Innovative projects receive Vice-Chancellors Early Career Researcher Awards

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Every year Research, Business and Innovation (RBI) invite Early Career Researchers working at UWE Bristol to apply for the Vice-Chancellors Early Career Researcher (VC ECR) Development Award. The award is open to members of staff who are in the early stages of their research career, typically within five years of their first academic appointment on a teaching and research contract, or on completing a doctorate. UWE Bristol wants to support early career researchers to undertake research in areas aligned with the University’s research beacons;

  • Digital futures
  • Health & wellbeing
  • Creative industries & technologies
  • Sustainability & climate change resilience

This year, we are delighted to announce that four members of Bristol Leadership and Change Centre have been successful, here is a summary of their projects.

Navigating the storm, exploring the leadership experiences of female entrepreneurs in the South West

Beacon: Health & wellbeing

Dr Alison Miles, Senior Lecturer in Organisation Studies

alison3.miles@uwe.ac.uk

The current academic debate surrounding female entrepreneurs focuses on barriers and gender differences. This, together with reports of female entrepreneurs being hardest hit by the pandemic, have shaped the current UK policy debate leading to a government pledge of 600,000 new female run businesses by 2030.

While these factors are undoubtedly true, the current debate misses ‘how’ these companies are run. The aim of this project is to explore how the leadership styles and characteristics of female entrepreneurs influences their approach to the challenges faces by their businesses due to the Covid 19 pandemic.

Using focus groups of 6 leaders in 5 areas around the region, followed by a series of semi structured interviews, the research will explore what it is about these leaders that makes them successful in the current climate, what opportunities and barriers were faced and how did the leaders respond?

In answering these questions, the research will build a narrative to highlight leader development in South West SME’s, embed opportunities and shine a light on ways to deal with change.

Organising truth: exploring critical thinking and fact-checking amongst digital natives

Beacon: Digital futures

Richard Longman, Senior Lecturer in Organisation Studies (Leadership & Change)

richard.longman@uwe.ac.uk

Richard Longman’s project is set against a modern-day maelstrom of misinformation and disinformation, and is inspired by online organisations who promote digital literacy. The project aims to investigate how people (especially those who have grown up with digital technologies) produce and consume information online and how they make sense of associated truth claims. To further this aim, the project examines the organisational processes by which information is produced and consumed online, and questions the power effects of the technologies that mediate our online experiences. From this, the project critically-evaluates the legitimacy of different truth claims – this will deepen understanding about how people and technologies go about “organising truth”.

Digital literacy is a prerequisite to the good functioning of democratic societies. As engaged, critical research, seeking to be transformative of practice, it has a dual focus. First, to interrogate the framework for information literacy advocated by FaktaBarri (a non-partisan journalistic service in Finland using social media to collect and distribute factual information with crowds). Second, to explore how people navigate informational abundance online, and to evaluate the critical thinking skills and fact-checking resources they use. The interplay between these two foci will lead to theorising about how digital literacy can combat misinformation and disinformation. Located within Bristol Leadership and Change Centre, this project makes a distinctive contribution to existing work exploring leadership and change in a rapidly-changing world by focusing on our digital futures.

Identifying Threshold Concepts of Entrepreneurship beyond business and across cultures

Beacons: Creative industries & Digital futures

Dr. Berrbizne Urzelai, Senior Lecturer of International Business

Berrbizne2.Urzelai@uwe.ac.uk

Threshold concepts are “conceptual gateways” or “portals” that lead to previously inaccessible ways of thinking about something (Meyer and Land, 2005). Mastery of a threshold concept simultaneously changes an individual’s idea of what they know and who they are (Cousin, 2009). 

This project aims to identify threshold concepts to explore how being entrepreneurial and enterprising differs across disciplines, countries and levels of study. There are three main research questions:

  1. What do Creative Industries (CI) understand by “thinking as an entrepreneur”? 
  2. Which of the CI entrepreneurs’ perspectives are concepts that are threshold concepts?
  3. Are there concepts that are distinct to 1) creative industry sector (and sub-sectors), 2) specific country (UK or Spain) or 3) level of study (undergraduate, postgraduate, other)?

The project will:

  • Provide evidence of research applied to education, and help embedding enterprise education (EE) in the curriculum and/or co/extra-curriculum (tailored programmes, modules, etc.). 
  • Inform educators and practitioners about the thinking and needs that these entrepreneurs have in different disciplines and the impact of their understanding on their practice.
  • Evidence the efficacy of EE initiatives when comparing programmes based on threshold concept related findings with programmes that have not taken these findings on board.
  • Identify concepts that complement learning outcomes and other frameworks.  

