“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
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.
We are delighted to share with you the Bristol
Leadership and Change Centre Annual Review 2018-19.
This annual review has been compiled to give
an insight into some of the key projects we have been involved in over the past
12 months, as well as new and emerging initiatives. Find out more about
the events we run here at UWE Bristol Business School, some exciting
conferences taking place later this year and our latest publications.
As ever, there is always much more that could be said but hopefully this will encourage you to find out more.
Applied research and external engagement
Leadership and followership in a complex and changing world
Building Leadership for Inclusion
The Transforming Construction Working Group (TCWG)
Cultures of leading and organising
Assembling life in the Borderlands
Post Occupancy Evaluation of the Bristol Business School Building
Behaviour change and social influence
‘Revaluating’ Physical Activity in Schools
Taking forward Wheels, Skills and Thrills
End of life care and advanced care planning
Leadership and organisational learning and development
Empowering entrepreneurship of prisoners
Organization Development for Malaria Elimination
The Bristol Leadership Challenge
Leadership for Improving Frontline Talent
Teaching and Learning
Leadership and management courses
Leadership and Management Degree Apprenticeships
Seminars and events
Developing Leadership Capacity Conference
Becoming enterprising: a collaborative workshop
Coming up in June 2019- Unlocking Performance through Employee Engagement
The 18th International Studying Leadership Conference- December 2019
Studying Leadership -Traditional and Critical Approaches (Second edition)
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.
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.
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 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.
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”.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
As a German national, I have always been both fascinated with and troubled by the romantic belief in leaders that seems to dominate life in organisations based in English speaking countries. When – as an undergraduate student – I first encountered the idea of the effective leader who can pretty much save a team or organisation single-handedly by winning followers’ hearts and minds and showing them the path to enlightenment, I was excited. This is the answer that nobody had talked about when I was growing up in post-WW2 Germany! Studying for a degree in Industrial Relations where conflict was a given assumption of daily reality in the workplace, this idea of leadership felt nicer, warmer and promising harmony (Collinson, 2012; Learmonth and Morrell, 2017). It was like leaving the cinema after watching a big blockbuster movie where, through tenacity and bravery, the hero comes forth to save the day.
Alas, this fascination was soon marred when I embarked on my PhD in leadership studies and cracks in this positive image of the heroic, effective leader started to appear when trying to compare forms of leadership in Germany and the UK. As a native German speaker, I was lost for words. I simply could not translate the words leader, manager, leadership and follower into the German language (Jepson, 2010). The meaningfulness and indeed power of the language of leadership, intertwined so deeply with and dependent on the denigration of management (Ford and Harding, 2007), was lost. The realisation that language mattered and that without an ability to articulate a sense of self as leader or indeed follower was significant and opened up avenues for exploring my own aversion to being called a leader or follower.
Through my research into leadership, language and identity, I have explored some of the manifold ways in which language matters for our understanding of the concept and practice of leadership. By exploring notions of leadership and management in the German language (Jepson, 2009; 2010) and in Welsh (Schedlitzki et al., 2016), for example, I have highlighted the importance of paying attention to culturally and historically embedded meanings of leadership but also warned of the dangers of oversimplifying and stereotyping the connection between nationality and leadership so as to recognise diversity in meaning within and across languages. With colleagues (Schedlitzki et al., 2016; Schedlitzki et al., 2017) I have called for a research agenda in leadership studies that pays attention to the importance of language, giving voice to currently muted and diverse meanings embedded in non-English languages and regional dialects. This may bring to the fore other, culturally embedded notions of organising that are more meaningful for individuals’ sense of self in the workplace than the idea of the effective leader.
But we do not have to venture ‘abroad’ to realise how much language matters for our understanding of who we are – our identity in the workplace. Myself and colleagues (Schedlitzki et al., 2017) have joined others (e.g. Ford and Harding, 2015) in questioning the ease with which we assume that individuals will see themselves as leader and/or followers in their daily working life. Whilst some may identify quite readily with being a leader, others will experience the daily frustration of wanting to be a leader but feeling like they never quite reach the mark of the effective, great leader depicted in the media and literature. Why is this so? Some argue it is the lack of ‘real’ followers in the workplace (Harding, 2015); others (Collinson, 2011; Ford, 2010; Liu and Baker, 2016) argue that the language of leadership conjures up an image of the ideal leader that is predominantly white, male, masculine, middle class, able bodied, heterosexual and middle aged. Coupled with near heroic abilities of a leader promoted through popular theories like transformational leadership (Alvesson and Karreman, 2016), we start to realise that this effective leader image is highly exclusionary and often unattainable (Ford et al., 2008).
So, where does this leave us? Gaining an understanding of the manifold ways in which language matters for our understanding of leadership and sense of self in the workplace may indeed give us a sense of control over who we can be. Understanding the language of leadership in our workplace may enable us to see the image that it creates of an effective leader and the extent to which we fit into this image or resist it. This may help to make sense of barriers we are experiencing to developing a sense of self as a leader or follower. This insight may also invite us to try and influence both the organisational language of leadership and the image conjured through this language to make space for alternative meanings and images of leadership – or indeed other forms of organising – that are more meaningful for our sense of self.
Delegates discuss the need for a citywide approach to leadership (Front row, right to left – Tracie Jolliff, Mayor Marvin Rees, Cllr Asher Craig, Sarah Minns, John Simpson)
12 May 2017
Today marked the launch of Bristol Leadership Challenge (BLC) – a dynamic new initiative to mobilise the leadership potential of the City to address its most significant and entrenched challenges. Inspiring speeches by Marvin Rees, Mayor of Bristol, Tracie Jolliff, Head of Inclusion and Systems Leadership at the NHS Leadership Academy, and John Simpson, Independent Chair of the Golden Key partnership, highlighted the need to think and work differently in order to address inequality and embrace the creative potential of all who live and work in Bristol. A ‘systems leadership’ approach, where there is genuine commitment to working collaboratively in order to address shared challenges, offers the only realistic way forward in a resource-constrained environment yet requires courage in order to take a stand for what matters.
For the past eight months Professor Richard Bolden and colleagues from Bristol Business School at UWE have been supporting a consortium of Bristol-based organisations, convened by Golden Key and the Mayor’s City Office, in developing the Bristol Leadership Challenge. The programme, starting in October 2017, is designed for current and aspiring leaders from across statutory, voluntary and business sectors in Bristol, who have the motivation and potential to make a lasting contribution to leadership of the City. We are seeking to literally ‘change the face’ of leadership in Bristol, leaving a lasting legacy through the programme’s focus on a specific challenge (mental health in the first year) and developing a network of committed, engaged and competent system leaders.
The programme will be delivered by staff and associates from Bristol Leadership and Change Centre (UWE) in collaboration with the Leadership Centre (London). Sessions will comprise a mix of experiential, conceptual and practical activities facilitated by a highly experienced team. Participants will hear from experts in the field and develop their capacity for systems leadership by working on a real-life citywide challenge, reporting their findings and recommendations to key stakeholders from across Bristol.
If you, someone you know, or your organisation is interested in participating in or sponsoring this programme, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org to find out more.
I have been working with the Centre in Bristol for 18 months and have often looked across from the Executive Development Centre (where most of my work has taken place on campus) at the new building rising on periphery of the site. I wondered about the impact of the new building on the efficacy of the executive programmes we collectively deliver.
In addition, I have been trying to make more space in my small study at home and noticed again the plethora of books I had been collecting over the last five years or so which have walking, movement or the outdoors as their main focus.
Recently I overheard a group talking about a previous workshop and they were debating about where to sit in the room in order to avoid a previous stiff neck induced by the previous day spent staring at a screen! Their comment seems more to do with remembering their physical state rather than the content delivered! This prompted me to think more closely the role of movement in aspects of learning; a role which is often ignored in the pursuit of the sight of a screen (or multiple screens!) as proxy for the structure of a course, programme or module.
Previously, and to explore movement in education a little further, Gareth Edwards and I had been talking and walking together in snatches of collaborative effort. We also have been able to ‘follow’ a group in Wales/Cymru who have been learning with a Welsh company (who only deliver their programme outside and through the medium of walking) in order to see if we can understand what are the significant features of learning enabled through the medium of walking and movement. The group of 12 employees in a public service organisation have been attending two to three-hour mobile workshops on personal effectiveness; one per week for 3 months. Reflective diaries have been being filled out by the participants, along with video and audio recordings of the group, in response to the workshop material/experience and these diaries will be ready for review in May.
Another recent example springs to mind. As part of my work outside of the University of the West of England I was invited to work in the Republic of Ireland just before Easter and commissioned to present a Masters’ level module about leadership, change, innovation and transformation through business excellence models! The delegates were mainly senior managers and top company leaders from public service from both countries on the island plus a further disparate group of other leaders from finance companies, journalists and industrial managers. 18 delegates were present and this was their third session of a 1-month course which had included a 5-day study tour to Boston whose University were co-sponsors of the Masters’ qualification.
What was shocking was the initially almost completely passive nature of the delegates despite their seniority and the ways in which their learning and understanding of the topics had not taken account of significant aspects of space, place and pace. Finding ways of improving their engagement was a challenging, but interesting, process based on me providing a number of challenges to their thought-processes and their activity within the group as they learnt.
Two aspects of this warrant further description and thought.
Firstly, the delegates were separated from the facilitator (lecturer) by a row of tables effectively pinning the delegates in a narrow tube of space bordered by bricks and windows, making movement between individuals really difficult due to the proximity of the wall! Participants at one of the long row could not see colleagues at the other end. The empty space in front of the desks was pretty large (it contained 20 people fairly easily) and then on the opposite wall, by two enormous screens, was the facilitators’ (and for some of the sessions the presenters’) seat.
By re-naming the large space within the surround of the tables and chairs the ‘learning place’ I was able to convince the delegates to move between this more active space whilst maintaining a safer ‘home’/reflective space between the tables and chairs.
The change for the group from passive to active took a couple of hours with candidates initially complaining about having to move or manipulate chairs in awkward spaces. This change in approach illustrated, on some levels, the very topic we were studying – change and transformation – and the emotional attachment we humans have to the status quo.
