Bristol Leadership & Change Centre 2021 Highlights

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

Research Highlights

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

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

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

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

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

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

Teaching & Learning

Professor Peter Case supported the delivery of a two-day face-to-face training workshop in August 2021 for nineteen Zimbabwe healthcare professionals enrolled on the FBL Postgraduate Certificate in Professional Practice in Change Leadership (PPCL). The students are working as part of the Bill & Melinda Gates funded project co-led by Peter to restructure and improve HIV/AIDS prevention in Zimbabwe. The PPCL module is designed to enable students to combine their studies with experiential workplace learning.

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

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

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

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

Publications

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

Along with Professor Jonathan Gosling, Professor Peter Case published a set of open access resources in collaboration with the Malaria Elimination Initiative (MEI) and the University of California, San Francisco. The resources are entitled LEAD: Leadership & Engagement for Improved Accountability & Delivery of Services Framework  and comprise a set of guidelines and practical tools for Ministries of Health and advisors to assist with the improvement of malaria healthcare services. It is the product of work that Peter and Jonathan have been conducting with MEI for the past seven years in low- and middle-income countries across the globe.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Events

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

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

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

External Engagement

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

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

Perspectives on Leadership in Global Higher Education

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Reposted with permission from the Advance HE blog, 16/12/2021


Over the past two months, as part of our scoping study for the Advance HE Leadership Survey, we have run 11 two-hour online roundtables on the nature and purpose(s) of leadership in contemporary higher education (HE). More than 100 individuals have contributed, representing the views of early career academics, established academics and professors, professional service directors and managers, senior executives, staff and organisational development practitioners, various representative associations, and HE support and funding bodies. While many contributors have been UK-based we have purposely engaged members of an international HE community and captured perspectives from multiple country settings including Australia, Bahamas, Bahrain, Egypt, Greece, Hong Kong, India, Jamaica, New Zealand, Saudi Arabia, Switzerland, Ukraine and the United Arab Emirates.

Together these conversations have provided rich and revealing insights into a turbulent and changing HE environment. It has been humbling to hear the scale of the challenges faced by HE staff at all levels and colleagues across the HE community, and equally inspiring to witness their commitment to the social value and societal benefit of higher education. The roundtables have been emotional, cathartic and energizing – a moment for reflection within ever more crowded diaries, and an opportunity to listen and to be heard by peers with compassion and empathy.

Unsurprisingly the COVID-19 pandemic has provided a backdrop to much of the conversation and has amplified many long-standing concerns. Issues of funding, workload, diversity and inclusion, sustainability, government policy, marketisation and the growth of hybrid and digital working are key priorities and concerns impacting global HE. Such concerns, however, are not easily resolved and their complex interdependencies highlight the difficulties of successfully navigating this shifting and uncertain terrain.

Within each roundtable we spent time exploring how values and purpose shape leadership in HE and, whilst participants articulated a strong set of ethical principles, they acknowledged that these are not always recognised and rewarded within an increasingly competitive and target-driven sector. Many of the discussions evoked a sense of existential crisis and the need for a much stronger sector-wide debate about the purpose and contribution of HE in a changing world. Torn between the demands and expectations of a range of powerful stakeholders there was a sense that some institutions, and their leaders, may potentially be losing sight of what really matters.

We concluded each roundtable by collating thoughts on the skills, competencies and behaviours required of HE leaders now and into the future. Common themes that emerged included courage, compassion, authenticity, agility, resilience, communication, decisiveness and the ability to build and sustain trust. Whilst many of the points referred to leaders in formal positions there was recognition of the need to develop and nurture collective or shared leadership at all levels.

As we work through the transcripts we are reminded of the pressing need for critical discussion about HE leadership during a time of global challenges and look forward to sharing emerging findings at the dissemination and engagement events in February 2022.

Authors: Richard Bolden, Professor of Leadership and Management, UWE, Bristol; Richard Watermeyer, Professor of Education, University of Bristol; Doug Parkin, Principal Adviser for Leadership and Management, Advance HE; and Katy Outhart, Membership Services Executive, Advance HE

The Unleadership Movement: Lighting fires at the Collective Leadership for Scotland Campfires Festival

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The Unleadership Movement is a growing collaboration of practitioners and scholars from public, private and voluntary sectors who seek to reflect upon leaderly practices that have been illuminated during the Covid-19 pandemic. Its mission is to establish how this learning can be taken forward by participants to make a leaderly impact in their organisations and communities.

By understanding and disrupting traditional leadership expectations, for example that heroic leaders must always act with well-reasoned and well-crafted visions and plans to achieve a state of perfection, the concept of unleadership reveals unexplored alternatives. For example, the practice of unleadership places a focus on those who would not normally regard themselves as leaders. These are individuals who are driven to act by their values and determination to make the best contribution that they can with the resources at their disposal and through a latent desire to pay it forward. This energy drives them to act without securing “perfect” knowledge and certainty, with the courage to act into the unknown and to admit to unknowing. They confidently connect and collaborate with others in a spirit of generosity and compassion, and they are not intimidated by the prospects of having to pass responsibility to better placed others when they reach the limit of their resources.  Stories of these acts of unleadership have emerged during the Covid-19 pandemic and have potentially profound implications for the practices of leadership as our new post-Covid working world develops and re-organises itself.

In this spirit, we recently hosted a discussion at the “Leadership Campfires” event organised by Collective Leadership for Scotland. Aiming to recreate the cozy, comfortable feeling of sitting around the campfire for some inspiring storytelling and conversation, we set up our virtual campfire and invited collaborators from around the globe to come and join us. 

Storytelling seemed a natural partner to the idea of a campfire, and one that evokes further the ability to share experiences and ideas through conversations. So, having introduced our ideas about unleadership through an informal conversation between ourselves, we then invited others to tell their stories, first in smaller breakout groups before sharing with the wider group. Whilst their stories were very different in shape and style, they revealed common aspects of experiences of the last eighteen months, and shared common threads about human endeavours, and unleaderly behaviours in such a range of different circumstances. We were enthralled by what we heard and spent time afterwards reflecting on the stories that resonated for us.

The parable of the crab describing how a lonely crab felt isolated on his own sandy beach and wanted to explore further. It was only by finding the strength within himself to explore beyond his boundaries that he then encountered another lone travelling crab and together they found joint empowerment to move beyond where they could have even considered possible, to explore new terrain.”

“The story of a musician who stepped outside of their famous role to inspire groups of non- governmental organisations to co-operate to provide aid to those who needed it most during hardships after natural disasters.”

“The story of a growing sense of place, where the community began to feel a different kind of ownership and value about their local environment and the benefits to everyone of making small changes.

These stories suggested that leaderly practices and the idea of unleadership was something that also comes from within, be that values held dearly, or inner confidence, as well as a reaction to the place we find ourselves in. They revealed that we can embrace the multi-faceted nature of our own identities and use them in different ways to inspire or take leaderly action. And they highlighted that in pushing beyond our real or imagined boundaries, even small acts can make a big difference.

The Collective Leadership for Scotland event was inspiring and ignited lots of little campfires discussing the potential for leadership to be more collective, social and democratic and to consider our own parts in this developing process. We’ve also been lucky enough to run a series of workshop conversations over the last few months prior to this event, funded through a Higher Education Innovation Fund Grant from UWE Bristol. The purpose of these workshops has been to share, develop and disseminate knowledge about the idea of unleadership and to invite others to join the conversation. With that in mind, this is the first in a series of short blogs which will discuss in more detail some of the key ideas involved in practicing unleadership. These will discuss the themes of paying it forward; living with the unknown; catching the wave; and confident connecting and collaborating.

You are all warmly invited to join our movement and contribute to the conversation!

