Exploring the Cult of Leadership – alternative ideas from relational and complex responsive processes perspectives.
This is just to remind those of you interested in coming to the 2013 Complexity and Management Conference that there are just a few days left before the early bird discount expires on Friday 26th April.
You can find a copy of the agenda for the three days here: CMC June 2013.
And you can go the University of Hertfordshire booking page here: http://tinyurl.com/crm734w
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Key note speaker: Professor Ann Cunliffe
This is just to draw to your attention to the fact that the early bird rate for the CMC, which saves you £50 on the full conference fee, ends on Friday 26th April.
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Posted in complex responsive processes, complexity, critical management studies, leadership, management education, NHS, science, tagged Ann Cunliffe, CMC conference June 2013, complex responsive processes, leadership, leadership critique on March 25, 2013 |
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At the Complexity and Management Conference in June this year we will be hosting discussions about leaders and leadership from a critical perspective. As a way of warming up for the event it might be interesting to rehearse three recent and different critical perspectives on the ineluctable rise of ‘leaderism’ in contemporary society. The first, by Rakesh Khurana (2007), charts the development of the discourse of leadership and the way it has colonised and captured American business schools coterminous with the ascendancy of neo-liberal economics. The second, by Martin and Learmonth (2012), looks at the way that the discourse on leadership is used to co-opt a broad range of actors into particular projects to ‘reform’ the public sector, and the third, by Alvesson and Spicer (2011), explores the way that a more nuanced critique of leadership might be developed to help employees struggle with the exercise of authority in organisations. Mats Alvesson is a previous guest at the CMC conference. (more…)
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‘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.
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Posted in complex responsive processes, complexity, critical management studies, leadership, management education, politics of everyday life, tagged complex responsive processes, Complexity and Management Conference, leadership, relational leadership on November 16, 2012 |
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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) (more…)
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Posted in complex responsive processes, complexity, Norbert Elias, politics of everyday life, Ralph Stacey, science, systems, tagged crtique, ethics, Foucault, Ludwig Fleck, Norbert Elias, risk on October 29, 2012 |
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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. (more…)
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Posted in complexity, conflict, consensus, GH Mead, ideology, leadership, management, power, tagged appreciative inquiry, complexity, complexity scinces, conflict, consensus, deviance, diversity, evolution, interplay of intentions, leaderdship, management, organisations, paradox, reflexivity, uncertainty on September 22, 2012 |
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Today’s dominant thought collective[i] of practitioners, consultants and academics concerned with leadership, management and other organisational matters is characterised by thought styles[ii] which, in a completely taken-for-granted way, equate success with positives, sharing, harmony and consensus. Leaders are called upon to communicate inspiring, compelling visions of desirable futures shorn of all problematic features. Followers are to be converted to sharing the vision and committing to the mission so that everyone ‘is on the same page’, ‘singing from the same hymn sheet’, ‘climbing on board’, ‘on the message’ and ‘a team player’. This whole raft of idealisations is taken even further when it is accompanied by a relentless emphasis on the positive aspects of all situations. There seems to be a scarcely-concealed dread of ‘negatives’, such as conflict, and a half-expressed conviction that success can only be achieved when all share the same view, with breakdown as the consequence of not doing this. If conflict is noticed it is immediately followed by calls for the practice of ‘conflict resolution’ or approaches which rapidly move people from anything negative to a focus on the ‘positives’. A popular example of the prescription for positive consensus is provided by Appreciative Inquiry. Proponents[iii] of Appreciative Inquiry (AI) point to how the dominant approach to leading, managing and changing organisations focuses attention on problems, deficits and dysfunctions. They argue that this approach is demoralising and ineffective in bringing about change and call, instead, for a focus on opportunities and what is working because focusing in this appreciative, positive way raises morale and promotes generative inquiry. It is claimed that AI generates spontaneous, transformational action on the part of individuals, groups and organisations which leads to a better future. Critics[iv] of AI problematise the focus on positiveness, arguing that positive and negative feelings are intimately connected and conclude that AI is a method whose proponents show little self-reflection or evaluative critique of what they are proposing. In response, Gervase Bushe of the Segal Graduate School of Business has published a paper titles ‘Appreciative Inquiry Is Not (Just) About the Positive’.[v] Bushe agrees that AI can become a form of repression when it suppresses dissent and focuses on the positive as a defence against the anxiety of dealing with reality. However, he then immediately goes on to say that when AI is used in appropriate ways, which he does not identify, then people do not wallow in mutual pain but tell each other uplifting stories instead, which sooth tensions and release energy. Instead of focusing on conflict, bridges are built between conflicting groups. In his view, people who want to talk about what they do not like should not be stopped from doing so but they should not be asked to elaborate on these matters. They should be encouraged, instead, to talk about what is missing, what they want more of and what their image of their organisation ought to be. He talks about small group meetings where everyone reads the same story together. Much the same points can be made another positiveness movement called Positive Deviance which is basically an idealised form to ‘benchmarking’ and a sanitisation of ‘deviance’.
