What Just Happened in UK Politics?

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Professor Richard Bolden shares his views with the International Leadership Association (ILA).

Blog post orginally posted on the ILA wesbite.

Over the past seven weeks the world watched on as Liz Truss crashed and burned as Prime Minister of the UK. After just 45 days in office — two weeks less than the election process through which she was appointed and, if you take out the period of national mourning for Queen Elizabeth II, shorter than the average shelf life of a lettuce (Economist, 2022, Daily Star, 2022) — Liz Truss unceremoniously stepped down as leader of the Conservative Party.

There is no shortage of journalists and political commentators writing their own accounts of what’s happened but, in this blog post, I would like to reflect on this as a leadership researcher and educator. To do this, I will consider the case from individual, organizational and societal perspectives.

An Individual Perspective: The Fall of Liz Truss

Without doubt, the most common way in which Liz Truss’s time in office will be analyzed is in relation to her own shortcomings and failures as a leader. The benefit of hindsight is a wonderful thing and there are many people coming forward to express the concerns they had about her character and suitability for the role of Prime Minister.

Over the past few days, I’ve heard her described as “tin eared,” “naïve,” “arrogant,” “stupid,” “talentless,” and many more things beside. Whilst these may or may not be a fair assessment of her qualities, they beg the question of why on earth her candidacy was supported by so many ministers and members of the Conservative Party if this is how they felt about her. Surely there was some evidence of this, or an attempt to assess her suitability, before she was given the biggest job in UK politics?

I’ve always been dubious about the motivations of anyone who would wish to become PM or President given the immense responsibility and public scrutiny such roles carry. Indeed, in a reverse Catch-22 type scenario, anyone ambitious enough to put themselves forward should perhaps be deemed unsuitable and hence ineligible for the role. There’s plenty of research evidence on the psychopathology of leadership and the risks of narcissism, greed, and corruption amongst senior leaders in all walks of life. Such toxicity is clearly not healthy, but it’s a mistake to lay the blame wholly on the individual leader her/himself — indeed we may need to take a closer look at ourselves.

The psychodrama of Westminster over the past weeks, months, years says perhaps as much about our own relationship to leaders and leadership as the individual protagonists themselves. In a recent book chapter I co-authored with Lucie Hartley, drawing on insights from her time as CEO of a drug and alcohol charity, we reflected on the addictive nature of leadership (Hartley & Bolden, 2022). While individual leaders may become trapped in destructive cycles of addictive behavior, the causes and consequences are not entirely of their own making. The tendency to romanticize leadership and the heroic qualities of successful leaders disguises the fact that we frequently place people in situations that would turn even the most admirable individual into something else.

While I have no doubt that Liz Truss willingly and enthusiastically embraced the opportunity to be Prime Minister, she did so at a time of extreme turbulence. Michelle Ryan and Alex Haslam (2005) coined the term the “glass cliff” to describe the circumstances in which female leaders and leaders from minority backgrounds are disproportionately more likely to be appointed to senior leadership roles in times of significant risk. While there are a number of possible explanations for this trend, it means that these individuals are placed in particularly precarious situations where the likelihood of failure is at its greatest. As the political commentator Andrew Marr stated in relation to the unraveling of Liz Truss’s government: “It was triggered by the immediate causes: bad political judgement, naiveté about markets, personal arrogance and cliquishness. Truss is simply not good enough — not shrewd enough in judgement, not persuasive enough as a communicator — to be prime minister. But this is the failure of an idea that would have collapsed even had Britain been led by better politicians” (Marr, 2022).

While I have no desire to present Truss as a victim, she became the embodiment of a set of ideals promoted by certain factions of her Party that were fundamentally out of step with the realities of the markets and wider society. She stated that in her commitment to growth she was prepared to do things that might be considered unpopular. Modeling herself on Margaret Thatcher, she claimed to be “a fighter not a quitter” and “not for turning”… until the markets and public opinion forced her to U-turn on pretty much everything she’d put in place during her time in office. We expect a lot of our leaders — including the ultimate act of self-sacrifice when things turn bad (Grint, 2010).

An Organizational Perspective: A Divided Party

The Conservative and Unionist Party of Great Britain is one of the main political parties in the UK. It represents the right-of-centre political interests and agendas and, within England at least, faces its main opposition from the left-of-centre Labour Party. There are currently 357 Conservative ministers, representing around 55% of all members of the House of Commons. The government comprises a Cabinet of senior leaders appointed by the PM and a large group of “back bench” members of parliament (MPs) elected to represent the interests of their local constituencies. An oppositional form of government is maintained, whereby, the party in power sits opposite the opposition parties in the main chamber of the House of Commons and legislation and policies are debated and voted on by members.

