BA (Hons), DipEd (Melbourne), BEd, PhD (Monash), MA (Cambridge), FAccSS, FRSA, FACEL


The focus of my research is leadership. I am interested in leadership as both a generic field (i.e., across organizations, and policy and occupational sectors) and a domain-specific field (particularly in education). With both emphases, the main methodological approaches that I have taken are ethnographic and biographical.

 In respect of generic and domain-specific leadership, my key interests include: aspirations to lead, leadership careers and the formative agencies which shape leadership learning, leaders’ identities and sense of self, the values of leaders and their work styles, negotiation of leader selection, induction and appointment processes, leader succession, leaders’ legacies and leaders’ sense of divestiture of status, or diminution and loss of influence. In the analysis of leadership practice, I am interested in leadership attribution processes, the emergence and fostering of expectations of leaders, leader engagement and disengagement, emotions associated with leading, trust and risk in leadership, and the dynamics of leadership teams, and committee and meeting processes. Another key question, in which generic and domain-specific considerations became intertwined, is concerned with whether leadership capability transfers: that is, to what extent can the skills and capabilities learned and acquired in one sphere of activity be adapted to the exercise of leadership responsibilities required by a different sphere?

 Another important focus is on the architecture of leadership. That is, are leadership and leading to be defined mainly in individual or collective terms, or as a combination of both? Until recently, the received wisdom has been that leadership is a solo phenomenon and that (through cognitive attribution) high profile individuals are bestowed with the status of leaders. A focus of current debate in the field, however, concerns whether leadership may also be collective, distributed or shared in small-number entities and agencies (e.g., partnerships, trios and networks), and the extent to which such groupings or configurations are fleetingly emergent or become institutionally formalized.

 Another key element is what leaders do with their leadership. In particular, what are they able to achieve, working singly and collectively, by way of impact with respect to problem solutions, and the implementation of various measures and policies? Unless care is taken with an acknowledgement of the limits of human agency, while at the same time avoiding an over-deterministic view of the effect of social and organizational structures, there is a risk of leaders being misinterpreted superficially as heroic or great. An antidote here, especially in biographical accounts of leaders’ lives, is (in addition to an elucidation of the capabilities of the leader figures in focus) to emphasize the varieties of contexts within which those leaders operate, and the ways in which contexts may constrain and or enable their options for decision-making. The interplay of these factors has been considered in extensive detail in my recently-published biography of Sir James Darling, the former headmaster of Geelong Grammar School, chairman of the Australian Broadcasting Commission, longstanding government advisor and publicist. Another way in which these elements come together in a slightly different leadership configuration or pattern is currently being documented in my biographical research into the life and work of Professor Peter Karmel, demographer, economist and educational policy-maker.

Emeritus Professor, University of Cambridge

Quondam Fellow, Hughes Hall, Cambridge

Emeritus Professor, Monash University

Fellow, Academy of Social Sciences (UK)

Fellow, Royal Society for the Encouragement of the Arts, Manufactures and Commerce

Fellow, Australian Council for Educational Leaders

1. Gronn, P (2020) Making sense of leaders making sense, in MD Mumford & CA Higgs (Eds) Leader Thinking Skills: Capacities for Contemporary Leadership, London: Routledge, pp. 260-276.

2. Gronn, P (2017) Just as I Am: A Life of JR Darling, Melbourne: Hardie Grant Books

3. Gronn, P, Ilie, S & Vignoles, A. (2017) Political economy of leadership, in D Waite & I Bogotch (Eds) The International Handbook of Educational Leadership, New York: Wiley-Blackwell, pp. 175-192.

4. Gronn, P & Biddulph, J (Eds) (2016) A University’s Challenge: Cambridge’s Primary School for the Nation, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

5. Gronn, P. (2016) Instead of angels: Leaders, leadership and Longue Durée, in Storey, J., Hartley, J., Denis, J-L., ’t Hart, P & Ulrich, D (Eds) The Routledge Companion to Leadership, London: Routledge, pp. 89-103.