If a picture paints a thousand words, then why can’t I paint you?

I took this image in the Old Quarter, Hanoi. As the old adage goes, it paints a thousand words. For me the following come to mind: busy, touristy, colourful, polluted, industry, resilient, familial, noisy, hipster hangout, chic…

But there’s a lot more that can be said that is unseen. I had watched a BBC documentary on the Vietnam war before visiting and couldn’t get the depressing images of the estimated 3 million people who were killed out of my mind. With each conversation, I found myself wondering what effect the catastrophic event that visited the parents and grand-parents had, and continue to have, on the person I was talking to. A devastating event that began with the words “let’s send in a few more advisers”.

Little wonder I was annoyed one evening when I overheard a middle aged American tourist chastising a Vietnamese waiter for bringing her the wrong order. She wouldn’t let up even after this was rectified, apologies given and wrong dish offered for free. She kept on about it with her friends for quite some time. I know, different time, different context.

Nevertheless, words are fateful. They create our social worlds. This happens one conversation at a time. Can’t help wondering what’s was being created between the American lady and the waiter in this seemingly harmless exchange.

What is the effect of your leadership on others?

There’s a saying… “There is no way to peace. Peace is the way.” I think it’s the same with leadership…

“Do not let unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up…”

I’m not advocating the ‘thought’ police. However, having seen how words can hurt, I think there are times where we need the ‘talk’ police.

Don’t do things better, do better things…

I’ve been glued to the recent BBC documentary about the Vietnam war. It’s a compelling but utterly depressing watch. As the credits rolled at the end of the last episode rolled, I found myself asking whether the world has learnt from this tragic, but on hindsight, avoidable human catastrophe? In that this experience has not prevented America from going to war again, the answer is no. What they have done, however, is to get better at warfare. Exponential improvements in war tech and greater investment in armaments have seen to that.

When discussing my doctoral research, people often ask, why study ‘leadership’, especially when there are a myriad of leadership theories and models already out there? Too many to mention, hence the question.

Well, I’m not interested in learning about leadership per se. What I am curious about is, what our notions of leadership, does. What kind of world do they create?

In 2008, Pearce (Littlejohn and McNamee, 2013) made the distinction between research that helps us do the same things better, and research that helps us do better things. He elaborates this by citing the example of wars… “rather than learning how to fight wars in new places such as outer space, a better thing to do might be to learn how to make peace so that we don’t need new weapons when we move into out space”.

I’d like to think that this applies to my research on leadership. It is not about perpetuating current leadership discourse by doing it better, but rather to suggest doing something better by altogether re-framing leadership.


Littlejohn, S. W. & Mcnamee, S. (2013). The Coordinated Management of Meaning: A Festschrift in Honor of W. Barnett Pearce, Fairleigh Dickinson University Press.

What social norms are repeating patterns of behaviours re-creating in your workplace?