Place and Space – S14.3

Arja Ropo et al. (Leadership, 2013, 9(3): 378-395) ask the following question: “How do places and spaces construct and perform leadership?” While not denying that individuals identified as leaders can influence others to think and act in particular ways, they are much more concerned with the ways in which physical places and the sensory experiences that people have in those places can contribute to the construction of leadership and possibly even substitute for leadership.

One of the key aspects of the authors’ argument is that our physical environment is both place and space. The notion of place signifies a particular location, with all of the physical attributes it may possess (size, shape, orientation, furnishings, lighting, and so on). We live in a particular place, go to school in a particular place, work in a particular place, and carry out whatever other activities we engage in, in particular places. From a realist perspective, these places are objective givens – they are what they are. In contrast to this, the authors suggest that, on a subjective level, space refers to the way that our knowledge of a place is constructed through our sensory experience of it. The same room, for example, can be a sanctuary to some, a place to socialize for others, and a prison to someone else. Unlike places, spaces are not already there – they are constructed by us as we interact with the given physical reality we encounter, and as we learn to carry out various activities in that place, either alone or with others.

Both place and space, therefore, act upon us in a way that can be interpreted as leadership, if we consider the process of leadership to involve such elements as influence, motivation, guidance, and direction, among other things. Rather than primarily being a cognitive phenomenon, however, for Ropo and her collaborators, leadership is manifested most significantly through embodiment. Our response to leadership is a more holistic, all-encompassing sensory experience that cannot be reduced to a purely intellectual event. We are literally immersed in leadership; it is a material phenomenon that can complement, counteract, and even substitute for a leader.


About Robert A. Campbell, PhD

Robert A. Campbell, PhD, teaches courses in change management, leadership, and organizational behavior, as part of the MBA program in community economic development, for the Shannon School of Business at Cape Breton University.
This entry was posted in leadership and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

35 Responses to Place and Space – S14.3

  1. Amna says:

    I believe space and place as we learned during the lectures are situation contingency. We all react to the same thing differently. We have our own concepts, ideologies, beliefs and backgrounds. I agree with the article that leadership is s a more holistic, all-encompassing sensory experience. Leadership is not a name of having a few attributes or knowing or acting the best. Leadership is not something we learn in one day but it is already within us from our roots. Like onion, we have different layers that we have to peel in order to find our qualities to become a leader in a community. Therefore, some are born leaders and some become leaders with the passage of time. I believe it is a name of a process with no ending. We get better at it but we cannot completely master it.

    • meaghancc says:

      Amna, I appreciate your analogy of an onion around leadership. I might take it further and say that we have different leadership layers and qualities that are accessed in different situations, thus getting back to the situational contingency (aka it depends). And this notion of place and space influencing leadership qualities is consistent with the “it depends” philosophy and observation. Leadership is a complex study, seeming to blend the fields of psychology, sociology, environment, among many others!

    • Lucy DI says:

      I agree with Amna cited the example of onions. Very interesting and appropriate. For the leader of the requirements should be a layer of depth, but also very delicate. Take this article, no matter how small, the impact will be on leadership skills. It also requires leaders when considering any aspect should be thinking of all aspects of treating every detail carefully. Because any details are likely to affect the success or failure of leadership.

    • Shan Sun (Sunshine) says:

      I totally agree the comments made by Amna. Leadership is a simple word, but it involves space, place, physiology, sociology, culture and context, which make leadership is a complicated and multidisciplinary concept. Especially, as Amna said, diffident people have different perceptions. Therefore, “situationally contingent” is always the best answer. However, though situationally contigingent seems a panacea answer to all complicated questions and research, I still want to find more complete understanding about leadership, more clear as possible.

      • Kathy Luo says:

        Agree with what Amna said “some are born leaders and some become leaders with the passage of time”. But not everyone have the opportunity or could be trained to be a leader, because the place and space not the same. A leader performing great in one place does not mean he or she would be good in other places. They may also need some time to fit into situations.

