Living leadership in a VUCA World - Jill Westerman CBE

Living leadership in a VUCA World - Jill Westerman CBE

13th March 2015

This month was marked by two key events in FETL’s short life. Last week, to those attending the FETL lecture, we sent out our first little publication, Remembered Thinking. On Tuesday we also had the very great pleasure in hosting the lecture given by Jim Krantz.

For those of you who were unable to attend, we will shortly publish the lecture and some further images from the event. We were very grateful that so many colleagues from right across the FE and Skills sector could attend. When the world abounds with presentations and snippets of information—PowerPoints, Prezis, Tweets and, yes, even blogs!—it was so nice to settle down and listen.

So no spoiler alert required. I’m not going to talk about the content of Jim’s carefully crafted lecture, ‘Leaders or Leadership—the century of the system’. Rather, I thought I’d share with you some reflections on what his talk meant to me.

As a serving FE Principal, I found what Jim said to be extremely relevant, despite his initial concern about coming at the matter from a US perspective.

At the FETL Board, we have spoken about living in a VUCA world – a world of Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity and Ambiguity. In my opinion, Jim was entirely right that we need to look for new models of leadership, and that the heroic or charismatic leadership styles that characterised the English FE sector at incorporation – over 20 years ago now, are not right for a VUCA world.

I also agree that thinking which considers connectedness, both inside and outside our organisations and the complex system of interdependencies that make up our world, is what is required.

Jim focused on the value of dispersed leadership. In my own leadership role in recent years, I’ve also made a very clear decision to step back from my desire to micromanage at college and give staff the space to be imaginative and find their own solutions, even if that means making mistakes along the way. At the Northern College I have been thrilled by the creativity and energy that this approach is beginning to show.

Now, I need to think more about Jim’s reflections on distributed leadership and how I can move further along this path. Jim also talked of ‘reframing’ and ‘containment’. Just yesterday I saw that Liggy Webb has reframed VUCA as Vision, Understanding, Clarity and Agility and this idea of rethinking challenging situations is something that I would like to reflect further about too.

Of course the purpose of FETL is to encourage and give space for this thinking.

So these are the immediate thoughts and responses I had after the lecture. For those of you who attended I’d very much like to hear yours. If you were unable to attend, please drop us a line if you would like a copy of Remembered Thinking, which includes an interview with Jim Krantz.

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