Author: Chris Mowles
‘Leadership is leadership, and talent is talent’. So said a Minister from the UK Home Office when called upon to respond to criticisms of recent government proposals to open up some of the middle management positions in the police force to applicants from business and the community. In expressing himself thus, he gave a very good example of the way in which the cult of leadership has taken hold in current discourse about the management of organisations, and is taken for granted. By implication we all know what leadership is and can feel confident that certain individuals, particularly from a business background, are good leaders whatever the context. Leadership has become a foundational concept.
In this year’s Complexity and Management Conference we will be calling into question this blind faith ubiquitously expressed in the notion of leaders and leadership. Some of the topics we may find ourselves discussing are whether the assumption that leadership is distinct for management really holds; whether the necessary exercise of authority in organisations can always be understood in terms of what leaders are doing; whether the concept of leadership has been so widely stretched and differentiated (servant leadership, distributed leadership, self-leadership, leadership and followership, even upwards leadership) that it has become meaningless and unhelpful. Because it is so widely spoken about, yet so little understood, it becomes a very important topic for critical reflection.
From the perspective of complex responsive processes, and from the insights offered by our guest speaker, Professor Ann Cunliffe of Leeds University, we will be trying to understand leadership as a highly social phenomenon co-created by people as they negotiate how to go on together.
The conference attracts a wide diversity of participants every year: academics from other institutions, consultants and managers, as well as graduates and current students from the Doctor of Management programme.
If you would like to book for the conference the payment page at the University of Hertfordshire site is now open and can be accessed here: http://tinyurl.com/crm734w
As usual, there is a discount of £50 for early-bird bookers up till April 26th.
We look forward to seeing you there.
Exploring the cult of leadership: alternative ideas from relational and complex responsive processes perspectives.
During the past 10-15 years there has been a proliferation of leadership programmes run by business schools, consultancy companies and training organisations. Leadership development is routinely offered to employees throughout organisations, private and public, irrespective of whether staff lead, or intend to lead others or not. It is a prerequisite to have had leadership training and to aspire to leadership positions for organisational advancement, or even to take up an ordinary career. Many of these programmes draw on a host of contradictory books and journal articles which continue to be produced in large numbers. In the UK and throughout North America and Europe, and even in the developing world, there is no avoiding the discussion of leadership in contemporary organisational life. Leadership, and aspiring to be a leader, have become a cult value.
And yet the more that is furnished in the way of leadership literature and development programmes, the less clear it is what we are actually talking about. Current discussion of leadership tends to veer between depicting failures of leadership, often attributed to weak individuals or failing ‘systems’, or idealising conceptions of the leader-as-hero. The first approach covers over what people are actually doing with each other at work, while the latter calls out the possibility of a commensurate degree of disappointment when our leaders are revealed to have feet of clay. As the Harvard professor Rakesh Khurana (2007) put it when he reflected on the sorry state of leadership scholarship in his book From Higher Aims to Hired Hands:
‘From a scholarly perspective, then, leadership as a body of knowledge, after decades of scholarly attention under the social sciences research lens that the Ford Foundation found so eminently promising, remains without either a widely accepted theoretical framework or a cumulative empirical understanding leading to a usable body of knowledge. Moreover, the probability that leadership studies will make significant strides in developing a fundamental knowledge base is fairly low.’ (2007: 357) Read the rest of this entry »
As a way of adding to the discussion started by Ralph in the last post I want to offer some observations, additions, and questions to the idea of the thought collective and thought styles. I would like to reflect more on the stable instability of thought collectives and the way that they are at risk from transformation from within and from without. I want to suggest that they may be powerful and enduring, but they are never rigid being subject to their own ruptures. Although thought collectives undoubtedly try to exclude patterns of thinking which do not conform to a particular orthodoxy, and can sometimes do so with some violence as we will explore below, this orthodoxy often has its own indeterminacies and internal contradictions, and challenges to it are likely to occur regularly and in every day ways both from ‘within’ and from ‘without’. Together the gesture of critique and orthodox response incorporate each other and produce a movement through which other ways of theorising are made possible.
