Leadership, Complexity and Change: Learning from the Covid-19 pandemic

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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).

Richard Bolden

Bristol Leadership and Change Centre

27 March 2020

Notes

(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.

Further reading

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.

Paradox of success and failure

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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?’

18th International Studying Leadership Conference

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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.

Managing Around the World: RoundTables for Experienced Managers

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“A tale of two cities” – that’s how a colleague described Bristol when I asked for an introduction.  There’s something ominous about the image of parallel universes inhabiting the same space. In the Charles Dickens novel, the two cities are Paris and London in the late 1700s as social order breaks down under the burden of inequality and industrial transformation. The political and industrial revolutions were tipping points from which unforeseen transformations followed around the world. We may be at a similar point now, and in April 2020 we will host a one-week ‘Round-Tables for Experienced Managers’ to examine what’s happening at the front line, in the experience of people who are leading, managing and organising businesses, public services, social enterprises and cross-sector initiatives.

Participants come from all over the world, with contributions from world-leading experts including Professor Henry Mintzberg and Professor Jonathan Gosling. In 2020 the RoundTables will be hosted for the first time in Bristol, in partnership with UWE’s Bristol Leadership and Change Centre. As well as those lucky enough to take part in the whole process there are opportunities for local organisations to host short investigative visits, when they will be subject to curious but friendly scrutiny – always a source of intriguing insight and provocative questions.

Titled ‘Managing Around the World’, the programme concentrates on the challenges that each person is facing. In structured, progressive peer-to-peer exercises we analyse and re-frame those challenges, bringing fresh insights and broader perspectives. We visit local organisations (in multi-national teams) and delve into the dynamics of ‘two cities’ Bristol.

The outcomes are likely to be personal and practical for most people because of the focus on each organisational predicament. Most of the activities are readily adapted to use in organisational and community settings. Equally exciting is the opportunity to pool all this experience of leading, managing and organising towards fresh insights of what’s happening on the ground, around the world and in Bristol: are we really at a tipping point? Where are tangible and significant responses to the climate emergency, artificial intelligence, post-colonialism? What are the most hopeful of these, and what more could each of us do?

The RoundTables programme has previously inspired significant projects, such as Professor Peter Case’s work with front-line health services in Zimbabwe, Namibia and Eswatini. Eliminating malaria is a real possibility after years of successful control; but success depends on active intervention on a case-by-case basis. This in turn relies on local knowledge, resourcefulness and cooperation across health and community activists, and on the ability to invent customised responses in unpredictable and complex environments. Because ‘Managing around the world’ combines systemic perspectives with focused attention to each actual challenge, and does so with the front-line people involved, it has been a means for organisational re-invention – in humble, particular, humane ways, and demonstrably effective. In fact the model developed in Zimbabwe has now been adapted again to support the integrated care process in several parts of the NHS.

But back to Bristol – can this one-week programme be an effective catalyst for the ‘two cities’, and for the way we organise, lead and manage? A catalyst is a temporary architecture that enables new realities to emerge. That’s our aim for ‘Managing Around the World’, which will take place at the MShed on Bristol’s historic harbourside from 26th April to 1st May 2020.

As the local host, we pleased to invite current and former students of UWE, Bristol and members of our networks to join the programme at a discounted rate, or to accommodate visits from the programme participants. The programme will be co-directed by Anita Gulati, a long-term associate of UWE and lead for the Bristol Leadership Challenge programme delivered across the city in 2017-18.

To find out more about the RoundTables and register your interest please contact Lucy Wilson at UWE and visit the programme website here.

Dr Jenna Pandeli takes part in BBC world service podcast

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Senior Lecturer in Organisation Studies, Dr Jenna Pandeli was invited to take part in a panel discussion on the BBC world service podcast ‘In The Balance’.

Alongside Nila Bala and Chandra Bozelko, both prison reform advocates from the US, they discuss global prison labour and its exploitative potential as well as offering potential solutions to develop prison labour into something that is rehabilitative and better for society. 

You can listen again to the podcast here

Unlocking Performance through Employee Engagement Conference

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On Tuesday 25 June Bristol Business School hosted the ‘Unlocking Performance through Employee Engagement Conference’ in collaboration with Engage for Success, CITB and ILM. This was the first Engage for Success conference hosted outside of London, and it was fantastic to hold it here at UWE Bristol welcoming over 170 external delegates to the Business School.

