Dr Simon Western, Adjunct Professor University College Dublin, President ISPSO, CEO of Analytic-Network Coaching

An exciting new research initiative sponsored by FETL (Further Education Trust for Leadership) aims to answer the question, what is the FE sector’s ‘leadership symptom’ and then to respond to it with new thinking on leadership.

Leadership is a problematic subject. Mainstream leadership books, articles and training courses often produce idealised leadership fads and rhetoric that are turned into vision statements, grandiose speeches and competency frameworks.

A problem arises when these leadership approaches are experienced as propaganda that covers over the very different leadership-followership dynamics that employees experience in their everyday lives. Any talk about leadership is then experienced as another form of fake news.

These ‘fantasy leadership’ ideas stimulate a mixture of disbelief and ironic smiles, and employees quickly become disillusioned when espoused theories being ‘preached’ from secular leadership pulpits, clash with the realities they experience.

In FE, gaps between espoused leadership intention and the reality experienced by those affected - often adversely - has recently been explored and problematised in a new book, The Principal (Eds Daley et al 2017) and also in the book review by Lynne Sedgmore (2017)

The Research Project

To address the challenges of leadership in FE, we need to start from a different place. In the 20th century, leadership was largely imported as a top-down approach, taking leadership ideas and theories mainly from powerful USA business schools and corporate consultancies. In the 1980s and 90s, for example, ‘Transformational leadership’ (Bass 1990 and Burns 1978) was the imported fad that went global.

This research project rejects this top-down approach and we have chosen to start from the bottom up. We will ‘begin from the beginning’ and collect empirical data on the hidden leadership assumptions that underpin how leadership is perceived and thought about in FE, and how these assumptions and perceptions shape what actually takes place in practice.

Dr Simon Westerns’ published research (Western 2010, 2011, 2013) reveals how four main leadership discourses have emerged over the past century.

  1. Controller
  2. Therapist
  3. Messiah, and
  4. Eco-leadership

These four approaches inform the way leadership is thought about and practiced. These discourses work largely beneath our conscious awareness, shaping how we think about leadership and how we act as both leaders and followers. Leadership is often discussed as-if we share a common understanding of it, yet there are hidden and conflicting narratives and assumptions about what we believe leadership is.

This research project reveals these hidden assumptions which then allows us to develop a deeper understanding of ‘where we are now’ in terms of leadership and followership.

Global Leadership Perceptions

In Dr Western’s latest book Global Leadership Perceptions (Western 2018) he has undertaken a study of leadership in twenty countries to discover how these four discourses present themselves.

The findings show that the four discourses present uniquely, depending on the countries history, political and economic circumstances and cultural background. It also reveals how each country has its own special leadership and followership essences or what we call their ‘symptom of leadership’. Too often, leadership theories are taken from one culture and inserted into another, top-down, as-if they are universal or directly transferable.

The book shows, instead, that in spite of the ‘globalisation of leadership’, each country retained and developed hidden and unrecognised forms of leadership and followership that were culturally specific. The book concluded that only by paying attention to these local ‘leadership symptoms’ could specific leadership approaches and development processes be designed that would produce sustainable and dynamic change.

Leadership ‘symptoms’ specific to FE

The research project we are undertaking is based on the belief that a similar process will unfold in the FE Sector. The FE sector as a whole and each organisation in particular has its own specific history and culture. Whilst these are influenced by wider UK and global forces, the sector and each organization also retains its unique leadership essence or symptom. The research will undertake an empirical study across selected colleges to discover a baseline discourse analysis of how leadership operates in present-day FE in the UK.

We will then refine these findings with qualitative research to discover amongst other things, what leadership ‘symptoms’ and essences are specific to FE. Finally, we will bring our wide experience of how leadership and followership operate in diverse sectors, organisations, cultures and international settings, to bear on the findings we discover in the FE sector.

We then aim to offer some new thinking on how leadership can be ‘unleashed’ in the FE sector, beyond the confines of global dogmas, to speak to the real issues, challenges and opportunities that exist.

To do this we need to discover ‘what is the FE leadership symptom’ and then help those of you working in the sector to learn how to ‘enjoy your symptom!’

Colleges and organisations that partake in this research will also have the opportunity to gain free leadership development for individuals (each participant gets a personalised leadership feedback report) and a free organisational leadership report.

Dr Simon Western, Adjunct Professor University College Dublin, President ISPSO, CEO of Analytic-Network Coaching

Note: The first 10 colleges (or other FE provider organisations) who sign up to the research will receive this free development offer. Colleges need to provide 30-50 employees from a diverse background to join our study.

This research is sponsored by FETL and delivered by Dr Simon Western and his team.


Bass, B. (1990) ‘From transactional to transformational leadership: learning to share the vision’, Organizational Dynamics, 18: 19–31. 

Burns, J. (1978) Leadership. New York: Harper & Row. 

Daley M, Orr K, Petrie J (2017) The Principal, Power and Professionalism in FE UCL IoE Press

Sedgmore L, (2017) A multi-faceted critique of FE leadership

Western S. & Eric-Jean Garcia (2018 forthcoming) Global Leadership Perspectives: Insights and Analysis, Sage pub

Western S. (2013) Leadership: A Critical Text. Sage 2nd edition, Sage pub

Western, S. (2011) The Discourses of Leadership, (in.) Educational Leadership: Context, Strategy and Collaboration, [Ed:] Preedy M., Bennett N. and Wise C. (published by Sage in association with The Open University).

