We are incredibly pleased to welcome Dr. Donna Ladkin as the newest member of our core faculty team. After an extensive search with over 300 applications starting in Fall 2017 and concluding with day-long interviews and presentations in March 2018 at the Seattle residency, Dr. Ladkin stood out as an amazing scholar, seasoned educator, and an experienced leadership practitioner. As you will see from this interview conducted in late March, Dr. Ladkin’s expertise and experience, coupled with her approach to leading change that ‘wins victories for humanity,’ makes her an extraordinary addition to our doctoral learning community. Dr. Ladkin officially begins in October 2018, although she will be joining us at both the Santa Barbara in May 2018 residency as well as this summer in July 2018 for the kick-off of the new academic year. We look forward to welcoming her and having many wonderful years ahead!
Q: Donna, from your perspective, what are some of the most interesting directions in scholar-practitioner doctoral education?
The increasing levels of interest I see in scholar-practitioner doctoral education is itself a very exciting trend. The fact that practitioners are recognizing the value in applying scholarly approaches to investigating their organizational contexts is great – and perhaps even more importantly, I truly believe that the kind of knowledge that is created when experts use robust research methods to investigate their own practice has the potential to challenge and transform what counts as ‘reliable knowledge’ within the academic community.
For example, practitioner research studies that question ‘recipe’ accounts of how organizational change occurs can expose the messiness and contingent nature of how change happens in real life. Because practitioners are embedded within the systems they often choose to investigate, they bring unique insights to fields that scholarly accounts can often only observe from the outside. Because of their insider knowledge inherent to that location, practitioners can begin to answer questions of ‘why’ change occurs (or doesn’t), rather than solely describing ‘what’ seems to be happening. This kind of knowledge is really important to equip organizations to address the huge challenges they face in today’s social, economic and ecological contexts.
Q: You have had a chance to get to know the PhD in Leadership and Change Program (PhDLC) in a number of ways over these past few years, including offering an alumni workshop in Barcelona to accompany the 2016 ILA Conference and as well, offering a session to our healthcare students during their international residency at the University of Chester in 2017. You also have met with students and faculty during this search process. So, you know you are joining a distinctive doctoral program in both design and delivery. What most attracts you to our doctoral learning community?
From the moment I first engaged with the Antioch PhD as an external member on a dissertation committee almost ten years ago, I was struck by what a truly distinctive process learners engage in as they undertake their doctoral studies. Traditionally, as an external member, you are not allowed to converse with the student’s dissertation chair – rather, it is more seen as a moment of passing judgement. How amazed (and thrilled!) I was to have a conversation with the student’s chair, to discuss frankly the strengths and limitations of the work, and to work together to develop a way forward. It was such a different and refreshing approach – the process was fully learner-centered and developmentally oriented rather than judgement oriented.
Since then I’ve had two further opportunities to engage with students and faculty as you mentioned, at the ILA 2016 Barcelona conference and in Chester last year. I’ve LOVED being with the group on both occasions. Probably the best aspect of those encounters is that the participants seem to be ‘up for’ anything. I try to foster a dialogic form of engagement when facilitating learning, and my experience (so far, at least!) is that that seems to be very welcomed by your program’s participants.
Q: Donna, you have such an amazing trajectory as scholar, educator, and practitioner. What do you hope to contribute to our program?
From a ‘content’ perspective, I hope my training and skill as a philosopher will complement the rich array of experience and wisdom already present within the faculty. I actually love teaching research philosophy (especially trying to demystify the ‘ologies’) and I also enjoy helping students learn to create logical and coherent arguments in their own writing.
I also hope to offer a sensitivity to the process practitioners go through when they take on the challenge of doctoral work. In my experience, working alongside adults as they engage in the doctoral journey is the most challenging, and by far the most rewarding work I do as an academic.
Q: I am excited by the very thoughtful work you do to critically unpack leadership theories. What are you working on now?