Carol Jarvis, Hugo Gaggiotti, Selen Kars-Unluoglu  & Kay Galpin

LinkedIn: The Unleadership Movement

Twitter: @unleadership_

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

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

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

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

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

Publication of Malaria Elimination Open Access Resources

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Professors Peter Case and Jonathan Gosling from UWE Bristol, recently published a set of open access resources in collaboration with the Malaria Elimination Initiative (MEI) and the University of California, San Francisco. The resources are entitled LEAD: Leadership & Engagement for Improved Accountability & Delivery of Services Framework  and comprise a set of guidelines and practical tools for Ministries of Health and advisors to assist with the improvement of malaria healthcare services. It is the product of work that Peter and Jonathan have been conducting with MEI for the past seven years in low- and middle-income countries across the globe. Read about the project further in our previous post ‘Helping to improve malaria healthcare in Southern Africa’

LEAD draws upon organization development, leadership learning, participatory action research, quality improvement methods, and principles of community engagement to improve operational delivery at the district, clinic, and village level. LEAD employs a systematic process, involving continual problem diagnosis, action planning, implementation and evaluation to build capacity for change management through a series of workshops, meetings, trainings, coaching, and mentoring over the course of the planning cycle.

It was developed in response to requests from National Malaria Control Programmes (NMCPs) for assistance in tackling challenges in a systematic and participatory manner whilst, simultaneously, building capacity for leadership and management across hierarchical levels and ensuring sustainability of healthcare provision.

The tool has been implemented thus far in Vietnam, Zimbabwe, Eswatini and Namibia, leading to significant improvements in elements of programme delivery. These improvements include, inter alia: improved detection, testing and treatment, data quality, communication, and fewer drug stockout events. Additional benefits, such as capacity building of healthcare professionals and development of accredited training of NMCP staff, have also accrued, creating sustainable impacts in these regions.

To find out more visit the Shrinking the Malaria Map website.

Creative Workforce for the Future – developing an inclusive workforce

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Creative Workforce for the Future is a one year pilot developing industry employment practices embracing inclusion and diversity as an asset, and nurtures young talent from under-represented groups to gain the experience required to sustain a creative career. A key aspect of the programme is supporting creative SMEs to develop a more inclusive workforce and practices in the region by undertaking an intensive programme of inclusive professional development.

The partnership, led by UWE Bristol and Watershed are working actively with over 30 creative small to medium sized businesses in the West of England on inclusion readiness.

Earlier this year, they began running industry workshops with a range of topics and started a series of  Reflexive Sense-making Space > Leadership Coaching  sessions for leaders who want to delve deeper and transform their learning into practice. The group leadership coaching process was led by Dr Charlotte von Bülow (UWE Bristol), an experienced leadership coach, consultant, social entrepreneur and action researcher.

These sessions offer a safe space where leaders can identify and explore personal and organisational narratives and discover how these might help or hinder the change they want to create, as well as explore their own (inherited) behaviours and practices. Charlotte reflects on some of the realities facing leaders and managers:

“Within the context of the workplace, we are often caught in a difficult and rather binary situation where there is a perceived but unarticulated ‘right and wrong’ that is difficult to get one’s head around. This makes for a very anxiety provoking daily experience of ‘not knowing what the right thing is’ and many are getting stuck in narratives about the issue of diversity and inclusion, rather than looking at each situation in its own right. Ayshat Akanbi’s provocative but inspiring message – that we can move the focus from ‘right/wrong’ to empathy, compassion and respect – is pointing to what may be another way of approaching the issue. Is it possible to explore ways in which we can inspire a culture of respectful situational awareness as a ‘way of being’ rather than get caught in policy writing – and if so, how do we go about that? How do we co-create such new cultures and ensure that we also remain open to the complexity of each emerging situation? These are the kinds of questions that are being explored.”