This research will enable us to validate a set of threshold concepts for Creative Industries and understand the ways of thinking and practicing that are distinctive, which can be used as a pilot for a wider national/ multinational study in the future. This knowledge can then be used to inform curriculum development. 

Developing an understanding of ‘Leadership Resilience’ within creative and cultural spaces and places

Beacon: Creative industries & technologies

Dr. Hugh Waters, Lecturer in Organisation Studies

Hugh.Waters@uwe.ac.uk

Dr. Hugh Waters has received a competitive award from the Vice Chancellors Early Career Research Award Programme to deliver an action research project ‘Developing an understanding of ‘Leadership Resilience’ within creative and cultural spaces and places’. This project is designed to explore how emerging creative/cultural organisations see themselves, and develop resilient and authentic leadership practice in the face of current and ongoing challenges. The project intends to deliver impact in real-time enabling those participating to find solutions to identified ‘leadership’ and ‘organisational design’ challenges with the support of peers.

A further aim of the project is to continue the development of an active network with the creative industries, building on the work of a current (£10,500) UKRI Higher Education Innovation Fund award of which opportunities are provided to current and future students. In addition to assisting in the development of a new cross-faculty teaching offer between the Faculty of Business and Law alongside the Faculty of Arts, Creative Industries and Education.

To find out more about this project, or any of the projects showcased above please email. You can also find out more about other current research projects within Bristol Leadership & Change Centre on our research pages

Please also follow BLCC on Twitter @UWELeadership

Publication of Malaria Elimination Open Access Resources

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Professors Peter Case and Jonathan Gosling from UWE Bristol, recently published a set of open access resources in collaboration with the Malaria Elimination Initiative (MEI) and the University of California, San Francisco. The resources are entitled LEAD: Leadership & Engagement for Improved Accountability & Delivery of Services Framework  and comprise a set of guidelines and practical tools for Ministries of Health and advisors to assist with the improvement of malaria healthcare services. It is the product of work that Peter and Jonathan have been conducting with MEI for the past seven years in low- and middle-income countries across the globe. Read about the project further in our previous post ‘Helping to improve malaria healthcare in Southern Africa’

LEAD draws upon organization development, leadership learning, participatory action research, quality improvement methods, and principles of community engagement to improve operational delivery at the district, clinic, and village level. LEAD employs a systematic process, involving continual problem diagnosis, action planning, implementation and evaluation to build capacity for change management through a series of workshops, meetings, trainings, coaching, and mentoring over the course of the planning cycle.

It was developed in response to requests from National Malaria Control Programmes (NMCPs) for assistance in tackling challenges in a systematic and participatory manner whilst, simultaneously, building capacity for leadership and management across hierarchical levels and ensuring sustainability of healthcare provision.

The tool has been implemented thus far in Vietnam, Zimbabwe, Eswatini and Namibia, leading to significant improvements in elements of programme delivery. These improvements include, inter alia: improved detection, testing and treatment, data quality, communication, and fewer drug stockout events. Additional benefits, such as capacity building of healthcare professionals and development of accredited training of NMCP staff, have also accrued, creating sustainable impacts in these regions.

To find out more visit the Shrinking the Malaria Map website.

Desperately Seeking ‘Self-ish’ space: the year of Covid-19, lockdown and making dens

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The following excerpts are taken from an article written by Harriet Shortt for Organizational Aesthetics, the full article can be read here.

As I look back on the events of last year, like so many people, my reflections turn to how our home has been central to all that we have done and all that we have experienced. And like so many others during lockdown, our dining room became a classroom, the kitchen table became a meeting space, and the living room became a gym. All this meant our homes became ‘contested spaces’ (Lefebvre, 1991) and as I recently wrote in a book chapter with my co-author Michal Izak, we have suddenly found ourselves in a space with multiple meanings and uses (Shortt and Izak, 2020). We have appropriated and re-appropriated rooms across the landscape of our domestic spaces and perhaps most predominately, the boundaries between work and home have been well and truly broken and re-established.

As a result of these broken and now very blurry boundaries between work and home, the once private, intimate space of the home has been made (partly) public. Our domestic spaces are more visible now and throughout the pandemic they have been shared with and open to a whole host of people that might not have otherwise been ‘invited in’. For lots of us this has included the ongoing avalanche of Teams work calls, the home-schooling video calls, the Zoom quizzes, Facetime with family, Pilates on WhatsApp, and webinars hosted
from the garden shed.

