Too controversial? That’s me, apparently.


October 7th, 2016

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controversy-shutterstock_445238182A few weeks ago, the lovely folk at CIPD Sussex invited me to do a talk at one of their events. I mused, and the theme I came up with, which they liked, was “The Inner Trump of Leadership” (more detail here). On the night itself, as part of the intro to me, it was revealed that someone had emailed prior to the event, concerned that the subject “was too controversial”. I am assuming it was the talk, rather than me, as my sartorial elegance has rarely strayed into anything likely to cause offence or riot, and I have yet to appear at any speaking event wearing a mankini. Yet. There is still time.

I have been mulling over the implications of this ‘controversy’. At one level, part of me wants to say: “Really? Seriously? Get a grip.” A considered and adult response takes me somewhere more useful. I have questions:

  • Controversial how? According to what criteria? And who gets to decide?
  • Is the subject matter itself – an inquiry into leadership, certainty, wrongness and what that means for us individually, organisationally, societally and as practitioners – that is too controversial?
  • Is the topic actually OK but the fear that the sensitive souls of the CIPD (and they survived the experience, I am pleased to report) and/or Sussex may faint with concern? More pointedly, what are we afraid might happen, if we open up this territory?
  • Or is subject matter and conversation that is deemed to be outside the narrow confines of ‘HR practice’ irrelevant? Can we learn nothing useful, for our practice and clients, from how figures like Donald Trump appear so appealing to many?

I have others, but they seem to be variations on the above. So my final questions to the unknown and fearful – or maybe angry – person who took umbrage, and to all of us as we wrestle with our own shadows:

  •  Is there anything that is off limits for us individually?
  • Are there some subjects that are undiscussable for parts of the HR/L&D/OD community?
  • Or is it rather that they/we do not want to be reminded that issues of leadership do not stop at the door of the HRD, rather they ripple beyond the boundary of organisations and back again?

If the answer to any of the above is yes, sorry, I am not playing. The stakes are too high; our clients and profession(s) deserve more from us, not least the humility to embrace our own fears, a willingness to play with the limits of assumed boundaries and be open to the possibility that we may get things wrong. I certainly do.