PhD Philosophy

Currently I am supervising doctoral students at the University of Wollongong, Loughborough University, and the University of Divinity. My students are  studying in the area of organisational misfit, employee suicide, and implicit theories of leadership. Future ones will either be in these areas, or recruitment and selection, the use of film in management education, or innovation in management education. I'm afraid that I cannot take on students outside of these areas as the workload would be too great and I wouldn’t be able to give the level of support that I have in the past.

I only accept students on to pre-defined research questions. These are usually broad topic areas (e.g., looking at fit and creativity, or fit and organisational performance) with the students honing the question, developing hypotheses or propositions, and working out their method. But knowing the main overarching question allows students to get a head start and they have the confidence of knowing that their subject is 'PhDable'. I must admit to frustration watching people aimlessly reading for a year and a half trying to discover a research question. There are a few people for whom this is a good approach as it provides a rich grounding, but for many it is a waste of time and effort and, worse still, provides an indulgent aura over the process of completing a PhD. 

I am happy taking people on to positivist or constructionist studies and to use quantitative or qualitative (I'm not keen on mixed methods PhDs because of the ontological and epistemological problems that ensue; conversely, I have no problem with triangulation approaches). All my students to date have worked on empirical studies, but I am happy to consider theoretical, conceptual, and creative projects as well. I would be reluctant to take on people who want to do research methods PhDs (i.e., those studies that focus on developing new methods of measuring fit) simply because I am not an expert in this area.

I should say something on the benefits of doing a PhD as this conveys information on the sort of things people learn from working with me. I see the PhD as essential training for an academic career. It teaches you the depth of understanding you need in order to be able to write authoritatively in an academic literature. It teaches you how to develop a research question. It develops your logical reasoning. You learn how to choose appropriate data gathering techniques, how to analyse data, and how to draw appropriate conclusions. You may find something interesting or profound or useful, but this is a bonus. The key thing is to develop as an independent researcher and as an academic. For this reason, I see it as crucial that you review for conferences and journals, prepare and present conference papers, and write journal papers during your studentship.

Increasingly, my doctoral students are doing their PhDs by publication as opposed to the traditional monographic mode. This involves writing three separate and original papers that look at the same topic from different angles. Typically, the first paper is theoretical or a form review, which helps get students up to speed with the literature. The other two papers tend to be empirical. One paper is produced each year. These papers are intended for publication in A* or A-ranked academic journals. Well, that's the plan but each student tends to plot their own path. To my eyes, the PhD by publication route is better preparation for an academic career than the monograph approach and it is more like an apprenticeship than a studentship.


Finding Out More

At the moment, I am taking on students at the University of Wollongong and can be requested as an external supervisor at Loughborough University, London.

If you want to find out more, please feel free to email me at jbillsbe 'at'



PhD Completions


Ian Bower (Deakin University, Australia, 2014-2016)

Role fluidity: A grounded theory study of distributed leadership in business teams

Followership influence is an important topic. Past researchers have made valuable contributions in terms of various perspectives including defining who followers are and related characteristics. However, researchers have yet to employ the perspective of the focus on individual team member of this aspect of the phenomenon. This is a valuable approach because it extends the theory of followership influence in business teams by defining and clarifying particular processes and skills in answering the research question, ‘How do designated followers exercise leadership?’ Approaching the research question using a Classical Grounded Theory methodology, leadership behaviours were studied in a longitudinal manner in six business teams operating within a major competitor in the Australian Financial Services Industry.

The qualitative research was based on data collected and analysed from observations in the field, semi-structured interviews with participants and leadership review documents. Exploring the process of influence reciprocity from a followership perspective is central to leadership research and the core category of the study emerged as Colloquial Leadership. This provided further explanation of the informal, emergent and temporal based influence process exercised by non-designated leaders in the substantive context. Numerous theoretical propositions generated by the research include the discovery of the previously unexplored cyclical relationship between collaborating and belonging, both of which emerged as very important to individual team members. A four-stage task execution cycle was discovered which was crucial in outlining and explaining the construct of team performance, both positive and negative in nature, which had task fulfillment as its end goal. Component behaviours at each of the stages were necessary but, in isolation, not sufficient to accomplish team goals. Team performance was vital to this research and the discovery of a hierarchy of influencing behaviours used by designated followers to exercise influence (leadership) along with a basic social process articulating how individual team members switch between three identified team roles provides compelling answers to the research question. Further in combination they provide a feasible explanation of the nature of informal and emergent leadership, within the substantive context.

