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Ontology and Epistemology in Leadership Research Essay

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Updated: Nov 4th, 2020


Ontology is the study that deals with the reality that may exist either outside research and gain the forms of realist or objectivist ontology or as a part of research and be defined as nominalist ontology (Conway, 2015). In current research on leadership as a practice, it is expected to take into consideration human traits and behaviors and clarify how to develop these traits in order to succeed in leading people. In this case, a practice has to be identified as a cooperative effort that is made by the individuals, who are able to analyze their knowledge, investigate their skills, and make decisions that help to achieve good leadership results (Raelin, 2011).

Individuals, who want to become leaders, have to be ready to recognize the main differences in their practice, consider their emotions and characters, and use their best skills participating in various mundane or extraordinary activities. Relying on such requirements and expectations, a leadership-as-practice approach should be defined as a process that involves several people at the same time rather than focuses on one person and the development of their skills (Raelin, 2011). The quality of leadership is estimated by the possibility to cope with all tasks and clarify what steps can be taken further to support employees. Therefore, the outcomes of leadership can never be predicted, but can always be constituted. People may influence leadership, as well as be under the influence of leadership. People may develop skills and become leaders or use leadership as the possibility to develop the required portion of skills. Social and material unpredictable changes may influence the quality of leadership in the way it could hardly be predicted. Therefore, it is necessary to investigate leadership as a practice within its environment and people’s possible impact on its environment (Raelin, 2011).

In this project, a practice should be considered as a core unit for the analysis because it may be used as a socio-cultural aspect, as well as the intersectional concept, that unites the material world and a human mind (Raelin, 2011). Instead of making numerous attempts and trying to prove that people are not dependent on the environment, it is necessary to focus on the relations between the concepts and explain how an activity with its own structure and characteristics could be used in the chosen practice approach. It is hard to comprehend a practice when it should be used as a part of a situation, a social site where events, people, and meanings are interrelated (Raelin, 2011).

Taking into consideration such a peculiar feature of leadership as a practice, an ontology may be explained as an important study that could influence the development of the leadership debates between an entity and relational scholars. The majority of entity scholars are ready to support the realist position and prove that leaders are the people, who may exist in different organizational systems and find the approach that is most effective in a certain situation. In their turn, relational leadership scholars believe that the ontology of leadership lies in the possibility to develop co-constructed events and use available social actors in order to promote leadership in an organization (Conway, 2015). The results of these debates are as follows: ontology helps to create and interpret a reality that is based on the interactions between the company’s employees, leaders, and society. This reality is not simple, and the goal of this research is to use all possible ontological assumptions in order to prove how leaders could be influenced by an interactive environment, and how the environment could be influenced by the leaders. Ontology is the study that helps to comprehend what questions should be asked, what approaches should be chosen, and what perspectives have to be observed (Reitz, 2015).


Epistemology is another crucial branch of philosophy researcher may use in their work. In this part of the study, it is necessary to clarify what kind of knowledge could be gathered and what are the reasons for certain decisions to be made and certain steps to be taken. Epistemological assumptions have to be properly identified and explained because they help to accept “the truth” in the study and the activities promoted through the study (Conway, 2015). Knowledge is power, and this proverb is used by many researchers, who investigate leadership and the skills leaders have to develop in their work.

In the frames of this research on leadership as a practice, it is impossible to clarify what has been already known, what could be expected, and what lessons could be offered. As an example, Conway (2015) suggests taking Cartesian dualism as the method to pervade modernist epistemology during which people gain control of all events and make predictions. However, this dualistic approach could be replaced by a practice epistemology as a study where social interactions are investigated. Leadership is a result of the work of many people. It is based on social interactions, accidental and planned conversations, and inquiries with the help of which intersubjective meanings are developed in a working process (Conway, 2015).

There are theoretical and practical points of view in defining leadership (Conway, 2015). The practice is a way how people comprehend and use theory. A theory is the result of work, personal experiences, and understanding of the matter. People could use theory in order to improve practice, and, vice versa, they could use practice in order to prove the correctness of a theory. There is a tiny connection between these two notions, and researchers have to understand its nature to develop further thoughts on leadership.

Epistemological assumptions include the evaluation of the origins and possible limitations of human knowledge. In this study, leadership is defined as practice. However, it is also necessary to underline the role of a theory as a possibility to keep apart all actions and thoughts of people on the same issues. Human reactions are hard to predict because people stay dependent on various outside factors that may cause personal problems or a crisis. People are free to choose and consider their own needs and abilities. Still, the choice of decisions also depends on personal practice and knowledge. It is necessary to identify all coping skills or even stop doing something just because new clarifications open new opportunities and introduce new approaches (Conway, 2015). The only challenge people have to deal with when they combine theoretical and practical knowledge in leadership is the necessity either to choose one type of work, explain its worth, and share the attitude or to learn how to combine theory and practice as one general response to the environment and the changes people have to deal with. The search for a compromise is what should be done in a leadership investigation.

Social constructionism is another crucial method that is used in interpretive sociology (Reitz, 2015). Its major goal is to investigate reality where all are gathered and are able to develop the relations which make sense in the chosen environment. This perspective is not actually difficult for comprehension. Leaders may see themselves as persons with a strong self-connection that is created through certain interactions which are not dependent on the interrelations developed before. According to social constructionism, leadership may emerge in the process of tasks’ organizing. Leadership cannot happen just because it is a necessary practice. Leadership occurs in a context where no past experience actually matters. Leaders have to think about the present and future achievements instead of thinking about past decisions and recent circumstances. Communication and discourses have to be developed by leaders thoroughly because leadership is not a task that has to be complete. It is a kind of relations that have to be developed between people at a certain time and place (Reitz, 2015). Leadership is a practice a person can hardly possess. It is a practice that has to be developed and achieved by a certain group of people in a community.


Therefore, the goal of this research is to promote actions and reflections at the same time. It is necessary to ask questions in order to find out the things that may improve leadership. It is obligatory to observe the events in order to build knowledge on a subject. Finally, it is expected to use real knowledge and facts with the help of which leadership may be discussed in terms of action and research. There is no need to choose between ontological and epistemological assumptions but use both to cover the chosen topic properly.


Conway, J.A. (2015). Web.

Raelin, J. (2011). From leadership-as-practice to leaderful practice. Leadership, 7(2), 195-211.

Reitz, M. (2015). Dialogue in organizations: Developing relational leadership. New York, NY: Springer.

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