…thoughts on and about my PhD journey and beyond…

Posts tagged ‘Leadership’

Many agents acting in parallel

In celebration of this year’s World Day of Interconnectness (WDI), I have contributed a chapter to an e-book published to mark the occasion. The e-book can be downloaded from here. Please share the e-book and think about what ‘interconnectness’ means to you.

Other events scheduled for the WDI on 10.10.10 include a free leadership webinar 24 hour marathon and lots more at the WDI website.


Davis, H. 2010. Many agents acting in parallel: recognising patterns of interconnectness in leadership, learning and life, in, M. Carlton (ed). Exploring our world of interconnectness: in celebration of World Interconnectness Day 2010, Hamilton, NZ: Maruki Books, pp. 22-26.


This chapter discusses the significance of interconnectness to leadership, learning and life in times signified by the convergence of the natural, social and economic worlds and where the principal means of production is knowledge.

Where a common metaphor for the industrial era was the machine, a recurring metaphor for the knowledge era is an ecological one. Metaphors emanate from mindsets appropriate for the times within which they were set. However, the speed of change experienced in the last 50 years has added to the complexity already associated with paradigmatic change leaving us with little space to process it. Within the contexts of globalization and sustainability, as with everyday life, this has allowed archaic patterns of thought, values and culture to linger and intermingle with those appropriate for the world we are now experiencing. The challenge for leadership, learning and life in the 21st century has never been greater.


It’s time to stake a claim that relationship-based intangible attributes like interconnectedness are indeed central to leadership, learning and living harmoniously in the knowledge era. We urgently need to fix problems emanating from using 19th century thinking for 21st century issues. A worldview based on mechanistic, linear and rationalist thinking was fine for a 19th century industrial era but no longer serves the needs of a world where volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity mark the terrain. The Global Financial Crisis (GFC) is a consequence of applying old world thinking to 21st century problems. One simple way of shifting this balance is to speak up, speak out and join together. The annual World Day of Interconnectness is a vehicle to do just that.

Personally and collectively we can no longer condone a thinking that sees the world and world events as disparate, unrelated or ‘none of our concern’. We need look no further than the crumbling worldview of the economic rationalist to see that a rational, arms length, profits before all else approach is folly. It’s not working, it’s not healthy, it’s not fair and it’s costing us our planet.

Truth does not cease to exist just because it is being ignored. – John St. Augustine

We have an opportunity, post-GFC, to do things differently. The World Day of Interconnectness reminds us that we can all make a difference, that we all can and should take responsibility for our own actions and to join with others who seek sustainable and humane futures. It’s a reminder that we are of the world as well as in the world and that responsibility rests with all of us to improve the human and environmental condition.

Relationship-based attributes such as interconnectness are vital. Actually, relationships and intangible soft skills have always been important but they haven’t necessarily been privileged in the discourse of leadership or through the lens of globalisation based on neo-liberal/economic rationalist principles that has, up until recently, been the dominant paradigm.

As people become more mindful of their own actions and interactions, an expanded—and in some cases new—sense of interconnectness surfaces as we recognise and take up responsibility for how our actions impact on our lifeworlds. Paradoxically, the seemingly selfish act of spending time and energy reflectively seeking to know who we are often leads to growth—not contraction—of our sense of responsibility to others and the environment, allowing us to see the world as the interconnected whole that it has always been.

A knowledge-intensive era is very different from the industrial era where much of the current globalization, economic and leadership hegemony is drawn. Our world is now a volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous place and it is far more fitting to think about harnessing the strength of this ‘messy’ world than to spend our energy trying to tame or order it. This calls for mindsets amenable to working with the ‘mess’ based on, for example, ecology, complex adaptive systems theory or quantum theory, rather than a Newtonian mechanistic and linear mindset grounded in stability that worked for the industrial era.

We are now witnessing a shift towards a third wave of globalisation that can be tracked directly to concerns for the world running deeper than economics, and the realisation that we actually live in a society not an economy. This new wave of globalisation is premised on the joining together of the sustainability (human and ecological) and economic discourses. Previous to this sustainability and the economy were at odds with each other and often in conflict.

The ecological metaphor is also an excellent guide for how we might expand our thinking to lead, learn and live productively in the knowledge era. This metaphor privileges the interconnected nature of our world as well as the deep interdependence between ourselves, the environment and the economy. An ecological model illustrates that there are no ‘externalities’ and that everything—including ecological and humane considerations—is in play and needs to be taken into account when determining economic value, costs, benefits and policies.

In a knowledge-intensive economy leaders have a particular set of literacies to absorb and these are very different to those needed in the command and control doctrine of the industrial era. Leadership literacies for the knowledge era focus on people-centred attributes and encourage leaders to see themselves as teachers, enablers and stewards who encourage commitment and responsibility in themselves and their followers. They also need to tap into intangible qualities like trust, values and commitment. In order to be leadership literate for the knowledge era leaders must develop a deep understanding of themselves and their world. Leaders will have an awareness of and responsibility for the interconnected world of the enterprise to its stakeholders and the environment. Leaders also need to be able to surface underlying values, assumptions and ideologies that are in play in order to understand how leadership practices effect production in a knowledge-intensive economy.

Importantly, an ecological model can also encourage us to think about working with volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity, rather than against it. Indeed there is a growing interest in combining design science and humane leadership principles based on knowing ourselves well, which in turn expands our notion of interconnectness. An example can be seen in the work of Johansen[1]:

Leaders must learn how to make the future in the midst of volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity. We need not passively accept the future. Leaders can and must make a better future.

Leaders in the future will need to have vision, understanding, clarity and agility. The negative aspects of VUCA (volatility, uncertainty, complexity, ambiguity) can be turned around by following these principles:

  • Volatility yields to vision
  • Uncertainty yields to understanding
  • Complexity yields to clarity
  • Ambiguity yields to agility.

As we become more mindful of and take responsibility for our own actions and interactions, an expanded—and in some cases new—sense of interconnectness surfaces. This paradox helps to explain the notion of interrelatedness, this intangible leadership attribute so important for the knowledge era. To comprehend the paradox is to recognize that before we can truly understand our interdependence with others—people and the environment—we must first know ourselves in a way that transcends our own ego and in a way that is not fearful of difference and diversity of viewpoints, as Gandhi reminds us:

You and I are the same thing. I cannot hurt you without harming myself – Mahatma Gandhi (1869-1948)

Another connection between a strengthened sense of interconnectness and the benefit of knowing ourselves more clearly is a deeper understanding of our own values. This knowledge helps us in our day to day interactions with our colleagues and our wider communities where virtual and real communities of practice may emerge based on comparable interests and values sets. In addition, our values are a mediator of the messy and unknowable world we experience every day.A


This chapter discussed the significance of interconnectness to leadership, learning and life in an environment signified by the convergence of the natural, social and economic worlds and where the principal means of production is knowledge. It outlined the paradigmatic shifts occurring in society framed by the interrelationships between knowledge production as the main driver of growth and wealth creation, globalisation and deepening concerns about our world’s environmental sustainability.

It called for recognition of the interdependence and interconnectedness of leadership, learning, and life by seeing the world as the interconnected whole that it has always been. Interconnectness and other relationship- based attributes were discussed and positioned as appropriate leadership literacies for times epitomized by volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity.

Borrowing from Complex Adaptive Systems theory this chapter also reminds us that there are always many agents acting in parallel—whether we realise this or not—and confirmed the significance of action and activities like the annual World Day of Interconnectness, to our unfolding understanding of our world.

[1] Johansen, R. 2009. Leaders make the future: ten new leadership skills for an uncertain world. San Francisco, Berrett-Koehler Publishers.

Heather Davis

Heather is in the final stages of a PhD study identifying appropriate leadership literacies for the knowledge era and testing them in the higher education sector in Australia. The theme of interconnectness resonates very well with her studies and outlook on life. Heather makes good use of Web 2.0 technologies to share her research experiences, including a blog at https://leadershipliteracies.wordpress.com.

This is the second year that Heather has contributed to World Day of Interconnectness activities. Last year she hosted a webinar “Small ‘l’ leadership: taking leadership personally” as part of the Leaders Café Foundation’s contribution of free leadership webinars.

Heather lives in Torquay, Australia, with her partner Philip and has two adult children, Ashleah and Rohan, who live nearby.


World Day of Interconnectness 090909…

Viv and Heather on 090909

Heather & Viv on 090909


By organising a global 24 hour event with a focus on celebrating interconnectedness, the World Day of Interconnectness on 090909 aims to promote a a greater sense of interconnectedness as a foundation for a world that works for all life.  By consciously seeking to manifest and attract more of what we want on a global scale we will be part of the shift from separation to oneness–or–from Illness to WEllness..

There are lots of things you can do to celebrate this day and the website has a comprehensive list of activities.  Here are just a few ideas…

1.  Free Marathon Leadership Webinar event (On the day of the event access the webinar here,   http://webmeeting.dimdim.com/portal/JoinForm.action?meetingRoomName=leaderscafe

‘Leaders Cafe Foundation’ will host a 24-hour webcast event, with guest speakers from around the world talking and sharing about the new kind of interconnected leadership.  I have volunteered to take an hour long webinar at 0800 GMT (that’s 6pm Melbourne time on 9th September).  The draft Leaders Cafe Foundation program is:

All listed GMT (check here for how this equates to your own timezone)

Final Program (updated 8-Sep-09)

07:00 Ian Berry from Australia What Real Leaders Do and fake ones don’t
08:00 Heather Davis from Australia Taking it personally: small “l” leadership practices

09:00 Krishna Kumar from Australia You’ve planned your holiday but have you planned your life?
10:00 Sangeeth Varghese from India Defining moments that can change your life
11:00 Krishna Kumar from Australia Growing Roses and Chrysanthemums
12:00 Don Dunoon from Australia Leadership mode: Leadership as grounded in learning and relational working
13:00 Gino Federici from USA Harmonious Oneness
14:00 Rhea D’Souza from India Leadership through storytelling
15:00 Rhea D’Souza from India At the edge of innovation
Kwai Yu from United Kingdom Why should anyone be led by you?
17:00 Andy Ferguson, The Nine rules
18:00 Kellie Frazier from USA Speak or write with intention
19:00 Joel Graham-Blake from the UK Chasing the Butterfly: How to enjoy YOUR journey to success
20:00 Richard Norris from Scotland 7 steps to success
21:00 Ian Berry from Australia Standing out from the crowd – how to do today what others will be thinking about tomorrow
22:00 Ian Berry from Australia Differencemakers – how doing good is great for your life and work
23:00 Remi Cote from Canada 3 complimentary models of a team
00:00 Remi Cote from Canada Symptoms a leader cannot overlook
01:00 Jane Chin from Los Angeles Leaders Cafe Foundation launch in LA
02:00 Jane Chin Personal Branding (includes the launch of the ebook “Who am I? the power of a personal brand” by Ian Berry, Jane Chin, Remi Cote, Shelley Dunstone, Joel Graham-Blake, Pat Nautin, Leo Sonneveld, and Kwai Yu
03:00 Jane Chin Personal Branding

2.  Snap your “peace portrait”– an intentional photo where you beam peace to the world on this day.
All participants of 090909 events are encouraged to take their portrait in this state of interconnectedness. Artist Russell Maier from 1Mandala will create a beautiful Mandala of these portraits. The 090909 Mandala will be available for all participants as a remembrance of the day, to hold the energy and to show gratitude for everyone’s participation. In addition this 090909 Mandala will be part of a bigger Mandala offered on 10-10-2010 to the United Nations. 

Then, e-mail your photo to peace@1mandala.org Include in the title of your photo your location, a message and 999. For example: “Ossopo, Italy – Oneness to the World -999. jpeg”.  You have until the 18th of September 2009 to submit your 090909 portrait.

3.  Make up your own interconnected adventure!!  Be sure to add it to the 090909 website too.


Small ‘l’ leadership

I’m very happy to have been invited to take this week’s free Saturday LeadLab webinar hosted by LeadCap.  It will run on Saturday July 11, 10 am – 11 am Indian IST (which is 2.30 – 3.30 pm Melbourne time).

I will be talking about small ‘l’ leadership and its relevance to leading in the knowledge era and also how it connects with LeadCap’s mandate to develop one million leaders in the next 5 years. 

The webinar is based on my PhD research ‘leadership literacies for the knowledge era’ and I’ll be revealing for the first time what they are! I’ll also be reporting on the emerging themes from the International Conference on Thinking I attended and presented at last week.

Please join me for this free webinar on Saturday July 11th.  The webinar platform is DimDim and you may need to download a web applet so please check your connection prior to the event from www.dimdim.com.

