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Working with Unknowing

Working with Unknowing: Leadership in Uncertain and Complex Times

Facilitator: Charlotte von Bülow, M.Ed.

Founder and Chief Executive of Crossfields Institute

What is leadership? Is it about control over others? Is it about status, pay and power? Is it about knowledge, skills and attitude? Or…is it about creativity, lateral thinking and being present?

Two contemporary scholars, French and Simpson (1999; 2006; 2009) are exploring these questions and have this to say:

“A leader’s ‘positive capabilities’ are those which are generally described as the skills, competencies, knowledge and technologies of leadership. The underpinning image of leadership is based on knowing and is manifested through activity, work and achievement. There is, however, a quite other dimension of leadership, based on not knowing, on not doing, on being-done-to, and on being no longer in control of one’s own situation. It is the capacity to work creatively with this dimension of human experience that the poet John Keats called ‘Negative Capability’.” (French & Simpson, 2009, p.1)

If leadership includes working with not knowing and developing ‘negative capability’, as Keats calls it, then what is the role of knowing in leadership practice? How do we practice leadership in uncertain and complex times?

In this workshop we will first be exploring what we think leadership actually is. We will be looking at your experience of it and mine in light of some contemporary leadership theory. We will then turn our attention to communication and ask ourselves what we believe the role of communication in leadership might be.

The workshop will be interactive but not threateningly so. We will simply be discussing and debating, contemplating and reflecting together as a community ofresearchers.

Helpful literature that you can dip into or read before or after the workshop includes:

Atkinson, T. & Claxton, G., 2000. The Intuitive Practitioner; Learning to teach: Intuitive skills and reasoned objectivity. Buckingham: Open University Press.

Case, P., French, R. & Simpson, P., 2011. Philosophy of Leadership. In Collinson, D., Grint, K., Jackson, B. & Uhl-Bien, M. Sage Handbook of Leadership. Sage.

Case, P., French, R. & Simpson, P., n.d. From Theoria to Theory: Leadership without Contemplation. Organization, 19(3), pp.345-62.

Case, P. & Gosling, J., 2007. Wisdom of the Moment: Pre‐modern Perspectives on Organizational Action. Social Epistemology: A Journal of Knowledge, Culture and Policy, 21(2), pp.87-111.

French, R. & Simpson, P., 2009. ‘Negative Capability’: A contribution to the understanding of creative leadership. [Online] Available at: https://eprints.uwe.ac.uk/14498/2/ISPSO_2008_Neg_Cap_FINAL-080616.pdf .

French, R. & Simpson, P. (1999) “‘Our Best Work Happens When We Don’t Know What We’re Doing’. Discuss.” Socio-Analysis, 1(2):216-230

International Monetary Fund, 2014. IMF Videos. [Online] International Monetary Fund Available at: “https://www.imf.org/external/mmedia/view.aspx?vid=3835505509001” Accessed 26 February 2015].

Marshall, J., 1999. Living Life as Inquiry. Systemic Practice and Action Research , 12(2), pp.155-71.

Marshall, J., 2004. Self-reflective Inquiry Practice. In Peter Reason, H.B. The Handbook of Action Research. London: Sage Publications Ltd.

Simpson, P. & French, R. (2006) “Negative Capability and the Capacity to Think in the Present Moment” Leadership, 2(2): 245-255.

Simpson, P. (2010) Engaging with Unknowing through Narrative and Personal Experience Journal of Organizational Change Management, 23/2, pp173 – 179

Rooke, D. & Torbert, W.R., 2005. Seven Transformations of Leadership. Harvard Business Review.