At this moment I’m working on an article aimed at debunking the notion that leaders hold all of – or at least the majority of– the power when they try to initiate change. There’s such a huge assumption –asserted both in scholarly literature and also within our collective fantasy –about the power that leaders wield in an unconstrained way. Actually, it’s just not true! Followers exercise a huge amount of power – from providing leaders with the mandate to operate as leaders, to actively doing (or resisting) the things the leader wants them to do. Think about it for a minute – if your boss wants you to do something, but you don’t want to do it – you don’t even have to confront them by saying ‘No’ – all you have to do is put it at the bottom of your list of emails.
Theoretically, I’m drawing on the work of the French philosopher Michel Foucault – I really like the way he systematically disrupts so many taken-for-granted assumptions about power and knowledge and how they operate. A lot of my work to date has focused on taking quite complicated philosophical ideas and trying to make them accessible and relevant to non-philosophers. I have a love of big ideas and a strong belief in how they can help us all to make sense of our situations – as well as offering alternative ways forward. It’s a trend I see continuing in my own scholarship for years to come.
Q: You have been incorporating arts-based thinking and arts-based doing in your leadership theory and practice. Could you share some key thoughts about the role of arts in leadership scholarship, how you see students utilizing the ‘knowing’ from the arts in the world of leading change?
The arts open doorways to ‘more than rational’ ways of knowing. Like when you read a poem – and you don’t quite ‘get it’ but it somehow still moves something inside of you. Or, when you listen to a piece of music and you can’t quite figure out what it means but somehow it still speaks to you in a particular way. The arts engage us in whole-bodied ways before our clever minds categorize, sift, discard or judge.
That more unprocessed, unjudged way of knowing I think can bring powerful insights to both the process of taking the leader role – but also to undertaking research. There is so much about leading that is about nuance—about the way one does something, the quality of relationship building, the sense of the other. Art – observing it or making it—teaches us about nuance (the different feeling evoked from a seascape painted in blues and greens versus one painted in reds and oranges) in very direct ways. This is just one of the important aspects of art-based methods that can enrich our understanding of leadership and also provide innovative modes of conducting research.
Q: I believe you are a yoga instructor and much of your consulting practice focuses on embodied leadership. I know this important work is not a set-aside, but is integrated into your personal and professional life. Can you share your thoughts about how this all fits together?
The possibility of it all ‘fitting together’ is indeed, in my body herself! It’s amazing to me how we literally LIVE in our bodies all of our lives — our entire perspective on the world is grounded in the very fact of, say, how tall or short we are — yet it seems to be so easy to just ignore our embodied reality. You are correct that much of my consulting and coaching practice is bodily based – as well as being a qualified yoga teacher I also trained as a body-based therapist some years ago and I use both of those orientations in working with clients. I find that literally getting people to move differently can foster almost instantaneous effects – and people can feel the difference for themselves.
From an educator’s perspective, I find that very simple practices – just suggesting that students walk together in pairs to discuss their work – can shift things and help people get unstuck. Merely moving, breathing a bit more deeply, getting grounded by shifting attention to the contact your feet have with the ground –these are easy activities that anyone can do, almost anywhere, to tap into the intuition and knowing available in our bodies.
In relation to my own personal life – I just know that I am much more able to handle the stresses and strains of day-to-day living when I do my morning yoga practice and make sure I get out for a walk during the day. It’s as simple as that!
Q: You’re moving back to the States after many years abroad. What is drawing you back at this time? What excites you?
Being abroad has afforded me a valuable opportunity to see the United States from a distance and appreciate aspects of the US culture which it’s easy to take for granted when you are here. For instance, I love the ‘can do’ attitude and the sociability of many Americans. There is a warmth and lack of cynicism that contrasts with the general European sensibility. Of course, I am talking in generalities but certainly people seem much more at ease speaking with strangers in the US than they do in the UK!
