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.
Professors Peter Case and Jonathan Gosling from UWE Bristol, recently published a set of open access resources in collaboration with the Malaria Elimination Initiative (MEI) and the University of California, San Francisco. The resources are entitled LEAD: Leadership & Engagement for Improved Accountability & Delivery of Services Framework and comprise a set of guidelines and practical tools for Ministries of Health and advisors to assist with the improvement of malaria healthcare services. It is the product of work that Peter and Jonathan have been conducting with MEI for the past seven years in low- and middle-income countries across the globe. Read about the project further in our previous post ‘Helping to improve malaria healthcare in Southern Africa’
LEAD draws upon organization development, leadership learning, participatory action research, quality improvement methods, and principles of community engagement to improve operational delivery at the district, clinic, and village level. LEAD employs a systematic process, involving continual problem diagnosis, action planning, implementation and evaluation to build capacity for change management through a series of workshops, meetings, trainings, coaching, and mentoring over the course of the planning cycle.
It was developed in response to requests from National Malaria Control Programmes (NMCPs) for assistance in tackling challenges in a systematic and participatory manner whilst, simultaneously, building capacity for leadership and management across hierarchical levels and ensuring sustainability of healthcare provision.
The tool has been implemented thus far in Vietnam, Zimbabwe, Eswatini and Namibia, leading to significant improvements in elements of programme delivery. These improvements include, inter alia: improved detection, testing and treatment, data quality, communication, and fewer drug stockout events. Additional benefits, such as capacity building of healthcare professionals and development of accredited training of NMCP staff, have also accrued, creating sustainable impacts in these regions.
To find out more visit the Shrinking the Malaria Map website.
The following excerpts are taken from an article written by Harriet Shortt for Organizational Aesthetics, the full article can be read here.
As I look back on the events of last year, like so many people, my reflections turn to how our home has been central to all that we have done and all that we have experienced. And like so many others during lockdown, our dining room became a classroom, the kitchen table became a meeting space, and the living room became a gym. All this meant our homes became ‘contested spaces’ (Lefebvre, 1991) and as I recently wrote in a book chapter with my co-author Michal Izak, we have suddenly found ourselves in a space with multiple meanings and uses (Shortt and Izak, 2020). We have appropriated and re-appropriated rooms across the landscape of our domestic spaces and perhaps most predominately, the boundaries between work and home have been well and truly broken and re-established.
As a result of these broken and now very blurry boundaries between work and home, the once private, intimate space of the home has been made (partly) public. Our domestic spaces are more visible now and throughout the pandemic they have been shared with and open to a whole host of people that might not have otherwise been ‘invited in’. For lots of us this has included the ongoing avalanche of Teams work calls, the home-schooling video calls, the Zoom quizzes, Facetime with family, Pilates on WhatsApp, and webinars hosted
from the garden shed.
For me, these complexities associated with the socio-material experiences of space at home during lockdown, and how we have responded to them, were first starkly highlighted by my 5-year-old daughter, Lauren. Throughout this year Lauren has been den-making. I know this is not unusual for a child of her age, and according to Sobel (2002), den-making is a fundamental part of early and middle childhood when children create a hiding space, ‘homeaway-from-home’, removed from parents or siblings. But during lockdown the den-making was, and continues to be, prolific.
Lauren’s abundant den making, was perhaps, her response to sharing her home with us for an extended period – all of us together, all the time, in a limited number of rooms and where those rooms had become somewhat ambiguous in their use.
This made me wonder if other people might be experiencing the same thing. Lots of other local parent friends reported the same sort of behaviour, as did a number of ‘grown ups’. An entrepreneur I have been working with told me she had been frequenting the roof of her house for a bit of solitude – taking a cup of tea up to the roof to find a private moment of respite from the rest of her family. An academic colleague of mine had bought a flatpack shed for the garden as a workspace away from the three other family members all working round the kitchen table – she affectionately calls her shed ‘the den’ and has made her curtains for it.
Even though so many of us are desperate to leave our houses and socialise again, I am left wondering if Covid-19 and our experiences of lockdown will change the way we look at our homes. Post-pandemic life might involve putting the home under the microscope and thinking about the details of our homes, as Bachelard encourages us to do. What corners have we noticed? What temporary nests have provided a new place of refuge? What new patterns of spatial practice have formed and where? Home space rules are being rewritten, new agreements are being made, home and work boundaries are being reimagined. Perhaps after this year, we might be more reflective about our attachments to
chosen spots in the home and where precisely we find shelter.
Read Harriet’s full article HERE
Creative Workforce for the Future is a one year pilot developing industry employment practices embracing inclusion and diversity as an asset, and nurtures young talent from under-represented groups to gain the experience required to sustain a creative career. A key aspect of the programme is supporting creative SMEs to develop a more inclusive workforce and practices in the region by undertaking an intensive programme of inclusive professional development.
The partnership, led by UWE Bristol and Watershed are working actively with over 30 creative small to medium sized businesses in the West of England on inclusion readiness.
Earlier this year, they began running industry workshops with a range of topics and started a series of Reflexive Sense-making Space > Leadership Coaching sessions for leaders who want to delve deeper and transform their learning into practice. The group leadership coaching process was led by Dr Charlotte von Bülow (UWE Bristol), an experienced leadership coach, consultant, social entrepreneur and action researcher.
These sessions offer a safe space where leaders can identify and explore personal and organisational narratives and discover how these might help or hinder the change they want to create, as well as explore their own (inherited) behaviours and practices. Charlotte reflects on some of the realities facing leaders and managers:
“Within the context of the workplace, we are often caught in a difficult and rather binary situation where there is a perceived but unarticulated ‘right and wrong’ that is difficult to get one’s head around. This makes for a very anxiety provoking daily experience of ‘not knowing what the right thing is’ and many are getting stuck in narratives about the issue of diversity and inclusion, rather than looking at each situation in its own right. Ayshat Akanbi’s provocative but inspiring message – that we can move the focus from ‘right/wrong’ to empathy, compassion and respect – is pointing to what may be another way of approaching the issue. Is it possible to explore ways in which we can inspire a culture of respectful situational awareness as a ‘way of being’ rather than get caught in policy writing – and if so, how do we go about that? How do we co-create such new cultures and ensure that we also remain open to the complexity of each emerging situation? These are the kinds of questions that are being explored.”
In addition to Charlotte’s coaching sessions, workshops were offered to SME’s including ‘Fitting in vs Belonging’ and an ‘Unconscious Bias’ workshop run by Elonka Soros. Using a Diversity & Inclusion maturity model, a useful tool for action, businesses ranked themselves as either unaware, compliant, strategic, integrated or disruptive. Interestingly, most business leaders ranked their business in between strategic and integrated when in reality they were hovering at the top end of compliant – fulfilling legal requirements out of duty, rather than purpose, resulting in little action, change of impact. It’s only when businesses move more into the strategic level when diversity and inclusion is recognised as important to the success of the business, and it becomes a strategic objective with KPIs, that are tracked and have active leadership and accountability.
Inclusion is as much a personal development journey as a business journey and is not merely about diversifying a workforce. For that reason, many SMEs chose to interrogate their personal journeys as leaders on a deeper level throughout the programme by attending Dr Charlotte von Bülow’s Reflexive Sense-making sessions . In addition, a group of SMEs have been working with Marissa Ellis from Diversily on a practical approach to inclusive leadership using The Change Canvas, a simple but powerful visual framework for driving change.
Inclusion is a slow journey as it involves cultural change. However, there has already been some great investment pledges and action from leaders to take their workforce on this journey and a noticeable shift from ‘we need to diversify as an industry’ to ‘we need to dismantle the culture that sustains the inequality and lack of inclusion’.
