Problematizing 'Relevance' in the Business School: The Case of Leadership Studies

Nick Butler, Helen Delaney*, Sverre Spoelstra

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articleResearchpeer-review


In recent years, the discourse of 'relevance' has risen to prominence in the university-based business school. At the heart of this discourse is the suggestion that management researchers should align their research practices more closely with the needs of practitioners in external organizations. One important but under-researched strand of this debate focuses on the way in which 'relevance' is pursued by business scholars via forms of practitioner engagement such as management consulting, corporate presentations, executive education and personal coaching. Drawing on extensive semi-structured interviews, this paper explores the motivations, rewards and tensions experienced by leadership scholars in the process of engaging with practitioners. This study suggests that the pursuit of 'relevance' may come into conflict with norms of scholarly conduct, which in turn gives rise to a series of trade-offs and compromises. Ultimately, the authors argue that the prevailing discourse of relevance provides an alibi for scholars to orient themselves towards practitioners in ways that contravene their academic identity and research ethos (whether post-positivist, interpretivist or critical).
Original languageEnglish
JournalBritish Journal of Management
Issue number4
Pages (from-to)731-744
Number of pages14
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2015
Externally publishedYes

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