In summation, this research explores the alternative viewpoint that designated followers can and do readily exercise influence (leadership) within business teams, often simultaneously and sequentially depending on context. This dispels the historical myth of the heroic leader rather showing the new dispensation of how leadership is distributed, often in a fair but an uneven manner, as influence was related to task specific expertise. The rapid role switching provided a constrained hierarchy when being in a leading role was no better than being in a following role and so forth, explaining the egalitarian nature of team roles. It was discovered in the modern day environment that task complexity often means that no individual leader can provide enough leadership and that situational expertise is an indirect source of power. In keeping with the classical grounded theory methodology the substantive theory of followership influence is posed, as are implications for practitioners and for future research. 



Maria Jacinta Arquisola (Deakin University, Australia, 2013-2016)

Roles of Higher Education leaders in Indonesia

Over the last decade, the Indonesian Government has been stepping up to the challenge of developing the higher education sector, with different types of universities, colleges, and religious schools being established to keep pace with the rapid growth in the student population. It could be said that the rapid sprouting of institutions is testament to Indonesia entering an age where access to education is no longer an entitlement, but a right and a necessity, for its 255 million people. The growth in both student population and institutions shows that the government is committed to making education a top development priority, seeing it as a key driver for the country’s economic growth and international competitiveness. The purpose of this study is to examine how Higher Education academic leaders (HEALs) in Indonesia perceive their roles as leaders, and how they apply these roles as Indonesia’s higher education institutions are addressing changing contextual conditions. Generally, the HEALs of Indonesia are an under-examined cohort despite the multitude of national and international studies on education in Indonesia, and the expanding literature on academic leadership in the Asian region, and worldwide. Specifically, the two research questions this study aimed to investigate were: a) how do Indonesian higher education academic leaders (HEALs) perceive their role as academic leaders in higher education; and b) how do gender differences influence the in-role behaviours of Indonesian higher education academic leaders?

Using a qualitative research methodology underpinned by a critical realist paradigm, the study utilised an interview method to examine the perceptions of thirty-five (35) academic leaders: 21 males and 14 female leaders from five (5) public universities and two (2) private universities located in Central Java, West Java, and the capital city, Jakarta. The study found that HEALs perceived their roles to be either functionalist (perceived and performed by them as driven by institutional expectations), or interactionist (perceived and performed by them as driven by contingencies that arise). Under each of these role perspectives are four role classifications which are socially-constructed or self-constructed by HEALs that are unique to their academic leadership experience in an Indonesian context. The self-constructed roles are performed contingent on the demands of the context, and the particular contingencies that arise requiring academic leaders to act.

The study also found that there are gender differences in the way HEALs approached the variety of institutional constraints facing them as academic leaders. The study found that female and male academic leaders differed in the way they enacted their identity salience (role). Female academic leaders experienced the ‘triple bind’ created by social control schemas, for example, institutional limitations, social position and status, and held gender roles which acted as constraints for leadership. Paradoxically, however, it is also the ‘triple bind’ that drives women to resist and rise above their discursive struggles and confrontation. Female HEALs overcome the triple bind by showing assertiveness, depth of conviction, and a take-charge attitude, while male HEALs enact leadership out of entitlement.