This post was edited from the Creative Workforce for the Future blog, read the full article here. The programme is in its final stages and has ran over 15 industry workshops with 42 of creative SMEs in the West of England with more lined up for January – March 2021.
This is an exploratory new pilot programme funded by the West of England Combined Authority (WECA) and the European Social Fund (ESF) and led by the Bristol+Bath Creative R+D programme working with Rife at Watershed, Knowle West Media Centre, Creative Youth Network, The Guild co working space, Spike Island and Bristol Museums.
We are delighted to welcome Jackie Ford, Professor of Leadership and Organisation Studies at Durham University Business School, to present a virtual Distinguished Professorial Address Lecture based on ‘A critical rethink of relational leadership: recognising the mutual dynamic between leaders and led’.
Many accounts of leadership studies appear to take too lightly, if they treat of it at all, the insecurity, anxiety and ambiguity in the lives of leaders and led (Ford and Harding, 2004; Ford, 2006). Through ignoring these feelings, they actively create such feelings. Leaders are told they should be confident, secure and very clear about what they are doing, and why they are doing it, in all circumstances. This is an impossible feat in practice – who could live up to such a paragon? By failing to achieve an over-ambitious norm, leaders can feel themselves to be failures. But in equal measure, there is a risk that control of work processes and conversations may still be regulated by power elites qua leaders who manipulate organisational discourses through structural and cultural norms that remain embedded in historical traditions. This can in turn have disastrous consequences on followers in organisations – as Jackie will illuminate during her presentation.
A little about Jackie;
Jackie Ford is Professor of Leadership and Organisation Studies at Durham University Business School and has held various professorial posts since 2008 at the Universities of Leeds and Bradford. She has over 25 years’ experience of working in Higher Education, having spent the previous decade in a range of managerial roles in the British NHS, culminating in an Executive Board-level Human Resources Director post. Jackie’s research includes the study of working lives, notably in exploring critical approaches to leadership; gender, diversity and inclusion; ethics, management and organization studies. She has co-authored a monograph entitled Leadership as Identity: Constructions and Deconstructions (Ford, Harding and Learmonth, Palgrave Macmillan, 2008); co-edited Making Public Services Management Critical (Currie, Ford, Harding and Learmonth, Routledge, 2010); co-edited a textbook, Leadership: Contemporary critical perspectives (Carroll, Ford and Taylor, Sage, 2019. 2nd edn); and has published in a range of journals including British Journal of Management, Human Relations, Journal of Management Studies, Leadership, Management Learning, Organization, Organization Studies, Sociology, Work Employment and Society.
Date: Wednesday 2nd December 2020
Time: 17:00 – 18:30 GMT
Written by Dr Arthur F Turner – Senior Lecturer in Organisational Studies, UWE, Bristol.
Since 2008 I have been looking into the growth of leadership in managers and, more broadly speaking, I have been journeying towards a degree of understanding of how these ‘magical’ transitions take place. I have more recently been tutoring and facilitating the learning of coaching and mentoring through the teaching of elements in the curriculum of ILM Level 7 and Level 5 vocational qualifications.
One part of this decade-long inquiry has been the surfacing of Vygotsky’s ‘mediating objects’ as a vital piece of theory that really seems to work. I had been describing these ideas to my colleagues, students and clients (I have been a qualified coach since 2008) in terms of philosophical ideas and theories (see, for example, Heidegger, Huizinga and Vygotsky – all male European philosophers of the early 19th century).
My own favourite mediating objects to use in leadership and management development are finger puppets of culturally-diverse characters (both real and fictional) which have a powerful way of stimulating ideas and re-enacting workplace dynamics. I have written about how and why these puppets work and, more often than not, I have found myself drawn towards the Déscartian view of minds and bodies having a distinct ontological basis. Whilst thoughts and ideas in your head are shapeless and have no form through the use of mediating objects (puppets or whatever) these ideas, challenges or issues can be expressed in a more solid way, through an object that gives it shape and structure.