For me, these complexities associated with the socio-material experiences of space at home during lockdown, and how we have responded to them, were first starkly highlighted by my 5-year-old daughter, Lauren. Throughout this year Lauren has been den-making. I know this is not unusual for a child of her age, and according to Sobel (2002), den-making is a fundamental part of early and middle childhood when children create a hiding space, ‘homeaway-from-home’, removed from parents or siblings. But during lockdown the den-making was, and continues to be, prolific.

Lauren’s abundant den making, was perhaps, her response to sharing her home with us for an extended period – all of us together, all the time, in a limited number of rooms and where those rooms had become somewhat ambiguous in their use.

This made me wonder if other people might be experiencing the same thing. Lots of other local parent friends reported the same sort of behaviour, as did a number of ‘grown ups’. An entrepreneur I have been working with told me she had been frequenting the roof of her house for a bit of solitude – taking a cup of tea up to the roof to find a private moment of respite from the rest of her family. An academic colleague of mine had bought a flatpack shed for the garden as a workspace away from the three other family members all working round the kitchen table – she affectionately calls her shed ‘the den’ and has made her curtains for it.

Even though so many of us are desperate to leave our houses and socialise again, I am left wondering if Covid-19 and our experiences of lockdown will change the way we look at our homes. Post-pandemic life might involve putting the home under the microscope and thinking about the details of our homes, as Bachelard encourages us to do. What corners have we noticed? What temporary nests have provided a new place of refuge? What new patterns of spatial practice have formed and where? Home space rules are being rewritten, new agreements are being made, home and work boundaries are being reimagined. Perhaps after this year, we might be more reflective about our attachments to
chosen spots in the home and where precisely we find shelter.

Read Harriet’s full article HERE

Creative Workforce for the Future – developing an inclusive workforce

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Creative Workforce for the Future is a one year pilot developing industry employment practices embracing inclusion and diversity as an asset, and nurtures young talent from under-represented groups to gain the experience required to sustain a creative career. A key aspect of the programme is supporting creative SMEs to develop a more inclusive workforce and practices in the region by undertaking an intensive programme of inclusive professional development.

The partnership, led by UWE Bristol and Watershed are working actively with over 30 creative small to medium sized businesses in the West of England on inclusion readiness.

Earlier this year, they began running industry workshops with a range of topics and started a series of  Reflexive Sense-making Space > Leadership Coaching  sessions for leaders who want to delve deeper and transform their learning into practice. The group leadership coaching process was led by Dr Charlotte von Bülow (UWE Bristol), an experienced leadership coach, consultant, social entrepreneur and action researcher.

These sessions offer a safe space where leaders can identify and explore personal and organisational narratives and discover how these might help or hinder the change they want to create, as well as explore their own (inherited) behaviours and practices. Charlotte reflects on some of the realities facing leaders and managers:

“Within the context of the workplace, we are often caught in a difficult and rather binary situation where there is a perceived but unarticulated ‘right and wrong’ that is difficult to get one’s head around. This makes for a very anxiety provoking daily experience of ‘not knowing what the right thing is’ and many are getting stuck in narratives about the issue of diversity and inclusion, rather than looking at each situation in its own right. Ayshat Akanbi’s provocative but inspiring message – that we can move the focus from ‘right/wrong’ to empathy, compassion and respect – is pointing to what may be another way of approaching the issue. Is it possible to explore ways in which we can inspire a culture of respectful situational awareness as a ‘way of being’ rather than get caught in policy writing – and if so, how do we go about that? How do we co-create such new cultures and ensure that we also remain open to the complexity of each emerging situation? These are the kinds of questions that are being explored.”

In addition to Charlotte’s coaching sessions, workshops were offered to SME’s including ‘Fitting in vs Belonging’ and an ‘Unconscious Bias’ workshop run by Elonka Soros. Using a Diversity & Inclusion maturity model, a useful tool for action, businesses ranked themselves as either unaware, compliant, strategic, integrated or disruptive. Interestingly, most business leaders ranked their business in between strategic and integrated when in reality they were hovering at the top end of compliant – fulfilling legal requirements out of duty, rather than purpose, resulting in little action, change of impact. It’s only when businesses move more into the strategic level when diversity and inclusion is recognised as important to the success of the business, and it becomes a strategic objective with KPIs, that are tracked and have active leadership and accountability.

Inclusion is as much a personal development journey as a business journey and is not merely about diversifying a workforce. For that reason, many SMEs chose to interrogate their personal journeys as leaders on a deeper level throughout the programme by attending Dr Charlotte von Bülow’s Reflexive Sense-making sessions . In addition, a group of SMEs have been working with Marissa Ellis from Diversily on a practical approach to inclusive leadership using The Change Canvas, a simple but powerful visual framework for driving change.