This unrelenting emphasis on the positive, on harmony and consensus functions to cover over conflict, difference and real-life attitudes towards deviants because to bring these matters out into the open is to reveal patterns of power relations, the dynamics of identity-forming inclusion and exclusion and the ideologies sustaining current power figurations. As a consequence, public discussions of organisational life take the form of a kind of rational, positive fantasy that focuses our attention on only a small part of what we ordinarily experience in our daily organisational lives. People continue, as they always have done, to disagree and subvert what they disagree: organisational life is characterised by ongoing conflict in which, at the same time, people normally manage to achieve sufficient degrees of consensus, tolerance and cooperation to get things done together. In order to understand what we are ordinarily engaged in during the course of our daily organisational lives we need to avoid thinking in terms of a duality of consensus and conflict, where we can decide to move from the one to the other, and think instead in terms of the paradox of consensus and conflict: we engage in, we are heavily invested in, organisational games displaying the paradoxical dynamics of consensual conflict or conflictual consensus. (more…)
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Over the past two decades, management consultants and academics at business schools have increasingly stressed what they view as the rapidly increasing levels of complexity and uncertainty in the environment that all organisations have to respond to and many have labelled these conditions ‘ hyper-competition’ or ‘high velocity competition’. To deal with these conditions, consultants and academics have called for organisations to become ‘agile organisations’. The ‘agile organisation’ is also described as ‘the entrepreneurial organisation’ and ‘the resilient organisation’ and the hallmarks of this kind of organisation are its high speed of response to change and its focus on the customer which calls for customized rather than standardised offerings. The notion of the agile organisation therefore originates in the discipline of strategic management with its concern for competitive advantage; in manufacturing production systems such as Total Quality Management, Just in Time, Lean and six sigma with their concern for high quality, customized batch manufacturing; and also in Agile Software development and its concern for teams and partnerships with customers. In short, the concept of agile processes was initially primarily concerned with product manufacturing and software development and from these areas it has come to be simply applied to all other organisations including both private and public sector service providers, without much reflection on whether this is appropriate or not. So when did these developments occur and how widespread are they?
A quick search of Google Scholar reveals that over the decade ending in 1993 there were 56 journal papers which referred to the agile organisation at some point and over the same period some 14 referred to hyper-competition while no papers referred to the resilient organisation but over 20,000 used the term ‘complexity’. Over the rest of that decade the number referring to agile organisations rose to 442 and the number referring to hyper-competition rose to 416 while 43 referred to the resilient organisation and there were some 19,000 references to complexity. Over the first decade of this century, there were nearly 5,000 referrals to the agile organisation, about 3,500 to hyper-competition, 385 to the resilient organisation and some 40,000 to complexity. Interest in agile and resilient organisations facing hyper-competition, uncertainty and complexity is, therefore, very recent and even now not all that widespread. Despite recognizing complexity and uncertainty, however, the prescription is overwhelmingly for managers to design organisations that can successfully deal with the supposedly ‘new’ conditions. There is very little radical reflection on what the recognition of uncertainty and complexity, which has always characterized the conditions which members of organisations have to act into, means for the possibility of designing organisation in the first place. There is very little inquiry into how members of organisations have always dealt with uncertainty and complexity. This is, perhaps, not a surprising observation when one takes account of the strength of management and leadership thought collectives and the thought styles that they perpetuate. This post reviews notions of organisational agility and resilience as responses to rapidly rising complexity and uncertainty. (more…)
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