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 https://lnkd.in/dJpE7Ekk.

References

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. https://doi.org/10.1093/occmed/kqaa220

Heffernan, M. (2019 July). The Human Skills We Need in an Unpredictable World [Video]. TEDSummit2019. https://www.ted.com/talks/margaret_heffernan_the_human_skills_we_need_in_an_unpredictable_world

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. https://www.advance-he.ac.uk/news-and-views/perspectives-leadership-global-higher-education-reflections-roundtables

PwC. (2021 March). Global Crisis Survey 2021: Building Resilience for the Futurehttps://www.pwc.com/gx/en/crisis/pwc-global-crisis-survey-2021.pdf

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 Disparitieshttps://doi.org/10.1007/s40615-021-01170-w

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. https://covid19.who.int

World Health Organization. (2022, March 2). COVID-19 Pandemic Triggers 25% Increase in Prevalence of Anxiety and Depression Worldwide. https://www.who.int/news/item/02-03-2022-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 https://www.gofundme.com/f/democracy-the-fight-back and https://www.ted.com/talks/carole_cadwalladr_facebook_s_role_in_brexit_and_the_threat_to_democracy

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

LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/groups/9053832/

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

Contact: Berrbizne2.urzelai@uwe.ac.uk

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.

The Unleadership Movement: Living with the Unknown – Giving Ourselves Permission to Act Anyway

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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 living with the unknown and exploring the creative potential of imperfection.

Under traditional leadership understanding, it is taken for granted that leaders must always seek perfection. In order to achieve this, leaders must always be in control. They must be bold and dedicated to creating strategies where grand plans are enacted by willing and engaged followers. However, leaderly acts, particularly during the Covid pandemic have revealed that this quest for leadership control in pursuit of perfection can have unintended consequences. Whilst formal leaders sought to create complicated plans to deliver PPE or to craft testing strategies based on evidence, they continued to be almost paralysed in their quest to make and execute the always perfect leadership plan. Their quest proved to be illusionary and unrealisable; and resulted in costly delays and hindered timely action.

Meanwhile, another type of leaderly practice was emerging. Communities, organisations and individuals picked up the mantle during this impasse and took spontaneous action to make a difference. Volunteers printed 3D plastic visor parts; chefs prepared food in their home kitchens for vulnerable people; organisations mobilised individuals to assist with the making of scrubs. These “unleaders” had no clear vision of their destination point but were driven by a clear purpose. They courageously acted into the unknown without securing ‘perfect’ knowledge and certainty. They admitted to unknowing and their actions evolved as they celebrated success and learned from failure. They did not seek to become the epitome of “leadership”. They did not seek to command and control events. They simply acted by paying attention to what was needed in the moment.

This does not underestimate the complexity of the problems and challenges that were faced, and are still faced in organisational life. Instead, we’ve been reflecting on how we can free ourselves of the quest for leadership perfection and operate by delivering “good enough” solutions. The last thing a complex problem needs is a complicated solution, which is only likely to increase the uncertainty! Instead, by empowering ourselves to be “imperfect”, we can move forward and take timely action, adapting our actions according to the response they receive. We’ve explored a number of different activities in workshops with our collaborators and will share two possibilities here that can be used as inspiration to embrace imperfection. Use individually as a personal reflection or discuss with trusted colleagues.

The first activity is to consider the leaderly challenges we face against Ralph Stacey’s (1996) agreement and uncertainty matrix to reflect on our actions and responses.

Uncertain situations can make us feel unsafe and anxious and our natural instinct is to try and make ourselves feel safer by creating a sense of certainty. But this is really an illusion. An alternative might be to try to make uncertainty itself feel safer – perhaps by reflecting upon our responses and understanding of it. If we can achieve this, we are able to pay attention differently and potentially learn more.  Using the outline above we discussed different aspects of uncertainty and agreement in the real-life challenges faced by our workshop collaborators.

Positions of perceived high agreement and high certainty can lead to simplistic or technical conversations that sometimes get stuck by repeating the same loop – an example was discussed such as “we simply do not have enough resources to deliver this”. Other situations discussed drifted further away from absolute certainty where some form of surface harmony existed but wasn’t explored too deeply – such as managing multiple stakeholders’ expectations during a service delivery change programme.  Moving further away from agreement things can also get political – such as individuals waiting to act or refusing to take action in certain scenarios. If we end up rather too far away from agreement and certainty we may also end up in a chaotic situation where we are tempted to put our heads in the sand.  These places will be different for all for us depending on how we feel and who we are but if we reflect upon each challenge we face, we may be able to see a different perspective which will allow us to take different action.

A place where creativity and change can really happen is the sweet spot between agreement and certainty. If we can operate within this bounded instability, we can pay attention to the complexity we face – we can navigate changing policies, manage different stakeholders and find our sense of place to take leaderly action – acknowledging and accepting imperfections. We can only simplify so far in complex situations, inevitably there will be contradiction, dynamism and iteration. We need to carefully pay attention to context and allow ourselves to be spontaneous, not introducing more complication but embracing the complexity and going with the flow. Through reflection and discussion of the leaderly challenges we faced, we were able to gain a greater confidence and understanding of how we could take action differently.  

The second activity involves challenging ourselves to be creative! We used erasure poetry to help our collaborators feel more confident about being creative and embracing the idea of imperfection. Each person used a text to delete and add their own words to create a poem about the challenges of imperfection in leaderly practices. This was an opportunity to retell the challenge in a more constructive or reflective way. We used a text written about the Japanese aesthetic of Wabi Sabi  – an approach to life which is based on accepting imperfection and embracing the beauty of the impermanence and incompleteness of life. We picked this text because we thought it offered a refreshing contrast to mainstream leadership rhetoric where there is more of an obsession with creating perfection, and being the perfect, heroic leader. Any text would work equally well. Some very creative results emerged! Here’s one for inspiration

The beauty of this activity was the variety of poems produced, all unique, thoughtful and individual creations. All embracing the idea of imperfection and beautifully imperfect in their own ways!

As English (2016: 8) puts it, “imperfection of experience is what makes it so valuable.” Let us know about how these activities helped you to embrace imperfection, or others you’ve tried. We can all give ourselves permission to embrace imperfection in our leaderly practices so that we feel able to act into the unknown. You are all warmly invited to join our movement and contribute to the conversation!

Join us next month for some thoughts on Catching the Wave – how do we know when to take action?

Kay Galpin, Hugo Gaggiotti, Carol Jarvis & Selen Kars-Unluoglu

LinkedIn: The Unleadership Movement

Twitter: @unleadership_

References:

English, P. (2016) Imperfection: Embracing Wabi-Sabi. Liminalities: A Journal of Performance Studies 12(4): 1-9.

Stacey, R.D. (1996) Strategic Management & Organisational Dynamics. 2nd ed. London: Pitman.

The Unleadership Movement: Lighting fires at the Collective Leadership for Scotland Campfires Festival

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The Unleadership Movement is a growing collaboration of practitioners and scholars from public, private and voluntary sectors who seek 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 a leaderly impact in their organisations and communities.

By understanding and disrupting traditional leadership expectations, for example that heroic leaders must always act with well-reasoned and well-crafted visions and plans to achieve a state of perfection, the concept of unleadership reveals unexplored alternatives. For example, the practice of unleadership places a focus on those who would not normally regard themselves as leaders. These are individuals who are driven to act by their values and determination to make the best contribution that they can with the resources at their disposal and through a latent desire to pay it forward. This energy drives them to act without securing “perfect” knowledge and certainty, with the courage to act into the unknown and to admit to unknowing. They confidently connect and collaborate with others in a spirit of generosity and compassion, and they are not intimidated by the prospects of having to pass responsibility to better placed others when they reach the limit of their resources.  Stories of these acts of unleadership have emerged during the Covid-19 pandemic and have potentially profound implications for the practices of leadership as our new post-Covid working world develops and re-organises itself.

In this spirit, we recently hosted a discussion at the “Leadership Campfires” event organised by Collective Leadership for Scotland. Aiming to recreate the cozy, comfortable feeling of sitting around the campfire for some inspiring storytelling and conversation, we set up our virtual campfire and invited collaborators from around the globe to come and join us. 

