Ameliorative work: Women electronic music artists’ responses to gender-based discrimination

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In this seminar which took place online on 12 May 2022, Professor Samantha Parsley (University of Portsmouth) and Dr Marjana Johansson (University of Glasgow) presented their recent paper which explores gender-based discrimination in the electronic music industry. Based on data collected for a larger project on women DJ producers, the paper takes as its starting point the gendered conditions, characteristics and lived experience of work in the cultural industries. Specifically, the paper examines the invisible labour that women artists perform as they negotiate opportunities and manage their reputation and careers in this male-dominated creative occupation. The paper introduces the concept ‘ameliorative work’ to analyse both individual and collective efforts by women to survive and thrive in the industry. In so doing it responds to recent initiatives to increase gender diversity in the music industry and highlights a sector of the creative industries that has so far received limited research attention.

You can watch the full recording here;

Is Higher Education Broken? An online seminar with Professor Richard Watermeyer

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Last week Bristol Leadership & Change Centre was delighted to host an online seminar with Richard Watermeyer, Professor of Higher Education and Co-Director of the Centre for Higher Education Transformations at the University of Bristol. He is by training and orientation, a sociologist of higher education with expertise related especially to academic praxis; institutional and research governance; scientific accountability and engagement; and higher education policy reform.

In this presentation Richard Watermeyer (University of Bristol) presented empirical findings from research undertaken as part of the Digital Futures of Work programme. He discussed the challenges faced by universities in adapting to global digital transformation, accelerated by the pandemic, and as relates specifically to their role as producers of graduate talent. He reflected on ‘disruption’ to a global higher education marketplace associated with (i) limitations of universities’ digital capabilities and concerns of a widening mismatch of their educational offering with evolving skills needs and (ii) claims of the weakening of their contribution to social mobility. The role of EdTech organisations as intermediary entities and private online ‘affordable’ universities were discussed as ‘challengers’ to the status quo, and so too, alternative models of public higher education being pursued in European and North American settings that focus on experiential, entrepreneurial, customizable and flexible forms of learning. Richard also debated the leadership role of public universities in servicing the ‘public good’ at a time where their public worth is increasingly contested.

You can watch the full seminar recording here;

Connect with Richard on Twitter HERE

HIV Programme Management and Service Delivery in Zimbabwe

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Bristol Leadership and Change Centre‘s Professor Peter Case recently returned from Bulawayo, Zimbabwe, where he helped run a series of workshops linked to a project funded by a Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation grant and being delivered in collaboration with researchers from the University of California, San Francisco. The project, which Peter co-leads, is entitled ‘Optimizing Stakeholder Operating Models for HIV Prevention in Zimbabwe’ (OPTIMISE, for short) and has been running since June 2020. It aims to assist the Ministry of Health and Child Care (MOHCC) to improve HIV prevention programme management and service delivery. The workshops took place between 4-8th April and marked a mid-stream opportunity to review progress to date and plan activities for the remainder of the project. Using participative action research as the main approach to leading change, the intervention seeks to integrate HIV prevention services (which are typically funded by a variety of external donors) and move them forward in a more effective and sustainable way in relation to MOHCC strategy.

The workshops involved reviewing progress with HIV health professionals representing five pilot districts in Matabeleland South, Matabeleland North and Manicaland provinces. The national director the MOHCC HIV Programme, Dr Murunguni, and his deputy were present to hear and comment on the progress updates, as were Provincial Medical Directors and other senior administrators. There was also workshop representation from key INGO partners, such as, the Clinton Health Access Initiative and Population Services International, as well as the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and prospective future donors, including the U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief and the Joint UN Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS). District-level research groups highlighted key improvements to service delivery that had been achieved to date and discussed the results of ‘user research’ presented by the UCSF/UWE team. The events were a great success, with strong endorsements for the OPTIMISE project coming from the MOHCC and the prospect of future funding to expand the work stemming from the review exercise.

On the final day of events, 18 healthcare professionals associated with the OPTIMISE project and enrolled on FBL/UWE’s Post-Graduate Certificate in Professional Practice in Change Leadership (PPCL) had to opportunity to present and report on independent project work that they had completed as part of their degree. The module is being delivered in collaboration with a local HE provider, the Women’s University in Africa, and, as evidenced by the project presentations, is contributing significantly to the strengthening of leadership and management capabilities of Zimbabwe’s HIV Programme staff. Thanks go to the UWE/WUA local tutors, Dr Greyling Viljoen and Dr Priscilla Mataure, for their help in delivering the PPCL presentation workshop. The team is also grateful to Katie Joyce, UWE PPCL module leader, for her support. As with the workshop outcomes, the presentations were very well received by senior MOHCC colleagues and the project donor.

Build Back Better….With Care and Compassion

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Written by Professor Richard Bolden, UWE Bristol, 23/03/2022 for the International Leadership Association

It is now over two years since the arrival of Covid-19, which plunged much of the world into lockdown and caused immense social and economic disruption and loss. On 11th March 2020, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the outbreak a pandemic and as of 22nd March 2022, there have been over 470 million recorded cases and 6.1 million Covid-related deaths worldwide (World Health Organization, n.d.).

As governments in London, Washington D.C., and elsewhere call to “build back better,” and numerous organizations follow suit, it is easy to become so focussed on the future that we forget what we’ve been through. Without doubt, now is a time of both opportunity and need, but levels of physical and emotional exhaustion are at an all-time high. A report published in March 2022 notes a 25% increase in the prevalence of anxiety and depression worldwide since the outbreak of the pandemic (World Health Organization, 2022). The impacts of Covid, however, are not equally distributed. We are, of course, now painfully aware of the disproportionate impact of the virus on people of Black, Asian, Indigenous, and minority ethnic backgrounds, but the lasting effects on them and other populations are harder to discern (Tai et al., 2021). Research on staff who worked in intensive care units at the height of the Covid-19 pandemic, for example, shows a 40% likelihood of developing post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) — twice that of military veterans recently engaged in combat (Greenberg et al., 2021).

Over the past year, I have had the opportunity to work with professionals from a range of contexts and have been struck by the levels of exhaustion reported. This is particularly prominent amongst people working in health and care — many of whom had to keep working through the pandemic, often on the Covid “frontline” facing considerable personal risk and witnessing unimaginable trauma. In a series of reflective sensemaking discussions I had with staff from the National Health Service in England in Spring/Summer 2021, people compared their experiences to “clinging to a lifeboat” following a shipwreck or “being thrown out of a perfectly good airplane without a parachute.” A veteran from the UK armed forces, now working as an NHS Manager, described the height of the pandemic as worse than anything he had witnessed during the Helmand province campaign in Afghanistan. Another participant, a Black female NHS administrator, described her experiences of working through the pandemic whilst her brother and three other family members passed away, summing up with the observation that “This year has been about so much more than work!”

The emotional labour (Hochschild, 1983) of “putting on a brave face” and telling others “we can get through this” is an additional burden that has been carried. As one NHS leader said:

One day feels everything is doom and gloom and you know you’ve got a huge burden to try to deal with… and then you are trying to be optimistic as the leader… the rest of the staff look to you and how you’re coping, which often has been a huge influence on how the rest of the team are feeling… so you often have to wear a full smile and you know, the false positive to say “you know we can get through this.” You know try and support each other, But you’re carrying that burden yourself and it can be feeling very isolating.

More recent discussions with staff from higher education institutions around the world paint a similar picture, albeit usually without the same degree of personal risk (Parkin et al., 2021). Nonetheless, people describe the immense turbulence and uncertainty of the past two years and the repeated need to adapt to changing circumstances and demands. Whilst some might question the accuracy of such accounts, it is worth noting that the PwC Global Crisis Survey 2021 ranks the higher education sector as the second hardest hit by the pandemic (just behind hospitality and leisure), with 83% of organisations reporting a “negative” or “significant negative” impact (PwC, 2021).

In a TED talk titled The Human Skills We Need in an Unpredictable World, recorded just six months before the outbreak of the pandemic, Margaret Heffernan (2019) contrasts resilience with robustness. Her argument is that sectors such as healthcare, law and order, and the supply of essential services such as food, water, and energy, need to focus not just on the ability to get back up after a set-back but on the ability not to break under pressure in the first place. In order to do this, she suggests, we must abandon our obsession with efficiency and focus instead on “preparedness, coalition-building, imagination, experiments, bravery” that underpin our “capacity for adaptation, variation and invention.”

This is precisely what many organizations are now doing — including the healthcare and higher education institutions mentioned earlier — but in the wake of the pandemic there is a further “R” that requires attention. The physical and emotional exhaustion that now permeates many workplaces and communities also requires a significant investment in recovery. I’m not talking here of the economic recovery stressed by politicians and business leaders (although that is undoubtedly important) but of the slow and challenging process of human healing. In order to achieve this, we need to move beyond a rhetoric of “compassion” to a genuine “ethic of care” that “reconnects experiences across the so-called work-life boundary” (Tomkins & Simpson, 2017).