The origins of the UK structure of government dates back to the 13th and 14th centuries, with current arrangements largely unchanged for over 100 years. Unlike typical organizations, the PM’s authority comes from the mandate gained through General Elections, which occur every 4-5 years, where the public get to vote for their preferred party/candidate. These are supplemented by local elections to approve changes in representation between the national election cycle and by occasional national referendums on key issues, such as the UK’s membership of the European Union in 2016.

Within such an environment, the ability of the PM to instill a sense of “confidence” and maintain “discipline” is key. While MPs usually vote along party lines, within a democratic system of government they have the freedom to vote in the way they believe best serves the interests of the electorate. There are occasional exceptions to this, such as the vote on fracking on the evening of Wednesday 19th October 2022 that descended into chaos when Conservative MPs were informed that it was a “confidence vote” and they were expected to vote “no” to a motion to ban fracking no matter what their personal opinion on the matter or the views of their constituents. Despite the attempts of party “whips” and senior Cabinet members to encourage (force) members to vote as directed, 32 (nearly 10%) did not register a vote.

The events of the past few weeks have highlighted deep divisions within the Party that have existed for many years. Rather than all Conservatives sharing a unified set of beliefs, values, and priorities it is a loose affiliation of divided factions. These are the issues that David Cameron was trying to resolve when he called the national referendums, firstly on Scottish independence in 2015 and then membership in the EU in 2016. He hoped that once they had been decided through a public vote, MPs would fall into line and follow the guidance of the PM and Cabinet. In reality, however, such votes — particularly Brexit — seemed to further cement divisions within the Party and have led to widespread resistance and challenge across the different sub-groups — fueling, in large part, the churn of senior leaders, including three Prime Ministers and four Chancellors of the Exchequer (responsible for managing the national budget) in the last few months.

Commentators suggest that the Conservatives need to find a “unity candidate” to replace Liz Truss, someone who can lead and engage people from across the whole party, but such people are in short supply. The contenders — Rishi Sunak, Penny Mordant, and (the former PM) Boris Johnson — are all divisive given that they represent the interests of particular stakeholders rather than the whole party… not to mention the wider country. While Sunak, the runner up in the previous election campaign, has now gained sufficient support to be named the new leader, he has a significant challenge ahead in engaging those who hold him personally responsible for the departure of Boris Johnson and the drama that has since unfolded.

At the end of the day, leadership is about building, rather than burning, bridges.

The social identity approach to leadership, outlined by Alex Haslam and colleagues (2020), highlights the need for leaders to be seen to represent the interests and identity of a collective and to be doing it for “us.” Application of these ideas to the COVID-19 pandemic by Jetten et al. (2020) goes further, suggesting that (1) leaders need to represent us, and in a crisis “us” becomes more inclusive; (2) leaders need to be seen to do it for us, and there is no place for leader exceptionalism; and (3) leaders need to craft and embed a sense of us, and this creates a platform for citizenship.

This mirrors evidence from the Center for Creative Leadership on the nature and importance of “boundary spanning” leadership — defined as “the ability to create direction, alignment, and commitment across boundaries in service of a higher vision or goal” (Ernst & Yip, 2009). Direction, alignment, and commitment are far from evident within UK politics at the moment, and with its absence, the sense of shared purpose and capacity for collaboration needed for effective leadership and governance have evaporated. As the long-standing Tory MP Charles Walker stated following the chaotic vote on 19 October — “I’ve had enough of talentless people putting their tick in the box, not because it’s in the national interest but because it’s in their own personal interest” (Walker, 2022).

A Societal Perspective: Uniting Around a Shared Purpose

To understand Liz Truss’s spectacular failure, however, it is not sufficient to just consider individual and organizational factors. The speed and scale of her demise was largely shaped by factors beyond the direct control of either her or her colleagues.

She came into her position at a time of significant economic and geopolitical turmoil. The Russian invasion of Ukraine and a number of related factors (including the legacy of COVID-19) had driven up fuel costs and impacted food production, which had a direct impact on the cost of living for people across the UK. There were urgent calls for support in helping businesses and working families as well as those already receiving benefits, to cope with the rising cost of bills for fuel, food, and a wide range of essentials. Rapid action was required to put systems and processes in place before the winter in order to minimize the adverse effects.

The policy advocated by Liz Truss and her allies was one of establishing the UK as a high growth, low tax economy. Described by some as “Singapore on Thames” and others as “Trussonomics” — the approach is founded on the idea of cutting red tape and taxes to drive economic growth. This “trickle down” approach proposed that cutting taxes for the wealthiest would benefit those on lower incomes by mobilizing spending and job opportunities. This vision was core to Truss’s campaign to be elected as Party leader and was presented as confident and optimistic in the face of her opponent, Rishi Sunak’s, campaign that spoke of hard times ahead and the need to reign in public spending. When 141,000 Conservative members voted on whom to elect as party leader in September 2022, 57.4% chose Truss over Sunak (Statista, 2022), quite probably because of the more inspiring vision she set out of a post-Brexit Britain.

While those Conservative party members who voted for her, however, may have been persuaded by her argument, the “markets” were far less sympathetic — particularly when her (then) Chancellor, Kwasi Kwarteng, announced a “mini budget” on 23rd September 2022 that included £45 billion of unfunded tax cuts. This “spooked” the markets and led to a rapid drop in the value of the pound, forcing the Bank of England to intervene, increasing interest rates and buying government bonds. The crisis in the financial markets was fueled, to a large extent, by the lack of communication and engagement between Truss and Kwarteng with the business and financial sector (including the Bank of England and, indeed, their own MPs) in advance of the announcements. The unusual decision not to check projections with the Office for Budget Responsibility (established to give independent advice on the UK’s public finance) further undermined confidence — leaving many to assume that the government’s plans were not based on robust analysis and would leave a large gap in the UK economy.

Together, these factors demonstrate the importance of building consensus and support with key stakeholders beyond the immediate team/organization before launching a significant shift in strategy. Without this, the perceived competence, credibility, and legitimacy of leaders can quickly evaporate, making it very hard (or impossible) to regain sufficient support to move forward. The series of U-turns on the policies within the mini-budget, while essential to rebuilding some kind of stability within the markets, whittled away what remaining authority Truss held such that there was no option than to eventually resign.

Where Next?

Today we find ourselves turning to a new leader of the Conservative Party — someone who will also take on the role of Prime Minister. Recent events illustrate the ambivalent relationship to leadership we have in the UK (Bolden & Witzel, 2018). We appear to love and hate our leaders in equal measure — to put them on a pedestal and then topple them when they fail to behave in ways, or to deliver, what we expect (despite the warning signs that might already exist or the incredible demands they face).

While the primary focus of the current crisis in UK politics is “leadership,” we may, perhaps, be advised to spend more time thinking about the importance of “followership.” While each of the contenders for the role of Prime Minister had their own group of loyal advocates, to be successful Rishi Sunak will have to gain the support of a diverse range of stakeholders — including his own party, business and financial services, the public sector and the wider UK population — and demonstrate how he will represent and deliver against their needs and aspirations rather than those of a narrow clique. At the end of the day, leadership is about building, rather than burning, bridges. It is about articulating and working towards a shared purpose that unites, rather than divides, those around them. Ultimately, this might require those in senior leadership positions to put aside their own personal ambitions in the pursuit of a genuinely collective endeavor. As with the apocryphal quote of a Roman Senator claiming “there go my people… I must go after them, so I can find out where they want me to lead them!” (Witzel, 2016) — the key to political leadership is to follow the “will of the people.” Whether or not anyone in the current UK government has the willingness or capacity to do this is yet to be seen.

References and Further Reading

  • Bolden, R. and Witzel, M. (2018) ‘Dis-United Kingdom? Leadership at a crossroads’ in S. Western and E.J. Garcia (eds) Global Leadership Perspectives: Insights and Analysis, London: Sage Publications, pp 161-169.
  • Bolden, R., Hawkins, B., Gosling, J. and Taylor, S. (2011) Exploring Leadership: Individual, organizational and societal perspectives.  Oxford: Oxford University Press. – Second edition to be published in March 2023.
  • Daily Star (2022) LIVE: Can Liz Truss outlast a lettuce? https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Sm-RE95lKJ0
  • Eardley, N. (2022) How big-bang economic plan and political turmoil sank Liz Truss, BBC News, 20/10/2022 https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-63335671
  • Economist, The (2022) Liz Truss has made Britain a riskier bet for bond investors, 11/10/2022 https://www.economist.com/leaders/2022/10/11/liz-truss-has-made-britain-a-riskier-bet-for-bond-investors
  • Ernst, C. and Yip, J. (2009) Bridging Boundaries: Meeting the Challenge of Workplace Diversity, Leadership in Action, 28(1), 3-6.
  • Grint, K., (2010) The Sacred in Leadership: Separation, Sacrifice, and Silence, Organization Studies, 31, 89-107.
  • Hartley, L. and Bolden R. (2022) ‘Addicted to Leadership: From crisis to recovery’ in Morgen Witzel (ed.) Post-Pandemic Leadership: Exploring solutions to a crisis, London: Routledge.
  • Haslam, S. A., Reicher, S. D. & Platow, M. J. (2020). The New Psychology of Leadership: Identity, influence and power, 2nd Edition. London & New York: Psychology Press.
  • Jetten, J., Reicher, S.D., Haslam, S.A. and Cruwys, T. (2020) Together Apart: The Psychology of COVID-19. London: Sage.
  • Kuenssberg, L. (2022) Tory leadership: Why would anyone want to be prime minister now anyway? BBC News, 22/10/2022 https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-63343723
  • Marr, A. (2022) The death of global Britain, New Statesman, 19/10/2022 https://www.newstatesman.com/politics/uk-politics/2022/10/andrew-marr-death-global-britain 
  • Ryan, M. and Haslam, S. A. (2005) The glass cliff: evidence that women are over-represented in precarious leadership positions, British Journal of Management, 16, 81-90.
  • Statista (2022) Percentage of votes won in the Conservative party leadership elections in the United Kingdom in 2022, by round.  https://www.statista.com/statistics/1323720/uk-conservative-leadership-leadership-elections/
  • Walker, C. (2022) I’ve had enough of talentless people, BBC News, 19/10/2022, https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/av/uk-politics-63320605
  • Witzel, M. (2016) The first paradox of leadership is – leadership! In R. Bolden, M. Witzel and N. Linacre (eds) Leadership Paradoxes: Rethinking leadership for an uncertain world. London: Routledge.