Western, S. (2010) Eco-Leadership: Towards the Development of a New Paradigm, (in.) Leadership for Environmental Sustainability. [Ed:] Redekop B., New York, NY & Milton Park: Routledge, UK.

You may also be interested in these articles:

Sponsored Video


Upcoming FE Events

Advertiser Skyscrapers

Newsroom Activity

FE News: The Future of Education News Channel had a status update on Twitter 6 hours 3 minutes ago

Birmingham Based School’s IT excellence recognised by the Government’s Department for Education: Pheasey Park Farm… https://t.co/oybk5A5J4v
View Original Tweet

Latest Education News

Further Education News

The FE News Channel gives you the latest education news and updates on emerging education strategies and the #FutureofEducation and the #FutureofWork.

Providing trustworthy and positive Further Education news and views since 2003, we are a digital news channel with a mixture of written word articles, podcasts and videos. Our specialisation is providing you with a mixture of the latest education news, our stance is always positive, sector building and sharing different perspectives and views from thought leaders, to provide you with a think tank of new ideas and solutions to bring the education sector together and come up with new innovative solutions and ideas.

FE News publish exclusive peer to peer thought leadership articles from our feature writers, as well as user generated content across our network of over 3000 Newsrooms, offering multiple sources of the latest education news across the Education and Employability sectors.

FE News also broadcast live events, podcasts with leading experts and thought leaders, webinars, video interviews and Further Education news bulletins so you receive the latest developments in Skills News and across the Apprenticeship, Further Education and Employability sectors.

Every week FE News has over 200 articles and new pieces of content per week. We are a news channel providing the latest Further Education News, giving insight from multiple sources on the latest education policy developments, latest strategies, through to our thought leaders who provide blue sky thinking strategy, best practice and innovation to help look into the future developments for education and the future of work.

In May 2020, FE News had over 120,000 unique visitors according to Google Analytics and over 200 new pieces of news content every week, from thought leadership articles, to the latest education news via written word, podcasts, video to press releases from across the sector.

We thought it would be helpful to explain how we tier our latest education news content and how you can get involved and understand how you can read the latest daily Further Education news and how we structure our FE Week of content:

Main Features

Our main features are exclusive and are thought leadership articles and blue sky thinking with experts writing peer to peer news articles about the future of education and the future of work. The focus is solution led thought leadership, sharing best practice, innovation and emerging strategy. These are often articles about the future of education and the future of work, they often then create future education news articles. We limit our main features to a maximum of 20 per week, as they are often about new concepts and new thought processes. Our main features are also exclusive articles responding to the latest education news, maybe an insight from an expert into a policy announcement or response to an education think tank report or a white paper.

FE Voices

FE Voices was originally set up as a section on FE News to give a voice back to the sector. As we now have over 3,000 newsrooms and contributors, FE Voices are usually thought leadership articles, they don’t necessarily have to be exclusive, but usually are, they are slightly shorter than Main Features. FE Voices can include more mixed media with the Further Education News articles, such as embedded podcasts and videos. Our sector response articles asking for different comments and opinions to education policy announcements or responding to a report of white paper are usually held in the FE Voices section. If we have a live podcast in an evening or a radio show such as SkillsWorldLive radio show, the next morning we place the FE podcast recording in the FE Voices section.

Sector News

In sector news we have a blend of content from Press Releases, education resources, reports, education research, white papers from a range of contributors. We have a lot of positive education news articles from colleges, awarding organisations and Apprenticeship Training Providers, press releases from DfE to Think Tanks giving the overview of a report, through to helpful resources to help you with delivering education strategies to your learners and students.


We have a range of education podcasts on FE News, from hour long full production FE podcasts such as SkillsWorldLive in conjunction with the Federation of Awarding Bodies, to weekly podcasts from experts and thought leaders, providing advice and guidance to leaders. FE News also record podcasts at conferences and events, giving you one on one podcasts with education and skills experts on the latest strategies and developments.

We have over 150 education podcasts on FE News, ranging from EdTech podcasts with experts discussing Education 4.0 and how technology is complimenting and transforming education, to podcasts with experts discussing education research, the future of work, how to develop skills systems for jobs of the future to interviews with the Apprenticeship and Skills Minister.

We record our own exclusive FE News podcasts, work in conjunction with sector partners such as FAB to create weekly podcasts and daily education podcasts, through to working with sector leaders creating exclusive education news podcasts.

Education Video Interviews

FE News have over 700 FE Video interviews and have been recording education video interviews with experts for over 12 years. These are usually vox pop video interviews with experts across education and work, discussing blue sky thinking ideas and views about the future of education and work.


FE News has a free events calendar to check out the latest conferences, webinars and events to keep up to date with the latest education news and strategies.

FE Newsrooms

The FE Newsroom is home to your content if you are a FE News contributor. It also help the audience develop relationship with either you as an individual or your organisation as they can click through and ‘box set’ consume all of your previous thought leadership articles, latest education news press releases, videos and education podcasts.

Do you want to contribute, share your ideas or vision or share a press release?

If you want to write a thought leadership article, share your ideas and vision for the future of education or the future of work, write a press release sharing the latest education news or contribute to a podcast, first of all you need to set up a FE Newsroom login (which is free): once the team have approved your newsroom (all content, newsrooms are all approved by a member of the FE News team- no robots are used in this process!), you can then start adding content (again all articles, videos and podcasts are all approved by the FE News editorial team before they go live on FE News). As all newsrooms and content are approved by the FE News team, there will be a slight delay on the team being able to review and approve content.

 RSS IconRSS Feed Selection Page