Sage Handbook of Graduate Employability – Book launch

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Members of UWE’s Bristol Business School have contributed a chapter to the Sage handbook of graduate employability with is scheduled for publication in early 2023.

Join us for the launch this Thursday, the 10th of November at 9:00am.

The chapter titled: Learning through Uncertainty: Team Learning and the Development of an Entrepreneurial Mindset is written by Hugo Gaggiotti, Selen Kars, and Carol Jarvis of Bristol Business School. The chapter draws on research conducted with staff and students at Bristol City Robins Foundation and looks at their BA Sports Business and Entrepreneurship programme.  The programmes approach explores team coaching and team learning through doing, encouraging students to develop as active participants responsible for shaping their own learning and project opportunities.  

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:

BOOK LAUNCH Sage Handbook of Graduate Employability Tickets, Thu 10 Nov 2022 at 09:00 | Eventbrite


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

What Just Happened in UK Politics?

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

Blog post orginally posted on the ILA wesbite.

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

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

An Individual Perspective: The Fall of Liz Truss

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

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

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

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

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

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

An Organizational Perspective: A Divided Party

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Societal Perspective: Uniting Around a Shared Purpose

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

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

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

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

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

Where Next?

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

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

References and Further Reading

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

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

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

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

What works for leadership in higher education?

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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.

Further Details

Download the full report

Monologue and Organization Studies

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The following blog includes excerpts taken from a recent journal article written Professor Peter Case recently published an article (co-authored with Michal Izak and Sierk Ybema) entitled ‘Monologue and Organization Studies’, in the reputable journal Organization Studies. The article offers a critique of the dominant dialogical view of organizational communication and argues that instances of one-way communication have been neglected because of existing analytical prejudices. 

Recent decades have witnessed a blossoming of explanatory frameworks for understanding organizations and management. Quite how we arrived at a status quo that privileges dialogue as a dominant perspective for both the descriptive and normative understanding of organization is an interesting question. Our conjecture is that one way of understanding its origins is to view its emergence against the backdrop of post-World War II political dynamics. Cold War politics led to a geopolitical standoff between the democratic principles of what we now think of as liberal democracy and, as positioned by Western powers, the freedom-stifling autocracy of the Soviet Union and Maoist Communism of a newly formed People’s Republic of China. The values of purportedly democratic systems made space for, and normatively privileged dialogue in contrast to single party authoritarianism that actively suppressed any talking back, so to speak. At least this was the Western discourse during this period; a discourse which ultimately ‘prevailed’ with the dissolution of the Soviet Union, the establishment of what was hailed in the late 1980s as the Washington Consensus (Williamson, 2004) and geopolitical developments that some celebrated as the end of history (Fukuyama, 1992).

It was within this political climate and context, we contend, that dialogism in the fields of organization studies and organization theory began to emerge and flourish.

In this essay for Organization Studies, we problematize the dominant construal of organization and organizing in dialogic terms and introduce a complementary point of reference: that of monologic organization. Recent work in management and organization studies is typically inclined to understand both organization and the act of organizing as entailing processes that are ‘polyvocal’, ‘polyphonic’ and ‘multi-authored’.  From this vantage point, organization is essentially dialogic in form and profoundly dynamic, propelled by active human sense-makers. As illustrated by research into communication, the notion of a multiplicity of voices, and of a dialogue between them, has become a favoured organizational image within organizational research, as well as a paradigm for recent theorizing. We begin by briefly exploring the underlying assumptions of what we characterize as a dialogic perspective. Specifically, we discuss three dominating features of dialogicity in the context of organization theory: plurality, reciprocity and liquidity. In order to create analytic sensitivity to non-dialogic features of organization, we first draw on the classic work of Mikhail Bakhtin to inform our understanding of the relationship between dialogic and monologic organization. Whereas Bakhtin’s original distinction begets a certain balance between dialogic and monologic forms of communication, we want to make a stand for ‘monologue’ and ‘dialogue’ as different images of organization inspiring different ways of seeing and analysing. This provides the grounds for analysing bodies of work developed predominantly in line with the dialogic view. Having established the limitations of the dialogic perspective, we then propose monologic organization as an alternative image for understanding the (lack of) dynamics in semantically immobile or structurally bureaucratic organizational frameworks. We provide micro, meso and macro level examples – pertaining, respectively, to (1) experience of ostensibly creative work rendered artless, (2) spiritual organization and (3) an authoritarian political regime – in order to discuss the heuristic potential of a monologic view.