To access the webinar on the day go to www.leadcap.org and follow the links to the Saturday LeadLab.  The space will open approx 15 minutes prior to the starting time.

Connecting via the blogosphere…

This post is a reflection on two of views from cyberspace that have have resonated with me over the last week …

1. Public Displays of Humanity (PDH)

I’ve recently connected with the work of LeadCap who are striving to develop 1 million leaders in India.  LeadCap’s founder is Sangeeth Varghese who is a regular blogger with Forbes Magazine.  In his most recent blog he talks about “the magic potion of hard power mixed with soft emotion” and gives examples of what perhaps can best be described as PDHs (public displays of humanity) by American presidents…He received mix reactions to this post but it resonated very much with my own work.

Here is my comment to Sangeeth’s blog:

I really like this post and it resonates so well with my own work and research too. It seems on balance that people who appreciate that other-centredness, relationships and ‘soft’ skills are so important now are the same people who have a worldview that is relevant for the knowledge era. Those who do not are generally deriving their values and worldview from the archaic industrial era.

One of the reasons I’m calling my work and research ‘leadership literacies’ is because I’ve come to realize that language (and in particular metaphors) is an important way to surface people’s underlying (and often unexamined) values. I also think that some translation is needed between the two worldviews, just as much as translation between foreign languages. Your example is a great case in point in that the gestures you have described by these two Presidents could be construed as ‘weak’ or ‘strong’ depending on the underlying worldview.

Perhaps this is our role–that of translators between the two worldviews. I am not in favor of oppositional language because I don’t think the planet has the luxury of waiting, we need to be bringing together these worldviews and all working together on the bigger issues.

I’ve written about oppositional language etc in a paper I’m giving at the Thinking Conference in Malaysia in May. The last para of the conclusion is relevant to your post?

It was also argued that oppositional language and the pitting of one deeply held worldview against another will not lead to resolving the underlying problems of the world or the workplace. Rather, space for conversations to surface underlying assumptions is required in order to find ways of integrating our economic and social systems in every layer of society, including the workplace. Perkins’s language of peace metaphor confirms that that there are always other lenses to view the world through, not just the one that hegemony prefers and privileges.

I’ve also talked more about this particular paper for the Thinking Conference on this recent post.

2.  The Art of Elegant Writing

Becoming a writer is an ongoing struggle for me and so blogging has become a visible and public action learning strategy to help me work through both the the craft of writing and the “text work is identity work” consequences of the PhD process.   Blogging helps me to think out loud and to archive the many threads that I’ll be calling on in the formal writing of my PhD.  

I’ve got such a long way to go to my goal of writing an ‘elegant’ thesis because I can’t even write an elegant blog post yet!!  Leo Babauta’s recent post on “the elegant art of writing less” was very much appreciated even though I’ll never become a ‘blogging ninja’!

Ask Seth Godin, the master of the short post. His ideas spread widely and rapidly, because he makes a point, and then gets out. He’s a blogging ninja.

Thanks Leo for your short and elegant post recommending that we:

1. Know your core message. State it in 4-5 words before writing. It’s probably your headline.

2. Write with the reader in mind. You can be extremely minimalist by writing something with just one or two words. But how useful is that to the reader? Be sure you’re meeting the reader’s needs, not just being brief.

3. Get to the point. Don’t waste time with a lengthy introduction — readers will skip it anyway. Get to the core message, right in the first sentence. Stay on that point, and finish it.

4. Edit ruthlessly. Go back over your writing, edit out needless ideas, sentences, words. Make sentences more compact. Then do it again, until you’re sure every word counts.

Boundedness and creative will(ingness)


I had the great privilege of conceptualising and presenting a leadership masterclass for the higher education sector last week, based on my PhD topic “leadership literacies for the knowledge era”.   There were 11 participants and three main presenters and we all came together to learn/unlearn and reflect about our part in leading the sector.

The HE sector in Australia and New Zealand faces competition from many quarters–global competition for students and talented staff; competing tensions for resources and time–where both are scarce and the issues and the  ‘must haves’ and ‘must dos’ are many–in a sector whose purpose has a nation building agenda as well as the more visible teaching, research and service imperatives.