Inclusion is a slow journey as it involves cultural change. However, there has already been some great investment pledges and action from leaders to take their workforce on this journey and a noticeable shift from ‘we need to diversify as an industry’ to ‘we need to dismantle the culture that sustains the inequality and lack of inclusion’.

This post was edited from the Creative Workforce for the Future blog, read the full article here. The programme is in its final stages and has ran over 15 industry workshops with 42 of creative SMEs in the West of England with more lined up for January – March 2021.

This is an exploratory new pilot programme funded by the West of England Combined Authority (WECA) and the European Social Fund (ESF) and led by the Bristol+Bath Creative R+D programme working with Rife at WatershedKnowle West Media CentreCreative Youth NetworkThe Guild co working spaceSpike Island and Bristol Museums.

Global Leaders gather at ILA Conference

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Leadership experts from around the world will gather live and online 5 – 9 November for the International Leadership Association’s (ILA’s) virtual global conference, Leading at the Edge. Global leaders and featured speakers will meaningfully address the changing role of leadership globally in an era of COVID-19, declining democratic norms, social justice movements, economic uncertainty, corporate responsibility, climate emergency, and more.

A partial list of featured plenary and spotlight speakers includes:  

Global Leaders – Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus (Director-General, The World Health Organization – WHO); Princess Mabel van Oranje ( Initiator & Board Chair, Girls Not Brides: The Global Partnership to End Child Marriage)

Thought Leaders – ILA 2020 Lifetime Achievement Award Winners Ron Heifetz (Harvard University) and Ron Riggio (Claremont McKenna College); Otto Scharmer (Presencing Institute); Margaret Heffernan (Forward Institute); Matt Qvortrup (Coventry University); Richard Bolden (Bristol Business School, University of the West of England); Henry Mintzberg (McGill University); Barbara Kellerman (Harvard University); Gareth Edwards (Bristol Business School, University of the West of England).

Business Leaders – May Abdel Asim (Founder, Media & More in Cairo); Helle Bank Jorgensen (CEO, Competent Boards); Christophe Dubi (ED, International Olympic Committee); Gamini Hewawasam (CEO, FineFinish Engineering); Aline Kamakian (Chef & CEO, Fig Holding); Mahmoud Mohieldin (ED, International Monetary Fund); Marta del Rio (Founder & CEO, Wasi Organics); David Lee Schreiner (President & CEO, Katherine Shaw Bethea Hospital); Mark Shapiro (President & CEO, Toronto Blue Jays).

With a stellar list of keynotes and featured speakers, 400+ expert session and workshop presenters, and a diverse array of networking opportunities Leading at the Edgepromises to inform, inspire, and invigorate.

As ILA President & CEO, Cynthia Cherrey sums up, “Our live, online virtual event is designed to deliver everything that makes an in-person ILA conference special: plenaries from global leaders working at the intersection of theory and practice; workshops, panels, and presentations with speakers from around the world; special networking activities organized by our member communities and social engagement committee designed to help attendees converse and create collaborative networks; and a Meeting Hub that allows you to easily set up impromptu virtual meetings on our conference platform.”

The conference is open to everyone. Registration fees are as low as $125 USD and attendees can choose to attend the sessions live or access the video recordings on-demand through the end of the year. Continuing Education credits (CEUs) are also available to meet professional requirements.

“We invite you to join us for this live online virtual conference as we explore leadership, the ways that we lead, and what we expect from leaders,” remarks Conference Chair Kathryn Goldman Schuyler. “Leading at the Edge will nourish those who lead, consult, teach, study, and conduct research with exciting ideas, innovative projects, and good friends — both old and new.”

For complete details, please explore the conference website at ILAGlobalConference.org or email Global2020@ila-net.org.

The International Leadership Association is a worldwide professional association committed to advancing leadership knowledge and practice for a better world. We accomplish our mission through the creation of trusted leadership resources and via the synergy that occurs by bringing people together in the trusted space of our conferences and events, collectively having a multiplier impact on leadership and change. For more than twenty years the ILA has convened extraordinary talent across sectors, cultures, disciplines, and generations. Learn more at www.ila-net.org.

Distinguished Professorial Address Lecture with Jackie Ford

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We are delighted to welcome Jackie Ford, Professor of Leadership and Organisation Studies at Durham University Business School, to present a virtual Distinguished Professorial Address Lecture based on ‘A critical rethink of relational leadership: recognising the mutual dynamic between leaders and led’.

