The language of ‘leadership’, while ubiquitous, is dominated by discourses in business and politics, which tend to focus on instrumental skills more than virtues of character. With many calls for leadership to be re-imagined from a hierarchical paradigm of command and control to a ‘human’ person-centred approach emphasizing connection and collaboration, how might research in the humanities enable us to understand what good leadership is and how it is practised? The Arts of Leading research project seeks to promote a wide-ranging discussion of character and leadership grounded in the study of the humanities.
Taking leadership as a fundamentally human category and making personal formation and human flourishing central to our discussion, we are seeking to draw diverse perspectives into a conversation that explores the relationship between ideals of effective leadership and questions concerning who we are and who we aspire to become. Our discussion has seen us turn to narratives of leaders and leadership in different contexts and included themes such as solitude, friendship, gratitude, trust, humility, practical wisdom, and biography. We have been seeking to learn from literature, poetry, film, music, portraiture, philosophy, and theology in conjunction with the more typical leadership discourses of business and politics.
The Arts of Leading Conference 2019
In February 2019 we joined with Wake Forest University to co-host a conference on The Arts of Leading: Perspectives from the Humanities and Liberal Arts. The conference turned to classics, literature, history, philosophy, and the visual and performing arts, bringing together distinguished scholars to explore new ways of understanding the theory and practice of leadership. We have continued to work together on an Arts of Leading book, which we hope to publish in 2022.
The Arts of Leading Seminar Series with TORCH
In Oxford, we have partnered with TORCH (The Oxford Research Centre in the Humanities) to host a series of Arts of Leading seminars with contributors from philosophy, history, fine art, theology, and classics. We have also joined with the Engaging with the Humanities programme at the Saïd Business School to host events with Ian Kaier on “The sound of silence: reading a monochrome” and Dominic Scott on “Models of leadership in Plato.”