Research & Theory at the 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

Research & Theory from 13:00 – 14:30 on Tuesday 12 July 2022

With some amendments to the agenda, this Research & Theory presentation has been moved into the 13:00 streamed session.

The place of Negative Capability in Caring Leadership Practice

Authors: Charlotte von Bülow and Peter Simpson, UWE Bristol

The poet, Keats, described Negative Capability, as when a person ‘is capable of being in uncertainties, Mysteries, doubts, without any irritable reaching after fact & reason’ (Gittings, 1970, p.43). We interpret this as a way of being that is accessible to us when we let go of our attachments to thinking, feeling, and doing. In this presentation we consider self-care in leadership practice at the level of being and the deeper links with Negative Capability.

We draw upon ancient traditions of exercises for the inner work of self-care. For example, self-examination was a practice deeply embedded in the early cultures of India and Egypt, contributing to an early form of life-long learning, giving a person a sense of meaning and direction in life (Hadot, 2004). Indicating why this is worthy of particular attention in relation to Negative Capability, Hadot (1995, p.127) makes clear that these traditions were concerned not merely with the development of the individual as a thinking, doing, and feeling subject, but comprises a range of developmental exercises that ‘have as their goal… the metamorphosis of our being.’

We also draw upon Foucault’s (1997) related review of the ancient practices of ‘Care of the Self’ (heautou epimeleisthai) and recent literature has indicated its potential relevance to organisation studies (see Raffsnøe, Mennicken, & Miller, 2019) and leadership practice (Bülow & Simpson, 2020; Tomkins, 2020). Reminiscent of Keats’ deep reflections throughout his letters, this is a practice of philosophical inquiry into self.

Hadot (1995, p. 84) categorises the ancient exercises as meditations, ‘remembrances of good things’, intellectual exercises (e.g., reading, listening, research, and investigation), and more active exercises (e.g., self-mastery, accomplishment of duties, and indifference to indifferent things). These themes have emerged in recent literature, including Mirvis (2008), who argues, 

… experiences that stimulate introspection and include time and space for ‘inner work,’ whether in the forms of reflection, meditation, prayer, or journaling, can all deepen one’s sense-of-self. (2008, p. 175) 

This list might suggest practices that pander to the solipsistic concerns of some modern approaches to personal and professional development (Tomkins and Ulus, 2015). On the contrary, Foucault is clear that this practice is not selfish and ‘is not an exercise in solitude, but a true social practice’ (1990, p. 51). Hadot states that these developmental practices also ‘have as their goal the transformation of our vision of the world…’ (Hadot 1995, p. 127) – a theme that relates to a leadership practice not of defining purpose but of being open to an emerging sense of purpose. A transformation can occur not only at the level of being but also in the way in which things are seen. The exercises are designed to give a new perspective on the world and to develop a capacity for a heightened quality of attention that is inherently social: ‘the work of oneself on oneself and communication with others are linked together’ (Foucault, 1990, p. 51). 

There are several related experiential learning processes that have seen something of a renaissance in recent years (Hay & Samra-Fredericks, 2019; Purser & Milillo, 2015). However, the interpretation of these practices and the motivation for their use is often linked to short-term outcomes or guided by a ‘blind trust in an exclusively economic view of business and the world’ (Colby et al., 2011, p. 29). This tends to foster a remedial focus at the level of need (e.g., stress management, career development, problem resolution). Whilst important as aspects of self-care, Negative Capability offers the potential for a developmental transformation in our vision of the world and at the level of our being.

References

Bülow, C.v. & Simpson, P. (2022) Negative Capability in Leadership Practice: Implications for Working in Uncertaity. London: Palgrave MacMillan.

Bülow, C.v. & Simpson, P. (2020) ‘Negative Capability and the Care of the Self’, in Tomkins, L. (ed) Paradoxes of Leadership and Care: Critical and Philosophical Reflection, New Horizons in Leadership Series, Cheltenham: Edward Elgar.

Colby, A., Ehrlich, T., Sullivan, B., & Dolle, J. (2011). Rethinking undergraduate business education: Liberal learning for the profession. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass 

Foucault, M. (1990). The history of sexuality, Vol. 3: The care of the self (R. Hurley trans.). London: Penguin.   

Foucault, M. (1997) The Ethics of the Concern for Self as a Practice of Freedom, in P. Rabinow (Ed.) Ethics, Subjectivity and Truth. Essential Works of Foucault 1954-1984 (R. Hurley trans.) (pp. 281-301). London: Penguin 

Gittings, R. (1970) Letters of John Keats. Oxford: OUP. 

Hay, A. & Samra-Fredericks, D. (2019) Bringing the Heart and Soul Back in: Collaborative Inquiry and the DBA, Academy of Management Learning & Education, 18 (1), 59-80 

Hadot, P. (1995) Philosophy as a Way of Life: Spiritual Exercises from Socrates to Foucault. Oxford: Blackwell 

Hadot, P. (2004). What Is Ancient Philosophy? Harvard University Press 

Mirvis, P. (2008) Executive Development Through Consciousness-Raising Experiences. Academy of Management Learning & Education, 7(2), 173–188 

Purser, R.E. and Milillo, J. (2015) Mindfulness Revisited: A Buddhist-Based Conceptualization, Journal of Management Inquiry, 24 (1), 3–24 

Raffsnøe, S., Mennicken, A, & Miller, P. (2019) The Foucault Effect in Organization Studies, Organization Studies, 40(2), 155–182 

Tomkins, L. (2020). Autoethnography through the Prism of Foucault’s Care of the Self. In: Herrmann, Andrew (Ed.) The Routledge Handbook of Organizational Autoethnography. Routledge.  

Tomkins, L. & Ulus, E. (2015) Is Narcissism Undermining Critical Reflection in our Business Schools? Academy of Management Learning & Education, 14 (4), 595-606 

Case Studies at Developing Leadership Capacity Conference

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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

Case Studies from 13:00 – 14:30 on Tuesday 12 July 2022

The ‘Leadership Squeeze’ – Frictions between Resourceful and Brittle Resilience Strategies

Author: Dr Caroline Rook, Henley Business School

Whereas the factors and components of leader resilience have been studied little is known on how leaders are different from employees in how they
remain resilient at work. In fact, one could argue that the previously established factors (global, fast paced, digital work environment, time and resourced pressured job-tasks, interpersonal issues, lack of downtime; Foerster & Duchek, 2017) are not very different from employees’ experiences of the world of work. Components such as confidence, purposefulness, adaptability, and social support are equally important for employees and leaders in being resilient. However, leaders, as per the definition of being in a position of power to influence others towards goal attainment (Northouse, 2019), have unique
role demands in contrast to employees such as responsibility for challenging organisational performance targets, responsibility for managing teams and their performance and loneliness at the top. Furthermore, contrasting views exists as to whether occupying a leadership role is more or less detrimental to one’s well-being in contrast to being an employee. Some scholars argue that the higher levels of control that leaders possess lead to lower stress levels (e.g.
Mintzberg, 1971). Others argue that the psychosocial demands are so much higher for leaders than for employees that leaders experience lower levels of health than employees (e.g., Campbell Quick, Cooper, Gavin, & Quick, 2008). Insights into leader specific resilience strategies would allow to develop interventions with the right person-intervention fit (Randall & Nielsen, 2012).
Developing meaningful resilience interventions specific to leaders is important as being able to cope with adversity and bounce back (Cooper et al., 2013), i.e. being resilient, is “strategically important organizational behaviour for success, growth, and even survival” (King, Newman, & Luthans, 2016, p. 782) in today’s world of work where stressful situations, performance pressure and setbacks are part of leaders’ work experience.
Furthermore, in order to determine how to support individuals to be resilient,
increasingly, resilience research is uncovering the micro-processes that are happening during coping with adversity and during bouncing back. However, current research is still lacking in two ways in this regard. First, the identified mechanisms of coping with adversity add little if any further insight to a long line of coping literature. Second, the focus remains on individual characteristics such as learning from experience, ability to relax, ability to think optimistically, ability to reflect, ability to act rationally, ability to structure, professional skills, interpersonal communication skills, and social skills (Foerster & Duchek, 2017). It remains unclear how leaders try to cope and bounce back in their unique organisational contexts.
This in-depth inductive study examines how leaders differ from employees in regard to remaining resilient at work and explores what resilience strategies are used by leaders. 31 semi-structured interviews were analysed through inductive thematic content analysis. Three key findings emerged from the leaders’ narratives about their attempts to be resilient: (1) being resilient (in terms of coping with adversity) focused not only on dealing with the challenge (like employees would) but how to engage with the team and organisation while
doing so; (2) whether leaders shared their vulnerability in the coping process or engage in impression management depended on their perception of what a ‘strong’ leader does; and (3) bouncing back strategies involved either long-term focused resource-creating strategies versus short-term focused brittle coping strategies. Implications for leadership well-being interventions, well-being theory and leader identity theory are drawn.

Crisis as Space for Unknowing: Implications for Creative Industry Leadership

Author: Hugh Waters, Bristol Leadership & Change Centre, UWE Bristol

This paper provides a perspective on the development of resilient leadership for creative industry collectives through periods of crisis. Ricoeur (1988) considers that crisis presents a radical openness towards the future and instability concerning the present ‘not knowing any longer what my position within the universe is; not knowing any longer which stable hierarchy of values should guide my preferences; not being able any longer to differentiate between friend and foe’ (Ricoeur, 1988: 54; translation). Such instability offers disruption to leadership and subsequently calls for resilience in the face of vulnerability. It is clear, however, that interpretations of crisis for individuals may well differ temporally and present unknowability. Pearson and Clair highlight that ‘organizational crises are, by definition, infrequent events. When they do occur, organizations are reluctant to open current or past ‘wounds’ to external examination and speculation’ (1998: 74). This suggests that vulnerability is not a favorable position or in revealing a lack of resilience, but it is through such vulnerability and disruption that vital learning and adaption can occur. Building on this view of crisis and of its implications for leadership, this paper asks how the Covid-19 pandemic might be framed as a period of crisis for the creative industries? And, in an attempt to learn from this period of crisis, if, and if so, creative industry collectives are able to develop more resilient leadership through reflexive space?  These questions are essential to our understanding of how resilience acts to overcome fundamental aspects of crises. Emphasis is then given to how action-oriented methodologies provide reflexive space for experiential leadership development.

Communicative Resilience as Reflexive Practice

Communicative resilience as a process provides a basis for understanding how collectives construct meaning, to both define and pursue resilience through collaborative dialog (Buzzanell, 2010). In so doing communicative opportunities are created for ‘individual and collective reflexivity’ (Raelin, 2016: 5), so that people are able to actively engage in shaping ‘new, more collaborative, and inclusive forms of reality’ (Cunliffe, 2009: 409). An unresolvable unknowability is fundamentally important for being reflexive and can help promote more inclusive and equitable forms of managing and organising (Allen, 2017).

It is suggested for something new to emerge the old established way of doing things has to give way (Fiol & Romanelli, 2012). Of interest, is the process by which leadership learning emerges from crises among collectives requiring members to negotiate a new set of practices (Hardy et al., 2005). Interaction provides space for learning and togetherness in unknowing, enabling participants to re-examine their ways of thinking and revise assumptions that inform norms, rules and practices. Communicative spaces alter power dynamics by enhancing participants’ ability to uncover alternative, suppressed, or hidden framings.  Methodologically this paper proposes that for such framings to be surfaced communicative space needs to be created for their observance.

Crisis as Space for Learning

Action learning provides participants with a powerful communicative space, allowing individuals time and space to reflect on where they are feeling ‘stuck’ or confused (Raelin, 2006).  A process of questioning from members seeks to surface particular real-time challenges in relation to crisis with associated complexity or anxiety (Revans, 1982), with set members helping to explore alternative interpretations of those challenges. Group members are best placed to question given a sharedness in challenges faced, where the role of the researcher is merely to offer light facilitation. When participants return to their everyday lives, they are ‘reincorporated’ with an improved understanding of how to apply their learning, and possibly, an improved understanding of themselves as ‘leaders’.  A shared sense of unknowing may present a blank canvas for individuals to make sense of crisis. As such crisis gives rise to new space for ideas to move freely and quickly, necessary for innovation. Thus, resilience is an ongoing communicative process of transformative struggle through periods of disruption (Buzzanell, 2018:15).

Opportunity for Empirical Study

There is limited empirical research which directly observes communicative processes over time in response to crisis. Some limitations centre on the ability of the researcher to seize opportune moments to enter the field of study in a natural way. As such action learning is proposed as a means to observe communicative processes as a means of reflexive practice.  Resilience as a form of learning not only enables a collective to adapt but, in the process, strengthens its capability to overcome future challenges. This over time may manifest as learning and experimentation which leads to emerging practices intended to work towards resilience and through crisis. Communicative resilience is not just about collaborative inquiry into resilience as a process it also involves defining system attributes and properties and developing our capacity to identify appropriate goals and the obstacles to achieving them (Goldstein, 2012). This empirical study takes an action-oriented research approach where participants in real-time use communicative space to identify appropriate goals and the obstacles to achieving them. Powley (2009) suggests that “resilience activation” is dependent on social connections and interpersonal relationships. Whilst this limits our understanding of the natural spaces created in which resilience is developed, the access to such space or level of observation required may appear overly intrusive. The purpose of using action learning as a method allows for the recreation of communicative space both that allows a researcher ready access but also a meaningful use of participants time. 

The Place of Negative Capability in Caring Leadership Practice

Authors: Charlotte von Bülow & Peter Simpson, Bristol Business School, UWE Bristol

The poet, Keats, described Negative Capability, as when a person ‘is capable of being in uncertainties, Mysteries, doubts, without any irritable reaching after fact & reason’ (Gittings, 1970, p.43). We interpret this as a way of being that is accessible to us when we let go of our attachments to thinking, feeling, and doing. In this presentation we consider self-care in leadership practice at the level of being and the deeper links with Negative Capability.

We draw upon ancient traditions of exercises for the inner work of self-care. For example, self-examination was a practice deeply embedded in the early cultures of India and Egypt, contributing to an early form of life-long learning, giving a person a sense of meaning and direction in life (Hadot, 2004). Indicating why this is worthy of particular attention in relation to Negative Capability, Hadot (1995, p.127) makes clear that these traditions were concerned not merely with the development of the individual as a thinking, doing, and feeling subject, but comprises a range of developmental exercises that ‘have as their goal… the metamorphosis of our being.’

We also draw upon Foucault’s (1997) related review of the ancient practices of ‘Care of the Self’ (heautou epimeleisthai) and recent literature has indicated its potential relevance to organisation studies (see Raffsnøe, Mennicken, & Miller, 2019) and leadership practice (Bülow & Simpson, 2020; Tomkins, 2020). Reminiscent of Keats’ deep reflections throughout his letters, this is a practice of philosophical inquiry into self.

Hadot (1995, p. 84) categorises the ancient exercises as meditations, ‘remembrances of good things’, intellectual exercises (e.g., reading, listening, research, and investigation), and more active exercises (e.g., self-mastery, accomplishment of duties, and indifference to indifferent things). These themes have emerged in recent literature, including Mirvis (2008), who argues, 

… experiences that stimulate introspection and include time and space for ‘inner work,’ whether in the forms of reflection, meditation, prayer, or journaling, can all deepen one’s sense-of-self. (2008, p. 175) 

This list might suggest practices that pander to the solipsistic concerns of some modern approaches to personal and professional development (Tomkins and Ulus, 2015). On the contrary, Foucault is clear that this practice is not selfish and ‘is not an exercise in solitude, but a true social practice’ (1990, p. 51). Hadot states that these developmental practices also ‘have as their goal the transformation of our vision of the world…’ (Hadot 1995, p. 127) – a theme that relates to a leadership practice not of defining purpose but of being open to an emerging sense of purpose. A transformation can occur not only at the level of being but also in the way in which things are seen. The exercises are designed to give a new perspective on the world and to develop a capacity for a heightened quality of attention that is inherently social: ‘the work of oneself on oneself and communication with others are linked together’ (Foucault, 1990, p. 51). 

There are several related experiential learning processes that have seen something of a renaissance in recent years (Hay & Samra-Fredericks, 2019; Purser & Milillo, 2015). However, the interpretation of these practices and the motivation for their use is often linked to short-term outcomes or guided by a ‘blind trust in an exclusively economic view of business and the world’ (Colby et al., 2011, p. 29). This tends to foster a remedial focus at the level of need (e.g., stress management, career development, problem resolution). Whilst important as aspects of self-care, Negative Capability offers the potential for a developmental transformation in our vision of the world and at the level of our being.

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


Case Studies at Developing Leadership Capacity Conference 2022

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(Image sourced from www.cre8rel8.com/we-believe)

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

Case Studies presented from 10:30 – 12:00 on Tuesday 12 July 2022

Leadership Learning and Development for Global Health: A Case Study of Capacity Building in Southern Africa

Authors: Peter Case1, Rudo Chikodzore2, Precious Chitapi1, Amanda Marr Chung3, Jonathan Gosling1, Roly Gosling3,4, Katie Joyce1, Priscilla Mataure5, Greyling Viljoen1

Affiliations: (1) Bristol Leadership & Change Centre, University of the West of England, UK; (2) Ministry of Health and Child Care, Zimbabwe; (3) Institute for Global Health Sciences, University of California San Francisco, USA; (4) Department of Disease Control, London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, UK (5) Women’s University in Africa, Harare, Zimbabwe

For the past eight years, Bristol Leadership & Change Centre (BLCC), UWE, has been collaborating closely with the Malaria Elimination Initiative (MEI) to improve the management and leadership of healthcare programmes in Vietnam, Zimbabwe, Eswatini and Namibia. Most recently, UWE has been working with MEI (a research centre based at the University of San Francisco, California) and the Ministry of Health and Child Care (MoHCC) on a Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation project aimed at providing better integrated and more sustainable HIV prevention services in Zimbabwe. An integral part of our work in malaria and HIV prevention spaces, has been training programme staff in the use of participatory action research and learning methods, typically with a focus on identifying and addressing operational challenges.  The challenges that inhibit health service delivery can often be addressed by improving communication and coordination, clarifying lines of resourcing and accountability, maintaining motivation, providing adequate training and supervision, and removing bureaucratic silos. The training programmes, which sit alongside our health system change interventions are accredited via a Postgraduate Certificate in Professional Practice in Change Leadership (PPCL) awarded by the University of the West of England. The PPCL module has been delivered successfully in Zimbabwe (2017-18) and Namibia (2019-20) for cohorts of malaria control programme health professionals and, since 2020, UWE has been collaborating with the Women’s University of Africa on a third run of the module for twenty professionals working for the MoHCC in Zimbabwe.

CathArtic spaces: Bringing lived experience into leadership development

Elinor Rebeiro & Chris Hayes, Co-founders of Create Relate Ltd.

“Art is an expression of the human condition. It is a reflection of our memories and experiences, which are more often than not rooted in the world around us.”

(Vijayan et al 2022, p1)

Holding onto pain, grief, trauma is known to have a negative impact on our well-being, both mentally and physically (CIPD 2022, Vijayan et al, 2022). In our ‘private lives’ we are encouraged to open up, to talk to someone, to share how we feel (NHS 2021, Mind). This release of emotions can be known as catharsis (Vogel and Flint, 2021) But how does this play out when we are at work? Our work place is a place where we are meant to bring the best of ourselves, to maintain a control over our emotions continuously. Yet we often spend longer at work than we do at home and the work that we carry out can be emotionally charged with pressure, meeting overload, navigating complex relationships and the pressures to succeed – assuming that you buy into the duality and separation of ones home and work ‘self’. The pressures placed upon people during and following the pandemic have also brought about traumatic experiences.

