Wednesday, 23 April 2014

IFLAS public lecture: Leading with Words in a System Stacked Against You

Ryan Heath with University
of Cumbria Vice-Chancellor
Prof Peter Strike
Ryan Heath once lost his job for publishing a book with a swear word in the title.

But that same decision made him stand out from the crowd enough to secure his current role, which he describes as “the most fulfilling professional relationship of my life”.

The lesson? Be different, be true to yourself, and believe in the power of words to make a difference.

Personal qualities

With a talk entitled 'Leading with Words in a System Stacked Against You', Ryan delivered the second IFLAS public lecture of the spring season.

Speaking to MBA students and other guests, he outlined the personal qualities he believes enable individuals to become agents of change within complex organisations.

The spokesperson for European Commission Vice President Neelie Kroes, Ryan (an Australian) told guests that as an ‘outsider’ in Europe, four key qualities have allowed him to gain influence and make change:

  • Optimism: “If you’re a pessimist you probably don’t think there are a lot of ways to make the world better.”
  • Bravery: “You need to be willing to take risks with ideas and risks exploring the edge of your own talent. The obvious practical example is that you have to be willing to lose your job.” (Ryan has lost three jobs through speaking his mind, but that ultimately led him to a role where his views were valued).
  • Self-trust: “You have to look after yourself, because no one else is going to. And you shouldn’t worry about making enemies; if you’re not getting some people off side you’re not making a difference.”
  • Being different and proud: “You need to be different in order to get the chance to make a change in a big organisation.”

The power of words and the political ends they can be put to

A great speech can transform the world. Ryan points out that orators like John F Kennedy, Martin Luther King, Winston Churchill, or more recently Barack Obama have used the power of words to bring about change.

Ryan understands this power - and so does his boss, Neelie Kroes.

But he points out that many leaders in the corporate sector fail to grasp the importance of being part of a dialogue.

Ryan Heath speaking at IFLAS

Ryan said: “The quality of public thought from our executive class is very poor indeed. These leaders don’t see themselves as corporate citizens who contribute to a democratic atmosphere – they enter the debate to promote or defend numbers or lobby for a particular interest.”

When Kroes was European Commissioner for Competition, she confronted the leaders of the finance sector head-on when they failed to join the public discourse on banking following the bail-outs of 2008 and 2009.

She told them: “I am here to listen, not to please. Some banks may be too big to fail, but they are not too big to restructure. Some banks are still in denial. If it takes some tough love to face up to your responsibilities, then that’s what I’m prepared to offer. The banking sector is in no position to lecture governments right now and the public is in no mood to listen.”

Ryan said: “By holding the dam wall against the banks in 2009 we saved taxpayers billions of Euros and made it possible to create the ‘banking union’ that has just been written in to law. This could not have happened if Neelie Kroes did not lead with words every day.”

Ryan Heath was introduced
by Dr David Murphy, the
new deputy director of IFLAS 

Now Kroes is European Commissioner for Digital Issues, Ryan and his boss encounter similarly blinkered corporate leaders.

Facebook bosses Mark Zuckerberg and Sheryl Sandberg come in for particular criticism for their approach to addressing some of the world’s problems.

Ryan said: “The problem is that the answer is always ‘more Facebook’.”

Bill Gates is an exception among digital leaders, Ryan says, because he is prepared to step away from his immediate context within Microsoft in order to innovate.

And Kroes continues to use the power of words to fight for causes she believes in – such as calling a group of Vodafone executives ‘a roomful of thieves’ when they complained about plans to ban mobile roaming charges in Europe.

Although Ryan’s experiences centre on government, his ideas are relevant to any individual in a large organisation – like the sustainability leaders studying programmes with IFLAS.

Ryan said: “We need to keep power accountable and explain that to its face. Leaders need to talk to people directly and advisers must dare to give honest advice in private so that better decisions can be made in public. If you can contribute to that then you can make a difference in a system stacked against you.”

These inspirational ideas also lie at the heart of the IFLAS agenda – as we search for ways to challenge conventional views and find new ways to move towards fairer and more sustainable societies.

Monday, 7 April 2014

IFLAS Spring News

Open Lectures

Our open lecture series brings international leaders to the Lake District.

Ryan Heath

This Tuesday (April 8) we welcome the European Commission’s spokesperson on Digital Issues. Ryan Heath is also former speechwriter for EC head Manuel Barroso. 

Our Vice Chancellor and many staff and MBA students will attend. It’s free and starts with drinks at 5pm in the Heelis Room of Charlotte Mason building, at our Ambleside Campus. 

Sign up via info at:

Inaugural Report

A summary of what we do, who we are, and the achievements in our first year of activity is now available. 

