The Poetics of Leadership

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University of Cumbria

Charlotte Mason Building

Ambleside Lake District Campus

LA22 9BB

United Kingdom

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The Poetics of Leadership: Creativity, Art and Story in Enabliing Meaningful Change

An international conference in the heart of the Lake District

Decision-makers need to be bold and agile to help their organisations and communities respond to rapid changes in their environments. Actions based on existing patterns of thought and behaviour will not suffice. What stimulates the necessary creativity to think afresh about contexts and choices? In this two-day event, we will explore methods available for leadership development.

Topics will include: Creative writing as a method for personal leadership development, poetry as an aid for exploring emotions, the visual and performing arts as a means of enabling new ideas, storytelling as a method for leadership communications, physical play as a means of reducing inhibitions, and outdoor activities as opportunities for deepening insight. We will experience such methods and discuss them in the context of both classical and contemporary theories on the role of creativity and arts in personal and social change. For inspiration we will draw on the creative heritage of the cultural landscape of the English Lake District, now recognised by UNESCO.

The conference is intended for academics, practitioners, postgraduate students and anyone else interested in the conference theme. The aim is to host contributions that break narrow disciplinary boundaries. Alongside conventional presentation formats, such as keynotes, paper and poster sessions and workshops, there will be contributions that take a more embodied and interactive approach. An optional outdoor activity will also be offered. We anticipate lively debate about the structure and form of academic learning, and the responsibility of higher education to widen horizons rather than narrow them.

The conference takes place in a historic campus in the heart of a National Park and UNESCO world heritage site, nestled in amongst beautiful hills and lakes that have attracted hikers and writers to the Lake District for centuries. On the Saturday, a selection of short activities outside the conference venue will be offered.


Jonathan Gosling. Trailing clouds of glory. Leadership on the road to hell (and beyond)

Bio: Jonathan is emeritus professor of leadership (Exeter University), where he co-founded the One Planet MBA and ran executive education. He was previously based at Lancaster and in London was involved in community mediation. He is one of the lead faculty on the Forward Institute fostering responsible leadership in the British establishment; and runs several other independent programmes on this theme. His consulting company, Pelumbra, is now engaged mostly in health care, notably towards malaria elimination in southern Africa and integrated care in the NHS. He supports CoachingOurselves.com as a means to foster engagement within organisations; and One Planet Education Networks for directing business schools towards sustainability. He is a husband and father of 2 daughters – one of whom will be marrying just before this conference. He is visiting professor at universities in China, India, Australia, Canada, Denmark and Slovenia. He is author and editor of many books and articles, hosts writing retreats in interesting places; and is a keen sailor.

Caroline Ramsey. The Social Poetics of Leadership

Bio: Caroline spent the early years of her career in the sales and marketing functions of the textile and clothing industries. A chance conversation with a friend, who was a production manager, led to the exasperated question “why don’t sales ever talk to production?” and that has remained a key question ever since… many, many words are said in meetings, so why is there little conversation? Two themes of research have grown from that question. First, she has focused on how we learn in practice, which has developed into questions about how we develop practical wisdom and sound judgment. Secondly, Caroline is researching a conversational, or relational understanding of leadership. What happens in certain conversations that turns them leaderly (sorry, she knows that’s an ugly word!)? What sort of conversations offer space for more people to contribute to leadership? Using ideas from postmodern poetics, improv theatre and conversations she has with authors and managers; Caroline is trying to find out! She currently works at Liverpool University mainly supervising practice led, doctoral inquiry. Outside work, Caroline is a companion of the Northumbria Community, a new-monastic, Christian group (she’ll explain that if you’re interested), and is currently planning to replace her sailing dinghy with a dog.

Draft programme

The following is a draft conference programme, details may change. More detialed information about the research presentations and practice exchange sessions will be available shortly.

Friday 7th September

15:30. Arrival, Registration

16:00. Welcome from organisers

16:15. Richard Little. The Cultural Heritage of the Lake District

16:35. Introduction to conference theme (tbc)

17:00. Practice exchange 1

18:00. Dinner

19:15. Keynote 1: Caroline Ramsey. The social poetics of leadership

20:00. Performance (tbc)

20:30. Close

Saturday 8th September

9:00. Reflections from the previous day

9:15. Keynote 2: Jonathan Gosling. Trailing clouds of glory: Leadership on the road to hell (and beyond)

10:00. Research presentations 1

11:00. Coffee break

11:30. Practice exchange 2

13:00. Lunch

14:00. Whole group session (tbc)

14:45. Research presentations 2

15:45. Break

16:00. Small group discussion followed by plenary

17:00. End

Contributors (some details might change)