For several years I felt these ideas must have some more up-to-date, supporting philosophies. My searches often led along blind alleyways… until recently. A chance look at a collection of articles in the New Scientist in 2019 I came across Lambros Malafouris and his theory of Material Engagement. All of sudden a modern philosophical translation of the role of objects in our world came into view. Like London buses no sooner had one emerged than another turned the corner into view. From Emma Watton and Phillipa Chapman’s leadership and cognitive artefacts premise to Object Orientated Ontology (OOO) championed by Graham Harman via the hermeneutic spaces of Michel Foucault; mediating objects have been coming out of the shadows! This time of year, Autumn, also gives some spur to the acknowledgment of the ways in which ideas and learning can emerge from nowhere. Take for example the humble fungus:
I have been fascinated by fungi for a long time and testament to this are a small collection of porcelain fungi at my home, modelled to represent specific species. These models are a doorway into the weird world of fungi which now, in real life, often appear overnight, lawns, tree-trunks and fallen branches are festooned with a dazzling array of shapes and sizes, mostly based on a standard, young-child-seen, shape of stem and cap. A new book by Merlin Sheldrake now has retold the research that reveals a parent mycelium that weaves and interacts for miles amidst root, leaf-fall and wood. This mycelium is closely interwoven and often miles long. Far from a non-sentient being fungi and the mycelium that is the fungi can work together over miles, lasso nematodes, trap and enslave ants and break down rock, stone and concrete slabs… a concept now referred to as the Wood Wide Web.
Holding one porcelain fungal model in my hand can open opportunities to talk about living organisms, ecosystems and on to discussion about stakeholders, networks, knowledge, intelligence and complex chemicals. Objects mediate human understanding and ferment the production of knowledge and understanding.
I’d be interested to hear about any mediating objects you use in your own leadership and/or organisation development practice, and your experiences of how these support and mobilise the shifts in awareness that characterise deep learning.
Rob Sheffield, Visiting fellow at UWE, and Stuart Morris, Facilitator of Design-led Innovation & Creativity at Thales, discuss the emerging implications for the leadership of innovation. Here are extracted excerpts from a wider conversational piece, which was recently shared on medium. Click here for the full read.
About the context
Stuart: Rob, you have written about leaders in organisations learning to develop the creative capabilities of their team members and themselves in leading innovation. I think it is fair to say that these leaders have come under increasing pressure over the last 20 years to enable more creativity and innovation within their scope of responsibility, whether it be at a global or local team level. The likelihood is that the post-COVID world will only accelerate and intensify this pressure. What are your thoughts on this?
Rob: I think you’re right about the spread of need for creativity and innovation. Of course we’ve seen an extraordinary rush of need-led organising since the crisis hit. The collaboration in households, streets, communities, cities, across organisations, countries… Wow. (And we can all list moments where more collaboration would have helped.)
But, the shift happened long before COVID-19. In our work, we’ve noticed a gradual rise in the demand for and supply of creativity and innovation skills, over the last 15–20 years, and a much more sudden one since around 2015…
…And employees want these skills. Partly because they want to bring imagination into work; also because some people identify very personally with creativity and want it in their work lives. And there is the perceived threat of AI, in its broadest sense, raising questions of which work will remain for people. Well, it’s not easy to automate the generation and implementation of novel ideas. The skills of developing ideas and realising value from them are likely to be done by humans for some time.
Implications for leadership of innovation
Stuart: …The era of “scientific management” over the last 100 years, post Industrial Revolution, has created many embedded support systems (and even big businesses who supply these systems), such as reward & recognition, financial management, other business management processes and strong delivery focus. It is these strong embedded cultures I would suggest make it very difficult for leaders to enable the necessary innovation and creativity to happen.
Rob: There is certainly a gap between the need for innovation, and the satisfaction with its delivery. Pre-Covid, Accenture’s research has concluded that many organisations have been talking about breakthrough changes, but sticking with the safer, incremental sort.
