…thoughts on and about my PhD journey and beyond…

This post is the abstract for a workshop I will be co-presenting with my colleague Dr Fiona Kennedy, Senior Leadership Facilitator and Researcher, New Zealand Leadership Institute at the ILA Oceania Conference in Auckland next week.  There are a couple of questions at the end you are most welcome to respond to here on the blog.

DiceTo take a ‘punt’ on leadership development invites the surfacing of knowledge claims, and the mindsets that underpin these claims. This approach is supported by Cilliers (2002) who argues that only modest claims for ostensibly unknowable conditions exist, and that we need to be careful about the reach of our knowledge claims as well as the constraints that make any such claims possible (p. 256). Therefore considering the reach of our knowledge claims and as well as surfacing contemporary constraints invites all of us who are involved in leadership development to delve deeper into conversations about we might be gambling with and what we might do to improve the ‘odds’.

In this session we identify and investigate ways of working with, and talking about, contemporary conditions for leadership development that are marked by volatility, ambiguity, complexity and uncertainty (VUCA). We focus on leadership development that is characterized more as ‘mindset’ work rather than ‘skillset’ work since the former orientation is more strongly connected to contemporary conditions and less attached to ‘known’ outcomes. We identify some of the language and ideas that can help us engage and work with unknowns while also ‘knowing’ something worthwhile about our effort and investment.

This session will proceed as follows. First, Heather will set the scene by describing the sense-making frames of social complexity. Next Fiona will describe mindset oriented leadership development work and some of the implications for evaluation in conditions of uncertainty. However the real work of this session is to bring “researchers, developers and learning and development practitioners out of their respective worlds and into conversation together”. Therefore the bulk of this session will be focused on activities to elicit discussion amongst participants in order to grow our understanding of the tensions, conflicts and opportunities that are faced by different dimensions of the leadership development community as we negotiate more modest claims for the important work we are invested in in these times of uncertainty.

Questions to begin these conversations may include:

1. What language might practitioners be using to address conditions of uncertainty on the one hand and the inherent pressures associated with expected ‘outcomes’ of leadership development to be known ahead of time on the other?

2. What conflicts and tensions are at play as we encounter uncertainty and how might academics and practitioners help or hinder themselves and each other in negotiating this terrain?

3. Who is ‘the house’, if the ‘house’ always wins?


Cilliers, P. 2002. Why we cannot know complex things completely. Emergence, 4(1/2): pp. 77-84.


Comments on: "Taking a punt on Leadership Development: Improving the ‘odds’ for R&D of leadership in changed and changing times" (1)

  1. Hi Heather,

    It was wonderful to attend your presentation and meet you in Auckland. Thanks for letting me know about your blog. It was a shame we didn’t have much time to delve into your provocative questions. Tension is right! My experience is that when academics talk about complexity, it is often perceived as dull, because like practitioners, who are expected to exhibit ‘leadership’ in our fields, and that leadership is often narrowly defined as about offering simple solutions.

    I’m letting my non-academic passions show here, but I believe the language we need at our disposal is that of gaming. In games, we expect there to be puzzles and problems and understand that many of them need to be engaged with collectively. VUCA is not feared or resisted, but actively sought and relished. The mindset of gamers might be one way through which complexity could be embraced.

    Looking forward to staying in touch!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: