Improving leadership through the power of words and music

Sammanfattning: Background. Poor leadership is highly prevalent and associated with destructive processes in the workplace, including stress related ill health. Yet, the applied methods to improve leadership practices are rarely grounded in scientific research. The aim of this thesis is to test the effects of an art-based, yearlong leadership programme (Shibboleth) in comparison with a conventional programme. The Shibboleth concept was built upon a performance art, a collage of fragments of literary text and music, followed by writing sessions and group reflection. Hypotheses. I Effect on leaders: Demanding art experiences were expected to force self-critical examination and break ingrained patterns of thinking and feeling, providing sharper self-awareness and awareness of moral responsibility, and mobilize courage to take stand and act in highly complex, unaccustomed and painful circumstances; II Effect on employees: The changes in the leaders’ responsibility were, in turn, expected to activate positive changes in the co-workers, reflected not only in their psychological health, but also in biological processes/endocrine status. Method and Results. In study I transferred effects of the leaders’ participation in the intervention program on their co-workers’ psychosocial and biological stress were investigated. The findings demonstrate improved mental health, enhanced self-esteem and courage to openly deal with unfair treatment as well as a higher concentration of the regenerative hormone DHEA-S in the attending leaders’ co-workers, as well as in the leaders themselves, compared to the conventional group. In study II effects on the leaders’ intrapersonal and interpersonal aspects associated with poor leadership were explored. The findings demonstrate improved pro-social motivation (Agreeableness) and psychological resilience (Sense of Coherence) in the Shibboleth leaders, who were also considered by their co-workers to be more responsible (behaving less laissez-faire) and display higher capacity to cope with stress, compared to the conventional group. In study III we examined whether the changes in leaders’ behaviour were confirmed by corresponding changes in the level of self-awareness. Comparisons between leader’s self-evaluation and the evaluative feed- back of the co-workers demonstrate that the Shibboleth leaders abandoned the self-inflating position in favour of increased self-awareness and humility, which in turn was followed by improved behaviour. The opposite result was noted in the conventional group. In study IV the psychological processes taking place in the individual leader during the Shibboleth intervention were studied based upon written reflections during sessions, “course” evaluations and interviews using a qualitative method. The findings show that the participants experienced Shibboleth as a transformative power. The Shibboleth’s content and artistic technique was perceived as especially challenging and affecting in a way they had not experienced before. The leaders described their journey from the desire of affirmation of the self and one’s own interest towards a more open position trying to understand a world other than one’s own by adopting an aesthemetic approach (a combination of aesthetic, emotional and ethic elements). They experienced a new consciousness they never felt before to assume responsibility for others, for themselves and for their leadership, which also raised their sense of self–esteem and feeling of reverence and gratitude for life. Long after the intervention ended, the etched memory images of Shibboleth worked as moral guidance in different situations. The findings are discussed in relation to the notion of aesthemetic, which is introduced for conceptualisation of the impact core that constitutes the Shibboleth concept. Conclusion. A transformative effect of a new, art-based leadership concept on the leaders and transferred beneficial effect on their co-workers was demonstrated. The findings indicate that the Shibboleth concept, by counteracting the destructivity of poor leadership, may prevent stress related ill health. The findings seem to be sustained and more pronounced at the long-term follow-up. The positive results for psychological, behavioural and biological outcomes are consistent and strengthen the findings. This is the first research to show that changes in behaviours in leaders through aesthetic experiences can have transferred effects on psychological and neurobiological resilience processes in followers leading to health-promoting effects. In addition to the empirical findings, this thesis presents a general theoretical approach through the notion of aesthemetics, which may help to clarify the underlying conditions for successful training programmes in general.

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