Spotlight on Professor Jonathan Gosling

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The International Leadership Association (ILA) brings together professionals with a keen interest in the study, practice, and teaching of leadership. It is the largest worldwide community committed to leadership scholarship, development, and practice. Each year, the ILA’s Leadership Legacy Program honours those who have made a significant lifetime contribution to the field of leadership through their published works and influential support of leadership knowledge and practice. We are delighted to hear that Jonathan Gosling, a Visiting Professor at Bristol Leadership & Change Centre, will be awarded the 2021 ILA Lifetime Achievement Award at the ILA Global Conference in Geneva later this month, and we asked him to comment about his prestigious award.

“This award recognises work with colleagues, many now based at the Bristol Leadership and Change Centre. Work which has touched the worlds of public health and private equity, from humanitarian emergencies to defence strategies.  We have always aimed to appreciate and support the extraordinarily complex work of leadership – which includes the webs of cooperation and contest in which it is often entangled.  One of our current projects with BLCC is to embed a truly worldly mindset in our Executive MBA courses by enabling students to work alongside leaders from all over the world. This is essential if we are to stand for leadership that is bold enough to stay connected and compassionate in the face of such a pressured world. So it is very pleasing that our lifetime (so far) of achievements (so far) are recognised by the ILA, and I am most grateful.”

Jonathan works closely alongside BLCC members, including Professor Richard Bolden and Professor Peter Case. He has authored a wide range of books, chapters and journal articles, many of which can be found on his personal website. The following except is taken from a recent chapter titled ‘Leadership and Management in a time of Deep Adaptation’ (2021). 

“The chapter is mainly concerned with how to sustain a capacity for leadership to contribute to organising in ways that remain kind and inclusive while also being effective and appreciated as socially legitimate.

“Leadership and management are aspects of ‘organising’ that traditionally place a special emphasis on the authority of one or a few people. Many other organising processes are required for productive work and wholesome community life (such as cooperation, peer pressure, self-authorisation and coercion (Alvesson & Blom, 2019)), and all come under pressure when things start to fall apart. Radical change tends to give rise to deep-seated responses to anxiety in individuals, groups and whole societies, especially when the threats are as all-encompassing as a pandemic of climate chaos. Leading ‘deep adaptation’ in periods of collapsing social structures requires the maturity to tolerate, contain and ‘turn’ these responses in constructive ways. This can be accomplished through individual initiative as well as through the kinds of behaviours and structures that allow leadership (along with other membership contributions) from many people.

“Leadership of adaptation is diverse and sometimes hardly recognisable as leadership. It may be found in counter-cultural experiments, in some protest and some policing, and is often persistent and undemonstrative in the sustaining institutions of society (schools, churches, professions etc.). It helps us reconcile with the situation, measure the appreciation of risks, grieve when we suffer loss, weigh with discretion when our options seem narrowed, and to choose pragmatic and courageous change. 

“However, while lauding the self-disciplined reasonableness of this kind of leadership, we should not totally eschew the bravado of the narcissist nor the bright hopefulness of co-dependent saviors: although both trade in unreality to some extent, they meet real emotional needs in individuals, organizations, and society.” (Gosling, 2021)

Understanding the strengths and limitations of different forms of leadership, and ensuring we have the capacity for deep adaptation, is a task to which our colleagues at UWE, Bristol much to offer.

To find out more about this, Pelumbra Ltd or indeed any other projects Jonathan is working on get in touch by email at


Alvesson, M., & Blom, M. (2019). Beyond leadership and followership. Working with a variety of modes of organizingOrganizational Dynamics, 48(1): 28-37.

Gosling, J. (2021) Leadership and management in a context of Deep Adaptation in Bendell, J. and Read R. Deep Adaptation: Preparing for climate chaos. London: Polity Press

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