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Leadership Challenges in Academia : Four Case studies

  • Thomas Severin
Publishing year: 2019-05-15
Language: English
Document type: Dissertation
Publisher: Lund University


This thesis is an exploration of leadership dimensions of academic organisational processes. It consists of four case studies, each presenting a leadership challenge. These studies of specific situations offer great opportunities to investigate the variety of leading that the academy contains. There is focus, not so much on the task but on the process in which the challenges are positioned, how they are understood and approached, and what action ensues. The cases also inform on individual circumstances as well as group and organizational situations, and there is an additional focus on personal and organizational developmental processes.
Qualitative research methods have been used throughout the studies, for the purpose of reflection and understanding, rather than verifiable facts. The closeness of the case study to real-life situations and its almost infinite wealth of details provides the opportunity to develop nuanced view and theory of leadership in the academy. Thematic and narrative analyses, applied in these studies, give access to knowledge about sense-making and coping in the different leadership challenges. They also make it possible to sort out differences that matter in ideas and approaches to leadership embedded in the processes of these challenges.
The findings from the four cases studies of this thesis show that (1) reflections on art and architecture may be conducive for stimulating innovative inclusive ways of conducting leadership development, (2) there are four different "rooms of leadership" at the university, which are all based on varying institutional logics, (3) formal leaders interpret and act in line with a particular sequence of episodes when dealing with destructive research leaders in their organization, and (4) there is a variety of types of disharmony influencing creativity in a long lasting research environment, and these can be managed with different strategies.
Altogether, these studies show that the process dimensions of the four leadership challenges contain various notions and practices of leading that in situations of stress reach a state of tension or conflict with one another. These tensions are in the thesis understood as organisational paradoxes, or polarities, i.e. problems that cannot be solved but can be lived and led. The findings also suggest that a both/and approach, and the psychoanalytic concept of holding can be helpful in an understanding of leading towards constructive outcomes of these leadership challenges.


Kulturens auditorium, Tegnérplatsen, Lund
  • Christer Sandahl (Senior Professor)


  • Psychology
  • academic leadership
  • organizagtiponmal paradoxes
  • holding
  • qualitative methods
  • distributed leadership
  • leadership development
  • toxic leadership


  • Eva Brodin
  • Robert Holmberg
  • ISBN: 978-91-7895-103-1
  • ISBN: 978-91-7895-104-8