I imagine this is for many reasons. As you suggest, if we (maybe unconsciously) hold the metaphor of organisations as machines, that brings with it the assumptions of control, predictability, power invested in top-down planning, and that unforeseen events are mistakes. Whereas, for example, if we imagine organisations to be places where a multitude of conversations are happening simultaneously — some wither, some repeat, some transform into new avenues — this is a metaphor closer to a marketplace, or a network of organisms. There is very little top-down control, and ‘life’ emerges from interactions at local level, where the nature of interactions is key to whether conversations become interesting and manifest into novelty.
Stuart: It is this leadership paradigm which I believe will be severely challenged by the new contexts presented post-Covid, all of which we cannot predict, which is a real problem for those whose assumptions are based on a deterministic view of the world.
So far, we’ve talked mainly about organisations, but we can also widen the implications.
Rob: We’re being given a sharp reminder of what society is. We see examples of our interdependence all around: food chains; how we help and care for each other; supporting key workers to continue their work, and the criticality of being able to connect with each other digitally.
The many examples of street, community, city and wider levels of collaboration, reflect initiatives where no-one has asked for permission, are based on shared purpose, are experimental — trial/learn/improve — and often supported by huge goodwill, kindness and forgiveness from people affected.
Most of us have not seen such mass collaboration. And I hope it will have at least two effects. First, we are remembering what makes a society: that we fundamentally need each other in order to live the way we want. And this realisation will encourage more positive collaboration. Second, that to have such a way of living requires a more nuanced way of framing leadership: one that is much more sensitive to how leadership can spring from anywhere, and connects and empowers people to act.
Stuart: This reminds me of a great Ted Talk by Joi Ito (MIT Media Lab) in 2014 about the Fukushima nuclear disaster of 2011. His wife and family were living in Japan, about 200km from Fukushima, when the Tsunami hit. The news channels, television, government, etc were not telling him anything he wanted to hear in terms of radiation levels — how much danger were his family in? He went on the internet and found others who were also trying to figure out what was going on. Due to their diversity of skillsets they loosely organised themselves to create the ability to measure and share the largest (at that time) open data-set on radiation anywhere in the world — a great citizen science project. In his summary Joi shared his new view of the world of innovation as “deploy or die” (get it into the real world immediately) as opposed to the previous “demo or die” (a step back from deploy) and the even older “publish or perish”…
Guest blog: Richard Bolden, Professor of Leadership and Management and Director of the Bristol Leadership and Change Centre
What a difference a few days make… Perhaps it’s the sunny Spring days after a long, wet winter; the dog walks spent chatting with teenagers who would normally be off at school; the unexpected free space in my diary with no expectation that I should be in the office; or because so much of what we take for granted has changed so suddenly.
At the time of writing we are in the fourth day of the lockdown called by the UK government to slow the spread of the Covid-19 virus. It’s been a tense few weeks as the wave of infections grew ever closer – no longer focussed within a far and distant sounding part of China but causing havoc across Italy, France, Spain, the UK and now it seems, pretty much every part of the world. A quarter of the global population – a staggering 2 billion people – are currently in some form of lockdown, confined to their homes in order to slow the spread of the virus and, in so doing, allow time for governments and health services to prepare for the spike in patient numbers and the inevitable rising death toll.
Almost overnight UWE, Bristol – like universities, schools and colleges around the world – closed its doors and shifted from face-to-face to online delivery. Staff and students have responded with huge adaptability – revising delivery and assessment processes that would have taken months, if not years, through traditional channels. The speed and the scale of changes for organisations in every sector and location are unprecedented. Manufacturers have switched their operations to enable the production of essential items such as ventilators, face masks, hand sanitiser and paracetamol that are now in such high and urgent demand. Governments have drawn up detailed plans to support individuals and organisations at risk of redundancy/bankruptcy – casting aside the usual economic concerns to focus on social priorities such as protecting the vulnerable, supporting those in financial difficulty and strengthening core public services (particularly health and social care). And communities have rallied together in ways not seen since WWII – providing support and reassurance for the elderly and isolated, sacrificing personal liberties for collective benefit and finding new ways to connect, communicate and collaborate.
In the words of the Chinese curse we are indeed living in interesting times (1) – both fraught with risk and opportunity. The turbulence of the last few years has revealed deep divisions within society, as illustrated particularly clearly in the Brexit vote within the UK and Trump presidency in the US. The rise of populism has been associated with scepticism and distrust of experts and evidence, with social media providing the perfect echo chamber for amplifying the polarity of perspectives and questioning the nature of ‘truth’. Differing ideologies and beliefs have been positioned in opposition to one another – them and us, winners and losers, do or die – rather than as an inevitable and desirable characteristic of a diverse and inclusive society, which enables creativity, adaptability and resilience in times of complexity, uncertainty and change.
One of the remarkable consequences of the Coronavirus pandemic has been how quickly it has reset the dial on many of these issues – fostering calls for compassion, solidarity and collective action. At times like this it is our similarities rather than our differences that define us. This is as true for those in positions of power and privilege as those who are marginalised and/or find themselves living in precarity. We are all susceptible to the virus, all have people we care about who are likely to become very ill or perhaps even die should they catch it, and will all be affected by the economic and social impacts of the outbreak – not just for the months that it lasts but for years to come. The capacity of individuals, families, organisations, communities and nations to weather the storm is not equal, however, with those with least access to financial, emotional and other resources most likely to bear the brunt of the suffering.
An unexpected outcome of Covid-19 is the impact on the environment. The reduction in pollution levels around the world during just the relatively short time in which travel, manufacturing and other environmentally damaging activities have been reduced demonstrates both how directly human activity impacts on the environment and the remarkable ability of the environment, and the animals and plants within it, to recover if given the opportunity. For those who have been calling for a step-change for policy, practice and behaviour towards a more sustainable way of life there is no more compelling evidence of the extent to which this is possible and the environmental benefits it would produce.
For those of us interested in leadership research, education and practice there are many important lessons to take from the current situation. I’m sure everyone will have their own take on events but as a starter for ten here are a few of my own takeaways so far.
- Shared purpose – after winning a significant majority in the general election of December 2019 Boris Johnson and his government focussed on building a sense of urgency and commitment to ‘getting Brexit done’ that largely entrenched rather than unified opinions around this issue. With Covid-19 the focus has completely shifted to a shared purpose that unites rather than divides individuals and communities. It took a little while to get to this point but, for now at least, the nation is far more unified around a common purpose than it has been for many years.
- Collective leadership – whilst there is a tendency to equate ‘leadership’ with the traits and behaviours of individual ‘leaders’ the Covid-19 pandemic demonstrates the need for individuals and groups to work concurrently and collaboratively in order to achieve leadership outcomes. In daily news briefings, Prime Minister Johnson and members of the cabinet have stood alongside the Chief Medical Officer and other experts to provide clarity and direction to an uncertain population. Whilst this is perhaps the most visible ‘leadership’ at national level it is abundantly clear that it is dependent on significant acts of leadership elsewhere as well as the active ‘followership’ of those responding to calls for care and consideration.
- Systems change – the Coronavirus pandemic is an inherently complex problem that requires expertise and effort from multiple domains to make sense of the issues and to mobilise timely and effective responses. The concept of ‘systems leadership’, increasingly advocated within public services, highlights the need to influence and leverage engagement across organisational, professional and other boundaries. Frequently this means needing to lead without formal authority – to work with principles of complexity and systems thinking to initiate new patterns of behaviour that spread from one context to another. It also involves dismantling and rebuilding systems, structures and processes – both physical and psychological – that constrain rather than enable transformation and change.
