Sending the Right Signals: A Theoretical Model to Understand How Interpretative Leadership Capacity Advances Cross-Sector Collaboration


  • Brandon Kliewer Staley School of Leadership, Kansas State University



cross-sector, interpretative leadership, Leadership-as-Practice, cross-sector collaboration


Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) are increasingly asked to facilitate cross-sector collaboration between state, private industry, and nonprofit actors and organizations. Growing evidence indicates certain contexts and conditions support cross-sector collaboration more than others. However, there is still limited understanding of how, specifically, process and practice produce leadership activity necessary to advance cross-sector collaboration. The purpose of this study is to examine illustrations of how the leadership practice of interpretative signaling emerges in facilitated committees working to enable cross-sector collaboration. Relying on a Leadership-as-Practice (LAP) frame, this video ethnography of Collaborative Leadership Learning Group (CLLG) sessions establishes a theoretical model helpful to capturing how everyday dialogic, relational, and socio-material interactions emerge leadership between committee members attempting to enable cross-sector collaboration. Leadership practice was primarily connected to informal authority that was dispersed through networks of people and community systems. Four forms of interpretative signaling are illustrated as a general practice in the theoretical model.



AbouAssi, K., Makhlouf, N., & Whalen, P. (2016). NGOs’ resource capacity antecedents for

Partnerships. Nonprofit Management and Leadership, 26(4), 435-451.

Alvehus, J. (2019). Emergent, distributed, and orchestrated: Understanding leadership through

frame analysis. Leadership, 15(5), 535–554.

Alvehus, J. & Crevani, L. (2022). Micro-ethnography: Towards an approach for attending to the

Multimodality of leadership. Journal of Change Management, 22(1), 1-21.

Antaki, C. (2011). Six kinds of applied conversation analysis. In C. Antaki (Ed.), Applied

Conversation analysis: Intervention and change in institutional talk (pp. 1-14).

Palgrave Macmillan.

Appiah, K. A. (1994). Identity, authenticity, survival: Multicultural societies and social

reproduction. In A. Gutmann (Ed.), Multiculturalism (pp. 31-48). Princeton

University Press.

Barge, J. K. (2012). Systemic constructionist leadership and working from within the present moment. In

Mary Uhl-Bien and Sonia Ospina (Eds.), Advancing Relational Leadership Research: A Dialogue

Among Perspectives (pp. 107-142). Information Age Publishing.

Brown, W. (2015). Undoing the demos: Neoliberalism’s Stealth Revolution. New York, NY:


Carroll, B. & Simpson, B. (2012). Capturing sociality in the movement between frames: An

Illustration from leadership development. Human Relations, 73(4), 441-463.

Carroll, B., Levy, L., Richmond, D. (2008). Leadership as practice: Challenging the competency

Paradigm, Leadership, 4(4), 363-379.

Caufield, J. L., Lee, F. K., & Richards, B. A. (2021). Leadership as an art: An enduring concept

framed with contemporary leadership. Leadership and Organization Development

Journal, 42(5), 735-747.

Chandler, L. S. & Kirsch, R. E. (2018). Critical leadership theory: Integrating transdisciplinary

Perspective. Palgrave Macmillan.

Chen, B., & Graddy, E. A. (2010). The effectiveness of nonprofit lead-organization networks for

Social service delivery. Nonprofit Management and Leadership, 20(4), 405-422.

Crevani, L. (2015). Relational leadership: In B. Carroll, J. Ford, S. Taylor (Eds.), Leadership:

Contemporary Critical Perspectives (pp. 188-211). SAGE.

Cox, E. (2013). Coaching understood: A pragmatic inquiry into the coaching process. Thousand

Oaks, CA: SAGE.

Dalton, C. (2021). Metaphor as useful jump from sense-making to meaning-making in

management education. Academia Letters, Article 342.

Denyer, D. & James, K. T. (2016). Doing leadership-as-practice Development. In J. A.

Raelin (Ed.), Leadership-As-Practice: Theory and Practice (pp. 262-283) New York, NY:


Fairhurst, G. T. & Grant, D. (2010). The social construction of leadership: A sailing guide. Management

Communication Quarterly, 24(2), 171-210.

Foldy, E. G., Goldman, L., & Ospina, S. (2008). Sensegiving and the role of cognitive shifts in the work o

of leadership. The Leadership Quarterly, 48(1), 514-529.

Foley, D. E. (2002). Critical ethnography: The reflexive turn. International Journal of Qualitative

Studies in Education, 15(4), 469-490.

Fraser, N., & Honneth, A. (2003). Redistribution or recognition? A political-philosophical

exchange. Verso.