The exploration of catharsis as a way to access deeply felt experiences is one we have been immersed in for some time. Using cathartic images as a way for people to be able to safely explore how they feel about the lived experience of their work lives is at the heart of this exploration. Understanding the shadows and challenges in our everyday lives offers up the opportunity to make sense of ourselves and each other. Cathartic spaces also allow us to recognise that we are not alone and enable the opportunity to make deeper more relational connections with other people. But, what happens when this learning is used for organisational and leadership development understanding? What happens if Leaders are not provided with the opportunity to also connect deeply to the challenges and shadows of their own experience? When we work within, what Herron calls a “non-cathartic society” (Herron, 1998) we cannot tolerate in others what we cannot tolerate within ourselves. This disconnect between repressed felt experience and the observing of and feeling of others experience can make it too hard to explore, too hard to accept or embrace and can lead to the rejection of this felt experience either in the form of denial of its ‘truth’ or through a recognition of the experiences, followed by a refusal to share back the learning for fear that the content is too sensitive, too raw to be made sense of, or be embraced as learning that could support how leadership happens.

Using organisational examples and drawing on our work creating cathartic spaces within organisations we seek to explore the opportunities, often unappreciated, that this type of space and the learning and understanding that comes from it can bring. We will also highlight common and possibly damaging shadows that come from not taking this learning seriously. As a final point we will explore how cathartic spaces can catalyse a rethink into leadership development in its wider context.

Build Back Better….With Care and Compassion

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Written by Professor Richard Bolden, UWE Bristol, 23/03/2022 for the International Leadership Association

It is now over two years since the arrival of Covid-19, which plunged much of the world into lockdown and caused immense social and economic disruption and loss. On 11th March 2020, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the outbreak a pandemic and as of 22nd March 2022, there have been over 470 million recorded cases and 6.1 million Covid-related deaths worldwide (World Health Organization, n.d.).

As governments in London, Washington D.C., and elsewhere call to “build back better,” and numerous organizations follow suit, it is easy to become so focussed on the future that we forget what we’ve been through. Without doubt, now is a time of both opportunity and need, but levels of physical and emotional exhaustion are at an all-time high. A report published in March 2022 notes a 25% increase in the prevalence of anxiety and depression worldwide since the outbreak of the pandemic (World Health Organization, 2022). The impacts of Covid, however, are not equally distributed. We are, of course, now painfully aware of the disproportionate impact of the virus on people of Black, Asian, Indigenous, and minority ethnic backgrounds, but the lasting effects on them and other populations are harder to discern (Tai et al., 2021). Research on staff who worked in intensive care units at the height of the Covid-19 pandemic, for example, shows a 40% likelihood of developing post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) — twice that of military veterans recently engaged in combat (Greenberg et al., 2021).

Over the past year, I have had the opportunity to work with professionals from a range of contexts and have been struck by the levels of exhaustion reported. This is particularly prominent amongst people working in health and care — many of whom had to keep working through the pandemic, often on the Covid “frontline” facing considerable personal risk and witnessing unimaginable trauma. In a series of reflective sensemaking discussions I had with staff from the National Health Service in England in Spring/Summer 2021, people compared their experiences to “clinging to a lifeboat” following a shipwreck or “being thrown out of a perfectly good airplane without a parachute.” A veteran from the UK armed forces, now working as an NHS Manager, described the height of the pandemic as worse than anything he had witnessed during the Helmand province campaign in Afghanistan. Another participant, a Black female NHS administrator, described her experiences of working through the pandemic whilst her brother and three other family members passed away, summing up with the observation that “This year has been about so much more than work!”