- Sensemaking – in times of ambiguity and uncertainty leadership has a key role to play in helping people to make sense of the situation(s) in which they find themselves. The people who will be recognised as ‘leaders’ are those who are able to frame the context in a way that acknowledges the nature and severity of the issue(s), addresses the concerns of their constituents and which provides a degree of clarity about the actions/responses that are required. Within the US Andrew Cuomo, the Governor of New York, has emerged as key national figure in mobilising the response to Coronavirus – providing far greater clarity and direction than Trump and now being mooted as the democratic candidate for the next US election despite not even standing as a nominee.
- Place based leadership – whilst many national figures have struggled to grapple with the scale and implications of the issues posed by Covid-19 local leaders have often responded far quicker and been more effective at mobilising public, private, voluntary and community groups and organisations to collaborate and respond. Place-based leadership is responsive to the context that surrounds it – drawing together multiple perspectives and expertise to address issues of concern to citizens within a particular locale – and will be essential not only in dealing with the immediate effects of Covid-19 but in the long period of rebuilding and recovery that will follow the pandemic.
These are just a few initial reflections and there is far more that could be said. Looking forward I have no doubt that the Spring of 2020 will be seen as a defining moment in our understanding of and engagement with leadership, complexity and change. I only hope that we learn the lessons and make use of them to create a stronger, healthier, kinder, safer world rather than defaulting back to the divisive and destructive policies, practices and behaviours that preceded the current crisis (2).
Bristol Leadership and Change Centre
27 March 2020
(1) Whilst often presented as the English translation of a traditional Chinese curse the phrase ‘may you live in interesting times’ has rather more recent origins – see https://www.phrases.org.uk/meanings/may-you-live-in-interesting-times.html
(2) Please do share your own reflections and insights by means of the comments box at the end of the post in order to continue the discussion. Further reading and resources linked to the themes raised in this article are given below.
Bolden, R. and O’Regan, N. (2016) Digital Disruption and the Future of Leadership: An Interview With Rick Haythornthwaite, Chairman of Centrica and MasterCard, Journal of Management Inquiry, 25(4), 438-446.
Bolden, R. and O’Regan, N. (2018) Leadership and Creativity in Public Services: An Interview With Lord Michael Bichard, Chair of the National Audit Office, Journal of Management Inquiry, 27(1), 45-51.
Bolden, R. and Witzel, M. (2017) Dis-united Kingdom? Leadership at a crossroads. In S. Western and E.J. Garcia (Eds) Global Leadership Perspectives: Insights and Analysis. London: Sage.
Bolden, R. et al. (2011) Exploring Leadership: Individual, organisational and societal perspectives. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Bolden, R. et al. (2017) Leadership Paradoxes: Rethinking leadership for an uncertain world. London: Routledge.
Bolden, R. et al. (2019) Developing systems leadership in public health: A scoping report. UWE, Bristol on behalf of Public Health England.
Bolden, R. et al. (2020) Mobilizing Change in Public Services: Insights from a Systems Leadership Development Intervention, International Journal of Public Administration, 43(1), 26-36.
Bolden. R. et al., (2019) Inclusion: The DNA of leadership and change. UWE, Bristol on behalf of the NHS Leadership Academy.
Moon Executive Search recently spoke to the Director of Doctoral Research in Business and Law at UWE Bristol, Svetlana Cicmil, about the paradox of success and failure in the context of modern businesses. Read the original post here.
“Most [IT] projects fail; it is just a question of how much failure can still be deemed a success’”[Cadle and Yeates (2001)]
The binary notions of success and failure govern much of the way that both individuals and organisations approach, experience and evaluate work. But how adequate is the traditional narrative of success and failure? Does it enable or hinder the pursuit of constructive, fulfilling work?
The consequences of constantly evaluating our actions and achievements as binary outcomes can not only be long-lasting, and include anxiety and insecurity, professional penalties, and loss of direction; they can also make us lose our ability to sensitively, holistically and constructively reflect on our activities and organisational purpose in a wider social context.
