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Working with attention and distraction in leadership development

French, Robert; Sheffield, Rob; Simpson, Peter

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Robert French

Rob Sheffield
Occasional Associate Lecturer - CBAL - BAM


Bion’s theory of groups is used to explore the dynamics of learning on a leadership development programme. The dynamic of a group is influenced by the capacity of its members to negotiate, consciously and unconsciously, the tension between the opposed tendencies of attention and distraction, which is related to the tension between a desire to learn and a hatred of the process of development. Bion’s model of work-group and basic-assumption mentalities, which we equate with the dynamics of attention and distraction, is used to reflect on a two-month period of a development programme in a UK public service organisation. In related literature there is a tendency to focus on the pathology of basic-assumption mentality with limited interest in the healthy functioning of work-group mentality. Basic-assumption mentality contributes to understanding a group that is distracted from its purpose, but a focus on this, without comparable attention to work-group mentality, can lead to an inappropriately negative view of group process. This is contrary to Bion’s essential optimism about the powerful psychological structure of work-group mentality. The paper demonstrates the importance of combining an analysis of both attention and distraction to fully appreciate the complex dynamic of groups engaged in a developmental process.


French, R., Sheffield, R., & Simpson, P. (2019). Working with attention and distraction in leadership development. Organisational and Social Dynamics, 19(2), 230-248

Journal Article Type Article
Acceptance Date Dec 12, 2018
Publication Date 2019-11
Deposit Date Jan 15, 2019
Publicly Available Date Jan 29, 2019
Journal Organisational and Social Dynamics
Print ISSN 1474-2780
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 19
Issue 2
Pages 230-248
Keywords attention, distraction, purpose, work-group mentality, basic-assumption mentality, leadership development
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