Mapping empirical research on the leadership concepts and models

Bradley S. PORTIN, Philip HALLINGER, Stephan Gerhard HUBER

Research output: Contribution to conferencePapers


The three papers in this part of the symposium draw upon findings from paper 1 on the theoretical validity of the different concepts, and focus on how the concepts are used in empirical research on leadership. By looking at different studies, the papers investigate the use of analytical perspectives to guide empirical research related to the research questions, the research design, the use of research methods and analytical techniques, not at least with respect to research findings and conclusions presented. Due to the increasing number of studies of school leadership in the past decade, we have divided this part of the symposium into three papers. While paper 2 focuses on mapping qualitative research, paper 3 concentrates on quantitative studies. Paper 4 provides an overview of studies using mixed methods designs and discusses mixed-method approaches. As argued in paper 1, knowledge about the assumptions and theories underlying the leadership concepts is necessary to understand the feasibility and limitations when conducting empirical work. However, the methods chosen also have underlying assumptions about the nature of their subject matter, and thereby they shape findings (Danziger, 1985). This is regarded as a key issue in all three papers. It implies that the choice of research methods constitutes a mechanism for investigation that produces or reflects not neutral descriptions and explanations, but interpretations framed in their own terms (cf. Yanchar & Williams, 2006). Ignoring these underlying theoretical assumptions and their relevance could lead to a dangerous and possibly unscientific practice where research is guided by unexamined ideas and values (Slife 1998). As such, our approach to mapping different empirical studies is characterised by linking the underlying theoretical assumptions of leadership concepts and methods employed. This will then provide us with a guide to assess available evidence, and help us to interrogate the strengths and limitations of the different leadership studies. In paper 2 we discuss the use of semi-structured interviews of principals and teachers to study the impact of distributed leadership on students’ outcomes which inevitably limits findings to perceptions of the actors interviewed. The perceptions which are expressed in the interview situation often tend to be susceptible to interviewer expectancy effects and bias, especially in a field where a lot of rhetoric exists around the ‘right’ way of exercising leadership in educational institutions. In paper 3 we discuss the fact that the complex nature of leadership processes and effects necessitates that methods are appropriate to investigate complexity, contingency and context. This is not apparent in many leadership studies, especially those employing simple quantitative regression models positing direct effects of leadership on student outcomes. To avoid the problems associated with using either qualitative or quantitative approaches, researchers have recently to an increasing degree developed mixed methods design. Combining different approaches can in many ways be fruitful to avoid problems as described above. However, as we discuss in paper 4, other problems may rise, for instance in terms of choosing perspectives and frameworks for different analytic purposes which have to suit the chosen combination of methods.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - May 2010
Event2010 Annual meeting of American Educational Research Association : Understanding Complex Ecologies in a Changing World - Denver, United States
Duration: 30 Apr 201004 May 2010


Conference2010 Annual meeting of American Educational Research Association : Understanding Complex Ecologies in a Changing World
Abbreviated titleAERA2010
Country/TerritoryUnited States


Portin, B. S., Hallinger, P., & Huber, S. G. (2010, May). Mapping empirical research on the leadership concepts and models. Paper presented at the Annual Meeting of American Educational Research Association: Understanding Complex Ecologies in a Changing World, Denver, CO.


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