How to be sanguine in Sarajevo: Leadership as transformation or tragedy?
Centre for Leadership Studies, University of Exeter; Bled School Of Management, Slovenia
Center for Business as an Agent of World Benefit, Weatherehad School of Management, Case Western Reserve University
Not all successful leadership is good leadership. As Peter Drucker once remarked, the 20th century produced three great leaders: Hitler, Stalin and Mao. Conversely, many leaders who fail to achieve their aims nonetheless deserve respect and praise. In fact we can probably learn more about how to do good by studying those who struggle for it in almost impossible circumstances. This is what we had in mind when we first took a group of company executives to Sarajevo in 1996, shortly after the signing the cease-fire known as the Dayton Accord. The context was a short course on leadership of change and continuity, conceived by one of the authors, co-ordinated by the other and commissioned by British Aerospace plc (now BAE Systems plc). Our aim was to study what happens when ‘transformation’ becomes an overwhelming reality. We learned a good deal about change, continuity and leadership; but we learned more about this radical approach to management education, which is the focus of this paper. We offer as a case-study one particular encounter drawn from over 10 years of engagement. In summer of 2004 three former Prime Ministers of Bosnia-Herzegovina met with a group of senior executives (mainly British and American) to reflect on this particular leadership role. The paper explores both the content and process of this ‘event’, with commentary on: a) the role of the individual leader, illuminated by the fact that we studied three people who have consecutively held the same post, within and impacting on the ’same’ context; b) the practice of reflection in this particular setting; that is, how to be reflective and to draw lessons from experiences riddled with the presence of evil; c) the design and ethics of leadership development programmes in which the moral predicaments of participants become the central topic. We conclude that management education must be radically reconfigured if it is to address greatness as well as effectiveness. The emancipatory aims of so-called critical management education go some way to addressing our concerns, but our own case presents us with grounds for profound pessimism, in the light of which we find hope only in the possible cathartic effects of confronting the tragic aspects of leadership and change. We recommend leadership development and management education that engages with these ethical realities.
B.A.W.B. interactive working paper series 1(3)