Recognition of the pain and suffering that accompanies change is not new. Indeed, Heifetz and colleagues (2009) made precisely this point when outlining their theory of adaptive leadership, arguing that “Honoring the reality that adaptive processes will be accompanied by distress means having compassion for the pain that comes with deep change” (p. 29). West and colleagues (2017), writing on compassionate leadership in healthcare, conclude that “In order to nurture a culture of compassion, organisations require their leaders — as the carriers of culture — to embody compassion in their leadership” (p. 4). Yet, as Maak and colleagues (2021), reflecting on insights from the pandemic, argue “It cannot be overstated, how demanding it is for a leader to make space for human moments, and to be present for and attentive to those who suffer in a situation in which pressure on the leader is relentless” (p. 74).

At a time when we are still figuring out how best to move forward from the pandemic it is worth remembering the saying, “In a world where you can be anything, be kind.” Kindness and compassion require a conscious choice — to look beyond our own preoccupations to consider the perspectives and experiences of others. The mobilization of groups and communities throughout the pandemic, as well as the near global solidarity and support shown for the Ukrainian population following the unprovoked attack by Russia, demonstrate our capacity for empathy and care. The question now remains how we can carry this forward. Then, and only then, will we have demonstrated our capacity to “build back better.”

Interested in learning more about this topic? On 12-13 July 2022, the Bristol Leadership and Change Centre will be hosting the 12th Developing Leadership Capacity Conference, with a theme of “Leading to Care – Foregrounding Health and Well-being in Leadership Development and Education.” Confirmed keynote speakers include Michael West and Leah Tomkins (mentioned above) as well as Tracie Jolliff. The event will be run online with no registration fee in order to enable wide attendance. The call for papers is now open. The extended deadline to submit is 3rd May. Further details at


Greenberg, N., Weston, D., Hall, C., Caulfield, T., Williamson, V., & Fong, K. (2021). Mental Health of Staff Working in Intensive Care During Covid-19. Occupational Medicine, 71(2), 62–67.

Heffernan, M. (2019 July). The Human Skills We Need in an Unpredictable World [Video]. TEDSummit2019.

Heifetz, R. A., Linsky, M., & Grashow, A. (2009). The Practice of Adaptive Leadership: Tools and Tactics for Changing Your Organization and the World. Harvard Business Press.

Hochschild, A. R. (1983). The Managed Heart: Commercialization of Human Feeling. University of California Press.

Maak, T., Pless, N. M., & Wohlgezogen, F. (2021). The Fault Lines of Leadership: Lessons From the Global Covid-19 Crisis. Journal of Change Management, 21(1), 66–86.

Parkin, D., Bolden, R., Watermeyer, R., & Outhart, K. (2021 December 16). Perspectives on Leadership in Global Higher Education – Reflections From the Roundtables.

PwC. (2021 March). Global Crisis Survey 2021: Building Resilience for the Future

Tai, D.B.G., Sia, I.G., Doubeni, C.A., & Wieland, M.L. (2021, October 13). Disproportionate Impact of COVID-19 on Racial and Ethnic Minority Groups in the United States: A 2021 Update. Journal of Racial and Ethnic Health Disparities

Tomkins, L., & Simpson, P. (2017). An Ethic of Care: Reconnecting the Private and the Public. In D. Knights, & C. Mabey (Eds.), Leadership Matters: Finding Voice, Connection and Meaning in the 21st Century (pp. 89-101). Routledge.

West, M., Eckert, R., Collins, B., & Chowla, R. (2017). Caring to Change. The Kings Fund.

World Health Organization. (n.d.) WHO Coronavirus (COVID-19) Dashboard as of 5:27pm CET, 22 March 2022.

World Health Organization. (2022, March 2). COVID-19 Pandemic Triggers 25% Increase in Prevalence of Anxiety and Depression Worldwide.

Monologue and Organization Studies

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The following blog includes excerpts taken from a recent journal article written Professor Peter Case recently published an article (co-authored with Michal Izak and Sierk Ybema) entitled ‘Monologue and Organization Studies’, in the reputable journal Organization Studies. The article offers a critique of the dominant dialogical view of organizational communication and argues that instances of one-way communication have been neglected because of existing analytical prejudices. 

Recent decades have witnessed a blossoming of explanatory frameworks for understanding organizations and management. Quite how we arrived at a status quo that privileges dialogue as a dominant perspective for both the descriptive and normative understanding of organization is an interesting question. Our conjecture is that one way of understanding its origins is to view its emergence against the backdrop of post-World War II political dynamics. Cold War politics led to a geopolitical standoff between the democratic principles of what we now think of as liberal democracy and, as positioned by Western powers, the freedom-stifling autocracy of the Soviet Union and Maoist Communism of a newly formed People’s Republic of China. The values of purportedly democratic systems made space for, and normatively privileged dialogue in contrast to single party authoritarianism that actively suppressed any talking back, so to speak. At least this was the Western discourse during this period; a discourse which ultimately ‘prevailed’ with the dissolution of the Soviet Union, the establishment of what was hailed in the late 1980s as the Washington Consensus (Williamson, 2004) and geopolitical developments that some celebrated as the end of history (Fukuyama, 1992).