Dr. Richard Bolden has been Professor of Leadership and Management and Director of Bristol Leadership and Change Centre at Bristol Business School, University of the West of England (UWE) since 2013. Prior to this he worked at the Centre for Leadership Studies at the University of Exeter Business School for over a decade and has also worked as an independent consultant, research psychologist and in software development in the UK and overseas.

His research explores the interface between individual and collective approaches to leadership and leadership development in a range of sectors, including higher education, healthcare and public services. He has published widely on topics including distributed, shared and systems leadership; leadership paradoxes and complexity; cross-cultural leadership; and leadership and change. He is Associate Editor of the journal Leadership.

Richard has secured funded research and evaluation projects for organisations including the NHS Leadership Academy, Public Health England, Leadership Foundation for Higher Education, Singapore Civil Service College and Bristol Golden Key and regularly engages with external organisations. 

Workshop at Developing Leadership Capacity Conference 2022

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

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

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

Workshop from 10:30 – 12:00 on Tuesday 12 July 2022

Care within a Context of Chaos – Intuition, Imagination and Inspiration as a Way of Working with Emergence

Facilitators: Charlene Collison, Associate Director, Forum for the Future and Visiting Fellow, Bristol Leadership and Change Centre. Dr Charlotte von Bülow, Senior Lecturer in Leadership, Bristol Business School, UWE and Founder of the Crossfields Institute Group, UK.

This workshop takes inspiration from two central questions emerging from the invitation to this conference –

  • What might be done to develop a deeper sense of care, and to consider the implications for organisations and societies?
  • How can we situate issues of health and well-being at the forefront of the objectives that it wishes to accomplish? 
Background

At risk of stating the obvious, we wish to recognise the following as our building underlying premises for a workshop that sets out to inspire a conversation about the practice of accessing intuition, imagination and inspiration as a way of working in the current global context:

  • We are experiencing increasing periods of exponential change across society, technology, environment, the economy and political landscapes. What worked in the past has been less and less reliable as a way to know what will work in future. This is now not only accelerating but shifting into chaos and breakdown.
  • The stability of the world over the coming decades will be fundamentally shaken by climactic changes, climate breakdown, and resulting crisis in our social and economic systems. This is already creating extreme suffering around the world, and it will inevitably increase. [1]
  • The emerging world is one in which we increasingly will not be able to plan with sufficient certainty, even with increased adaptability. As our current approach to visioning, goal setting, budgeting and planning becomes more challenged, leadership must transform its approach to aspiring towards a goal and moving towards it in a way that is not only highly flexible, but works in a context of human disruption, confusion, bewilderment and disorientation. (Cascio, 2020)[2]
  • As leaders, managers and societal citizens we will often not know what to do. We need to prepare for bafflement, not knowing what solution is most likely to work, or what to prepare for. Leading within a context of “not knowing” – negative capability – will become essential (Bülow and Simpson, 2020)[3]

In this workshop, we propose that the practice of accessing intuition, imagination and inspiration offer ways of working in the current context. We propose that intuition is a way of recognising different forms of knowing; imagination might be a way of re-patterning what we know from the past in new and creative ways; inspiration, a way of identifying and engaging with emergence and that which is coming towards us from the future, individually and collectively. A response to uncertainty and chaos may also require us to learn to be with the complexity and suffering we witness, rather than retreating to distraction, denial, isolation or “othering” – we may need to develop ways of creating islands of sanity where people can work together in safe, supporting ways towards a shared good. For leadership, this means adopting a different kind of metric for success; letting go of expectations for achieving set targets in expected ways, setting goals in ways that will allow re-creation and adaptation as disruptions inevitably occur. We need to practice a more flexible approach to working towards goals, grounded in care and compassion for other human beings.