The main theme of the event was around harnessing the skills of people and resources to reach new levels of engagement to boost productivity and save costs. There was also a focus on creating and sustaining employee engagement during challenging times, and with limited budgets, as often experienced by SMEs.

The event was chaired by Dr. Gareth Edwards, Associate Professor of Leadership Development at UWE Bristol, whilst Noordin Shehabuddeen, Director of Bristol Business Engagement Centre at UWE Bristol, welcomed the delegates, who came from a variety of professions from within the South West including the construction industry, accounting and finance, and local government.

The conference was treated to some excellent keynote speakers focusing on the necessity for employee engagement now more than ever, to case studies from baby food manufacturer Ella’s Kitchen to Wilmott Dixon, a local construction company, who were recently ranked the 4th Best Company to work for by the Sunday Times.

There then followed a series of interactive workshops led by invited guests who are also ambassadors for Engage for Success, and a rather intriguing energiser event led by the Creator of Joy at Inspire me, who was able to create a credible rock choral version of ‘Aint No Mountain High Enough’ in just 20 mins – definitely an occasion which you had to be part of to actually believe.

The event concluded with a keynote address from Andrew Sandiford, Managing Partner of local accountancy firm Bishop Fleming, followed by a panel discussion to answer questions submitted by the delegates throughout the day. It was evident that employee engagement is everyone’s responsibility, and many of the questions centered on how to do this if given little or no budget, as well as strategies as to how to gain support from the cynics and buy-in from senior management. Support was certainly gained by everyone present, and we were delighted to have hosted such a fantastic event.

Notes on the International Conference on Clusters and Industrial Districts and the VI International Conference of MOTIVA

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Guest blog post from Berrbizne Urzelai Lopez De Aberasturi, Lecturer and Team Coach Team Entrepreneurship

CLUSTERING 2019

I am part of the Organizing and Scientific Committee of Clustering: International Conference on Clusters and Industrial Districts. This year we organized the 4th edition of the conference in the faculty of Economics of the University of Valencia, Spain (23th-24th May).

The event includes a variety of activities around local contexts and globalization, the phenomenon of geographical agglomerations of companies and individuals, and organizational models such as industrial districts and clusters. One of the differentiating elements of this conference is its interdisciplinary nature. It focuses on clusters but from very different perspectives (economy, marketing, history, geography, internationalization, sociology, etc.).

This year the conference included Pre-conference activities, Roundtables, Conferences, Doctoral Workshop and Parallel Sessions, and gathered 100 participants from 20 countries. In this edition, we were especially interested in work that focused on the Human and Relational Resources of the territory. The different papers presented intended to show that, in a globalized and virtually interconnected world, clusters and people are determinants to explain the heterogeneity observed in the growth of companies and regions.

On 24th of May I presented my paper “Managerial perceptions on the value of Country-of-Origin Clusters” in a parallel session around Multinational Companies, and Global Value chains. After my presentation I was a speaker in a roundtable around “remote workforce connected and sharing knowledge”, along with Barbara Covarrubias (University of Applied Sciences, Vienna, Austria) and Alejandro Sanchez Cuenca (Deputy Head of Arcelor-Mittal). The session was chaired by Lourdes Canós-Darós (Polytechnic University of Valencia).

MOTIVA 2019

I was invited as a keynote speaker in the VI International Conference of MOTIVA (28-30th May). This year, it is the 20th anniversary of MOTIVA, and the focus of the conference was on young Enterprises and the role of universities in promoting this. There were 42 papers presented, and 100 participants from 12 countries.

MOTIVA is a Spanish and Latin American network of academics that want to promote entrepreneurship and enterprises that contribute to the social welfare in those countries. It was created in 1999 and now it gathers academics from various countries: Costa Rica, Mexico, Ecuador, Colombia, Venezuela, Argentina, Chile and Spain. This network aims to:

  • Promote an entrepreneurial culture
  • Organize international gatherings and conferences
  • Share and transfer entrepreneurial projects and successful cases
  • Develop teaching methodologies and resources around the creation of enterprises and entrepreneurship.

My presentation was on 29th (11.30-13.00) and the title was “Experiential learning: Team Entrepreneurship”, as it was focused on teaching experiences, practices and methodologies. I talked about Team Academy, our TE course in UWE, and the fundaments and pedagogy behind our teaching and learning philosophy. The session was chaired by Marisa Quintanilla (UVocupació, UV, Spain).

BLCC Research Symposium, 6 June 2019- Responsible and Inclusive Leadership: Paradoxes and Possibilities

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We are delighted to announce that we will be hosting a Research Symposium event on Thursday 6 June 2019. This afternoon research event will take place before our evening Professorial Lecture with Steve Kempster.

Thursday 6 June 2019, 14:00-17:00
Bristol Business School, UWE Bristol

Click here to register for this event.

Overview

In the face of environmental, social, political and economic change organisations are coming under increasing pressure to demonstrate responsible and inclusive leadership that makes a lasting, positive impact to the lives of the communities they engage with. Whilst such principles are now well accepted in both policy and practice the continuing prevalence of discrimination, inequality and unethical practice, combined with a loss of trust and a growing sense of disengagement and disillusionment across significant parts of the population, suggest that implementing such an approach is not so straightforward.

This event, organised by Bristol Leadership and Change Centre in collaboration with the Centre for Responsible Management at the University of Winchester, opens up a space for discussion and reflection around the paradoxes and possibilities of responsible and inclusive leadership, drawing on the latest theory and research in this field. The event is designed for academics, students, consultants and practitioners interested in and/or responsible for the management of people and organisations. It may be particularly beneficial for those working with or towards Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and/or with the Principles of Responsible Management Education (PRME), as well as those with a responsibility for Equality, Diversity and Inclusion (ED&I) and mobilising culture change.

This event will be hosted at Bristol Business School, UWE, Bristol and will be followed by a Distinguished Professorial Lecture by Professor Steve Kempster. Both events are free to attend although registration is required in order to reserve a place.

Session 1

The Responsible Management and Leadership Paradox: An interactive workshop

Dr Simon M Smith
Department of Responsible Management and Leadership, University of Winchester

This interactive session is designed to explore and discuss the day-to-day realities faced with delivering responsible management and leadership. This will be presented as a number of paradoxical situations that we address within the world of business and will lead into a rich and diverse set of discussions around responsible management and leadership.

There will be a short introduction to outline the conceptual paradox theory of ‘Organizational Ambidexterity’ applied to the responsible management and leadership context. No experience with this academic construct is needed. A number of situations are then provided to all participants to instigate a discussion of how these situations are dealt with on the frontline. As well as increasing our understanding of these paradoxical realities, it is hoped that we will inspire how to tackle such situations through shared practice.

Session 2

Learning from Lived Experience: Opportunities and Challenges for mobilising lasting change on leadership and inclusion in the NHS

Professor Richard Bolden, Professor Carol Jarvis and Stella Warren
Bristol Business School, UWE Bristol

Recent years have seen increasing emphasis on the need for collective, compassionate and inclusive leadership in UK public services. The National Health Service (NHS) constitution in particular places a legal and moral requirement to address inequality in all that it does. Despite an espoused commitment to equality, diversity and inclusion, however, and a series of associated policy and practice initiatives, inequality gaps continue to increase, compounded by successive neo-liberal policy agendas that have contributed to a growing financial deficit, constant political and systemic interventions, increasing fragmentation and conflicting accountabilities.

A recent initiative from the NHS Leadership Academy – Building Leadership for Inclusion – intervenes at both an individual and systems level. Engaging meaningfully with ‘lived experience’, it aims to foster inclusive leadership and hasten the speed of change, a commitment reiterated in the NHS Long-Term Plan to “do more to develop and embed cultures of compassion, inclusion, and collaboration across the NHS” (NHS England, 2019: 89). Whilst a more abstract concept than ‘equality’ and ‘diversity’, ‘inclusion’, with its emphasis on perceptions and experience (rather than objectively measurable criteria) highlights the cultural-cognitive dimensions of change. In so doing, we suggest, it offers the potential to address systemic causes, rather than surface-level symptoms, and to support the complex, messy, emotional and politicised work of mobilising large-scale culture change.

In this session, we will share findings from our action research and evaluation on this initiative, including enablers and barriers to change.  We will also invite participants to reflect on their own lived experience of inclusive and non-inclusive leadership and the challenges of mobilising lasting change on this agenda.null

How to attend

If you would like to attend this research symposium please register your details online: Click here to register

If you would also like to attend the evening Professorial address with Steve Kempster (please see below for details) you will need to register separately for this event.

Professorial Lecture Series: Professor Steve Kempster


Professor Steve Kempster (University of Lancaster Management School)

What are the Responsibilities of Business Leadership: Generating good dividends?

