is still worthy of further research.


A Brief History

Before the beginning of the 20th century, Gigliotti & Shankman (2021) noted that there was an assumption that leaders were not made; they were born. However, ‘the turn of the 20th century brought metamorphic shifts to the formal writing and study of leadership’ which ‘can be divided into three phases’ (p. 15). The first phase lasted from 1900 until World War II and focused on the personal characteristics of a leader; the second phase encompassed an individuals’ abilities, actions and talents rather than personal traits, finishing around 1970; and the third phase continues to the present day (Heilbrunn, 1994). This third phase involves a deeper examination of the dynamic that exists between leaders and their followers, along with the different situations or environments in which this relationship is established (Kouzes & Posner, 2007; LaFasto & Larson, 2001). Perhaps, the fact we are now living in this rather nuanced third phase goes some way to explain why leadership is so difficult to define, yet there are other reasons.


Why no Unified Definition?

Although a simple, straightforward, and commonly accepted definition of leadership is lacking, notwithstanding the historical element, certain other factors contribute to the problem. Bolden (2004) claimed that there are two basic difficulties at its root. Firstly, subjectivity: ‘everyone has their own intuitive understanding of what leadership is, based on a mixture of experience and learning’ (p. 4). Though this seems plausible, another factor is that ‘the way in which leadership is defined and understood is strongly influenced by one’s theoretical stance.’ Thus, leadership is context-dependent; what it means and constitutes will vary between stakeholders at different times and places, according to both their conceptual underpinnings and overall understanding.


Contrasting Theoretical Stances?

Essentially, this can, rather reductively, be split into two schools of thought: individualist and collectivist. Highlighted by Grint (2004), he questioned whether leadership is down to individual characteristics and traits, or if the social process holds more weight.  Upon reviewing leadership theory, Northouse (2004) gave rise to the former, identifying four typical patterns in how people frame leadership. He asserted it is a ‘process whereby an individual influences a group of individuals to achieve a common goal’ (p. 3) centred around leadership being 1) a process, which 2) entails influence, 3) takes place in a group context, and 4) necessitates goal achievement. This approach is shown to emphasize the ‘leader.’


Yet, conversely, leadership can also be seen as mainly a collective notion. Yukl (2002) pointed out that ‘most definitions of leadership reflect the assumption that it involves a social influence process whereby intentional influence is exerted by one person [or group] over other people [or groups] to structure the activities and relationships in a group or organisation’ (p. 3). Therefore, it seems that at the crux of this definition is the exchange of information between individuals. As such, to meet the shared aspirations and needs of a group, leadership can be viewed as communication that positively alters peoples’ actions and attitudes (Johnson & Hackman, 2018).


On reflection, these two seemingly contrasting perspectives – individualism and collectivism – could be viewed as two sides of the same coin. In fact, in his seminal work, Burns (1978) views leadership as a reciprocal process. To be successful, a leader needs to positively influence and effectively communicate their message to others, while the group needs to be receptive as well as inspired and motivated to work towards their common goals. In sum, on choosing which definition to accept, it is vital to be aware of any underlying suppositions and implications, but the choice should be based on one’s own beliefs, inclinations, and organizational circumstances (Bolden, 2004), along with considering the field or industry in which they work.


Leadership in Education

Unsurprisingly, the meaning of leadership in education has also been contested. However, there seems to be general agreement in the literature that the emphasis is on teaching, learning and student attainment which are ultimately the essential objectives and processes of education (Devos & Bouckenooghe, 2009; Grissom & Loeb, 2011). Linked to this, it can be deduced that the education sector necessitates the cooperation and commitment of multiple stakeholders. In this vein, Bush & Glover (2003, p. 31) state that educational leadership ‘can be understood as a process of influence based on clear values and beliefs’ which leads to a shared vision for the institution, with the need for this to be ‘articulated by leaders who seek to gain the commitment’ of all parties involved. Moreover, ‘the process of influence ideally leads to an effective learning climate which all stakeholders…experience as an added value and keeps all the organisational processes… running smoothly’ (Daniëls et al., 2019). An educational institution is therefore viewed as a shared ecosystem; yet, like the macro concept, leadership in education also contains contrasting theories, frameworks, and approaches.




Bolden, R. (2004). What is Leadership? 1st ed. Exeter: University of Exeter.


Burns, J. M. (1978). Leadership. Harper & Row.


Bush, T., & Glover, D. (2003). School leadership: Concepts and evidence. Oxford, United Kingdom: National College for School Leadership. Retrieved from http://dera.


Daniëls, E., A. Hondeghem, and F. Dochy. (2019). “A Review on Leadership and Leadership Development in Educational Settings.” Educational Research Review 27: 110–125.


Devos, G., & Bouckenooghe, D. (2009). An exploratory study on principals' conceptions about their role as school leaders. Leadership and Policy in Schools, 8(2), 173–196.


Gigliotti, R. A., & Shankman, M. L. (2021). Assessing leadership: Historical roots and contemporary considerations. In M. L. Shankman & R. A. Gigliotti (Eds.). New Directions for Student Leadership: No. 170. Using inventories and assessments to enhance leadership development (pp. 13–21). Wiley.


Grint, K. (2004) What is Leadership? From Hydra to Hybrid. Working paper, Saïd Business School and Templeton College, Oxford University.


Grissom, J., & Loeb, S. (2011). Triangulating principal effectiveness. American Educational Research Journal, 48(5), 1091–1123.


Heilbrunn, J. (1994). Can leadership be studied? Wilson Quarterly, 18.


Johnson, C., & Hackman, M. Z. (2018). Leadership: A communication perspective (7th ed.). Waveland Press, Inc.


Kouzes, J., & Posner, B. (2007). The leadership challenge: How to keep getting extraordinary things done in organizations (4th ed.). Jossey-Bass.


LaFasto, F., & Larson, C. (2001). When teams work best: 6000 team members and leaders tell what it takes to succeed. SAGE.


Northouse, P. G. (2004) Leadership: Theory and Practice (3rd Edition). London: Sage Publications Ltd.


Stogdill, R. M. (1974) Handbook of Leadership: A survey of theory and research. New York: Free Press.


Yukl, G. A. (2002) Leadership in Organizations: Fifth Edition, Upper Saddle River, NJ, Prentice-Hall.


2020 Conference Paper / Presentation

Exploring the Affordances of WeChat for Reflective Purposes on a CLIL Module Whilst Assessing Chinese University Students’ Participation and Interaction

Muddeman, Gary

Press: Thailand TESOL Association
Location: Bangkok, Thailand
Source: ThaiTESOL Conference Proceedings 2020 / Thailand TESOL Association. Bangkok, Thailand : Thailand TESOL Association, 2020, p. 58-71

This comparative action research study explores the affordances of WeChat, an instant messaging app, as a means of reflection for Chinese third year undergraduates studying an elective Content and Language Integrated Learning (CLIL) module at a university in Shanghai, China. Although WeChat is multifaceted, students in the experimental group were assessed on their ability to reflect on lesson content – by writing weekly synchronous messages in English to a communal group chat – with their final exam scores later compared to an unknowing control group. Student participation was analysed quantitatively via content analysis, with the majority of students sending at least one message on a weekly basis. Learner interaction patterns were examined by qualitatively determining whether any of the student exchanges included High Level Messages – defined as posts that were sufficiently critical and/or personally reflective – however only three comments could be classed as such. Thus, several factors to increase the amount of High Level Messages including WeChat Reflection buddies, teacher intervention and pedagogical administration are considered. Findings showed that the experimental group unequivocally outperformed the control group in the final exam, and questionnaire data implied that student perceptions of the WeChat group were generally very positive. Finally, limitations and implications of the study are also discussed.