Managing Around the World: RoundTables for Experienced Managers

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“A tale of two cities” – that’s how a colleague described Bristol when I asked for an introduction.  There’s something ominous about the image of parallel universes inhabiting the same space. In the Charles Dickens novel, the two cities are Paris and London in the late 1700s as social order breaks down under the burden of inequality and industrial transformation. The political and industrial revolutions were tipping points from which unforeseen transformations followed around the world. We may be at a similar point now, and in April 2020 we will host a one-week ‘Round-Tables for Experienced Managers’ to examine what’s happening at the front line, in the experience of people who are leading, managing and organising businesses, public services, social enterprises and cross-sector initiatives.

Participants come from all over the world, with contributions from world-leading experts including Professor Henry Mintzberg and Professor Jonathan Gosling. In 2020 the RoundTables will be hosted for the first time in Bristol, in partnership with UWE’s Bristol Leadership and Change Centre. As well as those lucky enough to take part in the whole process there are opportunities for local organisations to host short investigative visits, when they will be subject to curious but friendly scrutiny – always a source of intriguing insight and provocative questions.

Titled ‘Managing Around the World’, the programme concentrates on the challenges that each person is facing. In structured, progressive peer-to-peer exercises we analyse and re-frame those challenges, bringing fresh insights and broader perspectives. We visit local organisations (in multi-national teams) and delve into the dynamics of ‘two cities’ Bristol.

The outcomes are likely to be personal and practical for most people because of the focus on each organisational predicament. Most of the activities are readily adapted to use in organisational and community settings. Equally exciting is the opportunity to pool all this experience of leading, managing and organising towards fresh insights of what’s happening on the ground, around the world and in Bristol: are we really at a tipping point? Where are tangible and significant responses to the climate emergency, artificial intelligence, post-colonialism? What are the most hopeful of these, and what more could each of us do?

The RoundTables programme has previously inspired significant projects, such as Professor Peter Case’s work with front-line health services in Zimbabwe, Namibia and Eswatini. Eliminating malaria is a real possibility after years of successful control; but success depends on active intervention on a case-by-case basis. This in turn relies on local knowledge, resourcefulness and cooperation across health and community activists, and on the ability to invent customised responses in unpredictable and complex environments. Because ‘Managing around the world’ combines systemic perspectives with focused attention to each actual challenge, and does so with the front-line people involved, it has been a means for organisational re-invention – in humble, particular, humane ways, and demonstrably effective. In fact the model developed in Zimbabwe has now been adapted again to support the integrated care process in several parts of the NHS.

But back to Bristol – can this one-week programme be an effective catalyst for the ‘two cities’, and for the way we organise, lead and manage? A catalyst is a temporary architecture that enables new realities to emerge. That’s our aim for ‘Managing Around the World’, which will take place at the MShed on Bristol’s historic harbourside from 26th April to 1st May 2020.

As the local host, we pleased to invite current and former students of UWE, Bristol and members of our networks to join the programme at a discounted rate, or to accommodate visits from the programme participants. The programme will be co-directed by Anita Gulati, a long-term associate of UWE and lead for the Bristol Leadership Challenge programme delivered across the city in 2017-18.

To find out more about the RoundTables and register your interest please contact Lucy Wilson at UWE and visit the programme website here.

In Critical Condition? Challenges and possibilities for critical leadership and management studies in current times.

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Guest post by Thomas Allan, Fellow, Centre for Welfare Reform

What if Universities were seen as institutions with responsibilities to the societies they inhabit? What hope for a citizen-led, participatory curriculum to equip us with the knowledge to build a more human, caring and sustainable economy? This Bristol Leadership and Change Centre (BLCC) research symposium was held at the University of the West of England (UWE), Bristol, in October 2018. Its purpose, as described by event organisers, was to bring together leadership and management scholars to reflect on the nature, purpose, and challenges of being ‘critical’ in the contemporary Business School environment.

Critical Challenge

Higher Education, as a social process of facilitating learning and change, has a critical challenge. Many academics are aware, sometimes intuitively, of the limitations of the liberal institution of education, characterised by the detached observations of objective, scientific discourses that form the supposed neutrality of knowledge. Many still adhere to the dispiriting task of preparing debt-laden students for the mercies or exclusions of work, markets, and consumption that follow, often due to a lack of any tangible sense of an alternative.

More recently, learning in an era of globalization is understood as dispersed, taking place outside the bounds of traditional education and within a high velocity exchange of people and places, finance, technologies, cultures, settings, and spaces. Despite talk of helping individuals adapt to complexity, diversity and change, the priorities of the Business School can still seem dominated by the narrow, quantitative models valued by economists and market-fearing policymakers, alongside a distinctly neoliberal narrative of entrepreneurship, leadership and ‘being enterprising’.

Creativity is the buzzword, but in an increasingly disturbed world. At the same time, individuals have become ever more isolated from each other amid spiralling mental ill-health and shrinking space to imagine alternatives. Technological advances are reducing family, peer and social relations to cyber-relations – only exacerbating feelings of loneliness – while automation and marketisation reduce much subsequent employment to precarity or meaningless grind. Political apathy, social inequality and welfare state dismantling seem the accepted costs of ever-expanding markets and ‘continuous improvement’. Higher education can, for all its virtues, end up merely helping individuals adapt to the deep pathologies of neoliberal market society.

At the heart of this, I think, is the spectre of homo economicus. This is the assumed ‘rational’ economic agent inculcated with the knowledge and the skills to play the occupational roles demanded by the over-capitalised and financialised global economy. Yet we apparently still need the local, the situational and the social value found in non-market participation: the human touch, the sense of presence and care increasingly found absent in our turbo-charged market society. Recent research has demonstrated that social connection, empathy, and cooperation are at the foundation of personal, social and community change. Do academics or leaders in academia have the courage to move the discussion beyond the shadow of the selfish gene?

In Critical Condition

The value of critical pedagogy lies in its capacity to equip us with the knowledge to expose and challenge often hidden injustice. It also lies in a sense of hope that grows with connecting and working together to co-create practical and political alternatives to some of the major challenges of our time. This is important because how we frame contemporary social or environmental problems depends on our values and principles, which can in turn open up a broader spectrum of solutions than our modern polity or market governance may view as plausible.

So how did this event contribute to our sense of individual and collective empowerment in this sense? What exactly is the nature, purpose and challenges of being ‘critical’ in the contemporary Business School environment?

There were some bright minds, interesting discussion and excellent presentations. Keynote speaker Professor Martin Parker from the University of Bristol exposed the ‘hidden curriculum’, explaining how contemporary business schools teach a narrow form of capitalism where ‘the market’ is the underlying driver and determinant of the education they provide. He pointed out how literally hundreds of alternative forms of organising social and economic life are excluded in the Business School curriculum, demonstrating this through his ‘organising dictionary’. In this dictionary were many alternatives, including some of the more well-known such as worker-owned cooperatives and the commons.

Professor Martin Parker presenting at the BLCC Research Symposium 22 October 2018

Importantly, Parker invited us to think about patterns, and urged us to start re-building higher education from the bottom-up experiences and strengths of citizens and communities. To facilitate a more accurate conception of the rich tapestry of human organising, he moved us away from ‘management’ and towards the margins of what contemporary capitalism would consider value-able. He proposed an alternative institution: The School for Organising. This institution will develop and teach the multitude of different forms of organising, “enabling individuals to discover alternative responses to the issues of inequality and sustainability faced by all of us today”.

Dr Sarah Robinson of the University of Glasgow delivered some penetrating insights (and warnings) for the aspiring early career academic. Of particular interest for me was the disjuncture between the intrinsic motivation of critically-minded scholars who go into academia (considerations of social justice, democracy, intellectual autonomy and independence) and the post-PhD reality (Key Performance Indicators, stress, insecurity, audit culture, managerialism, publishing restrictions and conditionality).