There is so much I could say about the masterclass experience, suffice to say that I well and truly feel I’m on the right track with my PhD study and I’m glad I didn’t wait until after I finish my study before I offered this program as it is clear leaders need this support now.  Both the masterclass and my PhD stem from the same source–as a pratictioner/researcher with a very strong sense of disquiet about health of the HE sector.


However, the focus for this blog comes from a conversation and subsequent reflection about one of the experiential learning activities from the Equine Assisted Learning session on day two.  As you can imagine we were all very much out of our comfort zones when confronted with how to persuade four horses–rather than people–to cooperate with our teams in completing the activities we were set.

There were 3 activities: the first an observation activity which was not too taxing; next ‘the mane event’ where we had to peg bits of cardboard with words about values and resources on to the mane of the horses, with a set of ‘policies’ to guide the group;  and the final activity was called ‘horse billiards’ where we had to persuade the horses to move into one of the four spaces designated ‘pockets’–again with all sorts of policies and rules.  The participants had been divided up into two teams and a lot of the learning came about by watching how the first team did the activity and how that could be improved.

What really struck me was how, for a person who rated 0% on compliance in the Windows on Work Values questionnaire, I could be so concerned with doing right by the set rules and policies–pushing them as far as I could, sure, but nevertheless keeping within them–because of my concerns of being ‘disqualified’.   I was equally taken aback when the other team seemingly disregarded some of the ‘rules’ when it was their turn.  This struck me as a major disjunct at the time and in subsequent conversations with participants afterwards and one of the explanations that was mooted was perhaps it was because of my overarching role as masterclass convenor as well as participant in the exercise?

Talking through the experience with Gill a few days later (Gill was one of the EAL instructors) it was clear that there was more to it than that. Both of the instructors saw that both teams kept very much to the rules, even the team that I perceived had ‘broken’ some of them.  Gill went on to explain that this is very common in EAL activities and they put this down to the fact that people who are in new situations, feeling discomfort, or say, unable to use their usual rationale for doing things tend to find comfort in rules to guide them–as a way to frame or bound their situation.  Gill then asked me, “so what were the consequences of breaking the rules/policies?” They had not provided any (but we hadn’t noticed at the time) so it was clear to me then that we had created our own internal consequences…  Now this was an ‘aha’ moment indeed!

Self Censure

This ‘aha’ moment was partly due to the earlier reading on ‘the identity work of leaders’ (Sinclair, 2007) and in particular her explanation of Foucault’s ideas about discipline and surveillance symbolised by the ‘panopticon’–a surveillance tower in prisons, located so that all prisoners may be watched without knowing when or how, and ultimately compelling prisoners to take on the burden of disciplining themselves.

Further, there is extensive evidence that individuals in work organisations not only become intensely self-regulatory, but also police their peers more punitively than any watchtower guard.  Working conditions, systems of remuneration, career paths–in short, how we are at work seems increasingly to be under someone else’s, or worse our own, punitive control (Sinclair, 2007 p. 133).

Creative Will(ingness)

This whole experience and reflection led to further thinking about creativity and how it can be dampened.  It is very difficult to be creative in situations that give rise to fear or discomfort–until one can find one’s comfort boundaries and then push beyond them.  What is interesting here is how people react to situations, depending on their appetite for new things and past experiences to draw from.  Given more time in the EAL activities I’m sure many of the 13 participants would have identified the boundaries and pushed past them to find creative solutions outside the ‘box’ we’d put ourselves into.  The constraints on the day, however, led to the most enlightening learning experiences for me displaying as the gap between my rhetorical self and myself-in-action on the day.

These reflections about creativity and boundedness have now helped me to explain to myself why I am so seemingly creative/brave/foolhardy in my approach to representing myself in the PhD journey when what I propose is clearly not the norm in the discipline of management.  I realise now that I have two distinct experiences to draw from that are not common to people undertaking i) PhD study or ii) PhD study in the discipline of management, in that:
i) Most people don’t think about ‘doing’ a PhD until they sign up to ‘do’ a PhD.  Gill’s argument about rules and policies providing comfort in new and/or uncomfortable situations makes sense then that most PhD students accept the set procedures as they stand.
ii) Most PhD students studying in the discipline of management don’t have the same perspective on qualitative inquiry as I do.

