Positivism, Post-positivism and Constructivism

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All research needs a foundation for its inquiry, which is provided by worldviews and scientific paradigms (Gelo, Braakmann & Benetka, 2008: 269). Worldviews imply how we view and, thus think about research and go about conducting it (Gelo, Braakmann & Benetka, 2008: 269). The primary goal of research is the generation and communication of knowledge (Khagram, Nicholas, Bever, Warren, Richards, Oleson, Kitzes, Katz, Hwang, Goldman, Funk Brauman, 2010: 390). All research shares an implicit, if not explicit effort to use and produce theory to organise this knowledge (Khagram, Nicholas, Bever, Warren, Richards, Oleson, Kitzes, Katz, Hwang, Goldman, Funk & Brauman, 2010: 390). Furthermore in research, it is good practice to create transparency on the personal, epistemological, ontological and methodological orientation of the researcher (Guba & Lincoln, 2000). The researcher accepted that a theory that generated rich meaningful understanding within, and in a particular context, would be suitable for this research project. Such a preferred theory had to allow for an explication or a systematic way to organise ideas, define social concepts contextually, create understanding, employ context-specific narratives and suggest generalisation within a defined/specific case.
The researcher also accepted that a theory that generated rich meaningful understandings would probably not offer conclusive answers to all the research questions. However it may facilitate a continued debate regarding a specific research topic.


A metaparadigm is the most abstract component in the structural hierarchy of knowledge (Fawcett, 2000). A metaparadigm is made up of highly abstract concepts that identify the phenomena of interest (Fawcett, 2000). Philosophical assumptions or a theoretical paradigm about the nature of reality are crucial to understanding the overall perspective from which the study is designed and carried out (Krauss, 2005: 759). Different philosophies or worldviews may lead to different conceptualisations of the central concepts of a discipline and to different statements on the nature of the relationships among those concepts. Conceptual frameworks provide different perspectives or frames of reference for the phenomena identified by the metaparadigm of a discipline (Fawcett, 2000 and Rimmer Tiffany & Johnson Lutjens, 1998). The usefulness of conceptual frameworks comes from the organisation they provide for thinking, for observation and for interpreting (Rimmer Tiffany & Johnson Lutjens, 1998). Conceptual frameworks provide a systematic structure and a rationale for activities (Rimmer Tiffany & Johnson Lutjens, 1998).
A conceptual framework should be intended as a starting point for reflection on the research and its context (Smyth, 2004). Attention afforded to a conceptual framework provided reference points back to the literature, which assisted the researcher to give meaning to data and provided a structured approach to communicating findings. The conceptual framework of a study describes the system of concepts, assumptions, expectations, beliefs and theories that support and inform the research. The need for a conceptual framework signifies the importance of developing or adopting a set of logically related abstract ideas that are central to the research problem. This conceptual framework elaborates the research problem in relation to relevant literature and presents a meta-cognitive perspective (Smyth, 2004). A conceptual framework comprises a set of ideas used to structure and guide the research effort (including the research question, the literature review, methods and data analysis).
The principal matter that required attention was the description of the proposed phenomena that had to be analysed and the justification for studying such phenomena. When approaching this study on the understanding that behaviours determine the actions undertaken, a general question is raised: what are the behaviours that impact upon actions? Behavioural norms evolve over long periods of time and are influenced by peoples’ values and beliefs, the nature of the activities carried out by the group, past and present leader influences, historical events, successes, traumas, physical and geographical conditions and the demands and behaviours of external parties (Taylor, 2005: 5). Specific to this research is a study of leadership behaviours. Constant, clear and quality leadership is necessary for success (Everett, 2002 and Buch & Rivers, 2002). Cockerell (2008: 7) affirms that great leadership leads to employee excellence, which leads to customer satisfaction and strong business results. According to Daft (2005), Taylor (2005) and Collins (2001) existing literature has highlighted the existence of a relationship between behaviour and leadership. This study makes this link explicit and provides understanding framed within a specific organisation and organisational setting. In this conceptual model, the constructs of perceived leadership behaviours and followership orientations may be accepted as interrelated constructs.