    • Saud Alhowaish says:

      I strongly agree with Amna that “leadership is not something that we learn in one day, but it is already within us from our roots”. I believe that everybody have apart of leadership inside themselves, but it will show in the specific time. Some particular situation can force people to play in role of leaders and use their high performance. Moreover, I also take the view that people can learn how to be leader from other followers and leaders. I agree that we have different layers, so we can learn from real experiences and find our real capability to become an excellent leader.

  2. meaghancc says:

    I am fascinated by this topic and agree with the Ropo et al. I’ve learned little tricks to boost my confidence, or perhaps leadership, going into difficult situations. For example: envisioning a stance or position where I feel the strongest; spreading out my belongings and taking up more physical space in a meeting; reorganizing a meeting room (e.g., chair permutation) to change how the conversation is going to proceed; boosting the lighting around me before a presentation; and even smelling things like peppermint to give energy. If these things work for me, I can see what Ropo et al’s points are about the place and space that we are in interacting with influence how we behave, and thus how we lead.

    • Dave says:

      As I read the blog post I was envisioning myself in a cubicle, remembering less than enjoyable moments working in one. So my vision was of a static situation. It’s interesting that you’re take on it was of a more dynamic nature and in a more public space: a meeting room. Lots of interesting tips. I’ll have to try some.

  3. Lucy DI says:

    The article mentioned that people living in a particular place, such as school, family, shopping, etc., so people perceive the physical location of a direct impact on the work of the state. If a leader in residential housing building workplace, employees of the company’s professional and business perception is not so strong, but is more casual and free work. Many families choose their family business houses to do the work place, cheap and convenient, except that the company is not suitable for direct use residential housing office. This is the physical location of an impact on the work of the staff.
    As a leader, it should be possible to create a place to motivate staff and office space on the space reflects the cultural and professional organizations, and to the staff to create a suitable office space perception, and thus stimulate the staff’s enthusiasm.

    • Amna says:

      Lucy! I agree with your opinion that places should be suitable for workers to work comfortably mentally and physically. This is how organizations can get the 100% out of their employees. However, it is also very important to give your employees confidence to increase their self-worth and self-motivation. A lot research work has shown in past that money is not the only motivational factor for workers to bring positive output. To become a leader in an organization, a person has to be well-equipped with his surroundings and needs to be clear and specific on his goals.

  4. Shan Sun (Sunshine) says:

    Interesting topic. Space and place are the classic topics in Economic Geography. I totally agree with that place is more objective while space related to personal emotions and experience. Never think before reading the article that leadership can be influenced by space and place, which enable me to have a different and more complete understanding of leadership. And this article makes us to rethink how we shoud lead people and how we should be led through places.

    • Little Deng says:

      In addition to rethink how we should lead people through places and spaces, I also rethink objectives that leadership effort can influence. These objectives are influenced by leadership at first. Then, in turns, they strengthen, or sometimes weaken, our practice of leadership. This phenomenon is a cycle that initially begins from leadership. So if the cycle does not look nice, we may need to blame ourselves for our poor leadership rather bad places and spaces.

  5. Christine G says:

    I have never really thought of the impact of place (location) and space (sensory experience of place) as having anything to do with leadership. Meaghan’s examples really started me thinking about how we create space and personalize it and make it our own regardless of location. Kotter speaks of leadership in the context setting direction, aligning people and motivating and inspiring but where does this happen? Does it happen at a specific place and space – the office, the boardroom, an offsite meeting location, while working in the field? Perhaps this is the missing piece of a large and complex leadership puzzle. If we can lead people through a positive sensory experience, a unique one that the individual constructs, then maybe the organization benefits from an engaged and productive workforce. Last year we constructed an Art Gallery on our floor. Staff were invited to submit photographs that they had taken – scenic pictures from vacations, a mother laughing as a baby crawled, a photograph of a boat using a technique that made it look like a painting. We invited a panel of judges to award prizes, there were many amazing photographs, such talent! We then had the photographs mounted and hung on every wall – the boardroom, the smaller meeting rooms, above work areas and even in the kitchen. We also encouraged people to personalize their space. Ropo asks, how do places and spaces construct and perform leadership? I am not sure they do, but perhaps it makes the place and space a more favourable environment, one where a culture of leadership can take root.

  6. Dave says:

    Why not simply state that we allow place and space to influence us? That is to say, our own “influence, motivation, guidance, and direction”, that we project, ricochets off our surroundings and comes back at us. To interpret place and space acting upon us as “leadership”, and to do it in instances of negativity, seems to be an example of learned helplessness. If an individual looks to the surroundings for leadership but what the surroundings are reflecting back is just their own negative influence, motivation, guidance, and direction, then a feedback loop is set up….with no one else to blame but the individual! What a silly thing to do to yourself.
    The big lesson here is to for who aspire to leadership. People are icebergs. There is that relatively little bit that sticks out the top and there is the huge chunk beneath the water, unseen.

    • Dave says:

      edit: … The big lesson here is for those who aspire…..

      • Peggy V. says:

        Not sure if I agree with everything you said. I do agree that we allow place and space to influence us. That can be interpreted as a negative or positive thing. I do tend to think of it on the negative side like gimmicks but then I think we are usually very impressed with a good place and space gimmick.

  7. Peggy V. says:

    Place and space would seem to be crucial elements and can influence people to become followers and imbue leadership. Hitler was a short Austrian man who led Germans to beleive that they were a superior race and needed to take back what was theirs. Physical Space – high platform stages where he stood high up behind a lecturn mounted by back lights and a big imposing flag with strategiclly placed screaming admirers in the crowd accompanied by strong young German youth marching by with perfection with stong German anthems pounding in the background. Place and timing – post WW1 reparations that crippled growth, a broken society. Was this not an all-emcompassing sensory experience for the Germans. Fast forward to today to see how politicans use place and space to excite followers to follow. (staging, lighting, flags and signage, crowd plants) When applied for effect…. thats when I would question the authenticity of leadership.

    • Norm Hubbert says:

      Good points Peggy, The masses (and I am one of them), can be influenced by place and space but the message most meet a need. Hitler offered a way out of Germany’s huge deflation and suffering economy. The horrific thing is that as he gained popularity he started preaching more and more hatred. The sad thing is that we can all be manipulated by place and space. The good thing about this article is that by elevating this type of influence we can be more aware of our surroundings in order to make decisions based on content and the true message. We discussed integrity and honesty as important attributes of a leader and I agree that this manipulation devalues the authenticity of the leader and his or her leadership.

  8. Xujun Huang (Lilian) says:

    I agree that both place and space, these physical environment factors are playing important roles in the construction of leadership. While place stands for objective physical attributes, space seems to be subjective level representing something beyond those. The author’s argument reminds me of a very impressive sentence saying, when someone loves the place, not simply loves this ‘place’, but loves the people in that ‘place’. Now, I think the ‘place’ here is what the authors call ‘space’. I considered the people in that city stand for the relationship network created by the individual. Someone loves that city because of his successful social network there. Similarly, when sitting in the same room, people may have different feelings, and I have similar experience. The first class when sitting in the same classroom this semester, I feel a little bit more nervous and anxious than others, and this is because I took a very difficult course with many exams taught by a professor poor teaching techniques in this class room last semester. What I need to do is to overcome my anxiety, those emotional problems. Therefore, space stays in sensory levels, based on experience and the interaction we encounter before.
    I think leadership can guide people out of the emotional trap, help oneself adjust into different situations. Luckily, this semester, in the same class room, I was taught by a professor with high leadership techniques. He stimulates my energy source for study, and now I have overcome my fears successfully, and making study become an intrinsic work.