In my case, my work between 1998-2007 was in the management and support a PhD program in a Faculty of Education that was renowned for qualitative inquiry excellence and doctoral education (see references below for books by Terry Evans and Barbara Kamler).  I worked with qualitative inquiry scholars and PhD students pushing the boundaries of what constitutes scientific practice.  These people saw qualitative inquiry as a ‘way of being’ (methodology) not just as research method so the thought of  the ‘researcher as research instrument’ is the norm for me .  When I came to my own PhD study (albeit in a different university and a different discipline), I found myself in the unique position of feeling less bounded by convention because I had seen the PhD process and journey unfold dozens of times–some successfully and some not so–and have this knowledge to draw from.

This doesn’t mean that the PhD journey will be any ‘easier’ for me, but at least I have these experiences to draw upon to help me through the difficult times.   This sharing of insight highlights that my PhD study flows through me and is not necessarily about me, and that every PhD candidate comes to their study with a unique set of skills and experiences.  These inner resources should always be encouraged to be used as a resource within the PhD experience.


Denholm, C. J. & Evans, T. D. 2006. Doctorates Downunder : keys to successful doctoral study in Australia and New Zealand. Camberwell, Vic., ACER Press.

Kamler, B. & Thomson, P. 2006. Helping doctoral students write: pedagogies for supervision. Abingdon, Oxon ; New York, Routledge.

Sinclair, A. 2007. The identity work of leaders, in Leadership for the disillusioned: moving beyond myths and heroes to leading that liberates. Allen & Unwin, pp. 132-133.

Rhetorical language and how it manages us

Below is my abstract, just accepted for the 2009 International Conference on Thinking to be held in June in K-L, Malaysia.  The theme of this conference is Thinking Minds: Nurturing the Design of a Better Future.

Invisible Barriers to Better Futures: Exploring HE Leadership through a “5 languages of war” lens.

Using the Perkins framework of the “five languages of war” this paper will explore how the language of hegemonic economic rationalism has permeated everyday work in the higher education sector in Australia. As Perkins spoke about the rhetoric and consequences of his five languages of war at ICOT-07 the dawning realisation for me was that I was being equally managed by this oppositional language in the guise of economic rationalist practice.

The experience of being in the audience that day had a profound effect on me and influenced the direction of my current PhD study This paper will draw on Perkins’s five languages of war: the language of gain and God; the language of dominance and resistance; the language of good and evil; the language of regrettable necessity, and, the language of zealous allegiance to surface the rhetoric and consequences of oppositional language when it is played out in organisational settings, using the Australian Higher Education sector as a case in point.

This paper also draws on a literature review for a current PhD study to support Perkin’s arguments about oppositional language to open the discussion more widely to illustrate how we are managed by hegemonic language—particularly during times of paradigmatic change. So long as hegemonic practices lie under the surface and remain undiscussable they present an invisible barrier to designing and nurturing better futures.

After reading a review of Tony Taylor’s new book “Denial: History betrayed” (McFadyen, 2009) over the weekend, I might just add another category–denial.  Taylor explores Anna Freud’s four main categories of denial: blocking of reality despite evidence to the contrary; acting to support the denial; building a fantasy world to cocoon the event; and the power of words to strike at those who question the denial, and to perpetuate its life. 

These categories of denial strongly resonate with Argyris’s views on the question of undiscussibility which can be explained in theoretical terms through his “Theory-of-Action” which looks in depth at people’s ‘espoused’ versus ‘in-use’ behaviours (Argyris, 2004, pp 8-9) and identifies the prevailing Theory-of-Action model that seeks unilateral control by encouraging defensive reasoning and single loop learning. This long standing Theory-in-Use model named by Argyris as Model I behaviour seeks to win-at-all-costs with entrenched defensive routines prevailing in societal, organizational and personal practice, and is commonly played out thus:

Denial/undiscussability of a problem occurs, followed by covering up or stifling debate, then denying such cover ups have occurred. 

This entrenched pattern of behaviour is hardly new and is very difficult to counter—despite longstanding cautionary tales that relate to Model I Theory-in-Action behaviours—like, the ostrich with its head in the sand; shuffling deck chairs on the Titanic; or, Emperor’s new clothes, etc—even though these type of behaviours are at odds with the recommended management and leadership styles required to operate in a knowledge-based society. Argyris (2004) exposes these latent and entrenched practices when making the point that:

Defensive reasoning thrives in contexts where the defensive features cannot be legitimately challenged. One consequence of this is that not only are issues undiscussable, but that undiscussability is itself undiscussable.

The consequences of defensive reasoning include escalating misunderstanding, self-fulfilling prophecies, and self-sealing processes.  All these escalate because the logic used is self-referential, which does not encourage the detection and correction of error.

When these conditions are combined, a generic syndrome against learning is created. This in turns leads human beings to doubt that errors are unlikely to be genuinely corrected. These doubts and conditions combine to create a sense of helplessness [i.e., protect and defend act or or organization; use self-referential logic in primary reasoning processes; avoid transparency and deny self protection; deny self-deception by cover-up and in order for the cover up to work, it too must be covered up] (Argyris, 2004, pp 1-2).

I will be pondering all of these rhetorical language influences to shine a light on the undiscussibles in the higher education sector in Australia, namely why we aren’t discussing why Australia continues to be an underperforming knowledge nation.

Argyris, C. 2004, Reasons and rationalizations: the limits to organizational knowledge, Oxford University Press, Oxford.

Davis, H. (2006) Golden capital and other knowledge-based intangibles: measuring for excellence not compliance, TEM International conference, Sydney, 28 August

McFadyen, Warwick. (2009) Unflinching dissection of history denials: Review of Taylor, T. Denial: History Betrayed, The Age A2, January 17, p. 24

Reflecting on “Studying Leadership” conference

In December I attended the 7th International Conference on Studying Leadership, hosted by the University of Auckland’s Excelerator Leadership Institute

The topic of the conference was of interest to me but so to the fact that this series of conferences had only ever been held in the UK prior to this one so it was also a great opportunity to meet and find out about the work of a new network of scholars.  The 2008 conference built on debates and discussions generated at the earlier conferences held at Oxford, Lancaster, Exeter, Cranfield and Warwick Universities in the UK. 

The theme was “The Locales of Leadership” and the aim was to discuss the context of leadership and most specifically the “place” within which it is theorised and practiced.  The conference sub themes were: Global and local ontologies and epistemologies of leadership; Leadership development:  technologies, praxis, and practice; Exogenous versus indigenous leadership; Self, subjectivity ad identity; Authenticity, inauthenticity and representation; Gender, androgyny and embodiment; Discourses, dialectics, cultures; Ethics, morality and ‘the greater good’, Methodologies for researching the context of leadership, and Cross-disciplinary and interdisciplinary approaches to leadership

There were three keynote speakers.

Professor Amanda Sinclair— who is the Foundation Professor of Management Diversity and Change at Melbourne Business School, the University of Melbourne.  Professor Sinclair’s most recent book, Leadership for the Disillusioned (2007) explores different ways of “doing” leadership. She spoke about Identity Work:  Place, her place and our place individually in understanding leadership.  Prof Sinclair reminded us all that we have a responsibility to understand how place has influenced and influences us as leaders.

Mr. John Allen— the CEO of New Zealand Post shared his five characteristics of leadership:

1.  You can’t be a leader unless you are intellectually curious;

2.  Self awareness;

3.  Be a risk taker;

4.  Need character;

5.  Be accountable–when it’s good news, credit the team; when it’s bad news, it’s you, the leader

Dr. Manuka Henare–Associate Dean for Maori and Pacific Development of Auckland Business School and Director of the Mira Szaszy Research Centre for Maori and Pacific Economic Development officially welcomed conference attendees and provided valuable background about the Maori and Pacific culture in New Zealand.

Sage’s Leadership journal will publish a special issue from the conference in 2009.  This publication will be co-edited by the convenors of the ICSL, Professor Brad Jackson and Dr. Brigid Carroll.

The two meta themes that emerged were that we are now in the ‘post heroic’ era of leadership and that there is an increasing emphasis on ‘followership’ which confirmed for me that I am on the right track with my own studies.

2009 ICLS Conference

The University of Birmingham will host the 8th ICSL in December 2009.

To register your interest or learn more, go to www.leadership2009.bham.ac.uk.  The conference theme is Leadership in Crisis:  Moments, risks and opportunities and will explore two research themes:  the contextual–leading in and through crisis and the theoretical–exploring the parameters of leadership theory.  

For other conferences to be held in 2009 please click here for earlier posting. 

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