Storytelling seemed a natural partner to the idea of a campfire, and one that evokes further the ability to share experiences and ideas through conversations. So, having introduced our ideas about unleadership through an informal conversation between ourselves, we then invited others to tell their stories, first in smaller breakout groups before sharing with the wider group. Whilst their stories were very different in shape and style, they revealed common aspects of experiences of the last eighteen months, and shared common threads about human endeavours, and unleaderly behaviours in such a range of different circumstances. We were enthralled by what we heard and spent time afterwards reflecting on the stories that resonated for us.

The parable of the crab describing how a lonely crab felt isolated on his own sandy beach and wanted to explore further. It was only by finding the strength within himself to explore beyond his boundaries that he then encountered another lone travelling crab and together they found joint empowerment to move beyond where they could have even considered possible, to explore new terrain.”

“The story of a musician who stepped outside of their famous role to inspire groups of non- governmental organisations to co-operate to provide aid to those who needed it most during hardships after natural disasters.”

“The story of a growing sense of place, where the community began to feel a different kind of ownership and value about their local environment and the benefits to everyone of making small changes.

These stories suggested that leaderly practices and the idea of unleadership was something that also comes from within, be that values held dearly, or inner confidence, as well as a reaction to the place we find ourselves in. They revealed that we can embrace the multi-faceted nature of our own identities and use them in different ways to inspire or take leaderly action. And they highlighted that in pushing beyond our real or imagined boundaries, even small acts can make a big difference.

The Collective Leadership for Scotland event was inspiring and ignited lots of little campfires discussing the potential for leadership to be more collective, social and democratic and to consider our own parts in this developing process. We’ve also been lucky enough to run a series of workshop conversations over the last few months prior to this event, funded through a Higher Education Innovation Fund Grant from UWE Bristol. The purpose of these workshops has been to share, develop and disseminate knowledge about the idea of unleadership and to invite others to join the conversation. With that in mind, this is the first in a series of short blogs which will discuss in more detail some of the key ideas involved in practicing unleadership. These will discuss the themes of paying it forward; living with the unknown; catching the wave; and confident connecting and collaborating.

You are all warmly invited to join our movement and contribute to the conversation!

Carol Jarvis, Hugo Gaggiotti, Selen Kars-Unluoglu  & Kay Galpin

LinkedIn: The Unleadership Movement

Twitter: @unleadership_

HIV healthcare staff in Zimbabwe begin PG Certificate in Professional Practice in Change Leadership

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Dr Greyling Viljoen and Dr Prisciplla Matuare (Women’s University in Africa), supported remotely by Professor Peter Case, recently delivered a two-day face-to-face training workshop (18-19 August 2021) for nineteen Zimbabwe healthcare professionals enrolled on the FBL Postgraduate Certificate in Professional Practice in Change Leadership (PPCL). The students are also working as part of a Bill & Melinda Gates funded project co-led by Peter to restructure and improve HIV/AIDS prevention in Zimbabwe. The PPCL module is designed to enable students to combine their studies with experiential workplace learning.  

The PPCL programme forms an integral part of a project entitled ‘Optimizing Stakeholder Operating Models for HIV Prevention in Zimbabwe’ – OPTIMISE, for short. The project, which has been running since June 2020 and is due to conclude in May 2022, addresses health HIV service delivery in Manicaland, Matabeleland North and Matabelend South provinces. The aim is to support and capacitate the Ministry of Health and Child Care (MoHCC) in working with stakeholders to develop and implement sustainability plans. This involves reviewing progress on the MoHCC strategy and facilitating the process of establishing goals, priorities and action plans. It also strives to create the necessary leadership coalition to drive change in the health service.

There is a diverse cohort of students on the PPCL module representing different levels with the system: from senior MoHCC directors through to front line staff working in health facilities. Students undertake theoretical studies supported by materials on Blackboard and are trained in the application of the project’s LEAD methodology. There is also a significant ‘supervised practice’ element of the course whereby students are supported in applying their learning.  

Thanks go to Katie Joyce (module leader) and UWE’s Faculty of Business and Law Professional Development Team for their excellent support in delivering the PPCL module.   The main collaborating partners for this work are the Malaria Elimination Initiative (University of California, San Francisco) Population Services International and the Clinton Health Access Initiative.

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