Leading Change in an Unpredictable World: What Does Sustainable, Resilient Change Look Like?

Leading Change in an Unpredictable World: What Does Sustainable, Resilient Change Look Like?

Copyright: © 2023 |Pages: 18
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-6684-7509-6.ch002
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Both leadership and change are contested labels and there is no universal definition. What is usefully understood by leadership and change is specific to the unique nature of a particular change and the evolving context within which it is being carried out. By paying attention to what is specifically needed in the moment around leaders and leading, change leadership becomes an approach that is fit for a specific purpose and avoids becoming a generic approach which is incapable of adjusting to local realities. By noticing how the context of change is evolving and assumptions become validated and invalidated, the fitness of the chosen approach is also kept under constant review.
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Practitioner based, or practitioner inclusive, approaches to writing about change are inherently problematic. If writing from a purely academic perspective, what would follow at this point would be a comprehensive list of relevant academic articles that would position the authors within a specific school of argument. Practitioners are however less concerned about the niceties of academic schools and the professional distinctions that matter to those who have scholastic careers to establish, maintain and justify – and will tend to pick and mix from multiple sources of insight, often pushing at the boundaries of received wisdom in order to find the right combination of language and framings that will allow an organization to deal with the situation they are facing in the, often highly politicised and power saturated, here and now. Practice rarely follows espoused prescription.

However, this doesn’t mean that anything goes; the eclectic reality of the practitioner approach to organizational change and leadership can be put into a conceptual framing by using John Heron’s notion of an extended epistemology (Heron & Reason, 1997). The practitioner perspective allows for a constant cycling between its four forms, broadening and deepening the engagement with the experiential base in such a way that new forms of expressive, propositional and actionable knowing become possible, responding to and creating in turn new forms of organizational experience. This is why it underpins the practitioner focused Ashridge Doctorate and Masters in Organizational Consulting and Change (Critchley et al, 2007; King & Higgins, 2010; King & Higgins, 2014), which is also heavily informed by the relational shift in understanding psychological development (Gilligan, 1993) and a focus on inquiry over advocacy when it comes to organizational learning (Reason, 1988).

What this chapter also embraces, with its focus on ‘what work’s’ and a dynamic flowing up and down the epistemological hierarchy of experiential and actionable knowing, is a focus of the qualities rather than the quantities of change. Within the discipline of organizational change, as with so much of the humanities and the social sciences, is an overdeveloped desire to privilege the scientific method and its truth traditions – a perspective which is rigorously critiqued, alongside other myths and paradoxes, in Cole & Higgins’ (Cole & Higgins, 2022) and their examination of the frequently unexamined headwaters of management thinking which create the confusion of so much downstream understanding. A more populist critique which covered much of the same ground, with a particular focus on the institutional habits which sustain particular ways of organizational knowing, is covered in Martin Parker’s work and his advocacy of the need to ‘Shut down the business school’ (Parker, 2018).

Key Terms in this Chapter

Relationality: An attention to the dyadic and group experience of the inter-personal rather than the sovereign individual.

Inquiry: Learning and engagement through curiosity and attention to the world, others and habits of mind.

Advocacy: Argument and learning through propositional knowing.

Praxis: A way of knowing and being in the world that integrates and pays attention to both theoretical and lived/applied experience.

Extended Epistemology: An epistemological hierarchy that sees the world as having epistemological levels, starting with a base of experience, then working upwards through expressive knowing and then onto propositional and actionable knowing.

Leadership: A contested term about what constitutes power, influence and authority in socially mediated/constructed settings.

I-Thou: A form of relating privileging inter-personal connection and the valuing of self, other and the relationship as being of value in and of themselves.

Sustainable: A way of being that can endure over a period of time.

Change: A contested term about what constitutes an existing or to be created experience of life.

Type 2 Change: Change that does not fit within established ways of understanding and acting in the world.

Type 1 Change: Change that fits within the established way of understanding and acting in the world.

I-It: A form of relating that sees self and others as things to be used.

Practitioner: A person concerned with making a difference happen within a specific situation.

Resilience: An individual and group capacity to retain and/or develop agency and liveliness in the face of evolving circumstances.

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