Research at Bristol Leadership and Change Centre explores the assumptions and processes that inform and shape leadership and change for individuals, groups, organisations, communities and societies. Our interests and expertise can be broadly categorised into four main areas, as outlined below.
1. Leadership and followership in a complex and changing world
We live in turbulent times, with growing pressure on groups and organisations to collaborate across boundaries to address shared challenges. Hierarchical models of leadership that focus predominantly on the skills and abilities of senior level leaders are inadequate to explain or develop the capacity of individuals, organisations and/or networks to adapt, innovate and thrive in the 21st century.
At BLCC, we take a fresh approach to leadership, looking at the relationships between leading, following and other social and organisational processes. We regard leadership as a process of social influence through which a sense of shared direction, alignment and commitment is developed. Our expertise in this area includes work on distributed, shared and systems leadership; paradox and ambiguity; the psychodynamics of leadership; and leadership ethics and sustainability.
Developing more inclusive and effective organisations and partnerships is one of the most pressing needs of our time. We collaborate with partners in sectors including health and social care, local government, education and business to deliver applied research, education and engagement initiatives with regional, national and international impact.
2. Cultures of leading and organising
What makes for effective leadership is a significant question, but what works in one country or community may not be the same as in another. Our research explores how place, space, culture, language, identity and time, influence perceptions and experiences of leadership and their impact on management processes and organisational outcomes.
Mainstream work on leadership largely seeks generalities and universal truths, but at BLCC we support leaders and organisations in developing a deeper understanding of their own context. We use tools such as critical thinking and reflection to help tease out the concepts behind processes and interventions. We then use this insight to enable leaders to consider alternative approaches that facilitate greater diversity, inclusion and engagement.
Themes of context, culture and identity come together in the typical scenario of global, cross-cultural management in which expats, equipped with Western frameworks and theories, are sent out to lead in different regions or countries. We are interested in a more ‘worldly’ approach that considers alternative, qualitative and anthropological accounts of leadership and organising, and the lessons and insights they reveal.
Recent projects include supporting the implementation of malaria elimination strategies in south-east Asia and southern Africa; an ethnographic analysis of how people in the Mexico-US border region engage in processes of organising; and an investigation of leadership paradoxes in Singapore public services.
3. Behaviour change and social influence
Helping individuals, organisations and societies change their lifestyle behaviours for the better is a significant public health priority. The rapidly evolving nature of technology, however, is impacting on how, where and when people communicate and where they look to for evidence, advice and support.
BLCC has considerable expertise of how social practices, social marketing and social movements can bring about positive and enduring changes in groups and societies. We work with a range of local and national organisations to help influence thinking on important issues, such as the attitudes of young drivers towards drink driving and speeding (with the Department of Transport) and public perceptions of death, bereavement and end of life care (with Public Health England).
This work offers rich insights into the processes of individual and collective behaviour change, and the role of leaders and organisations in mobilising systems change. Through this work, we are making significant impact on real-world issues, as well as extending transdisciplinary theory and research.
4. Leadership and organisational learning and development
Leadership and management education is a major global industry, with wide variations in approach and effectiveness. Our research explores the mechanisms through which people learn to lead and the relationships between individual, team and organisational learning.
Our expertise in this area includes critical, reflexive and experiential approaches to leadership and organisational development; coaching and mentoring; career transition and liminality; creativity, innovation and entrepreneurship, and the evaluation of leadership and organisational development interventions.
We are interested in how individuals and groups learn to lead, as well as how they unlearn ineffective behaviours and strategies. We are at the forefront of developments in the university sector around undergraduate teaching, but our work also goes far beyond the classroom. Our projects explore how practising managers can connect their development to wider organisational structures and processes, and the significance of ‘liminal spaces’ – where people can experiment with new ideas and ways of working.
The Leadership Evaluation Collaboratory, which we have been running since 2015 with support from the NHS Leadership Academy, offers a forum for engagement between those commissioning, delivering and evaluating leadership and organisation development interventions and the sharing of good practice. We also regularly act as an independent evaluator and/or academic partner to external organisations.