The workshop will be interactive and dialogic. After a short contribution from each contributor, we will invite a Symposionic conversation about the phenomenology of the backdrop outlined here and then focus our collective enquiry on how we learn to develop a sensitivity towards a practice of intuition, imagination and inspiration as a way of exploring a new form of self/leadership practice in a world of complexity. The workshop will be 2 hours long with a 15-minute break in the middle.


[1] AP News. (2022). UN Climate Report: Atlas of Human Suffering. Available from: https://apnews.com/article/climate-science-europe-united-nations-weather-8d5e277660f7125ffdab7a833d9856a3 [Accessed: May 1, 2022]

[2] Cascio, J. (2020). Facing the Age of Chaos. Medium. Available from: https://medium.com/@cascio/facing-the-age-of-chaos-b00687b1f51d [Accessed: April 29, 2020]

[3] Von Bülow, C., & Simpson, P. (2020). Negative capability and care of the self. In L. Tomkins (Ed.), Paradoxes of Leadership and Care: Critical and Philosophical Reflection (131-141). Cheltenham: Edward Elgar. https://doi.org/10.4337/9781788975506.00021. Available from https://uwe-repository.worktribe.com/output/3282609


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

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

You can watch the full recording here;

HIV Programme Management and Service Delivery in Zimbabwe

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

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

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

Developing Leadership Capacity Conference 2022

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We are pleased to announce the 12th Developing Leadership Capacity Conference (DLCC) will be taking place online from 12th-13th July 2022, hosted by Bristol Leadership and Change Centre at the Bristol Business School, UWE.

** Extended Deadline for Call for Contributions – 3rd May 2022 **

Theme: Leading to Care – Foregrounding Health and Well-being in Leadership Development and Education

Extreme challenges such as climate change, the Covid 19 pandemic and social inequality have a direct impact on the health and well-being of individuals and communities around the world. In this conference we challenge those that are developing and educating leaders and leadership to consider what might be done to develop a deeper sense of care and to consider the implications for organisations and societies. We are hoping to open a rich conversation that enables leadership learning to link more clearly to issues of health and well-being and to put these at the forefront of the objectives that it wishes to accomplish.

We would also like to create a constructive, collaborative space through this conference that enables us to explore issues and share ideas and practices for socially responsible leadership learning and development. Hence, we invite contributions on leadership learning, development and education that enable us as a community of practitioners and academics to critically examine leadership development and education’s role in caring for those that leaders are responsible to and having a positive impact on their well-being.

Whilst we are aiming to advance an understanding of issues of social responsibility, care, health and well-being, the conference will also welcome any other more general discussions of leadership learning, development, and education.

Call for Contributions

Initial submissions to the conference should be in the form of a 600-word abstract and should be sent to the conference organiser – Professor Gareth Edwards at Gareth3.edwards@uwe.ac.uk by the extended deadline of 3rd May 2022. There are three streams where contributions can be submitted, and we ask all submissions to specify the stream they are intending to contribute to. The streams are:

  1. Leadership Learning and Development (LLD) Research and Theory

Submissions to this stream should make contributions towards research and/or theory in leadership learning, development, and education.

  • LLD Practical Workshops

Submissions to this stream should be practically orientated and should be small workshops that explore innovative and creative techniques and tools used in leadership learning, development, and education. Space and resources will be provided for explorations, so requirements, such as room size and time should be made clear in the abstract/summary submitted.

  • LLD Case Studies

This submission stream is dedicated to those wishing to describe and explore examples of innovative and creative leadership learning, development, and education.

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 further be:

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

*Please note* We will do everything we can to allocate you a time slot which works with your time zone, so please don’t let this put you off if you will be presenting from outside the UK.

For any questions or queries, please contact Professor Gareth Edwards – Gareth3.edwards@uwe.ac.uk

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

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

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

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

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

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

We decided that we could give ourselves permission to:

Give ourselves freedom to make decisions with incomplete information.

Reflect before acting – be creative.

Be prepared to fail and learn.

Focus on our purpose and intention.

Say no – to disrupt, make mischief and play.

Look at new opportunities.

Thinking about the worst-case scenario.

Deferring to hegemonic leadership styles.

Not ask permission.

Think outside of the box and be brave.

Focus on the bright spots.