Dr Sarah Robinson presenting at the BLCC Research Symposium, 22 October 2018

Dr Neil Sutherland from UWE delivered a convincing presentation on the drawbacks of ‘teaching’ under the rubric of the critical banner. A short paragraph alone would not hope to capture the clarity of his thinking on this topic. Yet in essence, he asked, does this impose ‘our’ way of thinking on free-thinking students? Does this create an unhelpful binary of us and them?

Dr Pam Seanor and Dr Doris Schedlitzki, also from UWE, invited participants to weave together the value of their experience with the entrepreneurship, leadership and ‘being enterprising’ agenda. What might critical entrepreneurship look like instead? How can we move the conversation beyond the ‘heroic’ individual entrepreneur and towards a recognition of the social nature of learning and change? Doris and Pam made clear they intend to take an ‘affirmative critical approach’ in their pedagogy to help students question dominant cultural narratives so that they themselves can feel empowered to identify the alternative practices that they seek.

Pam Seanor presenting at the BLCC Research Symposium, 22 October 2018

Professor Sandra Jones from RMIT University, Melbourne, was engaging in her provocation, inviting us to reject the dominant vision for humanity of competition and profit maximisation. Two aspects of her talk chimed most with me. One was her admission that, as well as the more common complaint about skewed resource distribution, many millenials had been left scant opportunity by their baby boomer predecessors to challenge the damaging conceptual myth of homoeconomicus, free markets and market growth. The second was a darkly humorous ‘quote’ from George Orwell in reference to his dystopian novel 1984: “I wrote it as a warning, not a fucking instruction manual”.

Uncertainty

Despite my enthusiasm, the event felt quite overwhelming at times. It was free and inclusive. It was friendly. There were refreshments and breaks. People were free to talk, listen, ask questions, and participate as they wished. There was an invitation to continue conversations and networking at the end of the symposium. Yet I sensed a similar uncertainty in other participants as the event drew to a close, almost like a sense of unfinished business; something that didn’t escape the attention of event organiser Professor Richard Bolden.

As I waited in the cool, darkening autumn evening for my return train at Bristol Parkway station – listening to the occasional clanking of machinery or watching the faceless faces whizz past – I thought it was worth reflecting more on why this might have been.

Perhaps, as one participant pointed out towards the end, it was life and living conditions. To a large extent, people still need to submit to the anonymous power of the market for their livelihoods, their homes and their well being. People are worried about their loved ones and their futures; faced with new and shifting threats to their welfare each day. There is a tangible sense of atomisation and psychological strain. Economic life can feel like an uncertainty that follows you. This doesn’t look likely to improve, either:

“Whether through the enclosures brought on by neoliberalism or the increasingly authoritarian and exclusionary politics of the further right, the expected normality (job security, pensions, unemployment supports, fair working hours and conditions) that citizens experience or aspire to will likely continue to erode.” Bauwens et al. (2017)

In this world of ‘post-truth’ and fast-paced change, we hardly have time to navigate one personal trauma or social transformation before we are bludgeoned onto the next. Where neoliberal restructuring and toxic stress are still the norm, it is hard to know what is reality anymore let alone how we come to know it, or the right methodology for teaching it.

Critical questions: How can we carve out shared spaces for transitioning to something more time-rich, caring and human? How do we find ways to connect with one another in solidarity and on a deeper, more intuitive level? There was, at least, a sense that this symposium offered a valuable and important space to engage with others in precarious times; as well as something that people indicated a desire to continue engaging with.

Critical Moment

To me, critical pedagogy feels honest and authentic. We can be guided by the values of autonomy, responsibility and solidarity, and we are part of a larger interdependent whole rather than the struggling atoms of liberal-individualist and neoliberal market culture.

Yet it is also about having the courage to voice social silences and inject some authenticity beyond the sometimes gilded halls of academia and the career-building activity of contemporary neoliberal subjects. It might ask the following challenging questions:

What moved people to attend this event in the first place?

Did people feel moved to share their experiences, fears and truths?

What bridges of trust and solidarity are being built with people worst-affected by the marketisation and austerity policies of the state?

What examples of academics themselves organising alternatively outside of the University?

In this sense, I reflected, perhaps this is as much about courageous leadership and creating safe spaces and conviviality as it is about creativity or reformulating the curriculum. Creativity is, after all, not something that is the product of extraordinary individual minds but “originates from a culturally-shaped cooperation they also serve” (Gronemeyer 2014).

