The Poetics of Leadership: Conference papers

Creativity, Art and Story in Enabling Meaningful Change

7th, 8th September, 2018

This page is for participants and contributors of the Poetics of Leadership conference. Below you will find papers that will be presented during the conference. Further papers will be added before and after the conference.

You can visit the conference web page here

Mark Argent

Alternatives to Oedipus: stories for thinking about sex and sexuality across cultures

Western thinking and the stories it uses, tends to see the world in Western terms. As the balance of power shifts, particularly towards China and India, this makes it hard to engage with different ways of being, except at the level of inarticulable anxiety. One of the functions of shared myths and scriptures is to enable engagement with unconscious content that is not available to be addressed directly. This is harder to do in a globalised and changing world without a shared framework of myth / religion. The approached to be outlined goes back to Freud’s use of the Oedipus myth. Rather than treating this as universal, as Freud did, it uses it as a worked example of how one person made sense of things in his context, offering a way to engage with each others’ stories, enabling change by neither becoming unrooted, nor clinging too tightly to the familiar.

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Kevin Avison

A measure of inspiration: Demos, aristos, poetic ambiguity & leadership

This paper examines “traditional”, or hierarchical, leadership, order & “degree”, through the lens of Shakespeare’s “problem” play, Measure for Measure, contrasting that narrative world with a “life-world” situation in which so-called “non-hierarchical” leadership is assumed as the philosophical & preferential organisation. Analysis of the latter is drawn from over thirty years’ experience working in Steiner Waldorf schools. The paper views these apparently contrary narratives & their accompanying “myths” (using the word as Roland Barthes applied it to the popular culture of his day) as devices that try to raise barricades in the way of the very ambiguities that their presence creates.

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Jem Bendell

From denial to deep adaptation: Seeking leadership amidst climate tragedy

The purpose of this conceptual paper is to invite readers to begin to reassess their work and life in the face of an inevitable near-term social collapse due to climate change. The paper reviews some of the reasons why collapse-denial may exist in the professions of sustainability research and practice, in particular. The paper then overviews the ways that people on social media are framing the future. Finally, the paper offers a new meta-framing of the implications for research, organisational practice, personal development and public policy, called the Deep Adaptation Agenda. Its key aspects of resilience, relinquishment and restoration are explained. This agenda does not seek to build on existing scholarship on “climate adaptation” as it is premised on the view that social collapse is now inevitable.

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John Foster with Sue Cox

“It takes two…”: tango and the creativity of leadership

If there is a hopeful human future beyond oncoming climate disaster , it will now only be reached through demanding and grievous transformative change. That will require a kind of trust in creative leadership for which we urgently need compelling examples. Tango offers such an example – in this dance, two people can perfectly co-ordinate what they are doing without knowing each other’s moves in advance, being guided in improvisation by the very co-ordination which they are improvising. Similarly, the charismatic leader expresses a shared purpose which did not exist beforehand, and for which both leader and followers acknowledge themselves responsible. Supported by a video demonstration, the paper explores this analogy as an embodied transcendental argument for creativity in leadership and followership.

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David Norbury

IT and aesthetic enquiry

The research aims at developing a resilient methodology of creativity for business, informed by art, in service of being our full selves in work, and increasing our engagement, creativity and quality of work life. The method is a series of interdisciplinary workshops bringing together art and technical expertise within a participative action research framework. Each workshop forms a cycle of art-intervention and sense-making, developing participants perspective through aesthetic appreciation. The intent is development of discourse in aesthetics in participative action inquiry and development of the overall engagement of participants in creativity and innovation.

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Paul Harper and Alice Kettle

Making leaders/curating maker cultures

Makers are perhaps not popularly considered the kinds of people who typically occupy spheres of leadership. Craft has been commonly associated with the romantic idea of the maker as a narrowly focussed specialist, perhaps somewhat inward-looking, deploying their skill through (what are imagined to be) relatively stable practices of production and consumption. This paper will assert an underexploited potential of craftspeople as leaders and the value of creative practices in developing qualities that contribute to good leadership, not just within the institutional art/craft world, but in wider work and social contexts. Our thesis is that makers might be uniquely adept creators of communities, organisations, cultures and institutions.

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Rupert Read

On seeds and lifeboats: The need to start thinking seriously about the civilisation to follow this one

The Paris climate agreement is inadequate to prevent what is therefore likely to be catastrophic climate change, and this means that it is no longer good enough to seek merely to save our civilisation. We also have to face and start to prepare for the likelihood that this civilisation will fall. In this paper I argue that, given this, we need a new ‘imaginary’. A meta-story. An imaginary capable of being the philosophical and ethical kernel of the new civilisation that we must keep the possibility of alive. We need, that is, to imagine a new way of imagining, and then to bring it into being. We need to think principles of civilisational succession. For we need to build (or at least seed) a lifeboat civilisation that can survive the storm that is coming, and that will contain within itself the seeds of something (old and) new and truly long-termist.