Bring people together.

Delight in ideas. Develop ourselves.

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

Carol, Kay, Selen and Hugo @The Unleadership Movement

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Bristol Leadership & Change Centre 2021 Highlights

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As one year comes to an end and another begins, we take a look back on 2021 to share some of the highlights from Bristol Leadership & Change Centre and the interesting projects members have been involved with.

Research Highlights

Professor Peter Case secured a prestigious Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation grant (in collaboration with the Malaria Elimination Initiative research centre based at the University of California, San Francisco) to assist the Ministry of Health and Child Care (MOHCC) in Zimbabwe to improve HIV prevention.

Dr Gareth Edwards, Dr Harriet Shortt, Professor Doris Schedlitzki from London Met University and Dr Sylwia Ciuk from Oxford Brookes University were successful in securing funding from the British Academy of Management (BAM) and the Society for the Advancement of Management (SAMS). The £145,000 fund will enable them to research leadership and language through visual representation over the next two years. They are hoping that this piece of research can encourage leadership studies and other organisation and management disciplines to take language more seriously in their research with the objective of becoming more inclusive.

Katie Joyce, Senior Lecturer in Organisation Studies completed her first Principal Investigator role following a successful research bid. She project managed and chaired the workshop: ‘Digital Methodologies – principles and practice of researching online’. The bid was approved by the Society for the Advancement of Management Studies.  The project team also included Dr Harriet Shortt, Prof Katrina Pritchard (Swansea University) and Craig Lennox (RBI input and event intern).

Professor Carol Jarvis, Dr Hugo Gaggiotti, Dr Selen Kars and Kay Galpin  were lucky enough to receive Higher Education Innovation Funding for The Unleadership Movement, to run a series of collaborative workshops in 2021 to start to understand more about the dimensions they’d identified; Paying it Forward with Kindness; Living with Imperfection; Catching the Wave and Confident Collaborating. The Unleadership Movement has gone from strength to strength in 2021 – from an idea to a movement! Since beginning with curiosity about leaderly practices in the pandemic and reflecting how both the state of exception and our consequent returning to a sense of normal they have learned so much this year.

Nottingham & Nottinghamshire Integrated Care System (ICS) is leading the way on integration to close the gap in health and wellbeing outcomes against a backdrop of limited finances, increasing population numbers and increasing numbers of people living in ill health. To support this, partners are working as an Organisation Development (OD) Collaborative across the whole system to develop well supported, informed and involved leaders and services that have the ability to influence the wider system into working effectively with partners across health, social care and the voluntary sector to provide joined up patient/service user care. In preparation for the introduction of ICS’s on a formal footing in 2022, Professor Carol Jarvis, Rob Sheffield, Professor Richard Bolden, Selen Kars and Margaret Roberts were commissioned by NHS Midlands Leadership Academy (Leadership and Lifelong Learning) to conduct a pre-diagnostic study. This research seeks to develop recommendations, grounded in a robust investigation of current and best practice, that will support the implementation of a sustainable, system-wide community of practice, with an emphasis on cultural development; service improvement/innovation methodologies; and leadership and in support of providing joined up patient/service user care.

Another research highlight for Professor Richard Bolden in 2021 was working on a project for the NHS London Leadership Academy into the experiences of healthcare workers through the pandemic and the implications and learning for leadership practice and development. The project was delivered entirely online and involved a diverse team of staff and visiting faculty including Anita Gulati, Addy Adelaine, Charlotte von Bulow and Conroy Grizzle. They also worked with a professional artist, Julian Burton from Delta7, to bring the participants’ powerful stories to life. Whilst the report is not yet in the public domain it is informing discussions within and beyond the Academy about how best to support and develop individuals, organisations and the wider system now and into the future.

Teaching & Learning

Professor Peter Case supported the delivery of a two-day face-to-face training workshop in August 2021 for nineteen Zimbabwe healthcare professionals enrolled on the FBL Postgraduate Certificate in Professional Practice in Change Leadership (PPCL). The students are working as part of the 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.

A teaching and learning highlight for Professor Richard Bolden was setting up and running the Leadership, Complexity and Change in Healthcare module for the Advanced Clinical Practitioner Degree Apprenticeship programme. This has now been delivered to over 60 participants in two cohorts (May-June and October-November 2021) and will continue as a core module on the programme. He delivers it alongside Gina Burns and Rob Sheffield, as well as colleagues from the Faculty of Health and Applied Sciences.

Katie Joyce has enjoyed a number of teaching highlights in 2021, including module leading the ‘Professional Practice in Change Leadership’ (PPCL) which was an excellent example of highly effective teamwork and partnership working across continents, despite complex challenges faced due to the Covid19 pandemic. Katie has also been working in collaboration with HAS, leading on the coach education aspect of a trailblazing undergraduate programme titled: ‘Student Healthcare Leadership Programme’ (SHLP).  Students on this programme are allocated to a coach (a senior healthcare leader), and undertake x3 one hour 1:1 coaching session with the aim of developing their leadership capabilities.  Developed by the Council of Deans of Health in 2016 and funded by Health Education England (HEE), UWE are one of the first universities in England to run a health-specific coaching scheme of this kind.

Dr Harriet Shortt and Katie Joyce together ran the first online ‘Personal Mastery in Leadership’ module, during a pandemic AND getting lovely feedback!

Dr Arthur Turner‘s teaching highlight is working with Dr Karine Mangion on the ILM Coaching and Mentoring Certificates at Level 5 and Level 7. Karine has brought a huge amount of expertise and laughter to these vocational qualifications, which over the past 8 years have had over 70 registered at any one time.

Publications

Inspired by the pioneering Finnish ‘Team Academy’ approach, UWE Bristol was among the first to introduce this programme to the UK. Our award-winning BA (Hons) in Business (Team Entrepreneurship) is an innovative degree course that allows students to develop practical skills by working in teams, creating value for organisations, forming ventures and ultimately learning how to manage themselves to become effective problem-solvers. A new Routledge book series outlining case studies and research from the Team Academy around the world has recently been co-edited by Berrbizne Urzelai Lopez De Aberasturi, one of the Team Coaches at UWE, and provides valuable insights for those looking to find out more about this approach. There are four books in the series, including: Team Academy and Entrepreneurship Education, Team Academy in Practice, Team Academy: Leadership and Teams, and Team Academy in Diverse Settings.

Along with Professor Jonathan Gosling, Professor Peter Case 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.

Dr Jenna Pandeli, Senior Lecturer in Organisation Studies, had her research featured in an article in the Financial Times titled ‘Orange Collar’ workers are not the best solution to labour shortages. An excerpt of the article follows. Jenna was also delighted to discover that her UWE colleague had read the article in the Spanish Financial Times whilst travelling in Barcelona!

‘Much of the work that does take place inside prison workshops, even for private sector companies, is poor preparation for life outside. Jenna Pandeli at the University of the West of England spent 10 months observing and interviewing male prisoners involved in privately contracted prison work such as breaking up electrical items for recycling, putting stickers on parcels and sorting through waste. The work was mostly boring, monotonous and low-skilled, she found. Indeed, these jobs were disappearing from the world outside the prison gates because they were being offshored to cheaper locations. In England and Wales, the minimum pay for prisoners who work is just £4 a week.’

Dr Charlotte von Bülow and Dr Peter Simpson were successful in securing a new book publication

With Palgrave Macmillan which will be coming out in Spring 2022.  Offering fresh insights for leadership students, researchers, and practitioners on the challenges of working in uncertainty, the book offers a novel perspective on Negative Capability as a way of being. Each chapter explores an aspect of Negative Capability through the accounts of leaders and managers who had the courage to explore this way of being and share the stories about its powerful impact. Ultimately, this book explores how a practice of attention can lead to new ways of understanding the role of purpose, leisure, and passion in leadership practice. They’ve received some wonderful endorsements.

Dr Arthur Turner, Dr Gareth Edwards and Dr Harriet Shortt had their paper published: “Reflections from the field (mountain, cityscape and park): walking for management development and links to being-in-the world, belonging and “Ba”” in the Journal of Management Development.

Arthur, Gareth and Harriet (plus a colleague, Catherine Latham from South Wales) worked together for seven years to pull together data that they had been collecting from programmes and interventions where we had been utilising aspects of walking in the development of leadership. They selected, together, three different theoretical stand-points and discussed in their paper the reasons why they thought walking and adult leadership development went together so well. 

Events

During 2021, The Unleadership team were able to work with some interns who have helped them to develop their identity on social media and to create some engaging animations and videos to share their ideas. What has been really refreshing is the rich stories their collaborators have shared with them during their six online workshops, from describing how they can ”let the human spirit into our workplaces” to making time in our communities and our lives to be true the values we hold dear. They also enjoyed sharing some learning at the Collective Leadership for Scotland Campfires event in September with an international audience where they heard more ideas about connection, bravery and communityship during adversity. It’s been inspiring to hear how thoughts about leading, not leadership – have resonated with others; some who have felt that they have found a new language to talk about what they are doing, taking leaps of faith, driven by the desire to make a difference and to connect with others without encapsulating their experiences into a leader-follower dichotomy.

Towards the end of 2021, Bristol Leadership & Change Centre hosted two online events before and after COP26. The first event in October, two of our visiting faculty members – Charlene Collison and Professor Jonathan Gosling discussed the opportunities, and likely challenges, of COP26 in securing real progress on climate change.  Drawing on extensive experience in a range of contexts, the speakers will shared their thoughts and reflections on what a successful COP needed to enable and set society up to deliver.

The second event in December began with a conversation between Jonathan Gosling and Steve Martineau, a member of the team appointed by the UK High-Level Climate Action Champion for COP26 Nigel Topping. Steve began by discussing the background to this work and the role of the Climate Action Champions in representing the voices of business and other communities in the discussions. He illustrated this by characterising the national governments as vertical systems, with business, finance, etc. as horizontal systems that intersect these at a global level. Following this discussion, Charlene Collison shifted our attention to the impacts of climate change on local communities and individuals around the world. She did this by highlighting that even with the agreements at COP26 we are on track for a 2.5oC increase in global temperatures – well beyond that experienced through human history.

External Engagement

Visiting faculty member Charlene Collison, Associate Director, Sustainable Value Chains and Livelihoods, Forum for the Future.Charlene leads multi-stakeholder collaborative initiatives across a range of sectors and themes, including directing the Cotton 2040 initiative in which she launched a climate change risk assessment tool for the global cotton sector and ran a series of workshops with cross sector participation to understand the risks, what the implications might be along the value chain, and priority actions the sector needs to take.

In 2021 Professor Richard Bolden and colleagues completed Phase 4 of the local evaluation of the Golden Key programme, which compiled evidence from a range of initiatives to support system change for the provision of services for people with multiple disadvantage in Bristol. They also supported the successful bid led by Bristol City Council to secure funding for a further three year’s work as part of the Changing Futures initiative from the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government as well as the National Lottery Community Fund.

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

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

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

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

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

Multidisciplinary Research Teams and Transdisciplinary Impacts

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In September Peter Case, Professor of Organization Studies at UWE Bristol delivered a webinar for staff and doctoral students at the College of Business, Law & Governance – James Cook University in Australia. Here is a summary of his presentation, talking about multidisciplinary research teams and transdisciplinary impacts.

Researchers increasingly find themselves inhabiting a world in which sponsors demand that their work generate outcomes and impacts beyond the walls of academia. There is an expectation that applied research will yield beneficial changes to one or more of the following areas of life: economy, society, culture, public policy, the environment, health and wellbeing. Moreover, many of the problems that researchers face are extremely complex, if not ‘wicked’ (Rittel & Webber, 1973) in nature.

The challenges of tackling problems caused by climate change or trying to achieve sustainable development, for example, typically involve multiple stakeholder interests and are mediated by an array of interrelated socio-material factors.  Accommodating such high levels of complexity is an endeavour that, arguably, falls beyond the scope and capacity of any single disciplinary frame.

One response to challenges posed by complexity is to employ multidsiciplinary research teams. These teams typically comprise a diverse set of experts who bring particular specialist perspectives, theories and methodologies to bear on a given problem. Multidisciplinary teams thus afford a more holistic approach to the issue at hand and, moreover, hold the prospect of producing ‘joined up’ solutions to any given problem.

Peter Case recently gave a talk on this, sharing some of his experiences of working with mutlidisciplinary research teams in the context of complex problems and large scale projects. He spoke about drawing on his work in international development and global healthcare spaces to explore what is involved in forming teams, managing group dynamics and harnessing collective efforts to meet overall project aims and objectives.

Peter concluded by arguing that enhancing research impact entails moving beyong a strictly multidisciplinary approach to a transdisciplinary mode of stakeholder engagement; one in which academic researchers facilitate and contribute to wider dialogue with partner institutions and intended beneficiaries.

The Rhetoric and Reality of Systems Leadership

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A talk by Professor Richard Bolden at The Future of Leadership conference hosted by Kings College, London.

Professor Richard Bolden was invited by the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (an executive agency of the Ministry of Defence) to speak at a video conference on ‘The Future of Leadership’, hosted by Kings College London on 22nd May. His presentation, titled ‘The Rhetoric and Reality of Systems Leadership’ summarised insights from his recent research in the NHS and public health to highlight key insights for public service leadership over the coming decades.

What is Systems Leadership?

“Systems Leadership is about how you lead across boundaries departmental, organisational or sector. It’s how you lead when you’re not in charge, and you need to influence others rather than pull a management lever. It describes the way you need to work when you face large, complex, difficult and seemingly intractable problems; where you need to juggle multiple uncertainties; where no one person or organisation can find or organise the solution on their own…”
Sorkin, 2016

Watch the recorded conference HERE including Richard’s talk.

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