An Ethic of Care: Reconnecting the Private and the Public

Tomkins, Leah and Simpson, Peter (2017). An Ethic of Care: Reconnecting the Private and the Public. In: Mabey, Chris and Knights, David eds. "Leadership Matters?" Finding Voice, Connection and Meaning in the 21st Century. Routledge Studies in Leadership Research. Routledge, pp. 89–101.



This chapter draws on the authors’ own personal and professional experiences more than most conventional leadership text-books. We interweave ideas about familial care and organisational leadership based on our own first-hand experiences of both. We are amongst the growing number of people who juggle full-time professional careers with extensive duties of care for a family member. We have an intimate understanding of how difficult it can be when a relative’s needs take our attention away from work abruptly and unpredictably, and of the stigma of unreliability in the workplace that accompanies this. Whenever we talk to students, colleagues and friends who similarly juggle work and care, we are struck by the way that carers’ anxieties are moulded by a powerful sense that work and life are two separate domains, whose boundaries must be managed to avoid the unreliability of domestic care spilling over into the reliable world of work. This chapter is therefore born from a desire to expose and critique this binary thinking, because it stops us seeing the similarities and complementarities between relationships of care and relationships of leadership. In our own lives, we are discovering that reflecting on our relationships of care can help us to understand the dynamics of our relationships with colleagues and subordinates; and vice versa, that reflecting on how we interact with others in the workplace can shed light on our instincts and interactions within the family. Since one of the most notoriously difficult challenges for leaders is to build and sustain effective interpersonal relationships, we believe that experiences of care can be an invaluable source of insight for leadership.

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