Thursday 6 June 2019, 17:30-20:00

Click here to register for the Professorial Lecture.

The talk will focus on Steve’s new book (with Thomas Maak and Ken Parry) out in February 2019 that explores the role of leadership in making manifest societal purpose to everyday business activity – how business value and social impact can be aligned and realised. Too little attention in leadership is focused on the responsibilities and activities of those who lead.

Steve will seek to answer the question ‘leadership for what?’ He will outline an answer through focusing on responsible leadership of purpose through an interdisciplinary perspective. Responsible leadership moves the axis of leadership from leader – followers to leader – stakeholders; away from looking at leadership as person-centric – the qualities, abilities, and effectiveness of the leader – to a focus on the purposes, responsibilities, and activities of leadership. For further details and to register please visit our event page.

New Publication – Economic Clusters and Globalization: Diversity and Resilience

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Economic Clusters and Globalization: Diversity and Resilience“, edited by our Dr Berrbizne Urzelai and Francisco Puig, shows that in today’s globalized world, clusters are an important factor in explaining the different growth rates of firms, cities and regions. Drawing on the expertise of an international contributor team, it covers topics such as clusters and small and medium-sized enterprise competitiveness, innovation and science parks, clusters and multinationals, and information and communication technology clusters. It reveals great diversity in terms of the origin of clusters, the organizational relationships at play, and the characteristics of the firms involved. Taking lessons from a rich variety of literature and empirical cases, the book provides valuable insights for regional development and industrial policy.

The 18th International Studying Leadership Conference 16th-17th December 2019

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Bristol Leadership and Change Centre is delighted to be hosting the 18th International Studying Leadership Conference in 2019 at Bristol Business School, UWE Bristol.

Please see our ISLC 2019 flyer and full PDF Call for Contriubutions

Call for Contributions

Theme: Putting Leadership in its Place

In contemporary tumultuous societal landscapes, some commentators claim that answers for problems are located in heroic individuals, whereas others take a more holistic approach and call for an understanding of context, culture and place in leadership practice. Only through understanding the relationship between leadership and the environment, they argue, will we be able to develop more effective and sustainable forms in the future; forms that are responsive, flexible and sensitive to change. We will define the concept of place in due course, but before note that researchers and scholars interested in studying place and leadership share some common similarities.

Most significantly, they challenge the notion that leadership is the sole responsibility of one individual who acts as if in a context-free vacuum. That is, mainstream approaches to leadership tend to valorise the quest for locating a ‘magic recipe’ of leadership attributes that can be farmed out to any individual to allow them to become effective in any situation. Very little attention is paid to other factors outside of the individual that may impact on success, largely because the ideal-type leader is seen to be so omniscient and omnipresent that place is deemed irrelevant. Despite the continued popularity of this simplistic approach (as evidenced in contemporary airport texts and ‘how-to’ guides), scholars from a diverse range of backgrounds take issue with the a-contextual nature, claiming it to be overly prescriptive (Graeff, 1983), to represent a North American bias (House, 1995) and to fail in capturing the nuanced and fundamentally idiosyncratic character of day-to-day leadership practice (Sutherland et al, 2014). They fail to ask questions such as: Why does leadership style vary from place-to-place? Why do certain leaders work well in some contexts and not in others? Why has the magic recipe of leadership not yet been found, in almost 100 years of formal leadership research?

We propose that focussing efforts primarily on individual leaders is problematic and reductionist. Instead, concentrating on the relationship between leadership and place can offer a deeper and more representative account of how leadership activity occurs. In some cases this may involve investigating how place influences leadership (e.g. how leaders have to conform to particular societal codes) and in others it may note how leadership influences place (e.g. the part that leaders play in shaping organisations and subordinates). Whilst we are reluctant to concretely define what we consider the concept of ‘place’ to encompass, there are some broad strokes we can draw at this stage, and would encourage those interested to submit work centered around the following questions: What is place? What aspects of it are important to consider for leadership practice?

What is place? What aspects of it are important to consider for leadership practice?