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Kae Reynolds

The leader-poet: Ethical growth through reflexive poetic engagement

The pursuit of personal growth has been widely considered a desirable process in leadership development. However, the capacity to improve ethical engagement remains enigmatic. Launching from Bendell and Little’s (2015) conceptualization of critical leadership studies and Edwards, Elliot, Iszatt-White, and Schledlitzki’s (2015) call for creative techniques, this paper assumes that rational, behavioural, knowledge and skills-based approaches to enhancing leadership capacity may fail to access deeper emotional experiences that can better facilitate profound inner transformation (van Buskirk, London, & Plump, 2015). Building on an interdisciplinary approach of poetic inquiry (McCulliss, 2013) and reflexivity (Cunliffe, 2009; Hibbert & Cunliffe, 2013) we present a phenomenological exploration of leadership reflexive learning through the production and narration of poetry.

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Stefan Rossbach

Paper Title

The majority of academic approaches to leadership understand their subject within a context of instrumentality, as goal-oriented behaviour. Leadership is about leading a group or organisation from A to B, and it is typically assumed that an understanding of B already exists even if only as a vision. Therefore, theories of leadership tend to have a conservative bias: they struggle to account for creative processes where all that is known about B may be that it is not-A, and where the concrete nature of B is to be collectively produced as a result of the resistance offered to A. But is it even possible to envision a form of leadership that is not goal-oriented – that is open to genuine creation, and hence to the unknown? Informed by the poetry of the Bhagavad Gita, Gandhi developed a practice of leadership which cultivated a desireless, disinterested form of action that was not preoccupied with its outcome. In terms of the sacrifices he was willing to make in his ascetic, desireless activism, he was prepared to go further than most, which meant that to his followers, he served the role of a basanos, a touchstone. In Greek antiquity, the word basanos referred to a dark-coloured slate on which pure gold, when rubbed, left a coloured mark, helping merchants and moneychangers assess the value of coins.

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Rakhi Sameer

Research presentation: The power of leadership storytelling: The case of Mahatma Gandhi

During the last two decades story telling has gained a strong position in leadership theory and practice. Stories can be seen as a particular doctrine and even a philosophy of leadership. In terms of leadership, story telling is interested in discursive resources that construct and convey leadership power. My paper presents a case study of Mahatma Gandhi’s leadership within the framework of storytelling. An attempt is made to reflect upon the constitution of charishma and the ethics involved in narration and leadership. The story teller aspires to influence the social reality with a view to shaping it in a desirable direction. This gives the ethical direction in leadership stories. There can be manipulative leadership as well, that is unethical. In studying Gandhi’s storytelling, we trace leadership and ethics. This kind of leadership promotes democracy and empowerment.

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Gudrun Schroder

The loss of the birdsong

If we seriously want to attempt a synthesis of leadership with the creative expression of poetics, then we quickly come to the conclusion that these terms build an impossible alliance. They are separated because the competitive, profit-orientated areas of economy are completely decoupled from the organic structures of Nature. What is the essence of Poiesis? What is the essence of the creative, the poetic act? The poet as a lover of Earth is enabled to listen to Nature’s melodies that reveal him her secrets (Novalis: Apprentices of Sais), that of the interconnectedness of all being, i.e., he knows that Earth is not a „dead aggregate“ (Goethe: Morphological Studies). In this paper I will consider how the economic and ecological area could form a serious and stable platform in collaboration with the urgent needs of Nature.

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Roland Schuster

Facilitated learning by experience – exploring the boundary to unknown territory

To teach leadership is a unique challenge. One difficulty is, that the teaching situation itself inevitable includes leadership. Another difficulty is, that education includes inevitable a socializing effect on the concerned individuals. Finally, teaching in general as well as leadership teaching, are confronted with the paradox question: How is it possible to educate today’s students for an unknown future within a structure rooted in the past? (cf. Kraler et al. 2012, p. 8) This paper addresses those difficulties by introducing an experience centered teaching approach regarding teaching of leadership.

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Georgia Wingfiled-Hayes

How the journey of soul initiation influences agency and leadership in a time of global change

Narratives on rights of passage, journeys into the underworld and soul initiation, are found in all ancient mystical philosophies and the gnostic aspects of religions, but do these have a place in our modern world? What role might they play in the development of leaders in this urgent time of environmental crisis? These are the fundamental questions explored in this paper, through the lens of personal experience on a year-long journey guided by Bill Plotkin, a depth and eco-psychologist, and one of the world experts in this field of modern day rights of passage.

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Claudius van Wyk and Joshua P. Malkin

Leadership as dynamic wholeness making: Reflections on the holistic art and science of transformative leadership in a VUCA world

In this paper we review leadership from the perspective of complexity theory and an emerging holistic science. We see leadership as creating wholeness in a fluid, dynamic environment. This means that leadership is less about problem solving and more about evolutionary co-creation. In a globalized connected world, leadership is increasingly required to deal with atypical situations characterized by a complex non-linear VUCA world – where events are unforeseen and even unpredictable. Hence the study of complex dynamical systems can provide useful insights with its concepts of dissipative structures, co-evolution, and autopoiesis. Rather than employing pre-packaged response models, situational immediacy calls for a coherent, creative leadership response more akin to poetry, rhythm and meaning-making. Naming wholeness, fragmented-ness and brokenness in order to more fully able to be and become – individually and together – through co-sensing and making meaningful, incisive choices is the work of leaders and poets.

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