A systems perspective

A study of human behaviour within an organisational setting may require that organisations be viewed as systems and even as systems within systems (Van der Merwe & Verwey, 2007: 33). Viewpoints are the products of synthesis of information, either in a given situation or over time (Marcum & Smith, 2007: 146). This synthesis leads to assumptions, which may show up as differences of opinion about the meaning of data, an idea’s relevance, or the significance or outcome of a situation (Marcum & Smith, 2007: 146). A systems view relies upon mentioned differences and openness, interrelation and interdependence of its members (Van der Merwe & Verwey, 2007: 33 and Haines, 2000).
Leadership (contextualised as human behaviour within an organisational setting) may be viewed as a process involving both mutual and collaborative relationships (Antelo, Henderson & St Clair, 2010: 10 and Daft, 2005: 21). Relationships imply connection with people; “mutual” involves sharing with others; and “collaborative” means people working together in the interest of goal attainment (Antelo, Henderson & St Clair, 2010: 10). Leaders can be characterised by respect for the followers and motivation to contribute to social and moral causes (Popper, Mayseless & Castelnovo, 2000). Desired/pro-subordinate behaviour fosters the motivation, wellbeing and job satisfaction of followers, including taking care of and supporting them in accordance with organisational policies (Einarsen, Aasland & Skogstad, 2007).
Destructive/undesired leadership is not one type of leadership behaviour, but instead involves a variety of behaviours. Destructive leadership may be viewed as systematic and repeated behaviour by a leader that violates the legitimate interest of the organisation by undermining and/or sabotaging the organisation’s goals, tasks, resources and effectiveness and/or the motivation, wellbeing or job satisfaction of subordinates (Einarsen, Aasland & Skogstad, 2007: 208). What is perceived as destructive/undesired behaviour may vary between individuals, teams, cultures and societies and also over time (Einarsen, Aasland & Skogstad, 2007). It is of importance to realise that it helps to view leaders as they really are, and not as followers think they should be (Daft, 2005: 208)
A systems perspective also considers that leadership serves to co-create shared possible futures and realising a shared, specific chosen future with, through and for employees (Veldsman, 2002 and Van der Merwe & Verwey, 2007: 34). Landsberg (2000: 5) adds that effective leaders create substantial forms of vision, inspiration and momentum in their teams. These leadership tasks and responsibilities may require desired leadership traits, behaviours and skills. Furthermore interactions between leaders and followers represent a new view of leading as a process that takes place as a result of interactions (Landsberg, 2000 and Antelo, Henderson & St Clair, 2010). These leadership competencies are based on behavioural indicators, but can also be expressed in terms of skills, traits or characteristics (Boak & Coolican, 2001 and Van der Merwe & Verwey, 2007: 35).
A study of human behaviour aimed at discovering deeper understanding of phenomena may not wish to ignore human intentions, individualism and freedoms that are synonymous with human behaviours (Cohen, Manion & Morrision, 2000). In his theory of knowledge formation, Habermas theorises that human beings socially construct their knowledge and that the perspective that they generally use, governs their actions with respect to each other and their environment (Smyth, 2004). The researcher accepted that human behaviour may not be passive, determined and controlled. However it was also noted that feedback regarding human behaviours will not always be accurate; the data received filters through the biased lens of the one giving it, as well as the one receiving it (Marcum & Smith, 2007: 63).
Behavioural norms permit discrimination between behaviours that are acceptable, unacceptable, valued and not valued (Taylor, 2005: 17). Through their observations people draw conclusions about what is valued and accepted (Taylor, 2005: 17). If these conclusions do not align with the stated values, leaders may be accused, with some justification, of exhibiting undesired behaviours (Taylor, 2005: 17). If, however, these conclusions do align with the stated values, leaders may be exhibiting desired traits and behaviours. The researcher accordingly sought to gain an understanding of the meanings humans attach to events and gain a close understanding of the research context.
The researcher realised that such understandings called for respondent clarity, context and assumptions. This view favoured primarily an inductive research paradigm (Saunders, Lewis & Thornhill, 2007). Such a view also signified a possible need to consider and accept alternates to a positivistic social science approach. In this regard Cohen, Manion and Morrision (2000) recommend a naturalistic approach that will allow a researcher to obtain understanding from the standpoint of the individuals who were part of the phenomena being investigated. Naturalistic, qualitative interpretive approaches are suggested as alternatives to positivist approaches (Cohen, Manion & Morrision, 2000). An interpretive approach allows a researcher to commence an investigative journey by understanding the interpretations of individuals of the world around them (Cohen, Manion & Morrision, 2000).
Such an approach accepts that situations are examined and understood through the eyes of participants rather than the researcher (Cohen, Manion & Morrision, 2000).
Marcum and Smith (2007: 63) acknowledge that reports received from participants are directed by their perceptions and their perception is their reality. In such a case theory becomes emergent because events and individuals are unique, multiple interpretations and perspectives exist and these are largely non-generalisable. The researcher’s theoretical lens also played an important role in the choice of method because the underlying belief system of the researcher (ontological assumptions) largely defines the choice of method (methodology) (Krauss, 2005). Quantitative methodology is concerned with attempts to quantify social phenomena and collect and analyse numerical data and focus on the links among a smaller number of attributes across many cases (Tuli, 2010: 106). Qualitative methodology, on the other hand, is more concerned with understanding the meaning of social phenomena and focuses on links among a larger number of attributes across relatively few cases (Tuli, 2010: 106).
A goal of a qualitative investigation is to understand the complex world of human experience and behaviour from the point-of-view of those involved in the situation of interest (Krauss, 2005: 764). A goal of a quantitative investigation is to collect and analyse closed-ended information such as that found on attitude, behaviour or performance instruments (Creswell, 2003). In quantitative research, numbers are used to provide information on our world.
Analysis consists of statistically analysing scores collected on instruments or checklists to answer research questions (Creswell, 2003). Quantitative research is possibly weak in understanding the context or setting in which people “talk” and the “voices” of participants are not directly heard in quantitative research.
Bogdan and Biklen (2007), Creswell (2007), Merriam (2009) and Stake (2010) agree that the frequently cited attributes of qualitative research include face-to-face research conducted in naturalistic settings, a focus on rich description and the understanding of participants’ points of view or meanings, the researcher as the primary data collection instrument, inductive data analysis, a concern with process, an emergent and flexible design, non-random, purposeful sample selection and a holistic understanding achieved through collection and analysis of multiple sources of data and perspectives. Qualitative research may be seen as deficient because of the personal interpretations made by the researcher, the ensuing bias created by this and the difficulty in generalising findings to a large group.