The emotional labour (Hochschild, 1983) of “putting on a brave face” and telling others “we can get through this” is an additional burden that has been carried. As one NHS leader said:

One day feels everything is doom and gloom and you know you’ve got a huge burden to try to deal with… and then you are trying to be optimistic as the leader… the rest of the staff look to you and how you’re coping, which often has been a huge influence on how the rest of the team are feeling… so you often have to wear a full smile and you know, the false positive to say “you know we can get through this.” You know try and support each other, But you’re carrying that burden yourself and it can be feeling very isolating.

More recent discussions with staff from higher education institutions around the world paint a similar picture, albeit usually without the same degree of personal risk (Parkin et al., 2021). Nonetheless, people describe the immense turbulence and uncertainty of the past two years and the repeated need to adapt to changing circumstances and demands. Whilst some might question the accuracy of such accounts, it is worth noting that the PwC Global Crisis Survey 2021 ranks the higher education sector as the second hardest hit by the pandemic (just behind hospitality and leisure), with 83% of organisations reporting a “negative” or “significant negative” impact (PwC, 2021).

In a TED talk titled The Human Skills We Need in an Unpredictable World, recorded just six months before the outbreak of the pandemic, Margaret Heffernan (2019) contrasts resilience with robustness. Her argument is that sectors such as healthcare, law and order, and the supply of essential services such as food, water, and energy, need to focus not just on the ability to get back up after a set-back but on the ability not to break under pressure in the first place. In order to do this, she suggests, we must abandon our obsession with efficiency and focus instead on “preparedness, coalition-building, imagination, experiments, bravery” that underpin our “capacity for adaptation, variation and invention.”

This is precisely what many organizations are now doing — including the healthcare and higher education institutions mentioned earlier — but in the wake of the pandemic there is a further “R” that requires attention. The physical and emotional exhaustion that now permeates many workplaces and communities also requires a significant investment in recovery. I’m not talking here of the economic recovery stressed by politicians and business leaders (although that is undoubtedly important) but of the slow and challenging process of human healing. In order to achieve this, we need to move beyond a rhetoric of “compassion” to a genuine “ethic of care” that “reconnects experiences across the so-called work-life boundary” (Tomkins & Simpson, 2017).

Recognition of the pain and suffering that accompanies change is not new. Indeed, Heifetz and colleagues (2009) made precisely this point when outlining their theory of adaptive leadership, arguing that “Honoring the reality that adaptive processes will be accompanied by distress means having compassion for the pain that comes with deep change” (p. 29). West and colleagues (2017), writing on compassionate leadership in healthcare, conclude that “In order to nurture a culture of compassion, organisations require their leaders — as the carriers of culture — to embody compassion in their leadership” (p. 4). Yet, as Maak and colleagues (2021), reflecting on insights from the pandemic, argue “It cannot be overstated, how demanding it is for a leader to make space for human moments, and to be present for and attentive to those who suffer in a situation in which pressure on the leader is relentless” (p. 74).

At a time when we are still figuring out how best to move forward from the pandemic it is worth remembering the saying, “In a world where you can be anything, be kind.” Kindness and compassion require a conscious choice — to look beyond our own preoccupations to consider the perspectives and experiences of others. The mobilization of groups and communities throughout the pandemic, as well as the near global solidarity and support shown for the Ukrainian population following the unprovoked attack by Russia, demonstrate our capacity for empathy and care. The question now remains how we can carry this forward. Then, and only then, will we have demonstrated our capacity to “build back better.”

Interested in learning more about this topic? On 12-13 July 2022, the Bristol Leadership and Change Centre will be hosting the 12th Developing Leadership Capacity Conference, with a theme of “Leading to Care – Foregrounding Health and Well-being in Leadership Development and Education.” Confirmed keynote speakers include Michael West and Leah Tomkins (mentioned above) as well as Tracie Jolliff. The event will be run online with no registration fee in order to enable wide attendance. The call for papers is now open. The extended deadline to submit is 3rd May. Further details at https://lnkd.in/dJpE7Ekk.