In addition to Charlotte’s coaching sessions, workshops were offered to SME’s including ‘Fitting in vs Belonging’ and an ‘Unconscious Bias’ workshop run by Elonka Soros. Using a Diversity & Inclusion maturity model, a useful tool for action, businesses ranked themselves as either unaware, compliant, strategic, integrated or disruptive. Interestingly, most business leaders ranked their business in between strategic and integrated when in reality they were hovering at the top end of compliant – fulfilling legal requirements out of duty, rather than purpose, resulting in little action, change of impact. It’s only when businesses move more into the strategic level when diversity and inclusion is recognised as important to the success of the business, and it becomes a strategic objective with KPIs, that are tracked and have active leadership and accountability.

Inclusion is as much a personal development journey as a business journey and is not merely about diversifying a workforce. For that reason, many SMEs chose to interrogate their personal journeys as leaders on a deeper level throughout the programme by attending Dr Charlotte von Bülow’s Reflexive Sense-making sessions . In addition, a group of SMEs have been working with Marissa Ellis from Diversily on a practical approach to inclusive leadership using The Change Canvas, a simple but powerful visual framework for driving change.

Inclusion is a slow journey as it involves cultural change. However, there has already been some great investment pledges and action from leaders to take their workforce on this journey and a noticeable shift from ‘we need to diversify as an industry’ to ‘we need to dismantle the culture that sustains the inequality and lack of inclusion’.

This post was edited from the Creative Workforce for the Future blog, read the full article here. The programme is in its final stages and has ran over 15 industry workshops with 42 of creative SMEs in the West of England with more lined up for January – March 2021.

This is an exploratory new pilot programme funded by the West of England Combined Authority (WECA) and the European Social Fund (ESF) and led by the Bristol+Bath Creative R+D programme working with Rife at WatershedKnowle West Media CentreCreative Youth NetworkThe Guild co working spaceSpike Island and Bristol Museums.

Bringing Ideas to Life: The role of mediating objects

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Written by Dr Arthur F Turner – Senior Lecturer in Organisational Studies, UWE, Bristol.

Since 2008 I have been looking into the growth of leadership in managers and, more broadly speaking, I have been journeying towards a degree of understanding of how these ‘magical’ transitions take place. I have more recently been tutoring and facilitating the learning of coaching and mentoring through the teaching of elements in the curriculum of ILM Level 7 and Level 5 vocational qualifications.

One part of this decade-long inquiry has been the surfacing of Vygotsky’s ‘mediating objects’ as a vital piece of theory that really seems to work. I had been describing these ideas to my colleagues, students and clients (I have been a qualified coach since 2008) in terms of philosophical ideas and theories (see, for example, Heidegger, Huizinga and Vygotsky – all male European philosophers of the early 19th century).

My own favourite mediating objects to use in leadership and management development are finger puppets of culturally-diverse characters (both real and fictional) which have a powerful way of stimulating ideas and re-enacting workplace dynamics. I have written about how and why these puppets work and, more often than not, I have found myself drawn towards the Déscartian view of minds and bodies having a distinct ontological basis. Whilst thoughts and ideas in your head are shapeless and have no form through the use of mediating objects (puppets or whatever) these ideas, challenges or issues can be expressed in a more solid way, through an object that gives it shape and structure.

A selection of finger puppets used in leadership development workshops

For several years I felt these ideas must have some more up-to-date, supporting philosophies. My searches often led along blind alleyways… until recently. A chance look at a collection of articles in the New Scientist in 2019 I came across Lambros Malafouris and his theory of Material Engagement. All of sudden a modern philosophical translation of the role of objects in our world came into view. Like London buses no sooner had one emerged than another turned the corner into view. From Emma Watton and Phillipa Chapman’s leadership and cognitive artefacts premise to Object Orientated Ontology (OOO) championed by Graham Harman via the hermeneutic spaces of Michel Foucault; mediating objects have been coming out of the shadows! This time of year, Autumn, also gives some spur to the acknowledgment of the ways in which ideas and learning can emerge from nowhere. Take for example the humble fungus:

I have been fascinated by fungi for a long time and testament to this are a small collection of porcelain fungi at my home, modelled to represent specific species. These models are a doorway into the weird world of fungi which now, in real life, often appear overnight, lawns, tree-trunks and fallen branches are festooned with a dazzling array of shapes and sizes, mostly based on a standard, young-child-seen, shape of stem and cap. A new book by Merlin Sheldrake now has retold the research that reveals a parent mycelium that weaves and interacts for miles amidst root, leaf-fall and wood. This mycelium is closely interwoven and often miles long. Far from a non-sentient being fungi and the mycelium that is the fungi can work together over miles, lasso nematodes, trap and enslave ants and break down rock, stone and concrete slabs… a concept now referred to as the Wood Wide Web.

Holding one porcelain fungal model in my hand can open opportunities to talk about living organisms, ecosystems and on to discussion about stakeholders, networks, knowledge, intelligence and complex chemicals. Objects mediate human understanding and ferment the production of knowledge and understanding.   

I’d be interested to hear about any mediating objects you use in your own leadership and/or organisation development practice, and your experiences of how these support and mobilise the shifts in awareness that characterise deep learning.

The Rhetoric and Reality of Systems Leadership

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

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

What is Systems Leadership?

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

Watch the recorded conference HERE including Richard’s talk.

The Fall of Edward Colston and the Rise of Inclusive Place-Based Leadership

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by Professor Richard Bolden

The killing of George Floyd by a police officer in Minneapolis, USA on 25th May 2020 triggered a wave of protests about racial inequality that have spread around the world. In my home city of Bristol, UK the Black Lives Matter march on 7th June led to the toppling of the statue of Edward Colston, a 17th-century slave trader whose sculpture had stood in pride of place in the city centre for 125 years.  The ironic fact that the bronze cast was then dragged to the quayside and unceremoniously dumped into the water at almost precisely the same place as his ships had docked over three hundred years ago did not go unnoticed[1].

Colston, who was born in Bristol in 1636 and lived there for much of his life, made his fortune as a merchant – initially trading wine, fruits and cloth before becoming involved in the slave trade. From 1680-1692 he worked for the Royal Africa Company, which held a monopoly for trading along Africa’s west coast, serving as deputy governor from 1689 to 1690. During his time at the company around 84,000 Africans were transported into slavery, with an estimated 19,000 perishing in the process[2]. Despite his involvement in this abhorrent trade, Colston was widely celebrated for endowing significant sums of money to local schools, hospitals, alms-houses and churches. His statue was erected by the Victorians in 1895 to commemorate his philanthropy and his name still features on many city landmarks.

The actions of the protesters that day drew a range of reactions. Whilst the Home Secretary, Priti Patel, described it as ‘utterly disgraceful’ and the Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, called it a ‘criminal act’ others took a more nuanced approach.  Marvin Rees, the elected Mayor of Bristol, whilst not condoning the wilful damage of public property said the statue had been a ‘personal affront’ to him and many other people for years and that he ‘did not feel any sense of loss’[3].  As televised interviews for Channel 4 and BBC later that day pushed Rees to give a binary response to questions about the repercussions of the incident, he took the opportunity to lay-out the complexities of the context in which it had occurred. Rees outlined the sensitivities and challenges and the need for an open and honest debate about the history of race and inequality in the city. As the first elected Mayor of Afro-Caribbean descent in Europe, who took up his post in 2016 amidst the effects of the Brexit vote and sustained cuts to local government funding, he needed to mobilise the support of a diverse (and divided) population and a wide range of stakeholders. Whilst he actively supported campaigns to review Colston’s legacy, including a decision to rename the city’s Colston Hall music venue, attempts to remove Colston’s statue (or, at the very least, install a new plaque describing the atrocities that he had committed) had thus far been undermined[4]. With a finite amount of time, resource and political capital, Rees had many other priorities to attend to in order to address the challenges and divisions within the city[5].