Table of Contents 
List of Tables 
List of Figures 
List of Abbreviations 
1.1. Introduction
1.2. Literature review
1.3. Research design and methodology
1.4. Expected outcome and results
1.5. Scope and site of the research
1.6. Limitations of this research
1.7. Ethical considerations
1.8. Chapter organisation
2.1. Review of related literature
2.2. Introduction
2.3. Critical review
2.4. A conceptual agenda
2.5. Conclusions
2.6. Key Constructs
2.7. Summary
3.1. Introduction
3.2. Philosophy
3.3. A systems perspective
3.4. Positivism, Post-positivism and Constructivism
3.5. Ontology
3.6. Epistemology
3.7. Congruence
3.8. Envisaged research design and analysis
3.9. Conclusion
4.1. Introduction
4.2. Orienting decisions
4.3. Research possibilities
4.4. Research constraints
4.5. Main approach to the research problem
4.6. Research strategy
4.7. Data collection methods
4.8. Triangulation
4.9. Data saturation
4.10. Data validation
4.11. Validity
4.12. Reliability
4.13. Trustworthiness
4.14. Role of the researcher
4.15. Conclusion
5.1. Introduction
5.2. Orientation
5.3. Quantitative results
5.4. Qualitative results – individual interviews
5.5. Qualitative results – focus group interviews
5.6. Mixed methods results
5.7. Triangulation
5.8. Conclusion
6.1. Introduction
6.2. Leadership as a construct
6.3. Followership as a construct
6.4. Contextualised leadership roles and responsibilities
6.5. Insight into the leader-follower relationship
6.6. Behaviour imperatives synonymous with effective leadership from a  team perspective
6.7. Behaviour imperatives synonymous with less effective leadership from a team perspective
6.8. Behaviour imperatives synonymous with effective leadership from a follower mental model perception
6.9. Behaviour imperatives synonymous with less effective leadership from a follower mental model perception
6.10. Behaviour imperatives synonymous with effective leadership in a specific context
6.11. Behaviour imperatives synonymous with less effective leadership in a specific context
6.12. Leader and leadership behaviour qualities, contextualised within the Air Traffic and Navigation Services Company
6.13. Leader and leadership behaviour qualities that inspired followership, contextualised within the Air Traffic and Navigation Services Company
6.14. Leader and leadership behaviour qualities that discouraged followership, contextualised within the Air Traffic and Navigation Services Company
6.15. Leadership training and development
6.16. Theoretical review
6.17. Contributions
6.18. Responses to research questions
6.19. Synthesis
7.1. Introduction
7.2. Overview of this study
7.3. Limitations of this study
7.4. Ethical aspects
7.5. Summary of findings
7.6. Answering the research questions
7.7. Possible contributions
7.8. Recommendations
7.9. Concluding comments
Followers’ experiences and expectations of leadership behaviours in a safety-critical commercial environment: The case of the Air Traffic and Navigation Services Company

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