Many accounts of leadership studies appear to take too lightly, if they treat of it at all, the insecurity, anxiety and ambiguity in the lives of leaders and led (Ford and Harding, 2004; Ford, 2006). Through ignoring these feelings, they actively create such feelings. Leaders are told they should be confident, secure and very clear about what they are doing, and why they are doing it, in all circumstances. This is an impossible feat in practice – who could live up to such a paragon? By failing to achieve an over-ambitious norm, leaders can feel themselves to be failures. But in equal measure, there is a risk that control of work processes and conversations may still be regulated by power elites qua leaders who manipulate organisational discourses through structural and cultural norms that remain embedded in historical traditions. This can in turn have disastrous consequences on followers in organisations – as Jackie will illuminate during her presentation. 

A little about Jackie;

Jackie Ford is Professor of Leadership and Organisation Studies at Durham University Business School and has held various professorial posts since 2008 at the Universities of Leeds and Bradford. She has over 25 years’ experience of working in Higher Education, having spent the previous decade in a range of managerial roles in the British NHS, culminating in an Executive Board-level Human Resources Director post.  Jackie’s research includes the study of working lives, notably in exploring critical approaches to leadership; gender, diversity and inclusion; ethics, management and organization studies.  She has co-authored a monograph entitled Leadership as Identity: Constructions and Deconstructions (Ford, Harding and Learmonth, Palgrave Macmillan, 2008); co-edited Making Public Services Management Critical (Currie, Ford, Harding and Learmonth, Routledge, 2010); co-edited a textbook, Leadership: Contemporary critical perspectives (Carroll, Ford and Taylor, Sage, 2019. 2nd edn); and has published in a range of journals including British Journal of Management, Human Relations, Journal of Management Studies, Leadership, Management Learning, Organization, Organization Studies, Sociology, Work Employment and Society.

Date: Wednesday 2nd December 2020

Time: 17:00 – 18:30 GMT

REGISTER TO ATTEND HERE

Multidisciplinary Research Teams and Transdisciplinary Impacts

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In September Peter Case, Professor of Organization Studies at UWE Bristol delivered a webinar for staff and doctoral students at the College of Business, Law & Governance – James Cook University in Australia. Here is a summary of his presentation, talking about multidisciplinary research teams and transdisciplinary impacts.

Researchers increasingly find themselves inhabiting a world in which sponsors demand that their work generate outcomes and impacts beyond the walls of academia. There is an expectation that applied research will yield beneficial changes to one or more of the following areas of life: economy, society, culture, public policy, the environment, health and wellbeing. Moreover, many of the problems that researchers face are extremely complex, if not ‘wicked’ (Rittel & Webber, 1973) in nature.

The challenges of tackling problems caused by climate change or trying to achieve sustainable development, for example, typically involve multiple stakeholder interests and are mediated by an array of interrelated socio-material factors.  Accommodating such high levels of complexity is an endeavour that, arguably, falls beyond the scope and capacity of any single disciplinary frame.

One response to challenges posed by complexity is to employ multidsiciplinary research teams. These teams typically comprise a diverse set of experts who bring particular specialist perspectives, theories and methodologies to bear on a given problem. Multidisciplinary teams thus afford a more holistic approach to the issue at hand and, moreover, hold the prospect of producing ‘joined up’ solutions to any given problem.

Peter Case recently gave a talk on this, sharing some of his experiences of working with mutlidisciplinary research teams in the context of complex problems and large scale projects. He spoke about drawing on his work in international development and global healthcare spaces to explore what is involved in forming teams, managing group dynamics and harnessing collective efforts to meet overall project aims and objectives.

Peter concluded by arguing that enhancing research impact entails moving beyong a strictly multidisciplinary approach to a transdisciplinary mode of stakeholder engagement; one in which academic researchers facilitate and contribute to wider dialogue with partner institutions and intended beneficiaries.

Bringing Ideas to Life: The role of mediating objects

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Written by Dr Arthur F Turner – Senior Lecturer in Organisational Studies, UWE, Bristol.

Since 2008 I have been looking into the growth of leadership in managers and, more broadly speaking, I have been journeying towards a degree of understanding of how these ‘magical’ transitions take place. I have more recently been tutoring and facilitating the learning of coaching and mentoring through the teaching of elements in the curriculum of ILM Level 7 and Level 5 vocational qualifications.

One part of this decade-long inquiry has been the surfacing of Vygotsky’s ‘mediating objects’ as a vital piece of theory that really seems to work. I had been describing these ideas to my colleagues, students and clients (I have been a qualified coach since 2008) in terms of philosophical ideas and theories (see, for example, Heidegger, Huizinga and Vygotsky – all male European philosophers of the early 19th century).