  9. Kathy Luo says:

    I assume we are talking about how the physical environment and the subjective aspects influencing leadership as what we are literally immersed in. In my opinion, even the physical environment (hereinafter as places) are objective givens, it will be impacted by the leader, in general speaking. Scilicet, the given environment may cause different types of leadership. On the other hand, space can be considered as subjective but also, it can be created by the leader who can provide “improvement space” to the followers. I believe that either place or space cannot be single-handed by their alone, they are intercross influence to the leadership.

    • Xujun Huang (Lilian) says:

      I agree with Kathy that space and place are inter-crossing influence to the leadership, when space is more subjective, relying people to defined it, place is more objective, the place itself already enrich its content. In terms of place, organizations usually pay attention to selecting location no matters in finding for manufacturing production, retail in shopping mall, or holding events for ceremony. All of these could be led by leadership to enrich these place’s space definition in their followers’ mind. Space could be renewed by enriching new concepts and meaningful activities. Therefore, in my opinion, space could be more influenced by leadership than place.

    • Bing Wang says:

      The author makes a sound argument here by interpreting the physical environment and subjective aspects in a very unique way. She looks into the process that places interact with the shaping of leadership and generalize that both place and space are not “single handed”, but inter – realted and interact each other during the whole process of constructing leadership. Therefore, it is a very interesting and special perspective regard the article.

  10. Saud Alhowaish says:

    As we know, leadeship is considered as aesthetic, embodiment, sensory experience. Furthermore, leadership also refers to influence, motivation, inspiration and guidance. I believe that not only attribute or personality can show the leadership, but it also depends on physical environments; including place and space. I think place and space are the material, objective and phenomenon which crated the meaning of leadership as well as they can shape the action, interpretation and judgement of people. Therefore, people will make subjective guidements of physical places based on their embodied and sensuous experience. Thus, particular place and sensory experience can contribute to interpretation of leadership status quo. Additionally, place and space are power in leading, influencing, motivating, inspiring and aligning people, besides these substitute individual leaders.

  11. Norm Hubbert says:

    Space and place do impact each person differently, it is situationally contingent upon many factors that influence us all. If Arja Ropo et al. draw a similarity between the contextual issues around space, place in comparison to leadership, I believe that analysis is valid. However, the statement that space and place influence us as leadership is a stretch. Leadership has many factors and is always open to interpretation. I believe that you can utilize space and place to influence others and motivate them but I don’t see the link to leadership. If we can be led by place and space why invest in leadership training for management?

    • Julia Yusuf says:

      I think the relationship among these three things is that leadership is a linkage between place and space. with leadership efforts, we can build culture in a place, and eventually transform it into a space. So actually, it is leadership that motivates and inspires people. Place and space are just some framework where people can exercise leadership.

    • Sohaila A. says:

      I agree with Norm here. Place and Space don’t necessarily affect someone or stop someone from being a leader, but they could definitely affect their ‘productivity’. The context where leadership takes place is important and I agree it is situationally contingent, but I also believe that the purpose of leadership in this environment is far more important.

    • Christine G says:

      Norm, I think our environment (place and space) can be linked to leadership. Perhaps more investment put into location and space planning will reap higher dividends than leadership training. We spent time in CED2 talking about community (space) and place, and by looking at Massey, May and Harvey we did see just how complicated the idea of place really is. We also looked at three dimensions of community – identity (sense of belonging); interaction (active behavior) and linkage (external contacts). If the process of leadership includes motivation, influence, guidance and direction why wouldn’t place and space be part of this?

  12. Julia Yusuf says:

    It seems to be an abstract idea, I will simplify it as a transformation from place and space, and leadership is the force that push this transformation. With a good leadership, a place can become a space that can motivate and inspire people, vise verse. For example, if a leader in the office promotes collaboration, then people will be ready to share their knowledge when they come into this office. In this respect, this office becomes a space that contributes to the construction of leadership. However, I don’t think place and space can become substitute for leadership. Without leadership between place and space, I don’t think they can influence people as leadership does. They are just frameworks for people to exercise leadership.