I’m looking forward to taking part in the grassroots movements apparent in the US which are giving voice to values and causes I share: the rights of women, ethnic minorities and the LGBT community, the need for gun control, the importance of the environment to name but a few. Although it can seem like difficult times in the States at the moment from a political perspective – my observation is that people are standing up for what they believe in and I look forward to being part of the community of resistance and persistence.
I’m also really looking forward to living closer to my family – my parents are both in their 80s now and it feels important to be more available to them. I also have nieces and a nephew who are fast growing up to be adults and I’m wanting to be nearer to them as well. Oh, and I’m really looking forward to Thanksgiving holiday and the college basketball championships and cinnamon-flavored gum, which you just can’t get in the UK.
Q: Your life seems to have been full of many professional joys – recognitions, publications, and opportunities. When you think forward, how do you hope to keep those joys continuing?
By doing a little bit of the things I love to do, every day!
Q: Donna, is there anything else that you’d like to share with our readers?
This has been the most engaging set of questions I’ve ever been asked to answer in relation to a new job – which again speaks volumes to me about the community I’m joining. I can’t wait to be working with you all!!
Before joining Antioch University’s Graduate School of Leadership of Leadership and Change, Donna Ladkin was Professor of Leadership and Ethics at the Graduate School of Management at Plymouth University. Donna has her PhD from Cranfield School of Management (1992) and an MBA also from Cranfield (1988). Donna’s BA was in Music and Philosophy from Yale University (1981). More recently, Donna went back to secure an MA in Environmental Philosophy from Lancaster University (2003). Donna is an internationally recognized leadership and ethics scholar, educator, and practitioner. Her background in philosophy and organizational leadership has led her to literally rethink the field of leadership. Her book, Rethinking Leadership: A New Look at Old Leadership Questions, (2010) does exactly what the title implies, she explores the fundamental questions of leadership with new eyes. That book was awarded the Integral Leadership Review’s ‘Book of 2010’ award.
More recently — Mastering the Ethical Dimensions of Organizations (2015) and The Physicality of Leadership (2014) co-edited with Steven Taylor — are the results of her ongoing research and interest in the aesthetic dimensions of ethical organizations and how art-based methods can be used to educate managers. Authentic Leadership: Clashes, Convergences and Coalescences (2013) co-edited with Chellie Spiller, turned the notion of authentic leadership inside out by examining it in terms of the concept of self and the orientation toward leadership as a relationship. Donna’s magic is that she brings philosophy down to earth! Her most current research focuses on exploring the structural and organizational dynamics that limit and empower leaders and followers to act ethically within organizations and communities.
Donna has published many books, articles, reviews and conference proceedings. Her work focuses on issues of ethics, aesthetics, the arts, sustainability, and human well-being. A sample of her extensive publication record accompanies this interview.
- Managing the Ethical Dimension of Organizations, (2015) Sole Author, Edward Elgar Publishers. Shortlisted for CMI Book of the Year Award, 2015.
- The Physicality of Leadership: Breath, Bodies and Materiality in the Creation of Leadership Relations, (2014) co-edited with Steven S. Taylor, Emerald Publishers.
- Authentic Leadership: Clashes, Convergences and Coalescences, co-edited with Chellie Spiller, Edward Elgar Publishers, 2013. In final 10 of the International Leadership Association’s ‘Book of the Year’ award for 2013.
- Rethinking Leadership: A New Look at Old Leadership Questions, Sole Author, March 2010, Edward Elgar Publishers. Awarded the Integral Leadership Review’s ‘Book of 2010’ award.
Recent Book Chapters
- “Developing Ethical Leaders” in Field Guide to Leadership Development, Stephen Kempster, (Ed) Edward Elgar (in press).
- “Writing with the Body: Political, Personal, Practical” with Amanda Sinclair, in Sage Handbook of Qualitative Methods, Anne Cunliffe, (Ed.) London: Sage (in press).