Using the learning space as described above I created a session so that the group could investigate their understanding of business excellence. I was also able to utilise the artefacts from the pre-planning, namely the paper copies of the slides that each delegate had in their pack, so that we remained true to the curriculum of the module.
I chose four of the most popular models in the pack of printed slides; Total Quality Management, European Excellent Model, Investors in People and the Balanced score card.
Four groups of four were randomly chosen (to help to exclude friends’ groupings) and four chairs were placed together, facing in on each other, at the four corners of the learning space. Two observers from the group were chosen to provide feedback on the process and the learning.
Very closely timed, the session allowed each group ten minutes to debate their business excellence models based on two things: their own experiences and the collection of slides that covered their topic. After ten minutes the group had further 5 minutes to consolidate their thoughts and to appoint an emissary to visit the other groups in turn. The emissary moved clockwise to the next group after ten minutes – five minutes of which was to discuss their ‘own’ model and the other five minutes to listen to the views of the group they were visiting. This movement continued until the emissary was back to their original group whence they had to teach their group what they had learnt on their travels. This invented technique, which the group jokingly called ‘Arthur’s quadrangle’, was characterised by a lot of movement, intense concentration and a lot of voices engaged in noisy, focussed debate, challenge and opinion. A real contrast to the silent acceptance of a previously delivered section of the programme.
A second way in which movement was incorporated in the group’s learning was through an adapted psycho-geographical approach by asking the delegates to wander purposelessly around the centre of Dublin (as opposed to walking directly from A to B for a distinct reason). Taking change as the topic they were asked to notice something about changes in the City that might be revealed around corners, in hidden ‘city-scapes’ or juxtapositions of unusual and frequently unseen objects or buildings! This induced a good deal of reflective work on the topic of change and the group presented back to the plenary session in any way they felt was helpful. This included a hand-drawn picture, an acted session in front of the group using a shawl, a fine description of watching traffic lights change for half-an-hour and many people took photos on their ‘phones and as they presented back to the group used a Whatsapp group so that all the group could see the image being discussed.
All this has made me ponder on the ways in which we in the faculty use space, place and pace to engage our learners in a more dynamic form of learning. I have been wondering how much more effective it might be follow the ideas of teachers such as Parker J. Palmer to be able to intuitively and flexibly command the interest and participation of group members by adding regular movement and, what Stephen Zaccaro calls, experiential variety more into our teaching and interaction. With large groups of undergraduates this may be impossible but with smaller executive groups or tutorial groups this adaptive approach may be perfectly and continuously possible.
Vice- Chancellor’s Student Leadership Programme…thanks, Anita, for sharing this exciting news!…
We have been quietly excited by our pilot programme led from a team in the Bristol Business School to coach students, most from disadvantaged backgrounds in finding their leadership voice and developing their leadership skills whilst studying at UWE. A group of 7 students from across different disciplines including nursing, business studies and IT have helped us pilot a new programme being launched this coming September which will broaden this opportunity to some 40 second year students across the University. The programme includes action learning and a chance to gain a professionally recognised qualification (ILM L3) in leadership which counts towards the University’s award winning careers development Futures scheme.
As part of the action learning, our students have experienced a trip to the House of Lords to consider the role of political leadership, have joined in some of our Distinguished Executive Address seminars, and carried out a study trip to a poor rural school in Morogoro, Tanzania, the hometown of one of the student. The final piece de resistance has been the opportunity to meet with Masai community leader Emmanuel Mankura together with global business change agent Chris Howe, and Kenyan Masai expert Dr Mick Thompson, joining forces with the Team Entrepreneur students to consider the issues of wisdom in leadership and the learning that we in the West can gain from an indigenous community based in Kenya and Tanzania.
In the picture above, in order from the left, students Colin Harvey, Julie Pei, team coach member Professor Gareth Edwards, Masai leader Emmanuel Mankura, student Bilal Bukhari, Masai expert Dr Mick Thompson, student Rytis Cikeliovas, Bristol Leadership Programme founder Tracie Joliff and international consultant and change maker Chris Howe. And in the picture below is our fabulous team coach member Emir Kullar looking good in her African tiara and carrying her Masai leadership stick as a gift from the lovely Emmanuel: she wore the tiara all day and who can blame her!
Now as a result of all this extra curricula stimulation, the VCSL students have decided with support from our team to design and deliver a Masterclass aimed at business leaders through their growing networks from the programme to raise money for the school they have visited in rural Tanzania. The invitation (attached – see final link at the bottom of this post) includes a 3 course dinner at Bristol Zoo, free access to the gardens with a Masterclass from Chris Howe. Please book your tickets now via the link provided in the flyer for a very special evening on the 20th June – we hope to sell out!
And you can see pictures of the students’ research visit to Tanzania here:
The students hope to build a legacy through establishing a charity and engaging with the new recruits. In doing so they are learning a great deal about the challenges of leadership! They are being mentored in the process by Chris Howe and Dr Mick Thompson.
You can find out more about the Vice-Chancellor’s forthcoming Student Leadership Programme here at