III Empirical Illustrations of Leadership, Ethics and Masculinity

In this Part, there is an attempt to apply some of the concepts and ideas of Part II to three selected fields of research: academia, innovation and change, and the financial sector. Finally, there is a Postscript in which I apply the ideas to what at the time of writing this book was the worst of global crises in the coronavirus pandemic. This third part of the book subscribes to what I see is a somewhat arbitrary distinction between theory and practice. However, for ease of presentation, the distinction is retained to provide some practical illustrations of the concepts and ideas discussed in the book. Still, it is important to recognise that the presentation of empirical research is not devoid of theory just as conceptualisations usually bear some relationship to everyday life and events, for they are irretrievably, mutually entangled. Actions reflect, reinforce and reproduce, as well as challenge, theoretical assumptions as much as theory is tested through practical experiences. Of course, theoretical deliberations and empirical research are expected to be a more reasoned, self-conscious and reflexive consideration of what occurs in everyday life, but we should never forget their inseparable heritage, nor indeed, as was discussed in the early part of Chapter 1, how theory is a form of practice.

The first Chapter 8 in Part III concerns academia where the empirical material and analysis for the chapter is drawn from research I conducted with my colleague Caroline Clarke. Some parts of it are drawn from my own life-time experience of working in universities and is, therefore, autoethnographic. However, most of the chapter draws on our joint research on academics—a project inspired by the belief that intellectuals should be ‘inexhaustibly curious about the nature of their own activity’34 as well as paying particular regard to the colonisation of university life by insidious neoliberal and managerialist practices.35 Like many academics, and despite holding these convictions, we acknowledge that ‘at times we are silent when we should speak/write our protest’.36 We embarked on this project partly to understand why there has been a lack of protest/resistance in our own profession—which took the metaphorical form of travelling ‘abroad to discover in distant lands something whose presence at home has become unrecognisable’.37

In recent years, university leaders have embraced a managerialist agenda where audit, accountability', and controls involve ranking, and competitive league tables based on ‘rigorous’ metrics of performance.38 These have been criticised as gendered because they reflect and reinforce aggressive, competitive masculine demands on academic staff to meet a multiplicity of targets and standards.39 Nonetheless, few parts of this literature challenge the dominance of aggressive forms of masculinity40 and the complex embodied agents and material objects through which they are enacted in organisational practices.41 By contrast, our research problematises the gendered organisation of academic life, first describing its impact on women and then anticipating a way in which rhe masculinity of leadership in universities can be challenged, potentially to become agendered. This is an alternative to the adversarial strategies of resistance that privilege precisely the same aggressive and instrumental tactics to secure change as prevailing dominant, masculine leadership regimes. For such strategies tend to close down spaces of ethically embodied relations that offer a different vision.

The second topic of research activity is Change, Innovation and Technology that is addressed in Chapter 9 and concerns how leadership has always been strongly associated with organisational change and innovation whether it be team-working, quality or knowledge management, the adoption of new technologies, processes and products or distributive arrangements. Although always contingent on the conditions of its genesis and application, innovation is what stimulates or reflects organisational change and the transformation of established practices. Leadership is usually involved at all levels of innovation from inception to accomplishment, although there is rarely ever finality. Since change is always in the process of completion, it is possible to identify key stages of achievement. Much of the research was conducted by my colleague Darren McCabe who was a research assistant on several Economic and Social Science (ESRC) research grants that I secured during an extensive period of leading the FSRC and the Financial Services Research Forum (FSRF) at Manchester University, and the latter subsequently at Nottingham University. However, several researchers and, in particular, Fergus Murray worked with me on technology in the financial sector that was funded by an 8-year ESRC Programme for Information and Communication Technology.

In Chapter 10,1 focus on a broad range of research that colleagues and I conducted in the financial services around the turn of the 20th century. Around the time of the research, the sector passed through one of its most spectacularly horrific periods in its history, readily assuming the unwelcome crown of the ‘unacceptable face of capitalism’. It continues to rail against a public that remains shocked as to how an industry can get things so wrong. Its impact was one of forcing everyone within the Western world to suffer an economic Armageddon. However, this now seems to pale into insignificance against the background of the COVID-19 pandemic of 2020. While the background of this chapter is the global financial crisis of 2008,42 it also reports on research that was conducted on leadership, ethics and gender and innovation and organisational change, as reported in the previous chapter. In terms of leadership, ethics and gender, the global financial crisis provides us with the most dramatic material. As the governor of the UK Bank of England declared, it would seem there needs to be a concerted effort to ensure that ethical leadership is embedded in financial organisations.43 However, the ethics that inform regulation is inadequate and the chapter suggests that there needs to be a reflection on whether a set of rules is sufficient to avoid such crises. Maybe these should be complemented, or replaced, by more ethical senses of leadership responsibility to, and embodied engagement with, others in organisational relations of common commitment. Ethical leadership has to escape from reliance merely on codes of compliance and ideals of utility or virtue and instead bear witness to a life that embeds relations in feelings, affects and responsibility to others rather than cognitive calculations of self-interest.

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