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Poetics of Leadership

University of Cumbria and Crossfields Institute

7th& 8th September 2018

Trailing clouds of glory 

Leadership on the road to hell (and beyond).



Wordsworth’s famous poem Intimations of Immortality - known as The Great Ode - ends with gratitude for a tender heart that can be moved to 'thoughts that do often lie too deep for tears’. He is talking about an intuition of beauty that accompanies a child into birth, then is all but lost through the travails of adulthood. Written just at the start of the industrial revolution, it is a theory of pre-existence, not of an after-life or reincarnation. It’s a one-way journey to death, yet perhaps infused with a spark of eternity. 


As our civilisation comes further from nature we seem to adjust to our lost intuitions, habituate to merely surrogate connectedness and adapt to organisations and whole industries that abuse each of us, others and nature. Wordsworth might be right – 


The Clouds that gather round the setting sun 

Do take a sober colouring from the eye

That hath kept watch o’er man’s mortality


These are no longer clouds of glory, but of shame; though we may come from heaven, we have created conditions for hell. 


I will explore this and other understandings of dying, death and after, addressing implications for the possibility that anthropomorphic climate change (and related factors) may bring about the death of our civilisation. 

Chandrika Tandon Visiting Professorship at IIM-Ahemedabad, India in November 2018

I will take up the Chandrika Tandon Visiting Professorship at IIM-Ahemedabad, India in November 2018. In this capacity I will give a series of  8 lectures on philosophical issues thrown up by attempts to research leadership. These lectures will be presented as part for doctoral students, and others are invited to attend. Please contact me for details. 


The lectures address conceptual questions pertinent to empirical and theoretical research into authority and leadership in organisations; and examine how several different philosophical traditions approach these questions, gaining insights particular to each. Examples from every-day leadership practice will be debated in each session, and there will be opportunities to apply the lessons to participants’ personal and organisational predicaments.

The lectures will be useful for executives and citizens concerned with ‘what counts as a good leadership, and how do we evaluate it?’. 

This clearly depends on how we understand the global context - amongst other scenarios, we will consider the possibility that climate change will induce catastrophic collapse, so that ‘good leadership’ might be radically different to that required for sustaining, growing or innovating current businesses. 

Leading Quietly

“A sudden glow of patriotism was enkindled within me and presented my King and Country as my patron. ‘Well then,’ I exclaimed, ‘I will be a hero and, confiding in Providence, I will brave every danger.’ ”

What Napoleon can tell us about how power works in organizations and society?

"My mistress is power. I have given too much to its conquest to let it be taken from me, or even suffer anyone to covet it."

The challenge of leadership is a perennial one for any organisation. To successfully lead an organisation through the highs and lows, the organisation has to identify key leadership challenges and support their leadership in building the necessary capabilities and qualities.

In a short interview with the Civil Service College, Professor Jonathan Gosling talks about leadership challenges for organisations today, what leaders need to develop to meet these challenges, and how organisations can develop and nurture ethical leaders.

Where will we find the leaders to make the changes we need?

Berlin, summer 2010: A summit meeting of corporate leaders, with a keynote from Narayan Murthy, Founder and President of Infosys, the Indian software services company that now challenges market leaders IBM, Fujitsu and Accenture. Mr Murthy stressed the absolute priority of reconfiguring the ways in which our economies work, and called on corporations to set an agenda a pace for change that governments will follow. The message was underscored by the CEOs of Wipro, Deutsche Telecom, the Bundesbank, Saint Gobain and Lufthansa. Business leaders get it – but their businesses are not changing fast enough, and if they really intend to push governments towards systemic reform of world trade and regulation, they are not succeeding. Why not? A clue was offered at the same summit meeting, in breakout sessions, where company managers and business professors discussed practical steps to take. Time and again they struggled with the language of sustainability; and never far away was the idea that sustainability means, first and foremost, the ability to maintain the business, its employees, and its returns to shareholders. To seriously contemplate anything other than ‘business as usual’ is just too difficult for those responsible (and held accountable) for producing the goods and services on which we all depend. Leadership is important, but it is not enough: somehow, we have to develop the will and the skill to change the way we do business, right at the managerial heart of it. 

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