My own favourite mediating objects to use in leadership and management development are finger puppets of culturally-diverse characters (both real and fictional) which have a powerful way of stimulating ideas and re-enacting workplace dynamics. I have written about how and why these puppets work and, more often than not, I have found myself drawn towards the Déscartian view of minds and bodies having a distinct ontological basis. Whilst thoughts and ideas in your head are shapeless and have no form through the use of mediating objects (puppets or whatever) these ideas, challenges or issues can be expressed in a more solid way, through an object that gives it shape and structure.

A selection of finger puppets used in leadership development workshops

For several years I felt these ideas must have some more up-to-date, supporting philosophies. My searches often led along blind alleyways… until recently. A chance look at a collection of articles in the New Scientist in 2019 I came across Lambros Malafouris and his theory of Material Engagement. All of sudden a modern philosophical translation of the role of objects in our world came into view. Like London buses no sooner had one emerged than another turned the corner into view. From Emma Watton and Phillipa Chapman’s leadership and cognitive artefacts premise to Object Orientated Ontology (OOO) championed by Graham Harman via the hermeneutic spaces of Michel Foucault; mediating objects have been coming out of the shadows! This time of year, Autumn, also gives some spur to the acknowledgment of the ways in which ideas and learning can emerge from nowhere. Take for example the humble fungus:

I have been fascinated by fungi for a long time and testament to this are a small collection of porcelain fungi at my home, modelled to represent specific species. These models are a doorway into the weird world of fungi which now, in real life, often appear overnight, lawns, tree-trunks and fallen branches are festooned with a dazzling array of shapes and sizes, mostly based on a standard, young-child-seen, shape of stem and cap. A new book by Merlin Sheldrake now has retold the research that reveals a parent mycelium that weaves and interacts for miles amidst root, leaf-fall and wood. This mycelium is closely interwoven and often miles long. Far from a non-sentient being fungi and the mycelium that is the fungi can work together over miles, lasso nematodes, trap and enslave ants and break down rock, stone and concrete slabs… a concept now referred to as the Wood Wide Web.

Holding one porcelain fungal model in my hand can open opportunities to talk about living organisms, ecosystems and on to discussion about stakeholders, networks, knowledge, intelligence and complex chemicals. Objects mediate human understanding and ferment the production of knowledge and understanding.   

I’d be interested to hear about any mediating objects you use in your own leadership and/or organisation development practice, and your experiences of how these support and mobilise the shifts in awareness that characterise deep learning.

The Rhetoric and Reality of Systems Leadership

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A talk by Professor Richard Bolden at The Future of Leadership conference hosted by Kings College, London.

Professor Richard Bolden was invited by the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (an executive agency of the Ministry of Defence) to speak at a video conference on ‘The Future of Leadership’, hosted by Kings College London on 22nd May. His presentation, titled ‘The Rhetoric and Reality of Systems Leadership’ summarised insights from his recent research in the NHS and public health to highlight key insights for public service leadership over the coming decades.

What is Systems Leadership?

“Systems Leadership is about how you lead across boundaries departmental, organisational or sector. It’s how you lead when you’re not in charge, and you need to influence others rather than pull a management lever. It describes the way you need to work when you face large, complex, difficult and seemingly intractable problems; where you need to juggle multiple uncertainties; where no one person or organisation can find or organise the solution on their own…”
Sorkin, 2016

Watch the recorded conference HERE including Richard’s talk.

The Fall of Edward Colston and the Rise of Inclusive Place-Based Leadership

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by Professor Richard Bolden

The killing of George Floyd by a police officer in Minneapolis, USA on 25th May 2020 triggered a wave of protests about racial inequality that have spread around the world. In my home city of Bristol, UK the Black Lives Matter march on 7th June led to the toppling of the statue of Edward Colston, a 17th-century slave trader whose sculpture had stood in pride of place in the city centre for 125 years.  The ironic fact that the bronze cast was then dragged to the quayside and unceremoniously dumped into the water at almost precisely the same place as his ships had docked over three hundred years ago did not go unnoticed[1].

Colston, who was born in Bristol in 1636 and lived there for much of his life, made his fortune as a merchant – initially trading wine, fruits and cloth before becoming involved in the slave trade. From 1680-1692 he worked for the Royal Africa Company, which held a monopoly for trading along Africa’s west coast, serving as deputy governor from 1689 to 1690. During his time at the company around 84,000 Africans were transported into slavery, with an estimated 19,000 perishing in the process[2]. Despite his involvement in this abhorrent trade, Colston was widely celebrated for endowing significant sums of money to local schools, hospitals, alms-houses and churches. His statue was erected by the Victorians in 1895 to commemorate his philanthropy and his name still features on many city landmarks.