Practice exchanges

  • Julie Hutchison, Miles Weaver. Pathways towards charity trusteeship and developing a community of practice in the UK
  • Emma Watton. Me, myself and I: Using story-telling approaches for leadership development
  • Emily Whycomics. (Un)Learnings of Collective Leadership
  • Lenara Verla. Currency Lab Game - a collaborative practice to discuss alternative currencies
  • Charlotte von Bulow, Peter Simpson. Working with conflicting narratives in leadership development
  • Rowan Middleton. Wordsworth and Leadership
  • Allan Owens, Anne Passila. Beyond Text
  • Paul Hougham. The Leadership of Poetics
  • Claudius van Wyk and Joshua Malkin. The holistic art and science of transformative leadership in a V.U.C.A. world
  • Matthew Slater and Jem Bendell: Improv leadership
  • Andrew Porter, Jan Davis. Leading with safe uncertainty
  • Jane Riddiford. Title tbc.
  • Georgia Williams. Grayson Perry, default man and me: An autoethnography exploring experiences of masculinity in the armed forces
  • Cambell Webb. Seeing the trees for the wood: tree contemplation and biological story-telling for insight and creativity

Research Presentations

  • Stefan Rossbach. Resistance, suffering and leadership: An introduction to apophatic leadership
  • Sally Elton-Chalcroft. Leading the creation of a studio school in rural North West England- stakeholders’ narratives of opportunities and challenges
  • Paul Harper and Alice Kettle: Making leaders
  • Mohamed Kadry. Social Entrepreneurs: A new leadership model for sustainable development in developing countries
  • John Foster and Sue Cox. “It takes two…”: Tango and creative leadership / followership
  • Isis Brook: The Politics of Leadership
  • Rakhi Sameer: Gandhi’s leadership style and story telling
  • Kelli Rose Pearson: Title tbc
  • Hannah Marsden: Dwelling and its discontents: Arts-based participatory action research and collective leadership
  • Marcelo da Veiga. The potency of initiating and creating
  • Vachel Miller. Contemplative & reflective practices for leadership formation in a time of collapse
  • Jem Bendell. Leadership after sustainability
  • Roland Schuster: Facilitated learning by experience - exploring the boundary to unknown territory
  • Kae Reynolds: The leader-poet: Ethical growth through reflexive poetic engagement
  • Kevin Avison: A Measure of Inspiration: Demos, Aristos, Poetic Ambiguity & Leadership
  • Mark Argent: Revisiting Oedipus as a way of thinking differently
  • Paul Hougham: The leadership of poetics
  • Jane Riddiford. Title tbc
  • Georgia Wingfield-Hayes. How the journey of soul initiation influences agency and leadership in a time of global change
  • David Norbury. Approach to artful inquiry in IT consulting
  • Andrew Porter, Jan Davis. Leading with safe uncertainty
  • Thomas Schmaus. Leaders on the track of poets
  • Gudrun Schröder. The loss of the birdsong
  • Katie Willocks. Self-leadership in academia: An auto ethnographic approach


There is no participation fee for the conference, but there is a £30 charge for food and refreshments. Please register for the conference using the 'tickets' link above. Advanced priority registration begins on November 1st 2017. General registration begins on March 1st 2018.


Accommodation is available from the University at £35 pounds per night (ensuite, not including breakfast). Accommodation can be reserved here: https://store.cumbria.ac.uk/product-catalogue/general/conferences-events/poetics-of-leadership-accommodation-bookings

When booking, please use the following reference: Kx. 12617

Call for submisions: The call for submissions is now closed

The Context for the Conference

The Poetics of Leadership conference follows on in a series of Collaborative Research Conferences organised by the partners in previous years. Since 2013, Crossfields Institute have co-organised a series of conferences in collaboration with the Institute for Philosophy and Aesthetics at Alanus University (Bonn, Germany). For each conference, a third partner has also been invited in to co-design, co-organise and co-host the conference. Past conferences were organised with the University of Kent and the University of Gloucestershire. The most recent was on Leadership, Ethics and Working with Unknowing (10th-11th March 2017) with University of the West of England’s Leadership Centre (Bristol Business School). The event was attended by scholars in ethics, organisation studies, leadership education and related fields; practitioners, executives, managers and students from a range of universities and institutions.

For the current conference, Crossfields Institute and Alanus University have collaborated with The Institute for Leadership and Sustainability (IFLAS) at Cumbria University. IFLAS has co-organised research conferences on leadership and wellbeing for the past years with Brathay Trust, including a major international festival in 2015. www.leadingwell.org Working with Crossfields and Alanus University for a joint conference in 2018 is a natural combination of expertise and networks.

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University of Cumbria

Charlotte Mason Building

Ambleside Lake District Campus

LA22 9BB

United Kingdom

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