- “Leadership, Management and Headship: Power, Emotions and Authority in Organizations” in Leadership: Contemporary Critical Perspectives, Brigid Carroll, Jackie Ford and Scott Taylor (Eds.), London: Sage, pp. 3-25.
- ”In Through the Nose, Out Through the Mouth: How Conscious Breathing Can Help Mere Mortals Cope with the Difficulties of Leading” in The Physicality of Leadership: Gesture, Entanglement, Taboo, Possibilities, Donna Ladkin & Steven S Taylor, (Eds.) Bingley, UK: Emerald, pp. 221-238.
- “Arts-based Interventions and Organizational Development: It’s What You Don’t See” (with Ariane Berthoin Antal and Steven S. Taylor), in The Routledge Companion to Visual Organization, Emma Bell, Samantha Warren and Jonathan Schroeder (Eds.), Routledge: Abingdon, 2013, pp. 261-272.
- “Creating an Aesthetic of Inclusivity: A New Solution to the ‘Problem’ of Women Leaders” in UK Arts Council Leadership Development Reader, 2010.
- “Meeting the Challenge of Leading in the 21st Century: Beyond the ‘Deficit Model’ of Leadership Development” (with Kim Turnbull James), in Leadership Learning: Knowledge into Action, Kim Turnbull James and James Collins (Eds.) London: Palgrave, 2008, pp. 13-34.
- “Human Well-Being and the Natural Environment” in Community Empowerment and Sustainable Development, Schumacher Institute: Converging World Series, 2008, pp. 109-124.
- “Action Research” in Qualitative Research Practice, Clive Seale, Giampietia Gaba, Jaber F Gubrium and David Silverman (Eds.), London: Sage, 2003 pp. 536-548.
- “Mobilising for Sustainability” in European Business Forum, Spring, 2008.
Recent Conference Papers and Symposia
- “Critical Perspectives on Authentic Leadership” symposium facilitated with Chellie Spiller, Academy of Management Conference, All-Academy Programme, Philadelphia PA, 1-5 August 2014.
- ”Realising the Potential of Art-based Methods in Managerial Learning” (with Claus Springborg). Academy of Management Conference, Philadelphia PA, 1-5 August 2014.
- ”What is Aesthetic Sensibility and How Can it Contribute to the Development of Ethically Astute Managers?”, Philosophy of Management Conference, DePaul University, Chicago IL, 14-16 July 2014.
- ”The Role of Individual Risk Perception in an Organization Managing High Risks” (with Hugo Marynissen, David Denyer, Eric Snoeijers and Tim Van Achte), Third International Conference on Engaged Management Scholarship, Atlanta, GA, 19-22 September 2013.
- “The Language of Leading for Sustainability: From Directing to Connecting”, Academy of Management, Chicago, 6-11 August 2009.
- “The Aesthetics of Leadership Performance: Insights from Musical Performance Practice”, Fourth Art of Management and Organization Conference, Banff, Canada, 9-12 September 2008.
- “Constructing Authenticity: Arts-Based Methods as a Means of Developing the Authentic Leadership Self” (with Steve Taylor), Academy of Management, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, August 2007.
- “Explaining Arts-Based Methods for Development and Change in Organizations” (with Steve Taylor), Academy of Management, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, August 2007.
- “Mobilising for Sustainability: The Role of Leadership”, Positive Organisational Scholarship Symposium, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor Michigan, 6-9 December 2006.
- “The Event’s the Thing: Brief Encounters with the Leaderful Moment” (with Martin Wood), 5th International Studying Leadership Conference, Cranfield University, 14-15 December 2006, Winner of Sage Best Paper Award.
- “An Enquiry into the Development of Professional Leadership” (with Robin Ladkin), Studying Leadership 3rd International Conference: Leadership Refrains, Encounters, Conversations and Enchantments, Centre for Leadership Studies, University of Exeter, 15-16 December 2004.