The ability to think critically and reflexively is indeed a fundamental priority if we are not perpetuating the mistakes and injustices of past and present. There is great social value in such approaches to education. Dialogic, participatory and action-orientated models of education and research, for example, go far further than formal, liberal interpretations of fairness and equality that stop at equal opportunities for individuals.

Yet whether scholars who identify themselves as catalysts for social change can carve out the common ground they seek solely ‘inside’ the university alone I’m not so sure. I sense that the radical spirit that drives this pedagogy will only find what it seeks once we have stopped striving as competing individuals. Conviviality is, after all, “a constant reminder that the community is never closed” (Illich 2005, cited in Gronemeyer, 2014). Perhaps only then will we be at the critical moment.

With this in mind, it was encouraging to note that both Martin Parker and Sandra Jones encouraged critical academics to organise in different ways beyond the academy in order to mobilise social change.

Knowledge as a Commons

Academics might reasonably point out it is not solely up to them to solve all society’s problems. Moreover, giving up stable employment to start a research cooperative in today’s economic climate and political culture might be considered at best a very risky undertaking. Yet if we really want to see ourselves as catalysts for social, democratic or environmental renewal, then we must begin to find ways to step out of the private sphere and begin listening to citizen’s voices and experiences. We need to work together to reclaim and create the public spaces for us to manage matters which concern us all.

One thing critically-minded scholars can do is to begin to raise awareness of the emerging commons movement, and situate research and learning within the context of the Commons Transition (Bauwens et al., 2017).

“In the past thirty years, contemporary scholarship has rediscovered commons, illuminating their cooperative management principles as a counterpoint to conventional economics and particularly its growth imperatives, artificially created scarcities, and fealty to consumption as a preeminent goal.” Bollier & Weston (2014)

But what are commons? According to Innovator Michel Bauwens et al. (2017), commons are:

A social system for the long-term stewardship of resources that preserves shared values and community identity;

A self-organised system by which communities manage resources with minimal or no reliance on the market or state;

A sector of the economy and life that generates value in ways that are taken for granted and often jeopardised by the market and state;

The wealth that we inherit or create together and must pass on, undiminished or enhanced, to our children. Our collective wealth includes the gifts of nature, civic infrastructure, cultural works and traditions, and knowledge Bauwens et al. (2017)

Much research into commons was initially focused on natural resources. Dispelling the myth of the ‘Tragedy of the Commons’ (Hardin 1968), Elinor Ostrom (1990) considered subsistence commons such as meadows, water, forests, or fisheries (the resource alone minus the self-determined norms, practices, and traditions of communities is referred to by Economists as a common-pool resource). More recently, commons scholar Silke Helfrich (cited in Bauwens et al., 2017) points out how every commons, even those that revolve around land and water, are knowledge commons, “because the commoners must learn to apply knowledge in managing them”.

A commons, therefore, is distinct from a common-pool resource, and constitutes a self-management regime and dynamic social process called commoning. It can include digital commons such as free, open-source platforms such as Wikipedia and social, cultural and civic commons such as community support schemes, social care coops, playgrounds, public spaces, knowledge and ideas, public schools, libraries, and parks. In fact, a commons can arise whenever a community decides to pool its resources and defend or take control of its collective wealth, enlivened by this social process of commoning.

Where might academics fit within the Commons Transition Plan, a name coined by the P2P Foundation to “describe a process of facilitating open, participatory input across society, prioritising the needs of people and environments affected by policy decisions over market or bureaucratic needs”? (Bauwens et al. 2017)

1. Tell the story of the commons and its enclosures, the private appropriation of our common wealth.

2. Recognise that knowledge, information, and culture are part of the public sphere, and gain value though open access, sharing, and collaboration. Academics can help by facilitating open-source rather than proprietary knowledge.

3. Practice conviviality, involving, in the words of Marianne Gronemeyer (2014): “…a language that is both objectionable and triggers ideas to enable understanding rather than consensus which is often achieved by manipulation; research that speaks a personal language full of experience; practice that does not compete, but cooperates and shares; technology that helps to make the best out of the power, and the imagination that everyone has.”

