The upcoming Tavistock Institute’s 68th Leicester conference provides a unique context for exploring and developing new leadership skills.
The title of The Leicester Conference in 2014 is:
Authority & Role: Living Learning and Leading in our Organisations
A strategy of employee obsolescence has been introduced as a way of motivating staff. This is done by the categorisation of 10% of staff as ‘poor’ performers. Of 5000 employees surveyed, only one third understood what they needed to do to avoid being in that group. Guidance on these matters does not always come from the employer.
The Leicester Conference provides opportunities to explore how to recognise and interpret the unspoken demands of the work environment. Job descriptions and person specifications are the structures used to construct the ideal way to match the person with the task. The aspect that is not always clear is how a task is to be performed. It is through our understanding of roles that help both employee and employer determine appropriate task performance.
In situations where roles are unclear, failure of performance activates feelings and emotions that relate not just to the moment, but derive from past experiences. Unless these feelings are addressed, previous habitual behaviour may be activated that may result in a good employee ending up in the ‘bottom 10%’.
At the Leicester Conference one can explore and challenge oneself, and also test ways of challenging leaders and managers who do not make their expectations clear. Leicester is an accelerated learning environment for positive behavioural change and the acquisition of skills and competence in role.
Groups form in order to perform tasks, meet needs or solve problems. We call that work. The aims and values of groups are usually clear, but they may also be inconsistent, with, say, employers’ and individuals’ views and wishes. How the tensions between the two are reconciled, need to be understood. Peer pressure is often thought of as being sufficient to moderate individual wishes and keep a group on task, but there is also a place for ‘leadership’ in this process.
Leadership of groups – small and large – is mostly thought of as residing in one person – the ‘leader’; but actually leadership relies on groups – there can be no leadership without a disciplined and mature followership by members of the group. Leadership and followership are learned inter-dependent functions.
Leadership is not an imposed authority; it rests upon the derived authorisation from ‘above’ and ‘below’, i.e. it rests upon the ‘emergent’ dialectic processes from within the systems in which groups exist. Emergence is the way complex systems and patterns of behaviour arise out of a multiplicity of relatively simple interactions between individuals, between individuals and the group and between groups and the whole system. ‘Emergence’ is a central idea in the theories of integrated inter-dependent complex systems and implies there is a constant movement of roles, i.e. that roles are dynamic, not static; they shift from moment to moment, from situation to situation.
Within a group, all individuals take or are given roles, some formal and others transitory, some desired and others unwanted, e.g. the ‘healing’ role of the doctor and the ‘sick’ role of the patient, or the bully and the victim roles, or the rescuer and the rescued roles. Roles help us to determine what behaviour is appropriate, for example, for the patient to be treated, they would have to allow themselves to be dependent on their doctors and carers, even if this is uncomfortable. Where there is confusion of roles, e.g. in some professional firms there may be confusion between the ‘business partner’ role and the ’employee’ role, paralysing conflict may occur.
This has implications for our practical participation in teams. The complexity of the situation will raise feelings and emotions, ‘I want to be part of this team, but I don’t know how to get in’. If members of a meeting miss central points of the discussion their mood and sense of participation will change; they will feel excluded and ignorant, no longer feel noticed or heard. Consider …
Sandra, a dynamic and articulate senior manager in banking, at a group relations conference, tells the group that she is struggling to hold on to her authority in her leadership team and to make her opinions known. She says she finds that when she speaks she is often ignored. It was noted that as she was speaking, members of the group seemed to look bored. The group’s consultant described the dissonance between Sandra’s ‘story’ and her mode of delivery, namely, presenting herself as a victim while seemingly embodying competence. The members of the group challenged Sandra to explore her competitive feelings that were showing up in the group, so that she was prevented from benefitting from her colleagues’ insights.
The facilitated group work at the conference afforded Sandra the possibility of testing new ways of understanding and behaving which she was then able to apply to both her work. This is an example of how group relations conferences in the Tavistock tradition are uniquely placed to help in individual and organisational transformations; and how they connect learning to living and leading in our organisations by facilitating a quality of exploration that does not normally happen.
Sandra’s story is a reminder to us that benefits can accrue through the examination of underlying, often hidden, dynamics. Conflict and crises occur because parties view each other with suspicion and stubbornly hold on to their positions. Resolution of these is more likely to happen through negotiated conversations based on Tavistock group relations methodologies.
At work people are often treated in a utilitarian manner that leads to fragmenting, depersonalising and dehumanising human relations. This comes at the cost of our empathy towards others and a deadening of our creativity, imagination and emotional experience. At Leicester we learn how to better integrate our formal roles and responsibilities, our competencies and technical skills, with our humanity, our strengths and weakness, values and beliefs.
Former participants of Leicester have stated that their learning during the two-week programme far outstripped other formal professional trainings lasting years. A previous participant states:
‘Since going to Leicester, I have learned to better manage myself in my role. Before I attended Leicester, I thought leadership was about managing others; I was surprised to find it is really about managing myself.’
Two weeks away from work and family is sometimes said to be impossible these days, but the benefits of intensive work in a group leads to the discovery of ‘hidden’ leading-edge thinking that comes from making links between foresight, emotional insight and intellect – one’s own and that of others.
The next Leicester Conference will be co-directed by Dr Eliat Aram, CEO of the Tavistock Institute and Dr Mannie Sher, Director of the Group Relations Programme. It will take place between 4th-17th August 2014.
Coreene Archer is member of TIHR Group Relations programme and has worked as a consultant at the Leicester Conference. She is currently leading on the development and delivery of the Launching New Leaders Programme which is a new conference aimed at helping young people to explore issues of role and leadership.
For more information please contact the Professional Development Co-ordinator, Rachel Kelly at email@example.com.