Understanding Russia: Let’s not assume Medvedev is Putin’s Puppet

February 29, 2008

dmitry-medvedev.jpgRussia no longer makes headlines in the West. There are other evil empires to defeat. But this weekend we should be interested in Russia’s Presidential elections, and the intertwined fates of Vladimir Putin and Dmitry Medvedev

President Putin is set to become Prime Minister Putin. (Yawn). He steps down as President at the end of his second term. The overwhelming favourite to replace him is Dmitry Medvedev, a Business leader (Chairman of Gazprom), who in the West has been dismissed as some sort of Putin puppet.

In the West, we are much more interested in whether America will go for that nice Mr Obama, or pick their first woman for President, or maybe seek another good old-fashioned warrior in Senator John MacCain.

A Ritual of Pretend Democracy?

Are the Russian leadership elections a sham? Russia Today is overtly state-sponsored, and directed outwards. Its blogger, Peter Lavelle, or to give him his official title, Political Commentator, takes the issue head-on.

Many in the media have dismissed Russia’s presidential election as a charade and a ritual of pretend democracy. This is a mistake. The presidential election is clearly not exciting and there is a predictable outcome. But this does not mean the voters don’t have a choice. They do have a choice and I fully expect the electorate to act out the following logic: “If is not broken, why fix it?”

Russians will go to the polls on Sunday to vote on their future. There are four candidates on the ballot. One is well known and supported by the very popular President Vladimir Putin. Two are old hands in politics and the fourth is a relative unknown. For the “commentariat” in the West and some in Russia this all means a non-election. However, I submit this election is not about voting for someone, but about what kind of Country Russia can, and needs to, become.

Lavelle goes on to argue that Democracy is emerging in Russia, and that Putin has earned his popularity through his political leadership over his two terms of Office.

What does the West have to say?

Not a lot, as I indicated. The Guardian reflects the libertarian position in the UK. Luke Harding from Moscow reports the Civil Rights issues highlighted by Amnesty International.

President Vladimir Putin has presided over a major “roll-back” of civil rights in Russia, which has seen freedom of expression, assembly and association seriously curtailed, Amnesty International warned yesterday. In a report ahead of Russia’s presidential elections this Sunday the human rights group said the Kremlin was using new laws to persecute non-governmental organisations, forcibly break up opposition demonstrations and wipe out dissent.

The Kremlin claims it is committed to human rights and democracy. It accuses western governments of using rights as a political weapon to try to thwart Russia’s resurgence on the international stage.

The BBC at home and abroad

The BBC has been disappointing in its reporting for a home audience, while retaining some of its traditional excellent coverage internationally. On the eve of the elections, on Friday 29th February 2008, the BBC’s home news page on its website had as lead story Price Harry who has been serving in Afghanistan for the last ten weeks. No mention of the Russian elections.

In contrast, The BBC World News page did have the elections as a lead story. The focus was taken from an interview with Vladimir Churov, the head of the electoral commission.

Mr Chirov had ‘admitted media coverage was unequal’, but was further quoted as saying the Campaign was “fair but not equal”.

“That’s a problem not only for our country but I can agree that not all candidates have an equal number of news items,” However, the election chief argued it was legitimate for news programmes to focus on the activities of Mr Medvedev in his current capacity as first deputy prime minister, [adding] that he had no regrets that the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE). Europe’s main election monitoring body, had decided not to send an observer mission, and that the world would form its own opinion on the legitimacy of Sunday’s election.

More of the Same, Please

More interesting was a series of interviews with Russian citizens on their views of the elections.

The interviews suggested one view on the current situation in Russia. Unlike the United States, there is no momentum building up for yet more change. However contrived the elections appear to be in Western eyes, the Russians interviewed seemed to be welcoming the prospects of continuity.

I have no way of knowing how selective are the comments, or whether it would have been impossible to obtain stronger oppositional views expressed. I am more confident that the BBC had been unable to secure any such views, which would have made a rather more interesting story. No change wanted is not the headline of choice.

Is there a Watergate Scandal Emerging at Volkswagen?

February 25, 2008


Watergate is shorthand for a gradual but remorseless process through which a powerful leader becomes destroyed. Are there parallels in the current scandals at Volkswagen which have resulted in imprisonment for several middle-ranking executives? Will the very top leadership in Germany eventually be brought down?

Earlier this week [February 2008] Klaus Volkert, the former head of Volkswagen’s employee council, was jailed for his role in a corruption scandal.