4. Learn about the power of Vernacular Law: “Vernacular law originates in the informal, unofficial zones of society and is a source of moral legitimacy and power in its own right…places and spaces where people are struggling to achieve regeneration and social restoration against the forces of economic globalization” Bollier & Weston (2014)

5. Teaching, organizing or resourcing through Commons-based Peer Production: “Through imagining and constructing independent governance that supports the infrastructure of cooperation…can help us to protect the best qualities of the welfare state model, and transcend it with a radically re imagined politics that would facilitate social value creation and community organized practices.” Bauwens et al. (2017)

6. Recognise the need for a Partner State to fund and support this process of social value creation and community organized practices (e.g. the needs of civil society and its living, caring and learning environments) rather than the current state/market tendency to genuflect to corporate or financial interests: “The Partner State is the concept whereby public authorities play a sustaining role in the ‘direct creation of value by civil society’, i.e. sustains and promotes commons-based Peer Production.” Bauwens (2012)

7. Supporting the work of the School of Commoning, a worldwide community of people supporting the developing commons movement.

8. Supporting the work of the Centre for Welfare Reform (CFWR). Working on such projects as Sustainability and Social Justice, Constitutional Reform, Basic Income and other Commonfare practices to navigate the socioeconomic risks of life, CfWR is something akin to an open-access knowledge commons and a community of independent citizens committed to equality and diversity.

9. Join, support or contribute to the Citizen’s Network, a global non-profit cooperative movement, formed to create a world where everyone matters – where everyone can be an equal citizen.

10. Finally, if nothing else, add the missing social context. We should be wary of simple solutions to complex problems, but much social suffering and environmental damage could be avoided or reversed if the political will, citizen understanding, and the right public institutions of support and cultural learning existed to do so. This starts, as some speakers at this symposium correctly alluded to, with the rejection of the myth of homoeconomicus.

In brief conclusion, challenging the sanctity of ‘the state/market’ duopoly as the sole determinant of human nature, worth, and value creation is the priority. However, there’s much critical work to be done.

References

Bauwens, M 2012 Blueprint for P2P Society: The Partner State and Ethical Economy. Shareable Magazine 7th April 2012

Bauwens, M et al. 2017. Commons Transition: a primer. Transnational Institute. https://www.tni.org/en/publication/commons-transition-and-p2p

Bollier, D. & Weston, B. 2014. Green Governance: Ecological Survival, Human Rights and the Law of the Commons. Cambridge University Press.

Gronemeyer, M. 2014. ‘Conviviality’: Patterns of Commoning. The Commons Strategy Group. Amherst, MA.

Ostrom, E. 1990. Governing the Commons: The evolution of institutions for collective action. Cambridge University Press.

Hardin, G. 1968. The Tragedy of the Commons. Science (December 13th 1968).

Thank you to Thomas Allan for sharing this blog post with us. It was previously posted on the Centre for Welfare Reform blog: https://www.centreforwelfarereform.org/library/by-az/academia-is-in-a-critical-condition.html

Reflections on the Aspire People Development Programme with Avon and Somerset Police

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By Holly Poole, Policy and Support Coordinator for Avon and Somerset Police.

When I was asked to write this blog, I was a little hesitant to broadcast myself to the whole of the Force but I hope my blog may inspire others to take a step out of their comfort zone and put yourself forward to help make a positive difference.

I joined the force nearly two years ago fresh out of University after recommendations of opportunities within the organisation and have undertaken Clerical and Personal Assistant roles within Criminal Justice. I am currently undertaking a role within the Citizens in Policing department in Business Improvement working with our Police Support Volunteers, Special Constables and Police Cadets. You may also recognise my name from running the Citizens Academy and I am also a volunteer Specials Assessor. I enjoy engaging with volunteers and communities, being a representative for the force and being part of the wider organisation and learning more about how each element of our organisation works together to reach our mission to be outstanding.

During my short time within the force, I have constantly looked for ways to improve the way I work and to support others. I have always taken on tasks and work above my role responsibilities and offer my assistance wherever I can. I have a need to be constantly challenged and I am always looking for ways to develop and this is why I put myself forward for the Aspire People Development Programme (PDP). The programmes ambition is to develop potential leaders and is tailored to those who exceed expectations, have the desire to develop and seek posts at a higher level. At the end of the programme, an academic accreditation in leadership and management will be awarded.

The programme is in partnership with UWE and its format runs over nine months and features monthly lectures on a range of areas including effective leadership, understanding change and building effective workplace relationships. To gain the academic accreditation at the conclusion of the programme, two academic assignments and a project are required to be completed.

During my first day on the programme, I had a severe case of imposter syndrome. Not only was I the youngest on the programme, but I was also the lowest ranked staff member and had little/no management experience unlike my peers. During the day team activities were carried out, learning styles were analysed, the project options were discussed and work packages that had been identified in need areas of business over the force were presented. The realisation that not only would my project be implemented to make improvements within the force but that at the programmes conclusion I would present my recommendations to COG overwhelmed me. Surely it was a mistake I had been shortlisted for this PDP programme? I felt as though I didn’t deserve my place and there was definitely someone out there with more skill than I to carry out a project at such a strategic level!

Four months on since that first session, supported by my UWE lecturer, line manager, mentor, HR and my project business lead I no longer feel like an imposter. The programme has helped me to identify the leadership qualities I already possess and enhance them alongside learning new skills and tools I will be able to use in both my current and future roles. Following a personal development plan I have been able to identify areas of improvement within myself including problem solving and presentation skills. I am due to carry out a number of presentations over the course of the next few months to various stakeholders which I have volunteered for…I never thought I would be confident enough to volunteer to present, let alone on a project of this scale!

I am passionate about my chosen project and I am progressing well, my aspiration is that my project will improve the way we work in a large area of business and support us on our journey to be outstanding. Taking part in the PDP Programme has been challenging at times and having my role responsibilities alongside managing assignments and projects has truly tested my time management skills.

Both the PDP programme and the project have enabled me to network with a variety of departments, roles and partnership agencies which I would have not had the opportunity to in my current role. No matter what role or rank, the programmes main aim is to develop you personally and provide you with the skills to take into higher or more demanding roles.

The experience and skills the Aspire Personal Development Programme has provided me with has been invaluable, I feel what I have learnt has developed me as a person and will help me to make a positive difference. I look forward to completing the remainder of the programme, whatever challenges may lie ahead.

10th Developing Leadership Capacity Conference hosted by UWE Bristol

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Last week saw the Business School host the 10th Developing Leadership Capacity Conference (DLCC)with around 70 participants attending to present ideas and share knowledge. The DLCC was originally developed with the aim of having a combination of those interested in researching the area of leadership learning and development and those interested in new ideas for practice, and this year, on the conference’s 10th anniversary, we believe we had a healthy mix of both. We also introduced a case study stream and a workshop stream this year to really engage practice with academic ideas discussed in a third stream.

We also had an  international feel to the conference this year with participants coming from as far afield as Canada, Ghana, Saudi Arabia and Australia. This year we were particularly interested in innovative and creative approaches to learning and developing leadership and we had a stimulating conversation across all groups over the two days on this theme. We also had keynotes from Professor Carole Elliot (Roehampton University) on Women’s Leadership Development, Dr Kevin Flinn (Hertfordshire University) presenting on a complexity approach to leadership learning and Professor Paul Hibbert (St Andrews University) who presented on an aesthetic approach to understanding leadership experiences. The keynotes are pictured below with the conference hosts and founders Dr Doris Schedlitzki and Dr Gareth Edwards and the Director of the Bristol Leadership and Change Centre, Professor Richard Bolden.

 

 

Talking Leadership on Ujima Radi.

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In March 2018 the topic of the month at Ujima Radio was Leadership. Alongside a range of local and national speakers Professor Richard Bolden, Director of Bristol Leadership and Change Centre, discussed the work that he and colleagues are doing in Bristol and beyond. In a wide-ranging conversation Gail Bowen-Huggett, presenter of The Babbers Show, invited his views on topics including African leadership, distributed leadership, leadership of place and inclusive leadership.

Amongst the initiatives discussed were UWE’s role in developing and delivering the Bristol Leadership Challenge and their involvement as academic partner in the Bristol Golden Key and Building Leadership for Inclusion initiatives.

The interview was first broadcast on 19th March 2018 and can be listened to in full by clicking here.

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