Written by
Emily Sexton-Brown

Published
24 Feb 2016

Identifying leadership: Professor Laurie Cohen Q&A

24 Feb 2016 • by Emily Sexton-Brown

1. What is your name and job title?

Laurie Cohen, Professor of work and organisation.

2. What led you onto your career path?

I started out teaching English as a foreign language and then trained to become a secondary school English teacher. Whilst I was doing that, I did a part-time Masters, then started a PhD which I thought would be compatible with having a lot of little children (which it was). So the move to HE was incremental.

3. What has been the biggest influence within your career to date?

Coming from a family that values autonomy, personal and social responsibility, having a rich and diverse life – a family in which we were always encouraged to make the most of opportunities.

4. In your opinion, what does true leadership look like?

I don’t know what ‘true leadership’ is - to me the concept doesn’t make sense. Rather, leadership (good, bad or otherwise) is socially constructed, understood and legitimated in particular contexts.

5. To be an innovative leader, what key skills are needed?

Again, innovation is contextually situated, but one thing I would say is that such people, thinking laterally, are interested in the myriad ways that things might link up and have a strong and deep appreciation of the possibilities the lurk within difference. People who always follow the rules usually aren’t very innovative.

6. How do you anticipate leadership evolving in the coming years?

Once again, it’s not about unitary answers. Underpinning this question is a sense that there is a consensus around what leadership ‘is’ that I don’t subscribe to. But of course there will be fads and fashions in leadership (e.g. transformational or charismatic leadership, servant leadership etc). How these ideas actually play out in practice is another story. 

7. What are the top three management books aspiring leaders should read?

I don’t know about top three management books, but three books that influenced me a lot are Gareth Morgan’s Images of Organizations (organizations are many things at once), Jane Austin’s Persuasion (leaders, whatever they are, have to understand how relationships work) and Voices from Chernobyl, by Svetlana Alexievich (about what it means to be human and about the horrors that can ensue when our connections with each other and the world are severed, forgotten or subsumed by other interests).