The actions of the protesters that day drew a range of reactions. Whilst the Home Secretary, Priti Patel, described it as ‘utterly disgraceful’ and the Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, called it a ‘criminal act’ others took a more nuanced approach.  Marvin Rees, the elected Mayor of Bristol, whilst not condoning the wilful damage of public property said the statue had been a ‘personal affront’ to him and many other people for years and that he ‘did not feel any sense of loss’[3].  As televised interviews for Channel 4 and BBC later that day pushed Rees to give a binary response to questions about the repercussions of the incident, he took the opportunity to lay-out the complexities of the context in which it had occurred. Rees outlined the sensitivities and challenges and the need for an open and honest debate about the history of race and inequality in the city. As the first elected Mayor of Afro-Caribbean descent in Europe, who took up his post in 2016 amidst the effects of the Brexit vote and sustained cuts to local government funding, he needed to mobilise the support of a diverse (and divided) population and a wide range of stakeholders. Whilst he actively supported campaigns to review Colston’s legacy, including a decision to rename the city’s Colston Hall music venue, attempts to remove Colston’s statue (or, at the very least, install a new plaque describing the atrocities that he had committed) had thus far been undermined[4]. With a finite amount of time, resource and political capital, Rees had many other priorities to attend to in order to address the challenges and divisions within the city[5].

Whilst some expressed outrage that the statue was pulled down David Olusoga, Professor of Public History at University of Manchester and a resident of Bristol, pointed out that the real question was why “21st-century Bristol still had a statue of a slave trader on public display” in the first place[6]. To those who suggested that removing Colston’s statue was an attempt to erase the city’s past, he responded “the toppling of Edward Colston’s statue is not an attack on history – it is history”. The legacy of Colston is writ large across the city and will not be forgotten simply because his image no longer gazes down upon those who walk the city’s streets. In an interview for the BBC on the day of the protests Olusoga argued “statues aren’t about history they are about adoration. This man was not great, he was a slave trader and a murderer”[7].

The speed with which other cities across the country have responded by reviewing and removing statues that fail to reflect the multi-cultural nature of contemporary Britain shows that these thoughts are finally being heard[8]. The history of colonisation and slavery that fuelled Britain’s economic, cultural and political influence for many centuries has become woven into the fabric of our institutions and society leaving many of us blind to the day-to-day racism and inequality it perpetuates.

Speaking at the funeral of George Floyd on 9th June Rev. Bill Lawson, who had campaigned alongside Rev. Martin Luther King Jr in the 1960’s, said “back in the days when I used to be part of marches, all the marchers were black, but now there are white people who know the story and there are Hispanics who know the story and there are Asians who know the story”[9].  He went on to say “Out of his [George Floyd’s] death has come a movement, a worldwide movement. But that movement is not going to stop after two weeks, three weeks, a month. That movement is going to change the world.”

The events of the past few weeks have a great deal to tell us about the nature and purpose of good leadership in contemporary society. Firstly, they demonstrate that in the second decade of the 21st Century we are still far from the ‘post-racial’ society that some may claim. The roots of racism go back many years and will no doubt take many more to rectify. The diversity of our workforce and communities is widely acknowledged as a significant source of creativity, innovation and competitive advantage yet the relatively superficial attempts to tackle unconscious bias within organisations barely scratches the surface of the discrimination experienced by black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) individuals on a daily basis. The role of leaders in a progressive, multi-cultural society is to actively foster and promote diversity in all its forms and to dismantle systems, structures and processes that “inhibit the full and equal engagement of all individuals”[10]. This is difficult and demanding work that requires significant time and emotional investment. It requires listening to and learning from the lived experience of others, and to actively champion and support marginalised individuals and groups. To quote Ruth Hunt, former CEO of the LGBT rights organisation Stonewall, “if you have any power whatsoever, think about how you can share it”[11].

Secondly it shows the need for a deep appreciation of context, informed by genuine respect for the plurality of perspectives on any particular issue. The Police Superintendent for Bristol, Andy Bennett, noted that whilst his officers were present when the statue of Colston was removed and pushed into the harbour, a decision was taken not to intervene as doing so was likely to lead to further disorder. In explaining this decision, he said “whilst I’m disappointed people would damage one of our statues, I do understand why it has happened, it is very symbolic” [12].  Bennett, like Rees, demonstrated a nuanced understanding of the issues and the potential for unintended consequences from his actions. Whilst, of course, attention would have been given to the immediate context of the situation it is highly likely that he also considered the wider context of policing and criminal justice within the city.  Bennett and his colleagues had invested considerable time and effort over many years building and strengthening relationships, trust and collaboration between diverse groups and communities and would, no doubt, be well aware of the long-term knock-on effect of heavy-handed policing in a situation such as this. For those protesting that day the statue of Colston was a vivid symbol of oppression and a reminder of the lack of progress that had been made in tackling systemic inequality[13].

And thirdly it demonstrates the importance of genuine, open discussion in mobilising and sustaining social change. Both Rees and Bennett’s response to the incidents in Bristol on 7th June show a real awareness of the importance of shifting the narrative from blame to reconciliation. The day after the protest Bristol City Council announced its intent to create a new exhibition at the city’s MShed Museum featuring placards and banners from the march, most likely alongside the despoiled statue of Edward Colston once retrieved from the harbour. A day later, Rees announced the launch of a new commission to document and share the ‘true history’ of Bristol[14].

Recognition of the disproportionate impact of the Coronavirus pandemic on BAME communities – both in health and economic terms – alongside a growing sense that not enough is being done at national level to address this is, of course, another key part of the backdrop to recent events[15]. At the time of the Black Lives Matter protests, the UK was still experiencing high numbers of infections and deaths from Covid-19 and laws were in place to enforce social distancing and prohibit gatherings of more than six people. The fact that so many people still took to the streets demonstrated the strength of emotion and level of concern about racial inequality.

Following the suffering and disruption caused by Covid-19 and the trauma of George Floyd’s death there is perhaps a glimmer of hope. Back in April Rees argued that the post-Covid recovery in Bristol should focus on building a “more sustainable, more inclusive, more fair and more just” economy and had begun rallying support for this across the city[16]. Indeed, the groundwork for such an approach had already been laid over the past few years through the development of the One City Approach[17] and the launch of the One City Plan in January 2019. This bold vision and action plan was inspired by a similar initiative in New York that set out a long-term strategy, co-produced with diverse communities and stakeholders, to build a thriving and inclusive city aligned with the UN Sustainable Development Goals[18]. The three aspects of inclusive place-based leadership outlined above – allyship, understanding and dialogue – will undoubtedly form the bedrock of Bristol’s recovery plan as it emerges from lockdown into a post-Covid world, hopefully building a stronger sense of shared purpose and commitment to learning from our past and moving forward in a caring and considered way.

Note

Whilst the opinions expressed in this article are my own, they are informed by my work with number of colleagues, including Anita Gulati, Dr. Addy Adelaine, Professor Carol Jarvis and Stella Warren, whose own ideas have greatly influenced my awareness and understanding of leadership and inclusion. My reflections on the leadership of Marvin Rees and Andy Bennett are informed not only by media reports but also through engaging directly with each of them on citywide initiatives, including the Bristol One City Approach, Bristol Leadership Challenge and Bristol Golden Key.


[1] https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2020/jun/08/edward-colston-statue-history-slave-trader-bristol-protest

[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Edward_Colston

[3] https://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/bristol-mayor-edward-colston-statue-black-lives-matter-protest-marvin-rees-a9554646.html

[4] https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-bristol-47670756

[5] https://www.bristol247.com/news-and-features/news/bristol-tale-two-cities/

[6] https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2020/jun/08/edward-colston-statue-history-slave-trader-bristol-protest

[7] https://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/edward-colston-bristol-controversial-statues-uk-cecil-rhodes-a9554421.html

[8] https://www.theguardian.com/world/live/2020/jun/09/uk-protests-black-lives-matter-colston-statue-rhodes-live

[9] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kpOO7OzntN8

[10] https://uwe-repository.worktribe.com/output/852067

[11] https://uwe-repository.worktribe.com/output/5999310  

[12] https://www.bristolpost.co.uk/news/bristol-news/right-wing-people-came-down-4205570

[13] https://www.bristolpost.co.uk/news/bristol-news/how-city-failed-remove-edward-4211771

[14] https://news.bristol.gov.uk/news/bristols-real-story-must-be-told

[15] https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2020/jun/06/labour-accuses-government-of-cover-up-over-bame-covid-19-report

[16] https://www.bristol247.com/news-and-features/news/rees-lets-rebuild-a-fairer-inclusive-and-more-sustainable-economy/

[17] https://www.bristolonecity.com

[18] http://onenyc.cityofnewyork.us