Leonardo Blanco dos Santos (Universidade Presbiteriana Mackenzie, Brazil, 2013-2016)

Realisation of personal values in the organisational environment as one component of perceived person-organisation fit, and its influence on intention to leave (Realização de valores pessoais no ambiente organizacional como componente de compatibilidade indivíduo-organização percebida e sua influência em intenção de saída)

Voluntary exit occurs when professionals decide to leave the organisation in which they work. It generates costs not only for the organisation but also for themselves. A number of variables influence the exit, being intention to leave its strongest predictor. Based on interactional psychology, studies on person-organisation fit postulate that behaviour is a function of the interaction between characteristics of the individual and of the organisational environment. Intention to leave is one of the most researched variables in person-organisation fit. Considering the importance of values ​​for studies on person-organisation fit, this study states the ​​Realisation of Personal Values in the organisational environment, concept that was introduced by Maurino and Domenico (2012), as a component of perceived person-organisation fit. It looks at the influence of Realisation of Personal Values in the organisational environment on intention to leave that environment. The research instrument consisted of questionnaires to measure personal values, Realisation of Personal Values in the organisational environment, intention to leave, as well as sociodemographic and functional questions. This was applied online, obtaining responses of 553 participants who worked within organisations in Brazil. The data were analyzed by statistical techniques such as analysis of variance (ANOVA), confirmatory (for personal values ​​and Realisation of Personal Values) and exploratory (for intention to leave) factor analysis, correlations, structural equation modeling and cluster analysis. The main finding was that respondents’ perceptions of their realisation ofOpeness to ​changeandSelf-Enhancementvalues in the organisational environment influence their intention to leave. It was observed that three control variables, namely having dependents, managerial/nonmanagerial position and educational level influence on intention to leave as well. The results of cluster analysis suggest that the greater the distance between the importance attributed to a particular value ​​and the perception of its realisation in the organisational environment, the higher is the level of intention to leave. This study contributes to the literature on perceived person-organisation fit by identifying one of its components, Realisation of Personal Values (RPV), thereby integrating RPV with the studies of person-organisation fit.  A new questionnaire was developed to measure RPV based on the refined theory of personal values ​​(Schwartz et al., 2012), and by investigating the influence of RPV on intention to leave. It contributes to the organisations by inserting the possibility of considering the role of RPV on staff turnover management.



Mervwyn Williamson (University of KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa, 2005-2014)

Perceptions and experiences of organisational misfit: A grounded theory study of South African employees

Research into person-environment fit has focused on fit and the many positive benefits that have been associated with achieving high fit. Misfit on the other hand, has been given scant attention. To date, not much is known about what exactly misfit is and how individuals experience this phenomenon at work. Moreover, there has been a paucity of studies that have explored misfit in countries outside of North America, the United Kingdom and Western Europe. This study aimed to address this gap in the literature by exploring how South African employees perceive and experience misfit at work. A further objective was to develop a theoretical model that explains the processes of becoming a misfit, its antecedents, coping behaviours and consequences. The study embraced a qualitative research design using a constructivist grounded theory approach. Following a theoretical sampling process, a sample of 40 employees was selected and subjected to in-depth, face-to-face interviews in which they were asked to relate their experiences of misfitting in the South African organisational context.

The findings were reported in relation to five guiding research questions. South African employees displayed a unique understanding of what misfit is when compared with certain Western Countries, thus lending support to the notion of a context-specific or cultural element in perceptions and experiences of the phenomenon. Misfit was perceived as both an internal psychological experience and an outward assessment of an individual based on external characteristics such as demographics. Participants emphasised race and gender as the major causal factors of misfit in the South African workplace. An unexpected finding emanating from this research was that a person’s HIV/Aids status was not considered a significant factor in influencing their sense of misfit. Generally, misfit was perceived to have a deleterious effect on both the individual employee and the organisation. On discovering that they did not fit in, South African employees do not immediately leave the organisation for fear of being permanently without a job as a result of the high unemployment rate in the country. Instead, they remained and engaged in a variety of coping behaviours to deal with the condition. It was strongly emphasised that exiting the organisation was deemed to be the last resort. This study further unearthed a wide range of strategies and interventions that South African managers could use to effectively manage their misfitting employees in order to creatively harness their potential. The emergent theoretical framework, entitled “a model of employee misfit” describes the processes of becoming a misfit, its causes, coping behaviour and consequences. The findings of this study make a significant contribution to misfit research, theory and practice.


Dannie Talbot (The Open University, UK, 2006-2010)

Organisational Fit and Misfit: An Empirical Study of Similarities and Differences

This thesis focuses on employees’ experiences of fit and misfit at work. This falls within the person-environment fit (PE fit) literature, which is based on principles founded in interactional psychology that when a person fits the environment that they are in, positive outcomes, such as job satisfaction, will result. Despite a wealth of empirical studies in the PE fit field studying various aspects of individuals’ fit with their work environment, there are significant gaps in knowledge and understanding. One of these is that little research has investigated how employees experience fit and misfit. A second gap is that little is known about misfit and whether this is the opposite to fit, an absence of fit or a separate categorical state. The research focused on these gaps in the literature and took a qualitative, exploratory approach to gain in-depth understanding of the factors affecting individuals’ fit and misfit in organisations.

Causal mapping techniques were used to allow the study’s participants to express their perceptions without being prompted to speak about specific topics. The resulting data were coded using measures from the PE fit literature to explore whether the extant measures adequately captured people’s experiences and also to assess whether there were differences between fit and misfit. The findings suggest that the extant PE fit measures explained participants’ experiences of fit and misfit well but that as these are focused on factors within the organisational environment, they miss external factors such as people’s links with their communities. It seems that the majority of individuals experience misfit to some extent but that overwhelming misfit perceptions can be triggered by a change in the organisation. Misfit and fit are shown to differ, most profoundly in that whereas fit is a positive experience, misfit is negative and a state to be avoided. 

Dannie is now a Principal Lecturer at Coventry University and we continue to work on research projects together.



Linda Wilks (The Open University, UK, 2005-2009)

Initiations, interactions, cognoscenti: Social and cultural capital in the music festival experience

This thesis explores the role of social and cultural capital in the music festival experience. It does so by gathering observations and post-festival accounts from attendees at three separate music festivals located in England. The data were analysed using Fairclough’s approach to critical discourse analysis, resulting in the identification of styles and orders of discourse.

Little research, particularly of a qualitative nature, has investigated the roles of cultural taste and social inter-relationships in the music festival experience. Bourdieu’s theory of cultural capital and the inter-linked theory of social capital, developed with slightly different emphases by Bourdieu, Coleman and Putnam, were selected as providing an appropriate theoretical framework. Cultural capital, particularly its component of habitus, was a useful lens for focusing on the ways in which participants’ cultural tastes related to their festival experience. Social capital was useful for its orientation towards the role of social inter-relationships in the development of cultural taste and festival experience.

This thesis found that the youth years, particularly through peer influence, were a rich period for initiation into a taste for a particular genre of music. Initiation could also occur later in life. This contrasts with cultural capital theory’s emphasis on early socialisation through family and school. A sense of being a member of the festival music genre’s cognoscenti was also found to play a role in the festival experience. Participants discovered complexity in all genres of festival music, challenging the hierarchies underpinning cultural capital. Festivals were found to be sites where connections with already known associates were intensified (bonding social capital), rather than sites where enduring new connections were made (bridging social capital). This thesis critically develops approaches to social and cultural capital and suggests drivers for cultural policy.


Elena Papavero (Northcentral University, USA, 2005-2009)

Assessing the relationships between person-organization fit, moral philosophy, and the motivation to lead

When individuals who perceive their values as different from those of their organization (low PO fit) are less motivated to lead, values homogeneity in leadership may occur, resulting in ethical dysfunction. Likewise, if idealists are less attracted to leading, this may influence homogeneity towards pragmatism.

The primary goal of this research was to explore the prediction of three dimensions of motivation to lead (MTL) from PO fit and idealism. The interaction of PO fit and relativism was also examined. An online survey, including Cable and DeRue’s fit measure, Forsyth’s EPQ, and Chan’s MTL scale, was completed by 1,024 working adults.

Lower fit predicted lower MTL on all dimensions, and higher idealism predicted lower MTL on all dimensions (with social-normative MTL receiving limited support). No support was found for relativism as a moderator of the fit to MTL relationship. These results suggest that low fit individuals are self-selecting away from leadership positions. Practical recommendations include considering fit in advancement processes and using fit as a gap-analysis diagnostic for organizational values misalignment. Future research on a situational model of MTL should consider situations that promote involvement or identification with organizations and objectives, and those that create a lack of alternatives or a sense of obligation due to a psychological contract.