According to The BBC, Volkert

was found guilty of incitement to breach of trust in the case, which involved employee representatives getting illegal privileges.

We have commented over the last year of the leadership troubles that have been hitting the corporate reputation of Europe’s premier car manufacturer.

I picked up the scent of something of interest, because of a little surge of numbers of visitors to this site searching for news about the VW company. That’s when I came across a Reuters report

Volkswagen supervisory board member Guenter Lenz has resigned his seat, becoming the latest casualty of a scandal involving the use of corporate funds to bribe the carmaker’s senior labour leaders. According to a statement from the Hanover works council, Lenz told employees on Tuesday at a plant staff meeting that he would now resign his board seat and his post as the site’s works council boss after previously ceasing to actively execute his duties. The public prosecutor’s office in Brunswick accuses him of aiding and abetting fraud and partaking in parties with prostitutes paid for out of a VW slush fund. Lenz, who has also resigned from the Lower Saxony state parliament, would accept a court sentence for his wrongdoing, the Hanover works council said.

The scandal has already cost the jobs of VW management board member Peter Hartz, group works council chief Klaus Volkert, as well as a member of the German federal parliament.

An earlier post [updated in October 2007] looked at the history of leadership problems at VW, concluding that
… the financial markets have absorbed the uncertainties regarding VW’s less secure future when and if the Volkswagen protection laws are removed. They are also unshaken by the leadership scandals, and by the risk that VW is falling behind Toyota in the development of its hybrid car range. (Strictly speaking, that is a wider concern for the future success of the German premium automobile marques, VW’s Audi, but even more so, BMW and Mercedes). At least Martin Winterkorn seems to be enjoying a leadership honeymoon.

Martin Winterkorn appears to have been parachuted in as someone untained with earlier scandals.

Back to Watergate

President Nixon’s downfall is now a classic of modern cultural mythology. The great leader is brought low, despite all efforts he made to protect himself.

At first, only the minor players in the drama are attacked. But as each each in turn is weakened, it becomes easier for a more important figure to come under attack. The drama is sustained with the prospect of defeat for the most powerful figure of all.

Forward to Volkswagen

Are we witnessing at Volkswagen a story that is gradually working its way towards the very highest of executives associated with the scandal?

I can only observe that denials are being made. The denials may be a necessary strategy to protect individuals from the hints that are emerging in the press.

Until something more substantial emerges, I shall not be naming names.


Image of Watergate was downloaded from Professor Olsen’s fascinating history site

Was Castro the Leader America Deserved?

February 21, 2008

Fidel Castro steps down as President of Cuba. He is acknowledged as one of the major revolutionary leaders of the twentieth century. His iconic status presents him as a much-loved transformational figure, or a tyrant in the mould of a Hitler, Stalin, and Mao. Another perspective is that Castro’s regime was sustained by a field of situational forces, including the policies of successive American governments

Documentation on Castro’s leadership is extensive, and is now set to increase, following his departure from direct power. Even his sternest critics acknowledge that he has presided over transformational changes in Cuba to social conditions such as literacy and health-care. These achievements are regarded as the products of Castro’s social preoccupations. His critics point to restrictions on individual rights considered among the prized characteristics of democratic regimes. These include the freedom to travel, freedom of information (the internet, a free press) and the freedom to elect political opponents to the regime. For such critics, Cuba is among a diminishing handful of States clinging to an increasingly anachronistic version of Marxism.

The Schubert proposition

The Schubert proposition is that tyrants reproduce a universalistic pattern of repression, which maintains them in power through the brutal and brutalizing methods of the leader.

Along with other commentators, I have found the Schubert Proposition interesting and well-researched historically. It has the additional merit of testability.

Millman’s extension to Schubert’s proposition

The American Psychologist Robert Millman, in Substance Abuse: A Comprehensive Textbook, distinguishes between those who are born narcissistic and those who acquire it through the trappings of power. According to The Times

Almost every week we have news of a celebrity, lottery winner or City squillionare behaving badly, and some of them may be victims of what a psychiatrist from Cornell University Medical School has coined “acquired situational narcissism” (ASN).

The case of Fidel Castro, as well as Millman’s analysis of acquired situational narcissism, suggests an extension to Schubert’ s theorizing.

Schubert draws attention to the internal forces around the inner circle of a tyrant, and the emergence of a cadre of puppet-like sycophants. Millman looks to the external context.