If you would like hard copies, just ask

We also have an updated website, featuring all our lovely staff, associates and advisors.

Inaugural Professorial Lecture

“Exploring Sustainability” was the topic of Professor Bendell’s Inaugural Lecture at the Words by the Water festival in Keswick.

During questions, Professor Bendell explained an initiative to create a local currency for Cumbria, which then generated media coverage

The first meeting of the currency working group is hosted by IFLAS on July 14th

Contact for more information.

We are grateful to Impact International and Cumberland Building Society for sponsoring the Inaugural.

New Book: Healing Capitalism

The comprehensive introduction to the new book by Prof Bendell and Ian Doyle, called “Healing Capitalism” is available for free download.

Inspiring Sustainability Leadership in Educators

It’s time to inspire Europe’s youth for sustainability. 

The proposal to train educators in sustainability leadership, with 10 partners across the EU, has been welcomed by the EC. 

Now IFLAS, CDEC and our partners need to find 15% of 3.7 million Euros in match funding in the next month to make this project a reality. 

We would really welcome any introductions to relevant funders, to help us reach this target match funding. 

Please email

New IFLAS Deputy Director: Dr David Murphy

Dr David Murphy

IFLAS is growing. Dr David Murphy joined as our Deputy Director in March. 

He was formerly with the UN System Staff College and has vast international experience in training senior executives, so is already supporting our residential courses.  

Way back in 1997 Dr Murphy and Jem Bendell co-wrote the first book on sustainability partnerships, which is available for free.

IFLAS in Media

Prof Jem Bendell on BBC Breakfast

University of Cumbria has become world famous for being the first public university in the world to accept Bitcoin as payment of fees for two courses that relate to currency innovation. 

In the UK this included Professor Bendell appearing on the BBC Breakfast and the Chris Evans radio show. 

Google the words Bitcoin and Cumbria to see the hundreds of media outlets around the world that covered the story. You can study this topic within the Certificate of Achievement in Sustainable Exchange.

Rural Growth Hub Launch

Lord Digby Jones

IFLAS is reaching out to local businesses and NGOs, via the University’s new Rural Growth Hub in Ambleside. 

It will be launched by Lord Digby Jones on April 22nd. To join us, email   

London Campus Launch

On the edge of the Docklands, the University of Cumbria has its London Campus. 

Later this year IFLAS will be offering a course at this campus on its Post Graduate Certificate for Sustainable Leadership

The launch of the London Campus will on Tuesday 24th June 3pm - 5pm, with speakers including Sir George Iacobescu CBE. To attend, email


Once again IFLAS is working with our partners Impact International by presenting at their unique organisational development festival on the shores of Windermere. 

The festival runs for three days from June 10. See more at

Scholarship Winners

There are two winners of scholarships for the PGC in Sustainable Leadership, which starts with a residential in the Lake District on September 1 for one week. 

We will announce the winners next week. 

This qualification can be studied for in a highly flexible way, to fit around your work schedule, and will include a cohort of sustainability leaders.

Harvard Insights

The “Sustainable Leaders” LinkedIn group has seen some lively informed discussion in the past months. 

Recently, during his leadership training at Harvard Kennedy School, Prof Bendell blogged thoughts for the group to discuss. 

The discussion of whether “Nudge Theory” is relevant to sustainability leadership has exploded!

London PhD Symposium

On July 7, Prof Bendell and IFLAS Doctoral Researcher Leander Bindewald are hosting a PhD Symposium on complementary currencies at the London Campus. For more information email

Transition Towns Northern Conference

We are delighted to host the Transition Towns network’s first major conference in the North of England, at our Campus in the centre of Lancaster. 

It happens on July 12th, and a programme will be available soon. To register interest, email

This is the latest in IFLAS engagement with the community on sustainability, following up our hosting of the Lancaster Ethical Small Traders Association in February. 

New Doctoral Researchers

Leander Bindewald is one of our two new Doctoral Researchers. His PhD title is “The Practice of Community Currencies and the Critical Examination of the Discourse of Money”. 

Professor Bendell and Dr Audrey Slight supervise his PhD. 

He is joined by Eren Ozturk MSc, a Strategic Sustainability Practitioner in a Turkish sustainability advisory company ( 

His PhD title is “Organisations as Living Complex Systems: Daily Business Practices Inspired by Natural Processes and Flows”. 

Professor Bendell and Dr Kate Rawles supervise his PhD.

Bitcoin and Asia

Recently dubbed Professor Bitcoin in the media, Professor Bendell will be presenting about currency innovation and implications for sustainable development, at the World Economic Forum in Philippines at the end of May. 

More information at: