Professor Richard Bolden delves into what the surprise resignations of Nicola Sturgeon and Jacinda Ardern reveal about today’s toxic leadership contexts, what it means to be a “strong leader,” and how leaders transition out of their roles.
The surprise resignation of Nicola Sturgeon as First Minister of Scotland, less than a month after Jacinda Ardern stepped down as Prime Minister of New Zealand, provides a sobering insight into the immense scrutiny and pressure that senior leaders now face. Both had seen high levels of popularity and had been widely praised for their handling of the COVID pandemic. They have also experienced a barrage of criticism and declining popularity more recently. Each has shown huge commitment and resilience yet note that there comes a point when it’s time to step aside and make room for someone else to lead.
“It’s time, I’m leaving, because with such a privileged role comes responsibility. The responsibility to know when you are the right person to lead and also when you are not. I know what this job takes. And I know that I no longer have enough in the tank to do it justice. It’s that simple.” (Jacinda Ardern, 18 January 2023)
“Since my very first moments in the job I have believed a part of serving well would be to know almost instinctively when the time is right to make way for someone else. In my head and in my heart, I know that time is now. That it’s right for me, for my party and my country.” (Nicola Sturgeon, 15 February 2023)
Both Sturgeon and Ardern are values-based leaders who demonstrated a firm commitment to ethical and moral principles. Their championing of kindness, compassion, and inclusion has led to some commentators attributing their stepping down to a failure of “woke” politics (e.g., Sky News Australia, 2023 and Morgan, 2023), but this is a gross simplification of the issues and fuels the culture wars that seem to characterize contemporary political discourse. As Sturgeon stated in her resignation speech:
“I have spent almost three decades in front line politics – a decade and a half on the top or second top rung of government. When it comes to navigating choppy waters, resolving seemingly intractable issues, or soldiering on when walking away would be the simpler option, I have plenty experience to draw on.
So, if this was just a question of my ability – or my resilience – to get through the latest period of pressure, I would not be standing here today.
But it’s not.
This decision comes from a deeper and longer-term assessment.
And the nature and form of modern political discourse means there is a much greater intensity – dare I say it, brutality – to life as a politician than in years gone by.
All in all – and for a long time without it being apparent – it takes its toll, on you and on those around you.” (Nicola Sturgeon, 15 February 2023)
Whilst much leadership theory and research focuses on the dysfunctional characteristics of “toxic”, “narcissistic” and/or “psychopathic” leaders, far less attention tends to be given to the toxic environment in which senior leaders often find themselves. Padilla and colleagues (2007) work on the “toxic triangle” goes some way towards addressing this by highlighting the interdependencies between destructive leaders, susceptible followers, and conductive environments, yet it continues to emphasize the psychopathology of individual leaders as a key ingredient in the process. Whilst there are, no doubt, plenty of examples where this is the case, what of the situations where fundamentally “good” people are exposed to unsustainable demands?
In their resignation speeches both Sturgeon and Ardern made a point of saying that they are “human” and that their decision to step down was, in part, made to protect the wellbeing of themselves and their families/loved ones.
Peter Frost’s (2003) notion of leaders as “toxin handlers” comes perhaps closer to capturing what happens in such situations. As with people who work in environments where they come into contact with hazardous substances, leaders may find themselves dealing with situations that are harmful to their health (for further elaboration see Hartley and Bolden, 2022). In their resignation speeches both Sturgeon and Ardern made a point of saying that they are “human” and that their decision to step down was, in part, made to protect the wellbeing of themselves and their families/loved ones. They also noted that it was in the best interests of their respective countries due to the fact that they no longer felt they had the energy required to sustain such a role.
Such an approach stands in stark contrast to the defiance of Donald Trump, Jose Bolsonaro, and Boris Johnson when they were required to stand aside and the subsequent attempts by their followers to get them reinstated. Whilst “strong” leadership continues to be associated with determination and persistence, Sturgeon and Ardern provide examples of how strength can also be demonstrated by knowing when to pass on the leadership baton to someone else. In so doing, they may also hope to retain a degree of dignity and respect that can so rapidly be eroded by desperate attempts to cling on to power.