Back to Lewin

I find myself going back to a hoary theory of social dynamics proposed by the great Kurt Lewin over half a century ago. Force Field Analysis proposes an equilibrium model of social structures.

We can examine Castro’s political survival in such terms. The no-engagement policies of the USA sustain the support provided from Castro’s supporters. For much of the period, the situation was simplified when there was a so-called balance of power. To the West there was America, pushing for change. To the East, the world-power that was the USSR was pushing back to sustain the regime.

The New York Times this week captured the essence of Lewin’s theory.

It was age and illness, not the free voice of the Cuban people, that finally led Fidel Castro to announce Tuesday [Feb 19th 2008] that he is stepping down as Cuba’s president after a mere 49 years of absolute power…Cuba is a closed, repressive society. The American policy of non-engagement and embargo provided Mr. Castro with a built-in excuse for his own failed economic policies and ruthless political repression. It made it easier for him to wall ordinary Cubans off from American friendships, political ideas and affluent lifestyles. It handed him a propaganda tool to discredit courageous Cubans who openly campaigned for greater democracy. Continuing this policy of isolation will only make it easier for whoever succeeds Mr. Castro to continue the same repressive policies.

Leadership reflections

Fidel Castro is more than a footnote in world history. Maybe his case will also contribute to our understanding of charismatic leaders and theories of narcissism.

Northern Rock: What’s Good About It?

February 18, 2008


The Government announces its intention to take Northern Rock into temporary care. The story has been told as an outcome of poor leadership. Is it really a tale of all-round incompetence? Or has the crisis blocked out any thought of positive thinking about leadership or positive outcomes?

On Sunday February 17th 2008, Alistair Darling announced that Northern Rock was to be taken into public ownership. In many quarters, the decision is deplored as evidence of poor leadership.

The ubiquity of incompetence

As head of the Treasury, AD is taking much of the leadership pain. His political opponents have been quick to continue their attacks on the competence of The Chancellor and of The Prime Minister.

Gordon Brown stands accused of an old weakness, of appearing to be leaving someone else to shoulder the blame, when problems crop up.

Mervyn King, as Governor of the Bank of England has also been widely criticised for his performance. Although he came under serious fire, he has survived press and parliamentary scrutiny and retained his job.

Northern Rock executives CEO Adam Applegarth and Chairman Matt Ridley were also found wanting. Their fates was sealed as the enormity of the problems at Northern Rock became clear. Initial offers to stay on to stabilize things were no more than could be hoped for. Exit Applegarth and Ridley, seriously damaged.

Interim CEO Andy Kuipers who replaced Applegarth is seen very much as a stopgap. He seems to have done all that could be expected, and came up with a rescue plan that won support from institutional shareholders. Yet I have seen no positive commentaries on his leadership.

The Financial Services Authority (FSA) have also been found wanting and criticized for “systematic failure of duty“. Its relationships with The Treasury and Bank of England are now being re-examined.

Leadership reflections

Are these various individuals really such incompetents as they are being portrayed? I offered a different view in an earlier post, which suggested that Alistair Darling, for one, could be seen as having a coherent strategy which he was playing pretty well. He signalled that nationalization was an undesired option, but one that he would not hesitate to use. Furthermore, the position was made to appear more convincing with a timely placing of information about the fall-back plan and the appointment of a very able leader (Ron Sandler) to run any new nationalized outfit.

Unlike many political commentators I argued that Darling has been playing a very solid game under tough circumstances. Among the complications are concerns to avoid breaking EU regulations about State Aid.

The merits of creative thinking

Serious problems can produce a deepening sense of doom and gloom. The difficult becomes assumed to be the impossible. At such times creative thinking is called for.

Creative leaders have their own ways of encouraging the faint-hearted. There are general purpose techniques advocated that help discussions break out of the bleak mindset that is captured by the ‘automatic no men’ and their killer phrases.

Edward de Bono suggests the benefits of putting on a positive thinking hat, and exploring unexpected options, before subjecting ideas to critical evaluation.

There are emerging psychological theories which suggest why personal development can be enhanced through such a positive approach.

When a group has become bogged down, and is unable to find any constructive answer to its problems, I recommend it starts with an attempt to put on a positive face (or De Bono’s sunny yellow thinking hat) and address the question ‘what’s good about it’.

As team leader, or someone brought in to support its creative thinking, I would not imply that I had an immediate answer, and invite a response for others.

