Case Studies at Developing Leadership Capacity Conference

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The Bristol Leadership and Change Centre is hosting the 12th Developing Leadership Capacity Conference (DLCC) on the 12 and 13 July 2022 with some fascinating contributions based around the theme:

‘Leading to Care – Foregrounding Health and Well-being in Leadership Development and Education’.

Over the coming weeks we’ll be sharing some of the abstracts from the contributors to give you an idea of the depth and variety of sessions that are available to attend online over the two-day conference. Register for the free DLCC conference HERE

Case Studies from 13:00 – 14:30 on Tuesday 12 July 2022

The ‘Leadership Squeeze’ – Frictions between Resourceful and Brittle Resilience Strategies

Author: Dr Caroline Rook, Henley Business School

Whereas the factors and components of leader resilience have been studied little is known on how leaders are different from employees in how they
remain resilient at work. In fact, one could argue that the previously established factors (global, fast paced, digital work environment, time and resourced pressured job-tasks, interpersonal issues, lack of downtime; Foerster & Duchek, 2017) are not very different from employees’ experiences of the world of work. Components such as confidence, purposefulness, adaptability, and social support are equally important for employees and leaders in being resilient. However, leaders, as per the definition of being in a position of power to influence others towards goal attainment (Northouse, 2019), have unique
role demands in contrast to employees such as responsibility for challenging organisational performance targets, responsibility for managing teams and their performance and loneliness at the top. Furthermore, contrasting views exists as to whether occupying a leadership role is more or less detrimental to one’s well-being in contrast to being an employee. Some scholars argue that the higher levels of control that leaders possess lead to lower stress levels (e.g.
Mintzberg, 1971). Others argue that the psychosocial demands are so much higher for leaders than for employees that leaders experience lower levels of health than employees (e.g., Campbell Quick, Cooper, Gavin, & Quick, 2008). Insights into leader specific resilience strategies would allow to develop interventions with the right person-intervention fit (Randall & Nielsen, 2012).
Developing meaningful resilience interventions specific to leaders is important as being able to cope with adversity and bounce back (Cooper et al., 2013), i.e. being resilient, is “strategically important organizational behaviour for success, growth, and even survival” (King, Newman, & Luthans, 2016, p. 782) in today’s world of work where stressful situations, performance pressure and setbacks are part of leaders’ work experience.
Furthermore, in order to determine how to support individuals to be resilient,
increasingly, resilience research is uncovering the micro-processes that are happening during coping with adversity and during bouncing back. However, current research is still lacking in two ways in this regard. First, the identified mechanisms of coping with adversity add little if any further insight to a long line of coping literature. Second, the focus remains on individual characteristics such as learning from experience, ability to relax, ability to think optimistically, ability to reflect, ability to act rationally, ability to structure, professional skills, interpersonal communication skills, and social skills (Foerster & Duchek, 2017). It remains unclear how leaders try to cope and bounce back in their unique organisational contexts.
This in-depth inductive study examines how leaders differ from employees in regard to remaining resilient at work and explores what resilience strategies are used by leaders. 31 semi-structured interviews were analysed through inductive thematic content analysis. Three key findings emerged from the leaders’ narratives about their attempts to be resilient: (1) being resilient (in terms of coping with adversity) focused not only on dealing with the challenge (like employees would) but how to engage with the team and organisation while
doing so; (2) whether leaders shared their vulnerability in the coping process or engage in impression management depended on their perception of what a ‘strong’ leader does; and (3) bouncing back strategies involved either long-term focused resource-creating strategies versus short-term focused brittle coping strategies. Implications for leadership well-being interventions, well-being theory and leader identity theory are drawn.