In reflecting on the examples of Ardern and Sturgeon, I am reminded of a piece of work that I and colleagues conducted over a decade ago (Brookes et al., 2011), where we explored the experiences of people transitioning from senior leadership roles and the associated identity dynamics of “becoming an ex” (Fuchs Ebaugh, 1988). It struck us that, whilst a lot of attention is given to preparing (or persuading) people to take on leadership roles, far less attention tends to be given to supporting their transition out of such roles. Van Gennep’s (1960) work on rites of passage provided us with a useful framework for considering how any role transition involves going through a process of separation from an established identity, followed by a liminal period (where identities are fluid and uncertain), and, ultimately, arriving at a point of reincorporation where new identities are formed. Such notions underpin Ibarra et al.’s (2010) work on “identity-based leadership development” and the importance of “identity work” (Sinclair, 2011) in the process(es) of becoming (and unbecoming) “a leader.”
Nicola Sturgeon concluded her resignation speech as follows:
“So, to the people of Scotland – to all of the people of Scotland – whether you voted for me or not – please know that being your First Minister has been the privilege of my life. Nothing – absolutely nothing – I do in future will ever come close.” (Nicola Sturgeon, 15 February 2023)
For Ardern and Sturgeon, coming to terms with their new identities as former Prime/First Ministers is a journey they are only just beginning. We should watch and learn how they manage this transition and use it to inform our own work as leaders and leadership developers.
Brookes, V., Hooper, A., Bolden, R., Hawkins, B. and Taylor, S. (2011). The Mid-Life Career Transition “… and so what do you do?” Working Paper for the Centre for Leadership Studies, University of Exeter Business School.
Frost, P. (2003). Toxic Emotions at Work: How Compassionate Managers Handle Pain and Conflict. Harvard Business School Press.
Fuchs Ebaugh, H.R. (1988). Becoming an Ex: The Process of Role Exit. University of Chicago Press.
Hartley, L., & Bolden R. (2022). Addicted to Leadership: From Crisis to Recovery. In M. Witzel (Ed.), Post-Pandemic Leadership: Exploring Solutions to a Crisis. Routledge.
Ibarra, H., Snook, S., & Ramo, L.G. (2010). Identity Based Leadership Development. In N. Nohria & R. Khurana (Eds.), Handbook of Leadership Theory and Practice (pp. 657-678). Harvard Business Press.
Padilla, A., Hogan, R., & Kaiser, R. (2007). The Toxic Triangle: Destructive Leaders, Susceptible Followers, and Conducive Environments. The Leadership Quarterly, 18, 176-194.
Sinclair, A. (2011). Being Leaders: Identities and Identity Work in Leadership. In A. Bryman, D. Collinson, K. Grint, B. Jackson, & M. Uhl-Bien (Eds.), The Sage Handbook of Leadership (pp. 508-517). Sage.
Gareth Edwards, Professor of Leadership and Community Studies at UWE and Doris Schedlitzki, Professor of Organisational Leadership at London Metropolitan University have taken over the Editorship for the Sage journal Leadership.
Gareth and Doris have been involved with the journal since its inception in different capacities: as authors of numerous articles, long standing members of the Editorial Board and more recently as Associate Editors. Leadership has been the home of much needed critical voices in leadership studies for almost 20 years, where authors can ‘pose awkward questions and critique mainstream scholarship’ (Tourish, 2022). Now they take over the running of the journal, Gareth and Doris are continuing to strengthen this critical mission and enabling diverse, critical voices to be heard. They aim to continue the journal’s success in becoming one of the top journals in leadership and organisation studies.
How to get involved
If you wish to publish in the journal, Gareth and Doris have three key tips: be critical, be relevant and be complete.
In being critical they suggest that you should work with the critical agenda that has developed in leadership studies over the last 10 years (for example, see Collinson, 2011; 2017, Ford, 2010; Tourish, 2015). This is where empirical and conceptual works challenge the norm and question mainstream views of leadership.
Being relevant means being in tune with current leadership thinking, tying into current debates and narratives on the subject. This can be both theoretical and current, in the sense of how leadership is portrayed in the wider world and in current affairs.
Being complete means having a submission that has a logical flow – a complete narrative. Your submissions should tell a story and ultimately provide a contribution to theory and practice in and around leadership.
Several representatives from Bristol Business School at UWE Bristol are attending this years International Studying Leadership Conference (ISLC) in December. We are delighted that this year’s conference will be held in person, the first able to do so since Bristol Business School hosted the ISLC in 2019, where we hosted over 140 delegates from across the globe to discuss “Putting Leadership in its Place “. The conference featured three keynote addresses and five parallel streams (including almost 90 separate papers) exploring Place in leadership theory and practice and led to the publication of special issue of the journal leadership, which can be accessed here.
This year’s conference hosted by the University of Sussex Business School, in the city of Brighton and Hove continues to challenge the status quo of leadership research. Looking to explore ‘’Leadership and the future of humanity’’, the ISLC has put a spotlight on the need to develop better models of leadership more widely, not only within business organisations but also political networks, communities and countries. This conference will examine new ways of theorising about leadership that challenge mainstream approaches by showcasing papers that ask big questions about important issues such as leadership in politics, the issue of climate change, the growth of social inequality and other significant global issues. Further details can be found here.
Bristol Business School has always had a strong presence at the ILSC conference, this year is no different with four papers by academics and research leads from Bristol Leadership and Change Centre that will be discussed at the conference.
Apocalypse then and now: ‘End of the world’ cosmologies and the future of humanity
Peter Case, Professor of Organisation Studies, UWE, Bristol
This paper examines the ways in which collapse is understood, the prescriptions that follow, the kinds of organising and leading around these prescriptions. We want to enumerate the cosmologies at play here, and how they influence the ways in which collapse is foreseen and the responses they invoke. Our working hypothesis is that some responses will be characteristic of ‘apocalyptic cosmologies’ that construe time as leading towards an ‘end of days’ in which collapse is a kind of fulfilment – an end in itself, or possibly a gateway to some other-worldly resurrection and salvation.
Developing previous work on climate change and apocalypse (Gosling & Case, 2011; Bendell, 2018) and our interests in premodern thought and practice (Case & Gosling, 2007), we seek to show by way of salient historical comparison how collective patterns of response emerge frequently enough to be seen as typical of European culture when facing existential threat and imminent collapse.
We conclude with a re-examination of contemporary responses to the so-called climate emergency, and some proposals for how we citizens can contribute in constructive ways informed by a more diverse cosmological repertoire. Our paper will contribute an analysis of what might happen to leadership, as well as how leadership might assist a ‘better collapse’.
Tackling severe and multiple disadvantage through systems change
This paper presents insights from an eight-year longitudinal evaluation of a collaborative partnership project designed to transform the design and provision of services for people with severe and multiple disadvantage (SMD) in the city of Bristol in the UK. The research was informed by ‘realist evaluation’ principles, whereby we sought to understand the mechanisms through which interventions produce outcomes within particular contexts (Pawson and Tilley, 1997). As appropriate for evaluating complex interventions (Skivington et al., 2021), we captured multiple perspectives, experiences and outcomes over time through a combination of methodologies underpinned by a theory of change.
Whilst a diverse range of findings, recommendations and conclusions have been reported, within this paper I will focus on insights around how the programme has facilitated systems change – ‘an intentional process designed to alter the status quo by shifting the function or structure of an identified system with purposeful interventions’ (Abercrombie et al., 2015). A review of evaluation insights, alongside learning from the team leading the initiative, has revealed seven key enablers of systems changeor SMD that might be used by people developing or running systems change activities
The post truth games of populist leaders: Insights from Franz Kafka
When we reflect on the conference theme of leadership and the future of humanity, we may find it hard to feel anything but despair. The world feels unstable, and many of its most prominent leaders seem to pander to their constituents’ grievances rather than exercising anything we might call ‘ethical leadership’ (Ciulla, 2020). In such a climate, truth often has less clout than ‘post-truth’, and this is often linked to a dismissal of experts (Foroughi et al., 2019). Amplified by social media spats, post-truth approaches suggest that everyone is entitled to their own preferred version of events. Most notorious in this narrative space is the ‘alternative facts’ discourse of former US President, Donald Trump; but other populist leaders have also relished the fact that their words do not have to be true – indeed, they can often be palpably false – to be effective.
