Concepts - Relations


Concepts are fundamental knowledge that is broadly applicable. By virtue of being concepts, they are knowledge; they are fundamental and applicable in the sense that they provide a springboard for action - you can do something with this knowledge.

Social animal

Our concept "the social animal" refers to the view that we are not primarily self-contained individuals, we are social animals, not rational animals, we emerge out of relationships, have important relational needs and are deeply intertwined with each other. Aristotle also called us the "the social animal" and brain research confirms this, as the brain can be seen as a social organ, as to how we form relationships with other people influence the development of the brain. The same goes for the quality of our relationships, as they affect the nervous system. Our ability to function socially can, therefore, be seen as critical for our biological survival. Therefore, the concept focuses on the processes that emerge between people, how people interact, collaborate, communicate and connect. We work to become aware of who we are in relation to others, how other people see and understand us, how to be open-minded of other people's beliefs/views/ways of being and how to form healthy relations both at work in our personal lives.


Although it's hard to agree upon a definition, there seems to be a broad acceptance for the fact that leadership is relational (Cunliffe, Yukl, Kellerman, Pfeffer, Alvesson). Leadership can be seen as a complex relational process between the leader and the follower(s)(Uhl-Bien and Marion 2011) If you work your way through the leadership content produced in the last 100 years you can easily grow a bit skeptical about the whole concept of leadership. There are over 2000 definitions and every day, tons of content, research and articles are produced with the label leadership. You would think that we knew what good leadership is and how to develop it. Some might say that we do know what good leadership is, but where are the leaders actually practicing it? Why is the gap between what we know we should do and what we actually do so big?

Consider what Professor in leadership at the Oslo School of management; Tom Karp writes about leadership: "You are first going to be a good leader when you have worked your way through the management tools out there and you find your own way to leadership. Many of us have learned more about life than we are aware of and exercising leadership is a discipline where we can afford to spend much more of ourselves and who we are. Forget all theories and stories of leadership as something heroic, big, mysterious and charismatic; Leadership is practiced (mostly) by ordinary people who have good and bad days, who are worried, who work hard, who occasionally struggle with poor self-esteem, who sometimes feel alone, doing things they regret, making decisions they do not always see the consequence of - but who despite all of this tries to do a good job. Leaders are not heroes, they are common people like you and me. Common people who want to make a difference - by taking responsibility."(Karp, 2010, own translation)

Hence, we encourage you to use the knowledge you gain here to find your own way of leadership. Use the content here for inspiration, but remember that you need to test it out for yourselves and practice in your own context. Conceptualizing / theorizing about leadership can only take you so far.


Power is a complicated concept. Often, it is associated with being destructive. Here, we approach power as a neutral force, as the capacity to influence in relation to others. In this sense, power can be associated with an individual, with groups, or with power structures. "We note that researchers and practitioners alike consistently struggle to qualify what they actually mean by power. Even a dictionary search will reveal multiple meanings and interpretations of power. The Oxford Dictionary identifies nine different key ideas behind our usage of the word, ranging from an individual capacity to a variety of relationships, to a synonym for strength, authority, performance, magnification, energy or even as a reference to angels and demons". (Firth and Carrol 2017).

Studies on power usually differ in three aspects. Either it is seen as an uneven relation, where one part can influence to a higher degree than the other. Where the one who has power can put forth her/his will, even if there is resistance. Today we often view this view of power as unethical, tainted with misuse and destructive action. Another view is power as a mandate that is earned or given as a right, you have here a right to influence something. It is then given to one part through, procedures position, knowledge or/and norms. The last view is given by the post-modernist philosopher Foucault and the germen sociologist Norbert Elias. They argue that power is not something that the individual has at any moment, that we have to view power as a relational phenomenon. Power is then in play between people at all times through interaction (Karp 2016).

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