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.