Here’s how it might work, from the starting position that Northern Rock is a basket-case, whose troubles have been brought on by ineptitude of leaders in a tough global financial market-place.

What’s good about it?

The company has escaped the worse-case scenario of going bust, and triggering off a wider national (and perhaps international) reaction, in which the mortgages, savings, and jobs of many thousands of people would have been destroyed.

A first class leader has been put in place for the interim nationalised institution. He is likely to be granted more powers from the Government who will try to avoid accusations of interference in its management.

The action offers the best chance that funds sunk into the rescue (some £50 billion) will be recovered. (These are increasingly referred to as tax-payers money, but that’s another story).

Even the shareholders will get more than they would have if the shares were evaluated at their technical value (something close to nothing).

We could apply a similar approach to re-evaluate the leadership performance of those classed as dummies. I leave that exercise for another time.

Blogging can seriously help your career

February 17, 2008

Blogging in excess can be as harmful as other addictive pastimes. Or it can be something that’s enjoyable and you do for fun. I want to make the case that blogging can seriously help your career

Blogging has become a significant component in the communications game. Blogging can scoop the professional news media, and its whistle-blowers have already scored some notable hits.

A recent example in the UK was reported by the BBC

Blogger Guido Fawkes has claimed the internet’s first ministerial scalp with the resignation of Peter Hain.

As this post was being prepared, we learn how a blog ‘outed’ Prince Harry and ended his stint as a military officer in Afghanistan.

The Boston Globe reported on civic officials and their blogs.

Catching the blogging bug

It’s been just over a year since I caught the blogging bug, with the full addiction following shortly afterwards. At first, I was intrigued by the possibility of a new way of sharing ideas. Later I realized that it was helping me change the way in which I teach and research.

Blogging has brought about the most significant change to my teaching practices since I reluctantly abandoned the paraphernalia of the OHP and transparencies a few years ago.

When I began writing the posts for Leaderswedeserve, the original idea was to take a contemporary issue and summarize it in a single- post, with a few pointers to follow-up sources for student use.

I found that a convenient length for each post was about 800 words. That gave me enough freedom to provide adequate content, and something I could complete at one (or at most two) visits to the keyboard. While there are full-time bloggers able to generate copy each day, a target of three posts a week seemed manageable, and avoided the trap of blogging regardless of whether I was adding some personal insight in every post.

Giving up something else

Each such post now takes me about two to three hours, resulting in 800 words that I’m happy with. I still use preview and edit facilities a lot (these can become compulsive actions).

I now spend about twelve hours a week blogging. As a consequence, I gave up another web-based hobby for a while (playing internet chess), although I am now getting back into playing quick chess as well as blogging.

If I am likely to be away from home-base for a while I prepare a few ‘nearly ready’ blogs in advance, and try to post at least two a week.

How has blogging changed my working life?

One unexpected payoff is that blogging provides an unusual level of serendipitous findings which can be applied elsewhere.

An example: I have a long-running research project into charismatic leadership. From time to time there is a need to prepare a talk or lecture on leadership.

In the past, I would try to set aside some research time and augment this in hotel rooms or during long-distance travelling for reading and thinking and for keeping up through journal subscriptions. Lecture material tended to be generated too close to comfort as a deadline approached, under increasingly urgent reminders from anxious course director or administrators. The main sources of news were early morning newspapers and radio bulletins, and late night catch up (Newsnight, while becoming increasingly strident over the years, at least remained a reliable indication of the media preoccupations of the day).

Now I find I am much more up-to-date in everyday discussions with colleagues, not just on current affairs, but on professionally relevant ideas derived from the secondary investigations triggered. I find myself re-reading the classic articles of organization studies as well as those dealing with leadership.

A draft blog is somewhere to store the various references you found valuable. This work-in-progress turns out to be easier to pick-up and take forward than happened when reference materials were scattered around in notebooks, post-it slips, diaries, and assorted annotated stuff.

Developing writing skills

Another outcome of regular blogging: It’s a great way of honing your writing skills. If you have to produce reports, dissertations, or even books, you are likely to need fluency in producing material on a regular basis. That fluency can be developed by regular practice to practical time constraints. The quality and style can also be improved, but you need constructive feedback. At very least you need to be a good critic to your own work, neither too lenient, not too critical of work in progress.

Making money from blogging

This post is not about making money from blogging. It is possible for part-time hobbies to become money earners. A business model is emerging for such bloggers to study.

This post is directed at to encourage beginners. I found a lot of help and advice via WordPress FAQs.

Rule of thumb: know your commitment level

Level one: You find spend a minimum of three quality time slots of at least an hour preparing your blog each week.

This will be enough to produce one post, including revisions.

Level 2: Minimum of three quality-time slots of one-to two hours, and additional fill-in time to produce two posts every week, and some ‘work in progress on a third. Time needed is likely to be ten to twenty hours, which most people will have to manage around many other conflicting time demands.

Level 3: Becoming a professional. I have no ambition in this direction, as I can see the effort and skill required. I’m sure it will require daily efforts, and maybe demanding weekly hours on a par with other professional disciplines (say fifty hours a week minimum).

Can a blog become a book?

Yeeees. Just about. Technically it’s quite easy. One or two bloggers have claimed to be en route to a traditional book. A few best-selling authors are experimenting with blogs (just as musicians are experimenting with web-based production models for distributing their work).

A regular blogger might be expected to generate some hundred thousand words a year, which is the scale of a 300 page text-book. You will have built-in tags to the blog posts, and these provide the raw materials for a good index system . So in principle, a blog can be turned into a book.

An interesting possibility is team blogging, in which a group of authors co-edit and write the blog which then is turned into a collection of chapters in a traditional edited text.

But why go down that route to produce a traditional book?

Regular blog posts are not dissimilar to the old-style diary, sometimes written with more than one eye on eventual publication. Furthermore, blog posts are easier to cut, paste, revise, annotate, than most first drafts. Even final drafts submitted to publishers often do not reach the level of revision required for coherence, and style, regardless of intellectual rigour.

In summary, the work you put into a blog post is a useful discipline towards the content of a first draft of a book. It also means you are not under the same pressure from a publisher to work to a deadline until long after you have most of the material to hand. However, it helps if you have been writing a blog with the intention of turning it into a book. That way you take different planning decisions about what to blog about.

Personal Therapy

Much blogging is personal therapy. You can argue it as personal development. Or exhibitionism. Sometimes it can be compulsive. Or tiresome. Or seriously disturbed and disturbing. Sometimes reading a blog leaves me with those feelings produced when I find myself watching celebrity reality shows. And, anyway, as with the shows, you can always click out of the scene and do something else …

Blogging and your career

I have hinted how blogging may trigger a compulsive side of a personality. On the other hand, like music, love, mathematics, chess, sport, and toad watching, it has the power to make you happy.

But can it seriously improve your career? Maybe you are a superstar waiting to be discovered by the blogging world, and through that revealed as an exceptional talent in ways that enhance your career. But let’s get real. One in a zillion authors becomes best-sellers. It is more likely will find a lot of pleasure from blogging, or you will move on to something else.

There are exciting career opportunities through blogging. Perhaps you be among their number.

On the other hand, blogging may seriously damage your career. (Although it seems to me that some of the whistle-blowers and moles may be at some level wanting out, and wanting to be outed.

Best bloggers

The following from WordPress guidance for bloggers:

Best Bloggers hook you. They have drawn you in from the first sentence. That can happen in as many ways as there are imaginations, but it never, ever means this sort of beginning: Sorry I haven’t blogged in so long, but I’ve been busy. Or Not much to say, but I don’t have anything else to do but blog. A Best Blogger has got something to say, and they make you want to hear it.

Best Bloggers know how to use the tools at their disposal. Mostly, that means they’re good at the language in which they blog. Their writing is clear and sharp, they can punctuate, they proofread, and they sound like the smart people they are.
Best Bloggers are generous. They know there’s room for everyone. They know that another great blog in no way diminishes them. They link to people they admire, regardless of whether that other blog is bigger or smaller than they are.


To friends, colleagues, and the blogging community. Special thanks goes to black-belt social networker Paul Carruthers, who got me started.

Leadership and thinking hats

February 16, 2008


Edward De Bono invented Six Thinking Hats as a system for managing team dynamics. It’s popularity derives from its apparent simplicity as a means of identifying thinking processes, and the perceived benefits of structuring and sequencing them for more effective outcomes

Recognizing automatic behaviors

I have been intrigued by the links between Lateral Thinking and Systems theorizing for many years, and Edward de Bono himself has briefly acknowledged the cybernetics theorist Stafford Beer [reference welcomed, as Wikipedia might put it].

The work of the great Herbert Simon offers a theoretical rationale of human behaviors in decision making. Faced with the complexity of available information he referred to the process as satisficing,

In his magisterial text, Herbert Simon argued that

Engineering, medicine, business, architecture and painting are concerned not with the necessary but with the contingent – not with how things are but with how they might be – in short, with design.

The original text was claimed to have been written during a long-haul air flight, and made no effort to distract from its central metaphor with more theoretical considerations. However, I have indicated few of the ways in which Lateral Thinking and the Six Thinking Hats approaches can be seen as having links with an information management methodology.

A design for creative thinking

The Thinking Hats approach assumes that individuals have different thinking styles. These can explain difficulties within teams, and the existence of Tuckman’s stages of team forming and storming.

De Bono suggests how these stages can be truncated, by clearer recognition of the thinking styles, and their coordination for greater impact and outputs (decisions, ideas, products).

Survey feedback

Thinking Hats also finds application within a survey-feedback approach supporting personal development and team leadership.

A comparison can be made with the developmental use of Belbin’s team role instrument .

Thinking Hats in Educational Practice

Surfing reveals the use of the methodology in the classroom .

[To be continued]

Leading in theory and practice

February 11, 2008

death-of-nelson.jpgThere’s an old joke about how academics view the world. On learning of some leadership achievement, they are inclined to remark ‘That’s all very well in practice … but does it work in theory?’

Theories of leadership abound. It’s finding ones to support leadership practice that turn out to be the more challenging assignment …

Here are four topics explored at Manchester Business School [February 13th, 2008] by Vice-Admiral Charles Style with an audience of business, military, and sporting leaders. I’ve provided a few of those ‘does it work in theory’ footnotes to go with the rich mix of shared experiences of the practitioners.

Leading in dynamic and challenging circumstances

The buzzword here is turbulence. For much of history, great leadership has been mythologised as the exercise of exceptional skills under extreme and unclear circumstances. More recently, the theories have explored the nature or turbulence, with attention to unpredictability under so-called chaotic conditions.

The mathematical models sometimes gave way to middle-range theories such as the Tipping Point at which an old system flips over to a new one.

One of my favorite books came from The Center for Creative Leadership, and Stan Gryskiewicz who described Positive Turbulence. Stan has more recently founded an institute for the study of the subject.

Delegation and empowerment in others

Delegation became a cornerstone of modern management theories. Perhaps wrongly, I assumed it had seen somehow sidelined from Business School courses, perhaps dismissed as too trivial a concept to be worthy of mention any more. Perhaps it is mentioned in the behavioral model of Tannenbaum and Schmidt

The practicing leader must find pause for one of the toughest questions ‘what must I do do myself, and what am I better leaving to others to do?’. This is what T&S suggests. Another question might me ‘If I don’t do it myself, how can I influence others to do it?’ This is a question to which the model doesn’t give too many answers.

Empowerment remains a buzzword, but to me there is too much rhetoric, and insufficient encouragement to accept that empowerment poses leaders with similar dilemmas to that posed by the delegation questions.

The human dynamics of leadership and strategic implementation

After a hundred years of trait theories ‘what leaders are’ we became interested in the dynamics of leadership ‘what leaders do’.

One of the more important issues is what effective leaders do. Strategic leadership is a particularly important arena in which these matters are played out.

The leader’s personal value added

This brings us the last question. What price can we put on good leadership? The Resource Based Theory (RBT) of the firm has brought a fresh perspective to the question.

RBT teaches us that an organisation succeeds by utilizing ‘hard to copy’ resources, which usually refer to skills and knowledge residing in its people including leaders.

Leading in theory and practice

The Manchester Business School has directed its attention on a leadership approach which combines theory and practice. Whether this comes under the rubric of Manchester Method, Action Learning, or Leadership development is less important than a commitment to leading in theory and practice.

Scotland the Free, but part of a Union?

February 11, 2008

part-of-the-union-flag.jpgScottish politics is currently generating heat without throwing much light on the issues of Scottish identity within the United Kingdom, and the European Union

Oh, You can’t get me, I’m part of the Union. So ran the catchy refrain. As the music won’t go away, maybe I can start the exorcism process by blogging about the topic which started off the head music.

I’m referring to press accounts of the struggles in Scotland over the Nation’s status as part of the United Kingdom, and by inference of the European Union.

War cries and slogans play their part in battle. They are used to rally the troops. At the same time they postpone discussion and reflection, secondary enemies of those calling for direct action. [Example ‘what do we want? Stop the war. When do we want it, now’. ]

Take two items of news this week

According to the Scotsman, Christine Graham, a member of the Scottish Parliament

[H]as lodged a motion in Parliament calling for Berwick-upon-Tweed to return to “Scottish nationhood”. An unofficial vote is taking place in the town asking if locals want to switch from England to being part of Scotland. The Northumberland town, just a mile from the Border, changed hands between the two countries at least 13 times between 1296 and 1482…Christine Grahame has now lodged a motion at Holyrood urging people in Berwick to “return to the fold”.

The second item refers to a fulfillment of an election pledge by the Scottish Nationalists. Fees to pass across the bridges in and out of Scotland have been abolished.

Over twenty years ago, the young representative of Dunfermline East described the tolls in the Westminster Parliament as “excessive and unreasonable.” The tolls remained. The MP went on to become Prime Minister, committed to the protection of the United Kingdom, and the implications of the act of Union between England and Scotland.

The complex consequences of simple actions

Politically, the removal of bridge fees may appear a relatively simple act. Switching the national status of Berwick rather more complex. But even the simpler decision comes with concealed complexities. Accoding to the BBC

It has taken almost five years for Scotland to become toll free since plans were first put in place to abolish the charge on the Skye bridge …It has not been a cheap decision. Traffic crossing the Forth brought in £225m during 2007 and that money must be found by the Scottish Government …It cost £19.7m to build the Forth bridge, which included a £14.6m loan from central government. By the time loan repayments started in 1984, £7m of interest had been accumulated.

So who should pay what to balance the books? There’s no simple resolution here, as economics, politics, and national rights become thoroughly mixed together.

The Battle for Berwick

Then there’s the battle for Berwick. Scotsman readers appear to be mainly indifferent. The complications emerge when we consider the various levels of authority impacting on the town and region. To introduce legislation will require resolution of a tangled knot of local, regional, and national rights and responsibilities.

The Tangled Knot

As one bright student put it

It is the desire to dodge a situation in which Scotland gains its independence from the UK only to lose it to a European super-state which has led the [SNP: Scottish Nationalist Party] to oppose the strengthening of the European Parliament, the embodiment of EU supranationalism. Put simply, the European Parliament needs a European demos [a level of administrative control] if it is to become a site of democratic decision-making. But the SNP sees a Scottish demos as necessary for its existence. These two forces are irreconcilable.

Leadership Challenges

Scotland seems to be creating an ethos if not a demos around consideration for individual rights and needs. The dilemma for its political leaders is how to convert popular causes into realistic actions. The current delicate balance of power in the Scottish Parliament makes this particularly difficult.

Reflections on Maharishi Yogi

February 8, 2008


Maharishi Mahesh Yogi died this week, the founder and leader of a world-wide movement. He profoundly influenced the lives of millions of followers, and offers an exemplar in modern times of the charismatic spiritual leader

A homily would map the achievements of the special one. A critique would balance and evaluate the views of the faithful and detractors. I feel only able to offer a few reflections.


In death, it appears that details of his origins are suitably shrouded in some mystery. He may have been born as early as 1911, or as late as 1918. As an infant, he may have been known as Mahesh Prasad Varma, or as Mahesh Srivastava.

More clearly documented is the influence of his spiritual guide, Swami Brahmanda Saraswati, from whom he developed his lifelong interest in the transcendent.

It is now part of the world’s assessment, that the Maharishi’s impact on the mundane world of current affairs reached its peak in the 1960s, accelerated by his celebrity followers, and particularly the Beatles.

Popular knowledge may also extend to identifying him with the growth through his teachings and writings, of the Transcendental Meditation movement and its associated spiritual, educational, and political activities. Followers claim upward of five million are devoting a period each morning and night to their observances.

The Contradictions

As publicity and attention grew, so did detractors. He was mocked for the contradictions in his life and his words. Could his views on the pointlessness of material possessions be squared with manifestations of resources gained? Did the claim of chastity come under strain in a rock cave, in a story with echoes of A Passage to India?
Not so much contradictions, but equally baffling to outsiders, were claims for the power of thought to change world events, and exercises involving yogic flying.

A Special Charisma?

The term charismatic has been applied to people in many walks of life, departing from earlier treatments of charisma which specifically referred to a spiritual or transcendent force transmitted to followers from a leader possessing supernatural endowments.