It was within this political climate and context, we contend, that dialogism in the fields of organization studies and organization theory began to emerge and flourish.

In this essay for Organization Studies, we problematize the dominant construal of organization and organizing in dialogic terms and introduce a complementary point of reference: that of monologic organization. Recent work in management and organization studies is typically inclined to understand both organization and the act of organizing as entailing processes that are ‘polyvocal’, ‘polyphonic’ and ‘multi-authored’.  From this vantage point, organization is essentially dialogic in form and profoundly dynamic, propelled by active human sense-makers. As illustrated by research into communication, the notion of a multiplicity of voices, and of a dialogue between them, has become a favoured organizational image within organizational research, as well as a paradigm for recent theorizing. We begin by briefly exploring the underlying assumptions of what we characterize as a dialogic perspective. Specifically, we discuss three dominating features of dialogicity in the context of organization theory: plurality, reciprocity and liquidity. In order to create analytic sensitivity to non-dialogic features of organization, we first draw on the classic work of Mikhail Bakhtin to inform our understanding of the relationship between dialogic and monologic organization. Whereas Bakhtin’s original distinction begets a certain balance between dialogic and monologic forms of communication, we want to make a stand for ‘monologue’ and ‘dialogue’ as different images of organization inspiring different ways of seeing and analysing. This provides the grounds for analysing bodies of work developed predominantly in line with the dialogic view. Having established the limitations of the dialogic perspective, we then propose monologic organization as an alternative image for understanding the (lack of) dynamics in semantically immobile or structurally bureaucratic organizational frameworks. We provide micro, meso and macro level examples – pertaining, respectively, to (1) experience of ostensibly creative work rendered artless, (2) spiritual organization and (3) an authoritarian political regime – in order to discuss the heuristic potential of a monologic view.

End of the Age of Arrogance?

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Written by Professor Richard Bolden, UWE, Bristol, 14/01/2022 for the International Leadership Association

“In reality they all lived in a kind of hieroglyphic world, where the real thing was never said or done or even thought, but only represented by a set of arbitrary signs.”

Edith Wharton, The Age of Innocence, 1920

Over the past few weeks a series of stories have dominated news headlines around the world that, whilst in different contexts, bear a number of striking similarities.

The first of these concerns revelations about a string of parties hosted at 10 Downing Street during the pandemic. Whilst Prime Minister Boris Johnson has consistently attempted to deflect allegations and blame, arguing that these were work events and that Covid restrictions were followed at all times, the public and indeed his own party have become increasingly frustrated by his unwillingness to apologise and take responsibility, and his apparent disregard for the rules that he and colleagues had imposed across the country.

The second regards the ability of unvaccinated tennis star Novak Djokovic to enter Australia to play in the Australian Open. For Djokovic this would enable him not only to defend his title but also to potentially achieve the highest ever number of Grand Slam titles in men’s tennis. His Visa application, however, has been contested on the basis of him breaching Australian Immigration rules around COVID vaccination status, as well as an error in the reporting of prior travel on his Visa form.

And the third relates to whether or not Prince Andrew will face trial for alleged illegal sexual activity. Needless to say, the Prince has consistently denied these allegations – publicly stating that he’d never met his accuser (despite photographic evidence to the contrary) and even taking part in a televised interview where he endorsed his position by stating that he was ‘unable to sweat’ and was picking up his daughter from pizza restaurant on the evening of one of the suggested incidents (despite no substantive evidence to support either claim).

Headlines on the BBC News website, at 11:00 on 14/01/2022

These stories have been widely reported, not just in mainstream media but also through the internet and social media where each has fuelled a storm of opinion and memes. Despite their obvious differences, what each of these stories has in common is the sense that people in positions of power and influence believe that they are free to operate beyond the rules that govern the ways that others are expected to live their lives. Whilst these are just the latest in a long history of examples of privilege and inequality what is notable this time is the turning tide of public opinion. Whilst there remain those that support and defend the protagonists our collective willingness to forgive and forget is in rapid decline. In each case people are frustrated not just by the incidents themselves but the lack of respect that the continued avoidance of accountability demonstrates. Trust has been broken and, whatever the outcome of any of these sagas, will be difficult to rebuild – not just for the individuals themselves but also the institutions they represent.