This paper draws on the fiction of Franz Kafka (1883-1924) to explore the tactics of post-truth leadership. Kafka has extraordinary relevance for leadership, not least because “of all writers, Kafka is the greatest expert on power” (Canetti, 1982, p.62). Kafka has long been heralded for his unique perspective on many of the past century’s most pressing issues – bureaucracy, technology, violence, alienation, and the institutions of work, family, religion and the law. Kafka’s work interweaves, amplifies, undercuts and distorts these themes, revealing their often-terrible relation with power. Recent Kafka scholarship has challenged popular understandings of Kafka as under-dog or victim of the System, arguing instead that both Kafka and his protagonists are agents as much as victims of power (Corngold et al., 2009; Tomkins, 2024). Kafka’s world is one where ‘facts’ are often insignificant in comparison with ‘alternative facts’ in skilful hands, whether these hands belong to the overtly powerful or the apparently powerless.
Using visual methods to understand the translation of inclusive leadership across different language context
Doris Schedlitzki, Professor of Organisational Leadership, London Metropolitan University
Sylwia Ciuk, Senior Lecturer in Organisation Studies, Oxford Brookes University
Gareth Edwards, Professor of Leadership and Community Studies, UWE Bristol
Harriet Shortt – Associate Professor in Organisation Studies, UWE Bristol
In this presentation, we will provide practical examples from our project to illustrate how we have used Participant-led Photography (Shortt and Warren, 2019) to research the social construction and translation of inclusive leadership narratives across three different languages within the work context of a multinational organisation. In particular, we will show how this innovative method, which has not been applied to translation and leadership studies before, has given participants a verbal and non-verbal way of expressing – and reflexively exploring – the intangible aspects of inclusive leadership practice. The inclusion of visual data in our analysis also helps to challenge the use of English as the only ‘valid’ language to carry and share leadership knowledge.
We will further provide examples from our analysis to date to show how this methodological approach enables us to take a rigorous approach to inductive theorising. Data analysis involves identification of themes in both narrative and visual data using a new visual methodological/ analytical approach – Grounded Visual Pattern Analysis (GVPA) (Shortt and Warren 2019). This methodology enables a multi-modal translation and interpretation of leadership, since GVPA provides researchers with the opportunity to systematically analyse the narrative and visual data whilst privileging the meanings the participants ascribe to their photographs. Building on such a comprehensive and detailed analysis of participants’ experiences and practices enables us to understand better how they translate (linguistically and through practice) inclusive forms of leadership.
This chapter pays particular attention to three ways this approach can contribute to personal and professional development and employability –
First looking at the importance of critical independence, and the development of the qualities of an entrepreneurial mindset. This includes attributes such as resilience, adaptability, and proactivity to encourage future-oriented thinking. Enabling students to develop narratives that build from the present to their desired future.
Secondly, why this approach to team learning can encourage the formation of a learning community of practice to co-create new resources and knowledge.
Thirdly, how this is underpinned by friendship as an organising principle. Fostering a commitment to the well-being and development of others and encourages students to think beyond their personal needs to prioritise working effectively with others on the task at hand.
To find out more about the book, you are invited to the online launch at 9:00am on Thursday 10th November. Tickets are free, please register:
What is the SAGE handbook of Graduate Employability?
The Handbook brings together the latest research on graduate employability into one authoritative volume. Dedicated parts guide readers through topics, key issues and debates relating to delivering, facilitating, achieving, and evaluating graduate employability. Chapters offer critical and reflective positions, providing examples of student and graduate destinations, and cover a wide range of topics from employability development, to discipline differences, gender, race and inclusion issues, entrepreneurialism, and beyond.
To find out more about the chapter and the team learning approach specifically, contact Prof Carol Jarvis: Carol4.Jarvis@uwe.ac.uk
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.
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.
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.
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.
The Advance HE global leadership survey aims to generate a unique evidence base for leadership in higher education, highlight contextual variations across the sector and around the world and explore the impact of leadership development. It will also inform the development of a sector-led global leadership framework for enhancement and recognition.
The survey, informed by a scoping study by Professor Richard Bolden and colleagues is live until 22nd November 2022 and takes just 10-20 minutes to complete.
For further details on this project, the scoping study and how to access the survey please watch the video and click on the links below.
Professor Peter Case was invited to join an expert panel at the 24th International Leadership Association Global Conference in Washington DC to talk about his work on HIV/AIDS prevention and malaria healthcare service delivery in Zimbabwe.
Delivered on 16th October, the title of his talk was “Multi-sector partnerships for sustainable delivery of infectious disease healthcare in Southern Africa” and the presentation formed part of a wider discussion of “Leadership Skills for Multi-sector Partnerships for Sustainability”.
In his talk, Peter gave particular emphasis to the role that the UWE Bristol College of Business and Law postgraduate certificate in “Professional Practice in Change Leadership” has played in galvanizing efforts of partners and contributing to sustainability of malaria and HIV healthcare services in Zimbabwe.
Image: Professor Peter Case distributing PPCL degree certificates to successful graduands in Nyanga District, Manicaland, Zimbabwe
CBL’s Professor Peter Case recently returned from a research field trip to 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 at 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 19th September and 1st October, involving health professionals from Matabeleland North, Matabeleland South and Manicaland provinces. The current project is due to conclude at the end of this calendar year, so the trip involved data gathering on project outcomes/impacts as well as consolidating the changes to service delivery that OPTIMISE has helped implement.
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. District-level research groups highlighted key improvements to service delivery that had been achieved to date and discussed the results of a ‘user research’ presented by the UWE/UCSF team. The events were a great success, with strong endorsements for the OPTIMISE project coming from the MOHCC. One particularly moving example of the way the work has been expanded by teams beyond the immediate HIV priorities concerned significant improvements to maternal mortality rates in Hwange district which, prior to OPTIMISE interventions had suffered the highest level of maternal deaths in the country. Thanks to implementing OPTIMISE change methods, in the past year the rates have fallen from nine deaths per year to just one.
The national director the MOHCC HIV Programme, Dr Murunguni, and other senior ministry officials were present to hear and comment on the progress updates, as were Provincial Medical Directors and other senior administrators. Peter also attended a partnership meeting in Harare convened by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation at which he and the OPTIMISE team discussed future projects and continuity of the work with the Clinton Health Access Initiative, Population Services International and the MOHCC. One outcome of this discussion will be UWE’s direct involvement in an attempt to seek a national scale-up of the OPTIMISE work supported by funding from the UN Global Fund for AIDS, TB & Malaria.
Integral to the OPTIMISE project has been leadership capacity building for 19 healthcare professionals enrolled on CBL’s Post-Graduate Certificate in Professional Practice in Change Leadership. All 19 students have now successfully completed the degree and a handful will be attending the CBL graduation ceremony in November. Whilst travelling to the various districts, Peter had the privilege of distributing degree certificates to many of the graduands. The module has been delivered in collaboration with a local HE provider, the Women’s University in Africa, and is contributing significantly to the strengthening of leadership and management capabilities of Zimbabwe’s HIV Programme staff. Peter would like to acknowledge the roles played by Katie Joyce (PPCL ML), Dr Priscilla Mutuare (WUA tutor and CBL AL) and Dr Greyling Vijoen (lead local PPCL tutor and BLCC visiting fellow) in contributing significantly to the success of this programme.
Over the past year Professor Richard Bolden, along with colleagues at the University of Bristol, has been conducting a scoping study on “leadership in global higher education”.
The report, published by Advance HE on 6th September 2022, presents an overview of insights and findings from 11 round tables and four dissemination and engagement events conducted between October 2021 and March 2022.
These conversations “provided rich and revealing insights into a turbulent and changing HE landscape” and hold significant implications for effective leadership across the sector. The report forms the basis for a major survey of HE leadership, to be launched by Advance HE later this month.
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.
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.
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.
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.’
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.
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.
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.
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.