EGOS 2013: Speaking the Unspoken
When I attended my first European Group for Organization Studies colloquium in Montréal last year, I experienced an ecclesiastical epiphany.
Although I promptly wrote up a report of my time at the ILA Oceania conference, my EGOS experience was much more difficult to articulate. It moved me on a pre-reflective level. The thought of putting it into words felt sacrilegious somehow; as though the irrational, turbulent, embodied lived reality needed to be preserved in a way that only the imperfection and fragmentation of memory could do justice.
Very close colleagues know that I actually wrote quite a lot about my EGOS experience, albeit indirectly. In fact, I couldn’t stop writing. Writing was the only thing that healed me when I confronted the brutal realisation that my habitual approach to theorising leadership was ineffective. The following excerpt is an unpublished preface to a conceptual piece I wrote as a result of the enormous learning and growth I found in Montréal.
Sunday, 4th August, 2013
The sense that there is something not quite right with the way in which we organise the world around us has become a familiar state of being for me. Amidst unsubsiding dissonance, I struggled to make sense of how as a society we have come to understand ‘leadership’, elevating it above other clearly demarcated classifications of ‘followership’, ‘management’, or ‘environment’, as though that is the natural order of things and how it has always been. I became quickly aware that being a ‘leadership’ scholar afforded me a certain degree of capital, and the more I ignored the dissonance, the more I could reap the material and symbolic rewards that came from being associated with such an exalted discourse.
Privately, guilt over feeling undeserving of my professional success, and despair over the sense that I was compromising my integrity, weighed heavily on me. Further trapped within what Spinoza called ‘sad passions’, I felt less and less as though I had the capacity to act. I found myself within another power structure; one that swallowed ‘academia’ into the seemingly immutable and immortal body of ‘business’. It took my recent trip overseas to disrupt my immobility. The critical scholars I met in Montréal humbled me, challenged me, and compelled me to hold myself to a higher standard. The interactions I had with them, and the subsequent discussions I had with colleagues on my return, directed those sad passions to joyful ones of hope, confidence, devotion, gratitude, and love. Through them I found my voice, and eventually, myself.
Do you not hear me calling, white deer with no horns?
I have been changed to a hound with one red ear;
I have been in the Path of Stones and the Wood of Thorns,
For somebody hid hatred and hope and desire and fear
Under my feet that they follow you night and day.
A man with a hazel wand came without sound;
He changed me suddenly; I was looking another way;
And now my calling is but the calling of a hound;
And Time and Birth and Change are hurrying by.
I would that the Boar without bristles had come from the West
And had rooted the sun and moon and stars out of the sky
And lay in the darkness, grunting, and turning to his rest.
He mourns for the Change that has come upon Him and His Beloved, and longs for the End of the World by William B. Yeats
I have been haunted by Yeats’ poem since I returned from overseas. I relate to the sense of being suddenly transformed. Though while the hound in the poem is consumed by sad passions, I long for the end of the world as we know it from a place of joy, a desire for growth, and a hunger for collective action. In its place, I imagine a society where humanity and progress are judged by ideals of compassion, equality, and justice.