Perhaps we should borrow a classification from another field. We talk of special and everyday creativity.

So why not special and everyday charisma? The classification is still too crude to accommodate the variations, and I’m not comfortable with results attempting to place people at different levels, with the great prophets at the top, exceptional historical and modern leaders on the slopes, and gradations of everyday leaders of business, politics, and sporting teams towards the base of this conceptual Mount Olympus.

In previous posts I have written about Nelson Mandela, who probably remains highest up the mountain for me. Mandela also had the advantage of privilege of birth, and born to lead his people. The Maharishi was, under the Indian caste system, unable to be nominated as the chosen spiritual heir to Swami Brahmanda Saraswati. He had the overturn traditional leadership norms, providing another belief system with himself at the head. Which is what he did.

Other charismatics

In sport we blogged about Kevin Keegan, hailed as the Messiah recently on his return to Newcastle United (his third-coming as he modestly put it at the time). Where should we place Kevin? Alongside the self-styled special one Jose Mourinho?

And where might Tony Blair fit in?

Further down the mountain, there are those whose charisma is acquired through contact with a special one. This is the process of routinization of charisma, which is needed to explain how charisma persists over time.

Leadership lessons

Some say we are moving into a period of post-charismatic leadership. But the Maharishi’s story may still serve to help us compare and contrast the behaviours of so-called charismatic leaders, and the ways in which they achieve influence over others.

Things leaders say: Nick Clegg and Mental Health Costs

February 8, 2008


Leaders build arguments often with creative use of statistics. Take Nick Clegg’s statement today, that the costs of mis-managing Mental Health amount to a 19% cut in the basic rate of income tax

Nick Clegg has made a good start as leader of the Liberal Democrats. He continues to present an articulate and attractive persona, and has generally advanced the kind of third way policies in the tradiiton of Liberal (Democratic) thought.

The rhetorical trick of the false analogy

But he found himself tempted into using the rhetorical trick of the false analogy today, in announcing his party’s views on the problems of Mental Health Care in the United Kingdom.

He is right to suggest that Mental Health Care receives inadequate attention compared to other elements within the NHS. But how to make this point in a more striking fashion?

Answer: Find a startlingly big figure to ‘prove’ how much money is being wasted. Find a simple way of visualising the problem, by showing how much could be done with the money saved.

How often have we heard other attacks on a Government’s profligacy backed up with killer phrase such as ‘and that could provide three extra three hospitals’ or ‘that’s the equivalent to another eighteen hundred police on the beat, instead of doing paperwork’?

Let’s see how Nick developed his argument

I caught the interview on Radio Five Live [Friday 8th January 2008]. Nick Clegg interviewed by Nicky Campbell.

Mr Clegg built a convincing case that much needed to be done to ameliorate the suffering of patients in need of Mental Health treatment. But what about the costs of care?

The costs of care, he argued, would be more than compensated, because the current system is not just bad for the sufferers, but but in terms of costs of long-term after care.

His justification went as follows: First he provided an estimate of the inefficiencies, as being seventy-seven million pounds [sterling].

That’s a lot of money. It’s hard to visualize.

Then the dodgy analogy

Seventy-seven billion reprents nineteen percent off the basic rate of income tax.

There you go. A casebook example. Take a political cause. Speak of it with compassion and commitment. But wrap it up with the vocabulary of scientifically estabished facts, using precise sounding fingures, and helpful simplifications.

It’s £77 billion, not ‘a considerable chunk of money’. It represents nineteen percent in the basic rate of interest paid by tax payers. This is not just far too precise a figure, but the dodgy analogy at the same time.

Politicians are used to arguing like this. I can’t say how many really believe that macro-economic changes work so that one type of economic entity can be switched to another kind in its entirety.

Leaders we deserve

Nicky Campbell let it pass, even though he is trying hard to flip from playful family pet into the Rotweiler style of interviewer from time to time. Sadly, I suspect that even our best-in-class BBC Rotweilers are better at snarling, than in helping keep down the dodgy metaphors smuggled into their back yards with their political prey.

Voters may feel we deserve better than this from our politicians. I do, although I don’t want to back up the claim with dodgy statistics.

If you agree, and have the opportunity, join my little rant against the political use of dodgy analogies. Send text messages or emails to the programme which hosted the interview. Blog about it. Even send this post to an offending politician.

Let’s get the leaders we deserve.