Fu, J. S., & Cooper, K. R. (2020). Interorganizational network portfolios of nonprofit

Organizations: Implications for collaboration management, Nonprofit Management and

Leadership, 31, 437-459.

Fulton, B. R., Oyakawa, M., & Wood, R. L. (2021). Critical standpoint: Leaders of color advancing

Racial equity in predominantly white organizations. Nonprofit Management and

Leadership, 30(2), 255-276.

Gardner, W. L., Lowe, K. B., Meuser, J. D., Noghani, F., Gullifor, D. P., & Cogliser, C. C. (2020).

The leadership trilogy: A review of the third decade of the leadership quarterly. The

Leadership Quarterly, 31(1), 1-26.

Gazley, B., & Brudney, J. L. (2007). The purpose (and perils) of government-nonprofit

partnership. Nonprofit and Voluntary Sector Quarterly, 36(3), 389-415.

Gazley, B., & Guo, C. (2020). What do we know about nonprofit collaboration? A systemic

Review of the literature. Nonprofit Management and Literature, 31(2), 211-232.

Gergen, K. J., & Hersted, L. (2016). Developing leadership as dialogic practice. In J. A.

Raelin (Ed.), Leadership-As-Practice: Theory and Practice (pp. 178-198). Routledge.

Goffman, E. (1974). Frame analysis: An essay on the organization of experience. Northeastern University


Goppell, J., & Ray, K. W. (2015). Dialogic process consultation: Working live. In G. R. Bushe &

R. J. Marshak (Eds.), Dialogic organization development: The theory and practice of

Transformational change (pp. 371-391). Berret-Koehler Publishers, Inc.

Gray, B. & Purdy, J. (2018). Collaborating for our future: Multistakeholder partnership for

Solving complex problems. Oxford University Press.

Herman, R. D., (2016). Executive leadership. In D. O. Renz and R. D. Herman (Eds.), The Jossey-Bass

handbook of nonprofit leadership and management (4th ed., pp. 167-187). Jossey-Bass.

Hindmarsh, J., & Heath, C. (2007). Video-based studies of work practice, Sociology Compass,

(1), 156-173.

Humphreys, M., Ucbasaran, D., & Lockett, A. (2012). Sensemaking and sensegiving stories of jazz

Leadership. Human Relations, 65(1), 41-62.

Ihm, J. & Shumate, M. (2018). How does a board of directors influence within – and cross-

Sector nonprofit collaboration?. Nonprofit Management and Leadership, 29, 473-490.

Isaacs, W, (1993), Dialogue: The power of collective thinking, Leadership, 4(3), 1-4.

Kliewer, B. W. & Priest, K. L. (2019). Building Collective Leadership Capacity: Lessons

Learned from a University-Community Partnership, Collaborations: A Journal of

Community-based Research and Practice, 2(1), 16. DOI:

Knoblaunch, H., & Schnettler, B. (2012). Videography: Analysing video data as focused

Ethnographic and hermeneutical exercise, Qualitative Research, 12(3), 334-356.

Larsson. M.,& Lundholm, S. E. (2010). Leadership as work-embedded influence: A micro

discursive analysis of an everyday interaction in a bank. Leadership, 6(2), 159-184.

Larsson. M., & Lundholm, S. E. (2013). Talking work in a bank: A study of organizing

properties of leadership in work interactions. Human Relations, 66(8), 1101-1129.

Lim, S., Brower, R. S., & Berlan, D. G. (2021). Interpretative leadership skill in meaning-

Making by nonprofit leaders. Nonprofit Management & Leadership, 32, 307-328.

Lord, R. G. & Hall, R. J. (2005). Identity, deep structure and the development of leadership

skill. The Leadership Quarterly, 15(4), 591-615.

Madden, J. R. (2017a). Reimagining collaboration: Insight from leaders of affordable housing cross

sector Collaborations on successful collaboration design, performance, and social innovation.

Journal of Nonprofit Education and Leadership, 7(3), 182-196.

Madden, J. R. (2017b). Inter-organizational collaboration by design. Routledge.

Macgilchrist, F. (2011). Ethnographic discourse analysis and social science. Qualitative Social

Research, 12(1), 13-14.

Maitlis, S. (2005). The social processes of organizational sensemaking. Academy of Management

Journal, 48(1), 21-49.

Maitlis, S. & Christianson, M. K. (2014). Sensemaking in organizations: Taking stock and moving

Forward. The Academy of Management Annals, 8(1), 57-125.

Mendez, M. J., Howell, J. P., & Bishop, J. (2015). Beyond the unidimensional collective

Leadership model: Study of leadership patterns in committees. Leadership &

Organization Development Journal, 36(6), 675-696.

Mosteo, L., Chekanov, A., & Rovina de Ossa, J. (2021). Executive coaching: An exploration

of the coachee’s perceived value. Leadership & Organization Development Journal,

(8), 1241-1253.

Naples, N. (2003). Feminism and method: Ethnography, discourse analysis and activist research.


Pfeffer, J. (1981). Management as symbolic action. The creation and maintenance of

organizational paradigms. In L. L. Cummings & B. M. Straws (Eds.), Research in

organizational behavior (Vol. 3., pp. 1-52). JAI Press.

Provan, K. G., Fish, A., & Sydow, J. (2007). Interorganizational networks at the network level: A

Review of the empirical literature on whole networks. Journal of Management, 33(3),


Puranam, P., Alexy, O., & Reitzig, M. (2014). What’s ‘new’ about new forms of organizing?

Academy of Management Review, 39(2), 162-180.

Pye, A. (2005). Leadership and organizing: Sensemaking in action. Leadership, 1(1), 31-49.

Raelin, J. A. (2007). Toward an epistemology of practice, Academy of Management and

Learning Education, 6(4), 495-519.

Raelin, J. A. (2016a). Imagine there are no leaders: Reframing leadership as collaborative

agency. Leadership, 12(2). 131-158.

Raelin, J. A. (2019a). Toward a methodology for studying leadership-as-practice. Leadership, 1

Raelin, J. A. (2019b). Deriving an affinity for collective leadership: Below the surface of action

Learning. Action Learning: Research and Practice, 16(2), 123-135.

Robinson, J. & Renshaw, P. (2021). Place – The final frontier: Exploring the outer reaches of

Collaborative agency using the Japanese concept of Ba. Leadership, 18(1), 13-39.

Samra-Fredericks, D. (2003). ‘Strategizing as lived experience and strategist’ Everyday

Efforts to shape strategic direction, Journal of Management Studies, 40(1), 141-174.

Schatzki, T. (2001). Practice mind-ed orders. In K. K. Cetina, T. R. Schatzki, E. V. Savigny (Eds.), The

practice turn in contemporary theory (pp. 43-55). Routledge.

Schulze, J. H., & Pinkow, F. (2020). Leadership for organizational adaptability: How enabling

Leaders creates adaptive space. Administrative Sciences, 10, 37.

Simpson, B., Buchan, L., and Sillince, J. (2018) The performativity of leadership talk. Leadership, 14(6),


Sklaventi, C. (2020). Moments that connect turning points and the becoming of leadership.

Human Relations, 73(4), 544-571.

Sutherland, N. (2016). Investigating leadership ethnographically: Opportunities potentialities.

Leadership, 14(3), 263-290.

Swart, C. (2015). Coaching from a dialogic organization development paradigm. In G. R. Bushe

& R. J. Marshak (Eds.), Dialogic organization development: The theory and practice of

Transformational change (pp. 349-371). Berret-Koehler Publishers, Inc.

Taylor, C. (1994). The politics of recognition. In A. Gutmann (Ed.), Multiculturalism (pp. 25-75).

Princeton University Press.

Thompson, A. M., Perry, J. L., & Miller, T. K. (2007). Conceptualizing and measuring

collaboration. Journal of Public Administration Research and Theory, 19(1), 23-25.

Uhl-Bien, M., & Arena, M., (2018). Leadership for organizational adaptability: A theoretical

Synthesis and integrative framework. Leadership Quarterly, 29, 89-104.

Uhl-Bien, M. (2006). Relational leadership theory: Exploring the social processes of leadership &

Organizing. The Leadership Quarterly, 17, 654-676.

Van de Mieroop, D., Clifton, J., & Verhelst, A. (2020). Investigating the interplay between formal

and informal leaders in a shared leadership configuration: A multimodal conversation

analytical study. Human Relations, 73(4), 490-515.

Van de Ven, A. H. (2007). Engaged scholarship: A guide for organizational and social research.

Oxford University Press.

Weick, K. E. (1995). Sensemaking in organizations. SAGE Publications.

Weick, K. E., Sutcliffe, K. M., & Obstfeld, D. (2005). Organizing and the process of sense

making. Organization Science, 16(4), 409-421.

Wright, A. L., & Hibbert, P. (2015). Threshold concepts in theory and practice. Journal of

Management Education, 39(4), 443-451.

Yip, J., & Raelin, J. A. (2011). Threshold concepts and modalities for teaching leadership

practice. Management Learning, 43(3), 33-354.