    • Hope says:

      I like this idea of transforming space, Julia. It’s true that leaders can choose to create welcoming spaces in the organization for staff to collaborate, socialize, inspire, or get work done. Creating a welcoming atmosphere in the office can be good too, but I think it’s situationally contingent for each individual and how they perceive the leader’s space depends on the relationship they have with the leader.

  13. Sohaila A. says:

    Integrating a good place for effective leadership is good planning, but it requires modifications and organization. Leadership is a process of inspiration, building a healthy culture and recognizing hard work are all functions of creating a strong/positive environment. In my opinion, a leader can make their place and space work towards their goal and for their follower’s advantage. If leadership could be taught, learnt and practiced, then so does coping and adopting with the surrounding environment.

  14. Hope says:

    Place is a static region/area/jurisdiction. Halifax is a different place from Toronto because they do not occupy the same physical area. The physical location allows for different attributions like population, demographics, industries, culture. Place affects leadership because of the available population located there, and people are shaped by where they live. Halifax has a smaller pool of available leaders than Toronto does. This is because of physical location and how each city developed and in fact, is a product of various levels and kinds of leadership.

    Space can be manipulated and used to affect how others may perceive a leader. Some leaders are aware of this and can use it to their advantage. Some will make their offices very formal, dark and imposing. Some will make their offices very welcoming. Leaders can also hold meetings in neutral spaces, or come to employees. Depending on relationships, topics, experiences, and desired outcome, space can be used to achieve a leader’s goals for good or ill. And how that space is used depends on the individual the leader is communicating with – one person may be comfortable in the leader’s office because of their relationship, while for another, it would be more like going to the principal’s office in school.

  15. Little Deng says:

    I have never thought about the relationship among place, space, and leadership, but this article gives me some hints. It is a reasonable idea that place and space can contribute to the practice of leadership. If we take a look at some companies, we will notice that they enjoy looking for a great location in order to hold their annual meeting. Also, this article shows us an embodied face of leadership effort. While places may not have lots of changes after construction, spaces can change depends on leadership efforts. Although I agree that places and spaces can support leadership both positively and negatively, I don’t think they can substitute for leadership. The core of leadership is still human beings rather than places and spaces.

    • Fifi (ZIQING WANG) 20132445 says:

      Very glad to read your common, I agree with what you said, which is place and space can substitute for leadership. Of course different people has totally different view on one thing. Therefore, a leader can be a leader must have some specific reasons. Such as the different vision of dealing with things, special ways to manage relationships of the work net for employees and so on.

  16. Fifi (ZIQING WANG) 20132445 says:

    Actually, I didn’t realize that place and space can connect together in the leadership work. From the article shows, place means physical places, and space means the sensory experiences. I just wondering, is that means physical place could be the real situation in the working environment? Such as a real problem or issue. Similarly, is space could be a leader’s sense to solve problems? If like this, space and place definitely should be together.
    Also, I strongly agree that if we consider the process of leadership to involve such elements as influence, motivation, guidance, and direction, among other things. Rather than primarily being a cognitive phenomenon. However, the combine of purely intellectual event and sensory experience cannot substitute for a leader.

  17. Bing Wang says:

    The article are conductly through a very deep way. It read more like a literature, instead of leadership paper. The author maintains that both space and place go beyond their traditional and conventional range when they are referred as the reason for shaping leadership. It is trude that we construct a particluar leadership during the process that we interpret the meaning of the place and space to us. It is based on our feelings, experiences, emotions and personal perspectives. The personal emotion is more based on his personality and environment that he is growing up with. We can go further to admit that it relates to the gene of our body because the gene decide what kind of personality we could develop to certain extent. For me, I always has a high expectation and requirement to the place I will spend most time with. I will interpret the place as both a place to live and a place to interact emotionaly. I help me to develop an active and optimistic personality. And the personality will shape certain leadership during the process.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s