Together, these cases illustrate the reciprocal and relational nature of leadership. As Professor Joanne Ciulla argues: “Leadership is not a person or a position. It is a complex moral relationship between people, based on trust, obligation, commitment, emotion, and a shared vision of the good.”[i] In each of these examples the moral foundation of these individuals (and their institutions) has been brought into question, which erodes their credibility, authority and ability to influence others.

Linked to this is the sense of one set of rules for them and another set of rules of the rest of us. A fundamental premise of the social identity approach is that leaders must demonstrate that ‘we’re in this together’. Professor Stephen Reicher and colleagues have spoken particularly about the need for identity-based leadership through the pandemic and highlighted the consequences of failing to do so[ii]. The (post) pandemic situation is particularly pertinent in the cases of Boris Johnson and Novak Djokovic where the tough lockdown conditions and personal loss endured by populations in the UK and Australia make breaches of the regulations – and the apparently dismissive ways in which they have been responded to – particularly egregious.

These cases also highlight the complex, systemic nature of leadership and the need to focus attention on small details as well as broader patterns[iii]. Whilst Boris Johnson, for example, may have weathered many a storm during his career an overt breach of Covid regulations may well be enough to unseat him his position in parliament (much as it has for others in the government). For Djokovic, a failure to complete his Visa application correctly may put pay to his ambitions to win the 2022 Australian Open. And whilst not wishing to defend his actions, differences between legal systems in the UK and USA may have contributed to Prince Andrew being indictable for alleged crimes in New York.

Overall, these stories demonstrate shifting social trends around our relationship with and deference towards people in positions of power and authority. Whilst I believe we are still far from a world of ‘post-heroic leadership’, our collective tolerance for people who appear arrogant, or elitist appears to be waning. As leadership scholars, educators and practitioners, however, we must also be careful not to be drawn in the polarizing vortex of opinion that such stories fuel. Whilst these particular examples may be playing out in public view – exposing the sordid intricacies for all to see – we must also remain alert for the stories that remain hidden from view. On the day that I am writing this article, for example, the journalist Carole Cadwalladr is appearing in the High Court to defend her decision to publish and share her account of the ways in which Trump, Farage, Banks and others used Facebook to spread misinformation to influence the outcome of Brexit vote[iv]. Such cases are risky and expensive yet, unless people are willing to speak-up we may find democracy slipping away.

I began this article with a quote from Edith Wharton’s Pulitzer Prize winning novel ‘The Age of Innocence’, which highlighted the tensions and ambiguities within a world undergoing social and political change. There are many that would argue we are at a similar turning point in history – facing the combined challenges of COVID-19, climate change, and social inequality that call for a reappraisal of who ‘we’ are, what ‘we’ stand for and who ‘we’ are willing to follow. In the words of Wharton, if we are not content with the answers that we find then we have the capacity to redraw the boundaries within which we find ourselves.

“Who’s ‘they’? Why don’t you all get together and be ‘they’ yourselves?”

Edith Wharton, The Age of Innocence, 1920

[i] Ciulla, J. B. (ed.) (1998) Ethics: The Heart of Leadership. Westport, CT: Quorum. P. xv.

[ii] See, for example, Jetten, J., Reicher, S., Haslam, S.A. and Crowys, T. (2020) Together Apart: The Psychology of COVID-19. London: Sage.

[iii] See, for example, French, R. and Simpson, P. (2014). Attention, Cooperation, Purpose: An approach to working in groups using insights from Wilfred Bion. Karnac.

[iv] For further details see and

Organizational Ethnography: An Experiential & Practical Guide

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Jenna Pandeli, Hugo Gaggiotti and Neil Sutherland are over the moon to announce that their edited book ‘Organizational Ethnography: An Experiential and Practical Guide‘ will be available from 18th February this year! The book gives a first-hand insight into ‘doing’ ethnography, providing a toolkit that prepares ethnographers for the uncertainties and realities of fieldworking. They include chapters on different types of ethnographies, as well as analysis, all while reflecting on their experiences and practice. 

They wanted to provide a range of voices from people at different stages of their ethnographic journey so the book includes chapters from PhD students just starting out with ethnography where their experiences are raw and new, as well as seasoned ethnographers who are able to draw on a wide range of ethnographic experience. This has been a real labour of love for them all and they are delighted that ethnography is clearly such a hit in the Faculty of Business and Law as two of the chapters are authored by fantastic UWE colleagues, Sarah-Louise Weller and Chloe Tarrabain.

They are really proud of this book and its transparent approach to talking about research methods and they have received some lovely reviews from John Van Maanen, Paul Atkinson and Sudhir Venkatesh.

Organizational Ethnography sets a new standard for scholarly reflection and theoretical inquiry. The editors have assembled a smart and engaging set of essays on ethnographic methods in diverse organizational contexts. Readers will find traditional topics assessed with a fresh lens, as well as some issues – exiting the field, studying sensitive issues – that have received far less attention than they deserve. For newcomers to the craft as well as seasoned practitioners, this volume on “hanging out” in organizations is a must read.’
Sudhir Venkatesh, Columbia University, USA

‘This is a carefully edited collection of fresh and lively accounts of various phases and stages of ethnographic research in contemporary organizational settings – from planning a study, to carrying it out, to exiting the field, to writing it up. Central to each of the selections are the troubles a particular ethnographic stance presents to the researcher – many unseen at the outset of a study – and the disparate ways researchers have come up with in dealing with these vexing difficulties. These are personalized stories about the practical doing of ethnography – tales that are typically elided from the rather condensed and sanitized renderings of how a given study was accomplished that appear in print. That canonical ethnographic means and ends are necessarily strained and stretched in the flickering, messy, chaotic, emotionally laden and initially unknown surroundings and circumstances that a study seeks to tame is a reoccurring theme in these accounts. This is a work that will appeal to seasoned as well as novice researchers interested how the ethnographers of various backgrounds have dealt with the inherent uncertainties of their trade.’
John Van MaanenEmeritus Professor, MIT (Work and Organization Studies Group), USA

‘Ethnographic research is flourishing in a wide variety of social settings, and in an equally diverse range of disciplines. With a broad understanding of organisational ethnography, this collection of essays amply displays all that variety. It also captures the remarkable range of approaches – methodological and personal – that characterise contemporary field research. The contributing authors are frank in acknowledging the personal, ethical and intellectual challenges of ethnographic fieldwork, but they also convey the immense satisfaction to be gained from such research. They offer a close look under the bonnet, to see some of the things that lie behind published ethnographic research. Readers will be engaged, informed and confronted by the essays in this collection. It will be an invaluable resource for students and more experienced ethnographers alike.’
Paul AtkinsonEmeritus Professor, Cardiff University, UK

The Unleadership Movement: Catching the Wave – Being alert to the possibility of NOW!

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The Unleadership Movement is a growing collaboration of practitioners and scholars from public, private and voluntary sectors. The movement seeks to reflect upon leaderly practices that have been illuminated during the Covid-19 pandemic. Its mission is to establish how this learning can be taken forward by participants to make an impact in their organisations and communities. In this month’s blog we focus on catching the wave – exploring how unleaders use their intuition to take action in a timely manner to make change. 

As we are writing in January, let’s mention New Year’s Resolutions! Whether you are a firm believer or whether you resist making pledges that may be broken, you will all have a sense of the time being fundamentally right – or wrong. You might describe this as “gut feeling” or “sixth sense” or perhaps it’s just beyond description.  

Traditional approaches to leadership advocate a more planned approach to decision making; taking action based on deductive or inductive processes. Using general established and accepted “facts” to deduce a conclusion for a particular scenario or noticing specifics of a situation and collecting enough data to generalise and induce a solution based on the evidence.  These approaches to using top-down theorising, collecting evidence and making rational decisions are what is generally expected of heroic leaders. They plan, assess and review in order to align resources and direct followers to take action based on rationality and logic. During the pandemic leaders took control in exceptional circumstances and created grand plans to execute solutions to the PPE supply challenges, infection control and community support.   

But as plans were created and data was gathered, others were taking small scale actions to make a difference. Fashion designers were banding together to make scrubs, teenagers were printing 3D masks, restaurants were using waste food to feed those in need. Action was being taken in a timely manner without data, evidence or strategies. These actions seem to have been guided by an innate desire to act, driven by values where a need was sensed. Unleaders were using “gut feel” or abductive reasoning –  probably most akin to informed guessing in practical terms – which was described by Charles Sanders Pierce in 1929 as “This singular guessing instinct”.  Our most famous example of an abductionist in literature is the detective Sherlock Holmes.  

So how can we use abduction in the workplace to take timely action? What stops us? In our workshops barriers were discussed such as risk averse cultures, a preference for logical reasoning and a lack of recognition that there is value in a mix of decision-making styles.  How could we enable ourselves to use abductive reasoning more in our workplaces? By not waiting for permission to be given, but to act, making space to reflect on ways of taking action, listening to others’ opinions, by seeing value created in different ways, and being clear on what adds value to our purpose. Through these experiments, it was felt that there could be potential for more information sharing, more proactivity, more problem solving and perhaps more communication in decision making. We also reflected on finding the right time was to use this approach; through being clear around risks, where we can add value and our own skills and experience. The group considered how different types of reasoning can complement each other and facilitate timely action being taken.

We decided that we could give ourselves permission to:

Give ourselves freedom to make decisions with incomplete information.

Reflect before acting – be creative.

Be prepared to fail and learn.

Focus on our purpose and intention.

Say no – to disrupt, make mischief and play.

Look at new opportunities.

Thinking about the worst-case scenario.

Deferring to hegemonic leadership styles.

Not ask permission.

Think outside of the box and be brave.

Focus on the bright spots.

Bring people together.

Delight in ideas. Develop ourselves.

So next time you have a decision to make, what will you do? Will you reflect on how you might take more timely action? Can you catch the wave? Share your thoughts with us!

Carol, Kay, Selen and Hugo @The Unleadership Movement


Twitter: @Unleadership_

Routledge Focus on Team Academy – 4 Book Series

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This blog post is written by Berrbizne Urzelai

Why This Book Series, and Why Now?

The idea of publishing a Team Academy (TA) book for me started back in 2017 when I began working in the UK, because I could see that there were many differences between how TA was run in Mondragon (Basque Country) and at UWE (UK). In November that year, I met with an editor from Routledge and shared some of my ideas which he became excited about. However, it was not until March 2018 that I really started to put some ideas together for the project. I was already in touch with Elinor Vettraino, co-editor of this series, at that time as we were working on several cross-university projects and I remember a conversation I had with her over dinner in Finland in January 2018 (Timmiakatemia’s 25th Anniversary). Essentially, we were discussing why it was that not many people knew about TA even within our institutions. How could it be possible that we were not using the amazing global network more effectively?

In June 2018, the Team Academy UK community had their annual meeting event – the TAUK Gathering. During this connection, a number of team coaches met and reflected together about how research could actually inform our team coaching practice, programme design, pedagogical thinking, etc. We were keen to organise a Team Learning Conference where we could invite people from TA but also other EE practitioners and academics to present their work and share their knowledge. At this point, we realised that we had an opportunity to pool our interests together and publish a book for dissemination as well as organise a conference to share knowledge and practice.

I was about to go on maternity leave so I thought… this is the moment! I need to do something during this time, so let’s work on the book proposal. I created a call for chapters and started reaching out to people from the network to invite them to send us an abstract. The response was great and we ended up working on a proposal that had too many chapters so Routledge suggested a book series instead. We didn’t want to leave people out of this so we thought let’s do it!

The rest, as they say, is history!

What is it about?

The series includes more than 35 chapters from contributors all over the world (Spain, UK, Finland, France, Tanzania, Brazil, Argentina, Japan, Switzerland, etc.). The aim of the series is to compile the different research, experiences, and stories about the Team Academy phenomenon throughout its worldwide network.

Book 1, Team Academy and Entrepreneurship Education examines the place and purpose of the TA model in entrepreneurship education, and indicates how and why the model has grown in popularity and interest over the last 3 decades.

Book 2, Team Academy in Practice focuses on different contexts and learning environments in which TA pedagogical and cultural practices coalesce, through the stories, experiences and research of those engaged in the practice.

Book 3, Team Academy: Leadership and Teams, investigates topics such as the ways in which learners on programmes based on this learning-by-doing model attempt to navigate the complexity of leadership and team dynamics, whilst understanding their place and impact on the processes involved.

Book 4, Team Academy in Diverse Settings offers the readers critical considerations on how TA has inspired different settings and how it has been implemented in different contexts (disciplines, industries, non-HE settings, etc.) and cultures, creating a legacy by those who have engaged with the process.

More information HERE


Averting Climate Catastrophe: Where next after COP26?

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Richard Bolden and Charlotte von Bulow, December 2021

With over forty thousand registered delegates from almost 200 countries the 26th UN Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COP26), held in Glasgow from 31 October to 12 November 2021, was the largest yet. Amongst those in attendance were 120 heads of state and despite scepticism about the likelihood of securing a meaningful agreement a last-minute deal was struck that calls for “the phasedown of unabated coal power and phase-out of inefficient fossil fuel subsidies”(1). Nevertheless, it is widely acknowledged that we are currently on track to significantly exceed the 1.5oC threshold, beyond which global warming is likely to produce catastrophic outcomes across much of the world, including sea level rises, extreme weather and the destruction of habitats and ecosystems.

Bristol Leadership and Change Centre has hosted two online seminars to consider the opportunities and challenges for/of COP26 and the implications for leadership, collaboration and care in the face of climate change more widely. In the first event, held five days before the start of the summit, Charlene Collison and Professor Jonathan Gosling shared their thoughts on key issues and questions that would need to be addressed during COP26 in order to achieve a successful outcome. A blog post outlining this discussion has already been posted. In this current blog we outline discussions at the second seminar, hosted on 8th December.  