Whilst some expressed outrage that the statue was pulled down David Olusoga, Professor of Public History at University of Manchester and a resident of Bristol, pointed out that the real question was why “21st-century Bristol still had a statue of a slave trader on public display” in the first place[6]. To those who suggested that removing Colston’s statue was an attempt to erase the city’s past, he responded “the toppling of Edward Colston’s statue is not an attack on history – it is history”. The legacy of Colston is writ large across the city and will not be forgotten simply because his image no longer gazes down upon those who walk the city’s streets. In an interview for the BBC on the day of the protests Olusoga argued “statues aren’t about history they are about adoration. This man was not great, he was a slave trader and a murderer”[7].

The speed with which other cities across the country have responded by reviewing and removing statues that fail to reflect the multi-cultural nature of contemporary Britain shows that these thoughts are finally being heard[8]. The history of colonisation and slavery that fuelled Britain’s economic, cultural and political influence for many centuries has become woven into the fabric of our institutions and society leaving many of us blind to the day-to-day racism and inequality it perpetuates.

Speaking at the funeral of George Floyd on 9th June Rev. Bill Lawson, who had campaigned alongside Rev. Martin Luther King Jr in the 1960’s, said “back in the days when I used to be part of marches, all the marchers were black, but now there are white people who know the story and there are Hispanics who know the story and there are Asians who know the story”[9].  He went on to say “Out of his [George Floyd’s] death has come a movement, a worldwide movement. But that movement is not going to stop after two weeks, three weeks, a month. That movement is going to change the world.”

The events of the past few weeks have a great deal to tell us about the nature and purpose of good leadership in contemporary society. Firstly, they demonstrate that in the second decade of the 21st Century we are still far from the ‘post-racial’ society that some may claim. The roots of racism go back many years and will no doubt take many more to rectify. The diversity of our workforce and communities is widely acknowledged as a significant source of creativity, innovation and competitive advantage yet the relatively superficial attempts to tackle unconscious bias within organisations barely scratches the surface of the discrimination experienced by black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) individuals on a daily basis. The role of leaders in a progressive, multi-cultural society is to actively foster and promote diversity in all its forms and to dismantle systems, structures and processes that “inhibit the full and equal engagement of all individuals”[10]. This is difficult and demanding work that requires significant time and emotional investment. It requires listening to and learning from the lived experience of others, and to actively champion and support marginalised individuals and groups. To quote Ruth Hunt, former CEO of the LGBT rights organisation Stonewall, “if you have any power whatsoever, think about how you can share it”[11].

Secondly it shows the need for a deep appreciation of context, informed by genuine respect for the plurality of perspectives on any particular issue. The Police Superintendent for Bristol, Andy Bennett, noted that whilst his officers were present when the statue of Colston was removed and pushed into the harbour, a decision was taken not to intervene as doing so was likely to lead to further disorder. In explaining this decision, he said “whilst I’m disappointed people would damage one of our statues, I do understand why it has happened, it is very symbolic” [12].  Bennett, like Rees, demonstrated a nuanced understanding of the issues and the potential for unintended consequences from his actions. Whilst, of course, attention would have been given to the immediate context of the situation it is highly likely that he also considered the wider context of policing and criminal justice within the city.  Bennett and his colleagues had invested considerable time and effort over many years building and strengthening relationships, trust and collaboration between diverse groups and communities and would, no doubt, be well aware of the long-term knock-on effect of heavy-handed policing in a situation such as this. For those protesting that day the statue of Colston was a vivid symbol of oppression and a reminder of the lack of progress that had been made in tackling systemic inequality[13].

And thirdly it demonstrates the importance of genuine, open discussion in mobilising and sustaining social change. Both Rees and Bennett’s response to the incidents in Bristol on 7th June show a real awareness of the importance of shifting the narrative from blame to reconciliation. The day after the protest Bristol City Council announced its intent to create a new exhibition at the city’s MShed Museum featuring placards and banners from the march, most likely alongside the despoiled statue of Edward Colston once retrieved from the harbour. A day later, Rees announced the launch of a new commission to document and share the ‘true history’ of Bristol[14].

