Social Identity and Leadership in the Basque Region: A Study of Leadership Development Programmes

By Pittaway, Luke; Rivera, Olga et al. | Journal of Leadership & Organizational Studies, Spring 2005 | Go to article overview
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Social Identity and Leadership in the Basque Region: A Study of Leadership Development Programmes


Pittaway, Luke, Rivera, Olga, Murphy, Anne, Journal of Leadership & Organizational Studies


The purpose of the study was to explore how social identity influences the construction of leadership development programmes in the Basque Region. The Basque region is recognised as having a strong social and national identity (Kaufmann and Todtling, 2000; McNeill, 2000). Historically leadership development has been focused on practising leaders and managers and delivered by universities, consultants and other intermediaries. A recent study reported in the paper has shown managerial dissatisfaction with current provision in the region and has illustrated a need for provision to focus on 'skills' for 'leadership'. What is meant by 'skills' and 'leadership' is, however, embedded within the Spanish language and Basque identity (Kasmir, 1996; Whyte, 1999). The paper introduces theories of social identity as they are applied to the study of leadership and it explores how these theories can help explain perceptions of leadership.

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This paper presents a story of an interesting research process that struggled to work. The researchers explain the problems encountered, identify why these problems occurred and highlight the outcome of the effort. The study originated from collaboration between Lancaster University Management School (LUMS) in the United Kingdom (UK) and ESTE-Management School of Universidad de Deusto (Deusto) in Spain. The collaboration between the two Universities was directed at introducing new methods of leadership development in the Basque region. During this relationship the partners became aware of different conceptions of leadership between the two countries and they began to explore them in more depth. Consequently, this paper reports the results of this work and it focuses on the nature of identity and on how identity influences perceptions of leadership. The article investigates theories of social identity by exploring data collected by Deusto that focused on management development programmes. The regional work was similar to that carried out by the Council for Excellence in Management and Leadership (CEML) in the UK, which also examined management development education. One factor was, however, very different. The word leadership was never mentioned in the Deusto study while in the UK study the concept of leadership was given a central role. These differences led the researchers to ask why in two European studies focusing on management development, leadership could be considered essential as a concept in one, while hardly featuring as an issue in another. This paper reports the process and outcomes of this research. It does so by presenting two dialogues based on two empirical studies and explains how these dialogues while paradigmatically different lead to similar conclusions about leadership in the Basque region. A number of outcomes are reported in this paper:

i) In the research process the concept of social identity was found to be insufficient for explaining certain aspects of national identity

ii) The entire concept of 'leadership' was found to be problematic when applied to the Basque region

iii) The idea of multi-paradigm research was found to be a useful but challenging approach

In the next part of the paper current theories and ideas on social identity are introduced and how they impact on concepts of leadership is explained.

Social Identity And Leadership

Identity is an essential concept in social psychology and is one of its main concerns. The nature of identity has sparked many philosophical debates, not least the problematic distinction between personal and social identity (Deschamps and Devos, 1998). The term 'social identity' is used here to explain how individuals conceptualise themselves via reference to groups of which they are members, categorising their own place in society. 'Social identity' in the paper is consequently defined as:

"... the individual's knowledge that he belongs to certain social groups together with some emotional and value significance to him of this group membership" Tajfel, 1972, p.

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