  • Geographical place. Scholars interested in ‘Worldly Leadership’ have long spoken about the importance of considering national culture and context on leadership practice, noting that for too long leadership studies has assumed a predominantly Western slant. Rather, geographical place bears influence over possibilities and constraints for doing leadership, and gives rise to a variety of different forms.  
  • Societal values & beliefs. Leading on from the former point, within issues of geographical location come the associated values, beliefs and ethical assumptions. Indeed, if we view these as inherently socially constructed, it seems clear that there can be no overarching way of defining what ‘good’ leadership is constituted by. Rather, we must develop approaches that acknowledge the importance of local constructs. 
  • Organisational culture and space. Moving beyond the macro level, consideration must also be paid to the organisational environments in which leadership happens. In what ways do leaders influence culture? In what ways are they influenced by existing cultures? What influence does the layout of space have on the day-to-day experience of doing leadership?
  • Structure, power & politics. The imagined structure of organisations and enmeshed power relations also constitute a part of place. Attention must therefore be paid to existing social relationships, roles and responsibilities, hierarchical assumptions and reporting relationships. Indeed, all of these aspects influence how effective certain styles of leadership may be. Do more autocratic styles of leadership work better in highly centralised organisations, compared with more fluid approaches in flatter groups? Does the structure of an organisation change with different forms of leadership, or vice versa?
  • Historical developments. Leadership styles, types and leader-follower relationships are also determined by history. Human beings cannot separate themselves from the ‘baggage’ of experience, and from this perspective we might note that deeply enmeshed relationships have positive or adverse effects on future leadership possibilities. Here then, we may focus on issues of time, not just considering what we wish future leadership to look like, but how we may learn from present and past practices.

How might we go about researching place and leadership practice?

With this in mind, attention must also be paid to the methodologies employed for investigating leadership. Indeed, if we are to welcome the notion of place, then we must (re-) consider how leadership is studied. To date the most common method continues to the questionnaire and survey (Bryman, 2005), and whilst interviews are increasingly in popularity we argue that further steps can be taken to understand the complexity of the task, including but not limited to: Ethnography; Collaborative inquiry / action research; Historiography; Narrative inquiry; Sensory methods. Headway is being made with this recently, with Sutherland (2016) arguing for deep participant observation as a way of understanding organisational discourses and leadership work, and Shortt (2014) promoting creative and visual methods to capture the day-to-day experiences of organisational actors. Whilst these approaches vary considerably in philosophy, style and outcome, all allow for a deeper appreciation of the interrelationship between myriad concepts of place and leadership. This stands in stark contrast with a more traditional approach of simply examining one piece of the puzzle: an individual leader and their personality.

What are the benefits of including place on the leadership research agenda?

In addition to reflecting on the place of place in leadership research, and the ways in which it may be studied, we also encourage thoughts on the various opportunities and potentialities that a place-based approach to leadership can bring. For example:

  • That it allows us to move away from the wild goose chase of mainstream approaches, and rather than seeking to find a ‘one best way’ of doing leadership that works in any situation, understand the leadership is an inherently context dependent act that requires a deep knowledge of individual situations. 
  • This may in turn lend to a greater appreciation for ‘alternative’ styles of leadership. Indeed, in casting our gaze beyond the conventional singular heroic individual, we may observe that this dominant narrative may become challenged by currently marginalised alternatives. That is, more distributed or hybrid configurations of leadership may receive more attention and gain traction as actionable and practical alternatives to the ideal-type individual leader. 
  • A place-based approach can also promote a general appreciation of continual reflection and organisational learning. In situating place as central on the research agenda, we acknowledge that flux is inevitable and situations are in constant transformation. Therefore, a significant part of leadership effectiveness is being able to keep up and respond positively to change. Through accepting reflection and being open to learning, leadership may become a more socially sustainable act. 
  • Finally, this place-based approach could be central in fostering connections between communities. Rather than seeing organisations as separate from their environment, Hambleton remarks that this perspective can allow leadership to “play a significant role In advancing social justice, promoting care for the environment and bolstering community empowerment” (2015).

Keynote Speakers

  • Professor Sonia Ospina, Professor of Public Management and Policy at the NYU Wagner Graduate School of Public Service, USA
  • Professor Elena Antonacopoulou, Professor of Organizational Behaviour at the University of Liverpool Management School, UK
  • Professor Peter Case, Professor of Organisation Studies, Bristol Business School, UWE, UK and Professor of Management and Organisation Studies, James Cook University, Australia

Other highlights

There will be a conference dinner in central Bristol on the night of 16th December to which all delegates are invited.