Recognition of the disproportionate impact of the Coronavirus pandemic on BAME communities – both in health and economic terms – alongside a growing sense that not enough is being done at national level to address this is, of course, another key part of the backdrop to recent events[15]. At the time of the Black Lives Matter protests, the UK was still experiencing high numbers of infections and deaths from Covid-19 and laws were in place to enforce social distancing and prohibit gatherings of more than six people. The fact that so many people still took to the streets demonstrated the strength of emotion and level of concern about racial inequality.

Following the suffering and disruption caused by Covid-19 and the trauma of George Floyd’s death there is perhaps a glimmer of hope. Back in April Rees argued that the post-Covid recovery in Bristol should focus on building a “more sustainable, more inclusive, more fair and more just” economy and had begun rallying support for this across the city[16]. Indeed, the groundwork for such an approach had already been laid over the past few years through the development of the One City Approach[17] and the launch of the One City Plan in January 2019. This bold vision and action plan was inspired by a similar initiative in New York that set out a long-term strategy, co-produced with diverse communities and stakeholders, to build a thriving and inclusive city aligned with the UN Sustainable Development Goals[18]. The three aspects of inclusive place-based leadership outlined above – allyship, understanding and dialogue – will undoubtedly form the bedrock of Bristol’s recovery plan as it emerges from lockdown into a post-Covid world, hopefully building a stronger sense of shared purpose and commitment to learning from our past and moving forward in a caring and considered way.

Note

Whilst the opinions expressed in this article are my own, they are informed by my work with number of colleagues, including Anita Gulati, Dr. Addy Adelaine, Professor Carol Jarvis and Stella Warren, whose own ideas have greatly influenced my awareness and understanding of leadership and inclusion. My reflections on the leadership of Marvin Rees and Andy Bennett are informed not only by media reports but also through engaging directly with each of them on citywide initiatives, including the Bristol One City Approach, Bristol Leadership Challenge and Bristol Golden Key.


[1] https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2020/jun/08/edward-colston-statue-history-slave-trader-bristol-protest

[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Edward_Colston

[3] https://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/bristol-mayor-edward-colston-statue-black-lives-matter-protest-marvin-rees-a9554646.html

[4] https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-bristol-47670756

[5] https://www.bristol247.com/news-and-features/news/bristol-tale-two-cities/

[6] https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2020/jun/08/edward-colston-statue-history-slave-trader-bristol-protest

[7] https://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/edward-colston-bristol-controversial-statues-uk-cecil-rhodes-a9554421.html

[8] https://www.theguardian.com/world/live/2020/jun/09/uk-protests-black-lives-matter-colston-statue-rhodes-live

[9] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kpOO7OzntN8

[10] https://uwe-repository.worktribe.com/output/852067

[11] https://uwe-repository.worktribe.com/output/5999310  

[12] https://www.bristolpost.co.uk/news/bristol-news/right-wing-people-came-down-4205570

[13] https://www.bristolpost.co.uk/news/bristol-news/how-city-failed-remove-edward-4211771

[14] https://news.bristol.gov.uk/news/bristols-real-story-must-be-told

[15] https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2020/jun/06/labour-accuses-government-of-cover-up-over-bame-covid-19-report

[16] https://www.bristol247.com/news-and-features/news/rees-lets-rebuild-a-fairer-inclusive-and-more-sustainable-economy/

[17] https://www.bristolonecity.com

[18] http://onenyc.cityofnewyork.us

What will the Leadership of Innovation look like in the post COVID world?

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Rob Sheffield, Visiting fellow at UWE, and Stuart Morris, Facilitator of Design-led Innovation & Creativity at Thales, discuss the emerging implications for the leadership of innovation. Here are extracted excerpts from a wider conversational piece, which was recently shared on medium. Click here for the full read. 

About the context

Stuart: Rob, you have written about leaders in organisations learning to develop the creative capabilities of their team members and themselves in leading innovation. I think it is fair to say that these leaders have come under increasing pressure over the last 20 years to enable more creativity and innovation within their scope of responsibility, whether it be at a global or local team level. The likelihood is that the post-COVID world will only accelerate and intensify this pressure. What are your thoughts on this?

Rob: I think you’re right about the spread of need for creativity and innovation. Of course we’ve seen an extraordinary rush of need-led organising since the crisis hit. The collaboration in households, streets, communities, cities, across organisations, countries… Wow. (And we can all list moments where more collaboration would have helped.)

But, the shift happened long before COVID-19. In our work, we’ve noticed a gradual rise in the demand for and supply of creativity and innovation skills, over the last 15–20 years, and a much more sudden one since around 2015…

…And employees want these skills. Partly because they want to bring imagination into work; also because some people identify very personally with creativity and want it in their work lives. And there is the perceived threat of AI, in its broadest sense, raising questions of which work will remain for people. Well, it’s not easy to automate the generation and implementation of novel ideas. The skills of developing ideas and realising value from them are likely to be done by humans for some time.

Implications for leadership of innovation

Stuart: The era of “scientific management” over the last 100 years, post Industrial Revolution, has created many embedded support systems (and even big businesses who supply these systems), such as reward & recognition, financial management, other business management processes and strong delivery focus. It is these strong embedded cultures I would suggest make it very difficult for leaders to enable the necessary innovation and creativity to happen.

Rob: There is certainly a gap between the need for innovation, and the satisfaction with its delivery. Pre-Covid, Accenture’s research has concluded that many organisations have been talking about breakthrough changes, but sticking with the safer, incremental sort.

I imagine this is for many reasons. As you suggest, if we (maybe unconsciously) hold the metaphor of organisations as machines, that brings with it the assumptions of control, predictability, power invested in top-down planning, and that unforeseen events are mistakes. Whereas, for example, if we imagine organisations to be places where a multitude of conversations are happening simultaneously — some wither, some repeat, some transform into new avenues — this is a metaphor closer to a marketplace, or a network of organisms. There is very little top-down control, and ‘life’ emerges from interactions at local level, where the nature of interactions is key to whether conversations become interesting and manifest into novelty.

Stuart: It is this leadership paradigm which I believe will be severely challenged by the new contexts presented post-Covid, all of which we cannot predict, which is a real problem for those whose assumptions are based on a deterministic view of the world.

So far, we’ve talked mainly about organisations, but we can also widen the implications.

Rob: We’re being given a sharp reminder of what society is. We see examples of our interdependence all around: food chains; how we help and care for each other; supporting key workers to continue their work, and the criticality of being able to connect with each other digitally.

The many examples of street, community, city and wider levels of collaboration, reflect initiatives where no-one has asked for permission, are based on shared purpose, are experimental — trial/learn/improve — and often supported by huge goodwill, kindness and forgiveness from people affected.

Most of us have not seen such mass collaboration. And I hope it will have at least two effects. First, we are remembering what makes a society: that we fundamentally need each other in order to live the way we want. And this realisation will encourage more positive collaboration. Second, that to have such a way of living requires a more nuanced way of framing leadership: one that is much more sensitive to how leadership can spring from anywhere, and connects and empowers people to act.

Stuart: This reminds me of a great Ted Talk by Joi Ito (MIT Media Lab) in 2014 about the Fukushima nuclear disaster of 2011. His wife and family were living in Japan, about 200km from Fukushima, when the Tsunami hit. The news channels, television, government, etc were not telling him anything he wanted to hear in terms of radiation levels — how much danger were his family in? He went on the internet and found others who were also trying to figure out what was going on. Due to their diversity of skillsets they loosely organised themselves to create the ability to measure and share the largest (at that time) open data-set on radiation anywhere in the world — a great citizen science project. In his summary Joi shared his new view of the world of innovation as “deploy or die” (get it into the real world immediately) as opposed to the previous “demo or die” (a step back from deploy) and the even older “publish or perish”…

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