The New Leadership – Risk and Safety

Originally posted on October 25, 2014 @ 7:19 AM

The New Leadership – Risk and Safety

Dr Rob explains the what his new book “Following-Leading in Risk” is all about.

Download Section 1 of “Following-Leading in Risk” Free (# downloads): [download id=”219″]

A number of people have been asking about the new book, why this following-leading title? What does it mean? In a short answer, the book is about the Social Psychology of Leadership with a focus on risk (and safety) but there’s much more to it than that.

Jackson Browne release his new album ‘Standing in the Breach’ this month (I can hear the kids ask, who is Jackson Browne? – jackson-browne-standing-in-the-breach). One of the key tracks on the album is ‘Which Side?’. In this album, the first for 6 years, he sings ‘Which Side’ (released in Dec 2011) that captures the psychology of the Occupy Wall Street Movement. In the genre of the traditional protest song (Dylan, Peter Paul & Mary, U2) Browne captures the essence of the new leadership. Interesting that this piece is released the same month as the Hong Kong Pro-Democracy movement.

Since 2004, a change has begun in the leadership discourse, through the influence of social movements evidenced by Wikileaks, GetUp, the Arab Spring, Snowden, Pro-Democracy and the ‘Occupy’ Movement. These social movements have led to a shift in the balance away from the power of the traditional leader toward that of the follower. A number of important publications on Followership have also emerged that have shifted focus to the follower (Riggio, R., Chaleff, I., and Lipman Blumen, J., (eds) (2008) The Art of Followership. Jossey- Bass, San Francisco; and Kellerman, B., (2008) Followership, How Followers Are Creating Change and Changing Leaders. Harvard Business Press, Boston).

In Australia in 2014, a litany of enquiries has revealed corruption in high places, in the church, politics and unions. Faith in leaders is at an all time low. It is often the whistleblowers, followers and those in the ‘out- group’ who are doing the leading. A paradigm shift is happening in leadership, especially as it relates to risk. In light of this paradigm shift Craig and I thought that a new word needed to be created to capture the essence of this new leadership and the best we could come up with was a hyphenated version of both words followingleading importantly, not as a noun but as active participles.

For too long the notion of leadership has conjured up the idea of the hero, the entrepreneur who seduces the follower to following, one who manipulates the follower to worship or ‘tells’ the followers how to follow. The focus on the mono leader without connection and engagement with those following has more in common with the ‘hero’s journey’ ( than with leading ( ).

One of the things we know about risk, safety, leading and following is that they are all social activities. When something happens in safety and risk people are affected, communities change and relationships suffer under turbulence. Strange how the safety trade takes so much focus on policing the Act and Regulation when the essence of safety is social and relational. Strange that so much of safety training and conferences focuses on the content of rules with so little emphasis on social relationships, communication and engagement. Just see how the SIA or NSCA opens any conference, what’s the focus?

One thing is for sure, we know when those in leadership don’t know how to lead. The recent ICAC hearings in NSW, fall of the NSW Premier (and Commonwealth Assistant Treasurer), corruption in high places, Union Commission, Child Abuse Commission and the ADFA scandals all demonstrate a lack of leading. When leadership is confused for psychopathy, sociopathy, ‘using’ others, manipulation, preoccupation with the self and power, the followers then take the lead. Followers walk away in droves. The whistleblower then becomes the leader, there is no leading without ethics.

So the leadingfollowing word captures the way we need to lead in risk and, the most important part of the word is the hyphen. Leading is not about what happens in the head of the leader. Whilst leadership is most often portrayed as a solo activity (often using militaristic metaphors) leading is a relational activity. Following-leading in risk is about what happens between people not what happens in the cognition of one person. So let’s have a look at that hyphen, the key to leading-following in risk. We call that space between those leading and following, the ‘Zone of Reciprocal Relationship’. Here is the word:


Now let’s magnify what’s in the hyphen:


The key to understanding, managing and influencing risk all happens in the Zone of Reciprocal Relationship. In this space (the Zone) that joins following and leading together (in one social movement). It is in this space that reciprocal and mutual relationship is activated. Many of the things listed in this space in the diagram are not a part of much leadership in safety discourse at present. Often there is a grab bag of a few things but the emphasis on mutuality and reciprocation is not strong. By contrast, the best example of non-leadership discourse that I know at present is the ‘The Zero Harm at Work Leadership Program’ ( To ‘frame’ leading in the discourse of perfectionism and the absolute of zero is anti-leading, anti-learning, anti-adaptability and anti-reciprocal. The priming of zero into the leadership discourse shapes the whole process in the mono-self. There is no leading or understanding of harm until one can empathise and identify with ‘the other’. There is no empathy or understanding in the discourse of intolerance, only superiority and the hero. Until those leading understand the nature of semiotics, the unconscious, framing and priming such a focus swaps the importance of relationships for the focus on numerics, the mechanics of safety and the hero. Many others maintain the ‘safety leadership’ discourse in the language of the hero too.

There is no space here to really explain the Zone of Reciprocal Relationship except to say we study and apply this ‘mutuality’ in Units 2 and 4 in the Post Graduate Program at ACU ( ). Currently students in Unit 4 are using the constructs of Prof K. E. Weick to analyse a project or activity in their workplace.

As risk is a social activity, learning and discerning in risk must be undertaken communally rather than individually. There is no hope in absolutes like zero and intolerance, but rather hope in leading is found in adaptability, relationship and mutuality. In the final chapters of the new book (on sale soon) there is a strong focus on adaptability (resilience) and positive ways of Leading-Following. If the management of risk is to be humanised then heroics must go and reciprocity in LeadingFollowing needs to be ushered in.

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