Take the IT industry, for example, it is famous for its failures at the project level and for its success at the industry level:
“Massive failure rates have never threatened the advance of IT; quite the contrary, high-risk and prone-to-fail projects nearly always characterize leading-edge industries. Failure in this sense is the price of success.” (Sauer, 1999, quoted in Fincham, 2002, p.2)
This not only demonstrates how ‘failure’ is required for innovation, but also that the attributions of failure and success are dependent on who judges them, at which point in time, and at which level of activity.
Therefore, it is fair to say that failure and success are interrelated in an elusive way. Drawing on insights from studies of project-based work we can examine the elusive nature of the fixed categories of success and failure, illuminate the multiple judgments of success and failure that are simultaneously at play, and encourage a more critical and complex approach to coping with this dilemma in everyday working life.
Increasingly employees are finding that their roles have become project-intensive and that as a result they are working and making decisions within the organising principles of matrix structures. In theory, matrix structures support effective and efficient utilisation of an organisations’ resources, creating the capacity to simultaneously run multiple projects.
However, a well-researched syndrome of project overload includes the pressures and anxieties caused by the simultaneous existence of multiple, mutually-exclusive, but complexly interrelated criteria for evaluating the performance of each of the projects that an employee may be simultaneously involved in.
Where multiple parties participate in project initiation and delivery, they will make sense of, and engage with, the project in different ways and with different ambitions and expectations, this can create irreconcilable criteria.
The challenge is to find a way for the project’s participants to negotiate and agree on the key criteria against which inevitable changes to the project plan, resulting trade-offs, and any redefinitions of the original goal and specification will be tested and evaluated.
In order to do this, we need to consider how the notions of success and failure are framed. Instead of working with belief that success and failure are polarised, discrete, fixed states, organisations should be asking how they can provide their employees with a fulfilling and meaningful working life which is not impacted by the requirement to undertake multiple projects. But how can this be achieved?
Firstly, review the ambitions driving each project in a more reflexive, caring and satisfying manner. This requires awareness of the need to navigate the unknown in a responsible way which will avoid the negligence and reckless risk-taking that may detrimentally impact those involved in the project.
Secondly, failure is often tied up with a feeling of having let down and disappointed the project team and wider company. But does this stem from original unrealistic expectations? When undertaking a new project ask for an objective opinion on the ambition, expectations, and goals, do not discard previous experiences as irrelevant with the conviction that things will go better this time, and make sure that there is time to consult and check.
Deviation from a plan should not be considered a failure if everyone involved has been open-minded, critically reflexive, and collaborative about what new opportunities this might bring.
Finally, the leadership team should introduce systemic changes that acknowledge the complexity of project-based work. These could include incorporating regular reviews of established processes and approaches to collaboration, agreeing and renegotiating project performance indicators, and introducing a high level of accountability, responsibility, and transparency in decision-making to reduce vulnerability from project overload.
By considering the experience of success and failure in the context of project-based work, we find that the success-failure binary is not only too simplistic but is actively harmful to the pursuit of what matters. Rather than considering success as something desirable and failure as a pathology to be eradicated, should they not be considered in a complex relational way? If so, the key questions, therefore, move from ‘Why did this fail?’ to ‘What was achieved?’ and ‘What can be learned from this?’
From 13-15 December 2019 Bristol Leadership and Change Centre hosted the 18th International Studying Leadership Conference, which was attended by around 140 delegates from 13 different countries.
The conference featured three keynote addresses (Prof Peter Case from UWE, Prof Sonia Ospina from the NYU Wagner Graduate School of Public Service, and Prof Elena Antonacopoulou from the University of Liverpool), a panel discussion at City Hall (chaired by Prof Robin Hambleton with contributions from Mayor Marvin Rees, Kalpna Woolf and Andy Street), five parallel streams (including almost 90 separate papers) and a gala dinner at the Marriott Royal Hotel on College Green.
Participants have been invited to submit their papers for a special issue of the journal Leadership on the conference theme of ‘Putting leadership in its place’, which will be edited by Neil Sutherland, Gareth Edwards, Doris Schedlitzki and Richard Bolden.