I’m currently reading Roald Dahl’s Matilda with my middle daughter. I smile, not just at the funny parts, but when Matilda is curled up with her nose in a book while the rest of the family is watching TV. Certainly my parents were not like Matilda’s, but I do remember them making objections to me doing the same, particularly in social situations.When I had my PhD interview, I was asked how I would be able to cope with the solitude. A PhD can be a lonely endeavour. Again, I had to smile. Because essentially, that is what I’m used to. And that is what I enjoy. Silence. In my new home office, I can shut my door and be with my books and my thoughts. My husband has been expressing his growing concern by making excuses for me to have to go outside.
With the PhD in full swing, every precious free moment needs to be dedicated to moving it along, hence the neglect of the blog alongside many other ‘non-essentials’. Remembering I’d signed up to attend a BAM Special Interest Group on Friday caused a moment of panic on re-reading the programme – that’s not related to my PhD!! Researching unemployment is probably about as far from researching leadership as you can get. Having to trudge through snow didn’t help encourage me across the threshold either.
But I’m glad I did. Not only did it provide fresh ideas, but was an important reminder how ‘taking a break’ can fuel progress. Not least is having to articulate (out loud! and not just to yourself or on scraps of paper) what it is you are actually researching.
The speaker who ‘struck’ me the most was Ann Cunliffe; Professor of Organisation Studies from the University of Bradford. Her simple emphasis on relationality and the intersubjective is going to help relieve the writer’s block I’m having over incorporating ‘the social’ into my discussion of modern social class.
My other thought was that I wished that leaders I’ve known throughout my career in industry could have listened to her powerful words; That leaders need to accept difference and also understand it, because if they don’t listen, eventually all they will hear is silence. That everything is about relationships, and treating people like humans, not resources. That leaders need to know themselves before they can effectively lead others.
An important way in which we learn about ourselves is reflection. Critiquing is ingrained in academia, and for someone with a professional background it can be difficult to take. But what I’ve learned from experience is that it must be welcomed with open arms, because it really is the only way we improve. Unfortunately the business world just isn’t set up for people to have open, honest conversations about how things are going.
I can count the leaders I’ve know who were humble on one hand. A leader who reconsiders what they’ve done and says sorry doesn’t really fit with the typical expectation of a leader today – which is somebody to put on a pedestal. Instead, we need to encourage the Reflexive Leader with the simple message that despite the hierarchy, nobody is above anybody else – nobody’s position abdicates them from the responsibility of treating others as human.