Crisis as Space for Unknowing: Implications for Creative Industry Leadership

Author: Hugh Waters, Bristol Leadership & Change Centre, UWE Bristol

This paper provides a perspective on the development of resilient leadership for creative industry collectives through periods of crisis. Ricoeur (1988) considers that crisis presents a radical openness towards the future and instability concerning the present ‘not knowing any longer what my position within the universe is; not knowing any longer which stable hierarchy of values should guide my preferences; not being able any longer to differentiate between friend and foe’ (Ricoeur, 1988: 54; translation). Such instability offers disruption to leadership and subsequently calls for resilience in the face of vulnerability. It is clear, however, that interpretations of crisis for individuals may well differ temporally and present unknowability. Pearson and Clair highlight that ‘organizational crises are, by definition, infrequent events. When they do occur, organizations are reluctant to open current or past ‘wounds’ to external examination and speculation’ (1998: 74). This suggests that vulnerability is not a favorable position or in revealing a lack of resilience, but it is through such vulnerability and disruption that vital learning and adaption can occur. Building on this view of crisis and of its implications for leadership, this paper asks how the Covid-19 pandemic might be framed as a period of crisis for the creative industries? And, in an attempt to learn from this period of crisis, if, and if so, creative industry collectives are able to develop more resilient leadership through reflexive space?  These questions are essential to our understanding of how resilience acts to overcome fundamental aspects of crises. Emphasis is then given to how action-oriented methodologies provide reflexive space for experiential leadership development.

Communicative Resilience as Reflexive Practice

Communicative resilience as a process provides a basis for understanding how collectives construct meaning, to both define and pursue resilience through collaborative dialog (Buzzanell, 2010). In so doing communicative opportunities are created for ‘individual and collective reflexivity’ (Raelin, 2016: 5), so that people are able to actively engage in shaping ‘new, more collaborative, and inclusive forms of reality’ (Cunliffe, 2009: 409). An unresolvable unknowability is fundamentally important for being reflexive and can help promote more inclusive and equitable forms of managing and organising (Allen, 2017).

It is suggested for something new to emerge the old established way of doing things has to give way (Fiol & Romanelli, 2012). Of interest, is the process by which leadership learning emerges from crises among collectives requiring members to negotiate a new set of practices (Hardy et al., 2005). Interaction provides space for learning and togetherness in unknowing, enabling participants to re-examine their ways of thinking and revise assumptions that inform norms, rules and practices. Communicative spaces alter power dynamics by enhancing participants’ ability to uncover alternative, suppressed, or hidden framings.  Methodologically this paper proposes that for such framings to be surfaced communicative space needs to be created for their observance.

Crisis as Space for Learning

Action learning provides participants with a powerful communicative space, allowing individuals time and space to reflect on where they are feeling ‘stuck’ or confused (Raelin, 2006).  A process of questioning from members seeks to surface particular real-time challenges in relation to crisis with associated complexity or anxiety (Revans, 1982), with set members helping to explore alternative interpretations of those challenges. Group members are best placed to question given a sharedness in challenges faced, where the role of the researcher is merely to offer light facilitation. When participants return to their everyday lives, they are ‘reincorporated’ with an improved understanding of how to apply their learning, and possibly, an improved understanding of themselves as ‘leaders’.  A shared sense of unknowing may present a blank canvas for individuals to make sense of crisis. As such crisis gives rise to new space for ideas to move freely and quickly, necessary for innovation. Thus, resilience is an ongoing communicative process of transformative struggle through periods of disruption (Buzzanell, 2018:15).

Opportunity for Empirical Study

There is limited empirical research which directly observes communicative processes over time in response to crisis. Some limitations centre on the ability of the researcher to seize opportune moments to enter the field of study in a natural way. As such action learning is proposed as a means to observe communicative processes as a means of reflexive practice.  Resilience as a form of learning not only enables a collective to adapt but, in the process, strengthens its capability to overcome future challenges. This over time may manifest as learning and experimentation which leads to emerging practices intended to work towards resilience and through crisis. Communicative resilience is not just about collaborative inquiry into resilience as a process it also involves defining system attributes and properties and developing our capacity to identify appropriate goals and the obstacles to achieving them (Goldstein, 2012). This empirical study takes an action-oriented research approach where participants in real-time use communicative space to identify appropriate goals and the obstacles to achieving them. Powley (2009) suggests that “resilience activation” is dependent on social connections and interpersonal relationships. Whilst this limits our understanding of the natural spaces created in which resilience is developed, the access to such space or level of observation required may appear overly intrusive. The purpose of using action learning as a method allows for the recreation of communicative space both that allows a researcher ready access but also a meaningful use of participants time. 