The event began with a conversation between Jonathan Gosling and Steve Martineau, a member of the team appointed by the UK High-Level Climate Action Champion for COP26 Nigel Topping. Steve began by discussing the background to this work and the role of the Climate Action Champions in representing the voices of business and other communities in the discussions. He illustrated this by characterising the national governments as vertical systems, with business, finance, etc. as horizontal systems that intersect these at a global level.

“The Paris Agreement is fundamentally an agreement between national governments, and if we think of each of those national governments as a vertical in the global system, we’re there really to represent the horizontal systems that run across those – so it’s not just business but can be civil society to some extent, it can be education systems, it can be finance systems – so all those horizontal systems that represent different parts of society and the economy that need to transform at the global level … those voices need to be heard loud enough for it to be effective.”

Steve stressed the importance of engaging these groups in both shaping and implementing the transformations required to tackle global warming, citing a number of examples of where businesses were actively driving change in their respective sectors. In such cases, sometimes as a result of demand from customers as well as the need to recruit and retain staff, sustainability is directly linked to business performance and success. Steve mentioned the ‘ambition loop’ whereby, rather than simply responding to government regulation and legislation, business and organisations are demanding positive change from their governments to level the playing field and to disincentivise unsustainable business practices.

The conversation concluded with Jonathan asking Steve about the role of political activists and protest groups during the COP26 talks.

“I think those voices are more important than ever… It’s really important that the widest possible community of individuals communicate their appetite for change… to give confidence to elected politicians… and for CEOs of companies to know that this is what their staff want… Nigel Topping was keen to say that those voices of protest in Glasgow were a very important part of the mix because the decision makers need to be repeatedly reminded that an awful lot of people out there want to see the change happen.”

Following this discussion, Charlene Collison shifted our attention to the impacts of climate change on local communities and individuals around the world. She did this by highlighting that even with the agreements at COP26 we are on track for a 2.5oC increase in global temperatures – well beyond that experienced through human history. To illustrate the challenges this will cause, Charlene presented findings from the Cotton 2040  project she has been leading for Forum for the Future. The cotton sector employs around 350 million people in farming and production alone and is a truly global industry. As such, it provides important insights into the effects of climate change for agriculture, employment and business models more widely.

Charlene began by showing the Climate Risk Explorer Tool developed for this project that highlights a range of climate hazards facing the Cotton Industry, including reduced growing season, heat stress, drought, rainfall, flooding, wildfire and landslides. This is a sobering assessment of the scale of the challenges – where a significant proportion of the world’s population will experience climactic conditions that are adverse not just to growing cotton but to pretty much all aspects of human life.

Charlene encouraged us to consider what this data means at a human level – to the people trying to live, work and support their families in such harsh conditions. The disruption caused by such changes will affect supply chains globally, although the impacts will disproportionately affect the most vulnerable, with farmers and producers most exposed to the risks. Whilst the physical and economic impacts are not to be understated, the mental and emotional toll will be particularly significant for those on the frontline of climate change.

Over the past few months Charlene and colleagues have been running roundtable events with a range of stakeholders, encouraging people to ‘step into that world’ and genuinely reflect on the issues and what they mean for both those involved directly in the cotton industry and the population more generally. Summarising key insights Charlene said:

  • We need to prepare for disruption – and facilitate a just transition.
  • It’s hard for people – including leaders – to imagine this systemic level of disruption and change. We are learning to have the conversation.
  • It will only be possible to meet these challenges by transformation in the economy, business models, practices, and above all, mindsets.

Following these thought-provoking contributions delegates were allocated to breakout groups to discuss the points raised and share examples of what they and others are doing to address these issues. Feedback was shared in a plenary discussion, with examples of local-level action including the establishment of the Bristol River Avon Bioregion Group, and the work of campaign groups such as Extinction Rebellion and Fridays for the Future. In the latter cases, however, it was noted that proposed changes through the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill, currently submitted to the House of Lords for approval, would greatly reduce the capacity for social activism on climate change as well as other issues.

Overall, this event highlighted the need for local action to complement national/international events such as COP if we are to have any chance of minimising the impacts of climate change. Whilst COP26 was neither a great success nor a total failure it did mark the first time that there was a serious attempt to secure agreement around eliminating our dependence on fossil fuels (despite the fact that the oil and gas industry sent the largest delegation to Glasgow). More importantly, perhaps, it highlighted the strength of feeling amongst the wider population – particularly younger generations – that it really is time to move from talk to action on climate change and the need to address associated inequalities.

If you missed the event you can watch the full recording in two parts below.

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