Leadership for the Greater Good: Reflections on Today's Challenges from Around the Globe

We are living in an unprecedented time. While none of us have experienced the specific details of the challenges before us, we are not without resources to help see us through. ILA has invited well-known and respected thought leaders from around the world to share their leadership knowledge, wisdom, and viewpoint to inform and inspire us as we continue our collective work.

View All Reflections


Leadership, Complexity and Change: Learning From the COVID-19 Pandemic

Share:

facebook twitter linkedin

(1 May 2020)

by Richard Bolden, Professor, Leadership and Management, University of the West of England, UK

In the words of the Chinese saying we are indeed living in interesting times - both fraught with risk and opportunity. The turbulence of the last few years has revealed deep divisions within society, as illustrated particularly clearly in the Brexit vote within the UK and Trump presidency in the US. The rise of populism has been associated with scepticism and distrust of experts and evidence, with social media providing the perfect echo chamber for amplifying the polarity of perspectives and questioning the nature of "truth." Differing ideologies and beliefs have been positioned in opposition to one another – them and us, winners and losers, do or die – rather than as an inevitable and desirable characteristic of a diverse and inclusive society, which enables creativity, adaptability and resilience in times of complexity, uncertainty and change.

One of the remarkable consequences of the Coronavirus pandemic has been how quickly it has reset the dial on many of these issues – fostering calls for compassion, solidarity, and collective action. At times like this it is our similarities rather than our differences that define us. This is as true for those in positions of power and privilege as those who are marginalised and/or find themselves living in precarity. We are all susceptible to the virus, all have people we care about who are likely to become very ill or perhaps even die should they catch it, and will all be affected by the economic and social impacts of the outbreak - not just for the months that it lasts but for years to come. The capacity of individuals, families, organisations, communities and nations to weather the storm is not equal, however, with those with least access to healthcare, financial, emotional and other resources bearing the brunt of the suffering.

An unexpected outcome of COVID-19 is the impact on the environment. The reduction in pollution levels around the world during just the relatively short time in which travel, manufacturing and other environmentally damaging activities have been reduced demonstrates both how directly human activity impacts on the environment and the remarkable ability of the environment, and the animals and plants within it, to recover if given the opportunity. For those who have been calling for a step-change for policy, practice and behaviour towards a more sustainable way of life there is no more compelling evidence of the extent to which this is possible and the environmental benefits it would produce.

For leadership educators, researchers and practitioners there are many important lessons to take from the current situation. I'm sure everyone will have their own interpretation of events but here are a few of my own takeaways so far.

These are just a few initial reflections and there is far more that could be said. Looking forward I have no doubt that the Spring of 2020 will be seen as a defining moment in our understanding of and engagement with leadership, complexity and change. I only hope that we learn the lessons and make use of them to create a stronger, healthier, kinder, safer world rather than defaulting back to the divisive and destructive policies, practices and behaviours that preceded the current crisis.

Adapted from a post on the Bristol Leadership and Change blog, 27th March 2020 https://blogs.uwe.ac.uk/leadership-and-change/leadership-complexity-and-change-learning-from-the-covid-19-pandemic/

Richard Bolden Richard Bolden is Professor of Leadership and Management at Bristol Business School, University of the West of England. His teaching and research explore the interface between individual and collective approaches to leadership and leadership development. He has published on topics including distributed, shared and systems leadership; leadership paradoxes and complexity; cross-cultural leadership; and leadership and change in healthcare and higher education. He is Director of Bristol Leadership and Change Centre and Associate Editor of the journal Leadership. Richard is a member of the ILA.



Further Reading
Bolden, R. and O'Regan, N. (2016) Digital Disruption and the Future of Leadership: An Interview With Rick Haythornthwaite, Chairman of Centrica and MasterCard, Journal of Management Inquiry, 25(4), 438-446.
Bolden, R. and O'Regan, N. (2018) Leadership and Creativity in Public Services: An Interview With Lord Michael Bichard, Chair of the National Audit Office, Journal of Management Inquiry, 27(1), 45-51.
Bolden, R. and Witzel, M. (2017) Dis-united Kingdom? Leadership at a crossroads. In S. Western and E.J. Garcia (Eds) Global Leadership Perspectives: Insights and Analysis. London: Sage.
Bolden, R. et al. (2011) Exploring Leadership: Individual, organisational and societal perspectives. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Bolden, R. et al. (2017) Leadership Paradoxes: Rethinking leadership for an uncertain world. London: Routledge.
Bolden, R. et al. (2019) Developing systems leadership in public health: A scoping report. UWE, Bristol on behalf of Public Health England.
Bolden, R. et al. (2020) Mobilizing Change in Public Services: Insights from a Systems Leadership Development Intervention, International Journal of Public Administration, 43(1), 26-36.
Bolden. R. et al., (2019) Inclusion: The DNA of leadership and change. UWE, Bristol on behalf of the NHS Leadership Academy.

If you find these reflections to be of value in your work and life, please consider becoming part of ILA's leadership community. Join Today!

This site is supported via a grant from the MetLife Foundation.