The Place of Negative Capability in Caring Leadership Practice

Authors: Charlotte von Bülow & Peter Simpson, Bristol Business School, UWE Bristol

The poet, Keats, described Negative Capability, as when a person ‘is capable of being in uncertainties, Mysteries, doubts, without any irritable reaching after fact & reason’ (Gittings, 1970, p.43). We interpret this as a way of being that is accessible to us when we let go of our attachments to thinking, feeling, and doing. In this presentation we consider self-care in leadership practice at the level of being and the deeper links with Negative Capability.

We draw upon ancient traditions of exercises for the inner work of self-care. For example, self-examination was a practice deeply embedded in the early cultures of India and Egypt, contributing to an early form of life-long learning, giving a person a sense of meaning and direction in life (Hadot, 2004). Indicating why this is worthy of particular attention in relation to Negative Capability, Hadot (1995, p.127) makes clear that these traditions were concerned not merely with the development of the individual as a thinking, doing, and feeling subject, but comprises a range of developmental exercises that ‘have as their goal… the metamorphosis of our being.’

We also draw upon Foucault’s (1997) related review of the ancient practices of ‘Care of the Self’ (heautou epimeleisthai) and recent literature has indicated its potential relevance to organisation studies (see Raffsnøe, Mennicken, & Miller, 2019) and leadership practice (Bülow & Simpson, 2020; Tomkins, 2020). Reminiscent of Keats’ deep reflections throughout his letters, this is a practice of philosophical inquiry into self.

Hadot (1995, p. 84) categorises the ancient exercises as meditations, ‘remembrances of good things’, intellectual exercises (e.g., reading, listening, research, and investigation), and more active exercises (e.g., self-mastery, accomplishment of duties, and indifference to indifferent things). These themes have emerged in recent literature, including Mirvis (2008), who argues, 

… experiences that stimulate introspection and include time and space for ‘inner work,’ whether in the forms of reflection, meditation, prayer, or journaling, can all deepen one’s sense-of-self. (2008, p. 175) 

This list might suggest practices that pander to the solipsistic concerns of some modern approaches to personal and professional development (Tomkins and Ulus, 2015). On the contrary, Foucault is clear that this practice is not selfish and ‘is not an exercise in solitude, but a true social practice’ (1990, p. 51). Hadot states that these developmental practices also ‘have as their goal the transformation of our vision of the world…’ (Hadot 1995, p. 127) – a theme that relates to a leadership practice not of defining purpose but of being open to an emerging sense of purpose. A transformation can occur not only at the level of being but also in the way in which things are seen. The exercises are designed to give a new perspective on the world and to develop a capacity for a heightened quality of attention that is inherently social: ‘the work of oneself on oneself and communication with others are linked together’ (Foucault, 1990, p. 51). 

There are several related experiential learning processes that have seen something of a renaissance in recent years (Hay & Samra-Fredericks, 2019; Purser & Milillo, 2015). However, the interpretation of these practices and the motivation for their use is often linked to short-term outcomes or guided by a ‘blind trust in an exclusively economic view of business and the world’ (Colby et al., 2011, p. 29). This tends to foster a remedial focus at the level of need (e.g., stress management, career development, problem resolution). Whilst important as aspects of self-care, Negative Capability offers the potential for a developmental transformation in our vision of the world and at the level of our being.

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