References

Greenberg, N., Weston, D., Hall, C., Caulfield, T., Williamson, V., & Fong, K. (2021). Mental Health of Staff Working in Intensive Care During Covid-19. Occupational Medicine, 71(2), 62–67. https://doi.org/10.1093/occmed/kqaa220

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

Heifetz, R. A., Linsky, M., & Grashow, A. (2009). The Practice of Adaptive Leadership: Tools and Tactics for Changing Your Organization and the World. Harvard Business Press.

Hochschild, A. R. (1983). The Managed Heart: Commercialization of Human Feeling. University of California Press.

Maak, T., Pless, N. M., & Wohlgezogen, F. (2021). The Fault Lines of Leadership: Lessons From the Global Covid-19 Crisis. Journal of Change Management, 21(1), 66–86.

Parkin, D., Bolden, R., Watermeyer, R., & Outhart, K. (2021 December 16). Perspectives on Leadership in Global Higher Education – Reflections From the Roundtables. https://www.advance-he.ac.uk/news-and-views/perspectives-leadership-global-higher-education-reflections-roundtables

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

Tai, D.B.G., Sia, I.G., Doubeni, C.A., & Wieland, M.L. (2021, October 13). Disproportionate Impact of COVID-19 on Racial and Ethnic Minority Groups in the United States: A 2021 Update. Journal of Racial and Ethnic Health Disparitieshttps://doi.org/10.1007/s40615-021-01170-w

Tomkins, L., & Simpson, P. (2017). An Ethic of Care: Reconnecting the Private and the Public. In D. Knights, & C. Mabey (Eds.), Leadership Matters: Finding Voice, Connection and Meaning in the 21st Century (pp. 89-101). Routledge.

West, M., Eckert, R., Collins, B., & Chowla, R. (2017). Caring to Change. The Kings Fund.

World Health Organization. (n.d.) WHO Coronavirus (COVID-19) Dashboard as of 5:27pm CET, 22 March 2022. https://covid19.who.int

World Health Organization. (2022, March 2). COVID-19 Pandemic Triggers 25% Increase in Prevalence of Anxiety and Depression Worldwide. https://www.who.int/news/item/02-03-2022-covid-19-pandemic-triggers-25-increase-in-prevalence-of-anxiety-and-depression-worldwide

Developing Leadership Capacity Conference (DLCC)

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The Developing Leadership Capacity Conference (DLCC) is returning to UWE for its 10th anniversary. The conference will be hosted by Bristol Leadership and Change Centre (BLCC) and the Bristol Business Engagement Centre (BBEC) in our new Business School on the 12th and 13th July 2018. As we celebrate the 10th anniversary the topic of leadership learning seems to be as important as ever with an increased level of research interest and increased levels of investment. This popularity of leadership learning and development has been accompanied by a focus on innovative and creative methods. We wish to explore some of these methods as part of the conference and hence invite contributions on leadership learning, development and education, with a particular focus on innovation and creativity. These creative and innovative approaches further appear to resonate with increased interest in critical issues within leadership studies more widely. For example, we are seeing research into issues of gender, identity, power and resistance and a more aesthetic appreciation of leadership. The methodologies used for learning leadership are also developing outside the mainstream with increased calls for more reflexive and democratic processes of learning. Whilst we are hoping to explore these innovative, creative and critical issues further, the conference will also welcome any other discussion of leadership learning, development and education.

We already have two keynote speakers how have agree to present at the conference – Professor Paul Hibbert (St Andrew’s University) and Professor Carole Elliott (Roehampton University). They will be discussing innovative approaches to leadership and organizational learning from a reflexive standpoint and based on a large scale research project on women leaders respectively. We hope that you will join us in sharing your experiences, practices and research on leadership and organizational learning and development. 500 word abstract submissions are needed by the 16th March 2018. Contact Dr Gareth Edwards (gareth3.edwards@uwe.ac.uk) or Dr Doris Schedlitzki (doris.schedlitzki@uwe.ac.uk) for further details or watch out for our website which will go live soon!

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