Following the conference delegates will be invited to submit their work for a special issue of the international peer-reviewed journal Leadership on the conference theme of ‘Putting leadership in its place’. Additional activities and opportunities will be confirmed nearer the time

Submissions

Whilst we encourage submissions linked to the conference theme we will also welcome abstracts on any theme linked to research on leadership and allied fields.

Submissions to the conference should be in the form of a 750-word (excluding references) abstract and should be forwarded to the conference organisers from 1st June to 1st September 2019 at blc@uwe.ac.uk. The conference committee will consider abstracts as and when they are submitted and a decision communicated to authors soon after submission.

All submissions should include on the cover page:

  • Title
  • Name of author(s)
  • Organisation affiliation/position(s)
  • Address
  • E-mail address
  • Topic Area and Stream

The submissions should be:

  • A word or PDF file
  • Written in English
  • Indicating word count clearly on cover page

Conference fees

Early bird rate (inc. conference dinner) by 30th September 2019 – £295 per person

Standard registration (inc. conference dinner) from 1st October 2019 – £345 per person

Student fee (subject to availability) – £245 per person

Please note: conference fees do not include accommodation which should be arranged separately by conference attendees.

Delegates can book accommodation at the Holiday Inn Filton for the below reduced rates by quoting the reference “UWF”:

  • Sunday 15 December – £79.00
  • Monday 16 December – £99.00

To book this accommodation please contact Holiday Inn Filton on 0117 910 4270 between 8:30am – 5:30pm (Monday – Friday) or email reservations@hibristolfilton.co.uk

Conference Organisers

The conference is co-sponsored by the Bristol Leadership and Change Centre (BLCC).

www.uwe.ac.uk/research/blcc
@UWEleadership

Please refer all initial queries regarding the conference to Dr Gareth Edwards or one of the other conference committee members, see below:

For general queries about the conference please email blc@uwe.ac.uk.

For specific advice on your submission please contact Dr Gareth Edwards at Gareth3.edwards@uwe.ac.uk.

Conference venue

Bristol Business School

UWE Bristol
Frenchay Campus
Coldharbour Lane
Bristol
BS16 1QY
United Kingdom

Please see the UWE website for information on how to get here and a map of Frenchay campus.

References

Bryman, A. (2004) Qualitative research on leadership: a critical but appreciative review, The Leadership Quarterly, 15, 729-769.

Carroll, B., Firth, J. and Wilson, S. (eds) (2018) After Leadership. Abingdon: Routledge.

Denis, J.L., Langley, A. and Sergi, V. (2012) Leadership in the plural, The Academy of Management Annals, 6(1), 211-283.

Fairhurst, G. T. (2009) Considering context in discursive leadership research, Human Relations, 62(11), 1607-1633.

Graeff, C. L. (1983) The Situational Leadership Theory: A critical view, Academy of Management Review, 8, 285-291.

Hambleton, R. (2014) Leading the Inclusive City:  Place-based innovation for a bounded planet. Bristol: The Policy Press.

Hartley, J. (2011) ‘Political leadership’, in A. Bryman, D. Collinson, K. Grint, B. Jackson, & M. Uhl-Bien (Eds.), The Sage Handbook of Leadership. London: Sage, pp. 203-214.

Ospina, S. and Foldy, E. (2009) A critical review of race and ethnicity in the leadership literature: Surfacing context, power and the collective dimensions of leadership, The Leadership Quarterly, 20, 876–896.

Ropo, A. and Salovaara, P. (2018) Spacing leadership as an embodied and performative process, Leadership, Online First: April 16, 2018.

Rost, J. (1991) Leadership for the Twenty-First Century. Westport, CT: Praeger.

Schedlitzki, D., Case, P. and Knights, D. (2017) Ways of leading in non-Anglophone contexts: Representing, expressing and enacting authority beyond the English-speaking world, Leadership, 13(2), 127–132.

Schein, E. H. (1992) Organizational Culture and Leadership. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Shortt, H. and Warren, S. (2019) Grounded visual pattern analysis photographs in organizational field studies. Organizational Research Methods, 22 (2), 539-563.

Sutherland, N. (2018) Investigating leadership ethnographically: Opportunities and potentialities. Leadership, 14 (3), 263-290.

Turnbull, S. Case, P., Edwards, G., Schedlitzki, D. and Simpson, P. (eds) (2011) Worldly Leadership: Alternative wisdoms for a complex world, Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.

Western, S. and Garcia, E.J. (eds.) (2018) Global Leadership Perspectives: Insights and Analysis, London: Sage Publications.