I want to expand further on how the processes of domination and resistance are mediated by power relations and will draw on some of Foucault’s thinking to inquire into the social relations of ‘truth telling’. That is to say, as well as considering the way that orthodoxies dynamically maintain themselves by excluding and denying, it is also important to think about how resistance is mounted, and by whom. Having done this I will question whether the discussion pattern that Ralph points to between systems theorists and their critics could ever thought to be ‘stuck’, although it may feel that way from a synchronic perspective, what I referred to in a previous post as the perspective of the swimmer. Read the rest of this entry »
This is to give you advance notice that next year’s Complexity and Management Conference will be on the second weekend in June, 2013, Friday 7th – Sunday 9th at Roffey Park Management Centre near Horsham in Surrey, UK.
In the last three years we have hosted Prof Mats Alvesson, Dr Ian Burkitt and Porfessor Hugh Willmott. We are currently in conversation with potential speakers and will let you know whom we have secured in the near future.
As usual the conference will be informal and will involve some input from speakers as well as lots of opportunities for lively discussion in groups based on participants’ own experiences of organising with others.
In the last post I began to outline some of the similarities and differences between complex responsive processes and critical management studies (CMS) following Hugh Willmott’s keynote at the CMC conference. I have chosen to engage with Alvesson and Willmott’s book Making Sense of Management, while at the same time as recognising that CMS is a broad church and that this book is a primer in CMS. Nevertheless, in this post I will continue the discussion.
Complex responsive processes shares with CMS a critique of the individualising tendencies of modernity and argues instead for a radically social view of human beings and their activities. However, I think this is different from what Alvesson and Willmott term ‘radical humanism’ as an alternative. From our perspective we would side with both Mead and Elias in arguing that human beings are social through and through: there is no society without individuals and no individuals without society. Following Mead, mind, self and society all arise in social processes involving other social selves and our increasing abilities to take the attitudes of others to ourselves. This is not to deny any individuality but to emphasise how individuality is only possible in relation to other socialised individuals: i.e. society makes individuality possible. Read the rest of this entry »
At this year’s conference Hugh Willmott, Research Professor of Organization Studies at Cardiff University, gave a key note on the financialized organisation during which he made a strong argument for the rehabilitation of political economy as a focus of research in organization studies. Additionally, he began engaging with complex responsive processes noting similarities and differences with critical management studies (CMS).
In this post and the next I will try to continue this discussion, noting points of overlap and contrast as a way of exploring the difference that makes a difference. One of the difficulties of doing this is that CMS is a broad and diverse church which contains a spectrum of opionion. So the basis of the exploration will be the latest edition of Hugh’s book co-written with Mats Alvesson, Making Sense of Management: a Critical Introduction. This post develops the input I gave at the June conference. Read the rest of this entry »
There are still a few places available for the CMC conference entitled Complexity and ethics: practical judgement in everyday politics where the guest speaker is the distinguished critical management scholar Professor Hugh Willmott.
There will be a variety of fora to have lively discussions about ethics as well as opportunities to explore the similarities and differences between complex responsive processes and critical management studies.
To book please access the payment page here.
Professor Hugh Willmott, who will be the key note speaker for this year’s CMC Conference 8-10th June 2012 was mentioned here in the Guardian yesterday.
Book soon to hear him speak in person.
Taking the perspective of the airman and the swimmer – reflections on the ethics of organisational change
In order better to understand the unique flow of social life, Norbert Elias argues, we must adopt the perspective of both the airman and the swimmer. Unlike many objects in nature which are relatively unchanging, society is riven by tensions, disruptions and explosions. ‘Decline alternates with rise, war with peace, crisis with booms’. These disruptions are driven by the interweaving activities of highly social, interdependent people like ourselves competing and co-operating to get things done. Elias argues that it is only from perspective of the airman that we are able to gain some detachment, a relatively undistorted view of the order of the long course of historical changes and the way we are forming and are formed by them. These long-term historical trends are extremely hard to resist even by very powerful coalitions of people or groups. However, there is nothing inevitable about our actions and reactions to the processes in which we find ourselves participating. But only by adopting the perspective of the swimmer, who is obliged to take action in the moment itself, is it possible to see how varied are the different pressures that are brought to bear on the particular circumstances in which find ourselves acting, in order that we might create opportunities to bring about outcomes of a different kind. Read the rest of this entry »