Making meaning

In our forthcoming book, called Leadership Unravelled, John Higgins and I turn the spotlight on the faulty thinking behind modern management and leadership in corporate life. In this regard, John speaks about an urgent need to turn our attention to the head waters of management thought and to interrogate those ideas (and those who generate and promulgate them) carefully.

We make a case for managers and leaders to embrace an ethical orientation that is built on two key elements: a commitment to reflexivity, which is a reflective practice that acknowledges the active presence and influence of the reflector as an integral part of that upon which they seek to reflect; and an adherence to critical thinking.

As this illustration seems to suggest so well, to think critically isn’t merely to dismissively reject a text; instead, it is to engage with it in a way which allows it to come apart under your gaze, so that the tensions, suppositions and contradictions are allowed to expand beyond the simple act of reading what’s before us.

Equally, this permissive approach to the text can hopefully lead us to hear the dominant voice (which extends beyond the authorial voice – and may often be an organic outgrowth of intra-organisational conversation) and, at the same time, to acknowledge the subaltern voices that have not made it to the page.

Lastly, it is essential to underscore the point that this sort of critical orientation is one that cannot merely be applied to that with which we feel that we know that we disagree.

On the contrary, a commitment to deconstructing texts – by which I mean all of the strategies, policies, publicity, communications, protocols, position papers, thought leadership, research, pictures, and practices that coalesce around us in corporate life – requires the ethically oriented leader to turn their close attention to everything that surrounds them.

The world needs to be placed under constant and comprehensive scrutiny, so that the things that undergird it can emerge and become apparent. This is as true in corporate settings as it is in our wider social lives.

And, as John and I look to argue in the book, those who would lead – whether as “leaders” or as those who assume the mantle of leadership at key junctures in their lives – should not simply look to absorb and thoughtlessly deploy the concepts and models so beloved of the business world, regardless of their provenance.

Instead, they should look to their own personal ethical development. In so doing, they need to ensure that they recognise their impact in the world – and allow that world upon which they reflect and with which they engage to reveal itself by ensuring their thinking is critically focused at all times and on all that they experience.

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