Are business schools educating for leadership?

September 27, 2009

Harvard Business School

Criticisms of Business schools have grown louder as the origins of the economic recession were analysed.

Over the last year or so there have been mounting criticisms of Business Schools, linked to the influence of some of the high-flying financial leaders who fell from grace during the credit crunch.

According to Yiannis Gabriel, in an article for Leadership journal the structure, ideology and ethos of MBA programmes are fundamentally opposed to an education of leaders … [more appropriate for] educating followers rather than leaders.

One interesting response came from Harvard Business School where students recently attempted to bring an ethical dimension into professional values espoused by MBAs.

The news encouraged me to dig out an unpublished note I had drafted while the Credit Crunch was still being set up by the exhuberent behaviours of bankers in the USA:

According to Della Bradshaw of the FT

Leadership became the hot topic in management education in 2001, following the terrorist attacks in the US. Almost every business school now has a leadership module on its MBA programme, as well as numerous short executive courses dedicated to the subject.

According to Mintzberg

Henry Mintzberg has won world-wide attention for his views on Business Schools. Henry believes they have lost their way – maybe they have never been on the right track.

One of his earliest influential ideas was the notion that much that passed for management was no more than the old managerialist notion of effective planning.

Essentially he had been pointing out way that creativity is a necessary component which has been largely ignored as a factor in effective management.

It is unsurprising that a call for action within the profession has come from within the student body rather than from the business institutions themselves. Naturally, the reaction may gain institutional support for pragmatic as well as for idealistic reasons. However, the mix of motives need not detract from the benefits to be gained if business leaders develop more awareness of the importance of an ethical stance in conducting their professional activities.

Party Conference Time and Some Leadership Theorizing

September 23, 2009

Vince Cable

The Party Conference season in the UK is a rich source of insights into political leadership influence processes. Leaders we deserve examines similarities to processes of communication required in Business School projects

The similarities occurred to me as the project season [September 2009] followed closely after a period in which less-publicised presentations were taking place on Perspectives of Leadership, by MBA students at Manchester Business School.

One feature in common is the technical challenge of gaining acceptance of key ideas through a formal presentation.

Influencing: the immediate and distal audiences

In the Business School presentations, and in the party political speeches, speakers had to deal with more than one audience. In the political conferences, the audiences may be divided into those in the conference hall, and those for whom the conference was being transmitted immediately, and subsequently through news bulletins and various other channels.

For the MBA students, the audiences could still be divided into immediate and distal ones, but the more important challenge was dealing with the different audiences within the immediate presentation room.

The boundary management challenge

In technical terms the need to deal with two audiences requires management of ambiguities in boundary management. This is a technical term which boils down to a project leader having to be aware of several different but inter-related interests to whom communication is addressed.

The communication challenge is to deal with multiple audiences. This is another commonality between the student projects and the political speeches.

In the MBA projects, the student groups present to an audience including a business client who has provided a brief to the project, and a faculty member who has the responsibility of evaluating the project for its technical merits and assigning a grade which goes towards the MBA marks for each team member. The presentation has to satisfy those two different systems: the world of the business organisation and the world of University degrees.

Note that this is a bit more complicated than a consultancy project, although there are similarities. One trick of management consultants is to ‘borrow the client’s watch to tell him the time’. While this may still work to some extent for the client who wants reassurance rather than enlightenment, it is not going to impress the Business School Professors critiquing the presentation.

Why not rely on the opinion of the client for allocating marks to the student groups? Because of a phenomenon which goes under various names boiling down to in-group solidarity. The client often acts in concert with the group as if they were put on trial by those outside and hostile critics from the Business faculty. I am tempted to suggest there are aspects in the group dynamics of the famous Stockholm syndrome which explains how hostage-takers and hostages come together against a perceived common enemy.

Meanwhile, in the Conference Hall …

Political speeches in the Conference Hall also require rather subtle crafting if they are to be received outside as well as inside the party.

The complexities of this proces have added to the influence of communication advisors who also travel under the more opprobrious label of spin doctors.

The communication process has been codified into marketing elements or sound bites. As the public becomes more aware of what’s going on, sound bites alone are not enough for the message to be accepted.

On the first days of the Liberal Democrat conference, [September 22nd 2009] the tensions were evident. The party has had the freedom to fight in the relative obscurity of conference, without being too concerned at damaging electoral prospects. Now however, with the possibility of exerting influence in the next parliament within less than a year, the game has changed.

Party leaders can not be seen to be openly disagreeing on issues. Party activists can not speak out against ideas they believe to be smuggled in with inadequate debate. Even the near-saint like figure of Vince Cable was criticised for indicating a softening of policy away from a commitment to immediate abolition of Student top-up fees.

Watch out for…

As the Conference season progresses, watch and learn. Understand the planning that goes before a good presentation. See the way in which remarks on stage are subsequently worked over in news interviews. Ask yourself how you might have done better. You may be the less inclined to see political leaders as blundering foolishly and more as mere morals struggling to manage demanding and different audiences.

Which makes their challenges more difficult than those facing their celebrity interviewers.

Peace One Day: The Adidas Puma Story

September 20, 2009

Peace One Day

The charity Peace One Day plays a part in peace initiatives around the world. On September 21st, among those symbolic actions were those taken by Puma and Adidas, two firms whose existence reflects a long-lasting family feud within a small Bavarian township

A news item this week [Sept 17th 2009] tells of the origins of the international sporting equipment firms Puma and Adidas. The point of the story was that the firms have been bitter rivals since splitting, over sixty years ago. Now, leaders of the rival firms were to make ‘a historic handshake’ as one of the Charity’s events planned for 21st Sept 2009.


Peace One Day (POD) was founded by film maker Jeremy Gilley in 1999. He was to became a publicist for and then partner in peace initiatives around the world. By 2006 he and POD wereassociated with various high-profile events with world leaders such as Kofi Annan, the Dalai Lama, Shimon Peres, and Mary Robinson.

Considerable praise has been heaped on both charity and the humanitarian leadership of its founder.

The organisation has survived critical setbacks: one high profile documentary filmed at the United Nations in New York lost much momentum as it took place as the twin towers disaster was unfolding a few miles across town.

The unique marketing concept of POD is the focussing of its events on the same day [September 21st] each year. There is no specific significance of the day historically.

The Adidas/Puma event of 2009

Herzogenaurach, Germany, 17 September 2009 – It will be a historic hand shake: In support of the peace initiative PEACE ONE DAY the two sportswear companies adidas and PUMA will shake hands for the first time after six decades. As a sign of amicable cooperation, employees of both companies will play football together on Peace Day, 21st of September, and subsequently watch the movie “The Day after Peace” by Jeremy Gilley, director and founder of PEACE ONE DAY. These events will be the first joint activities of both companies since their founders Rudolf and Adi Dassler left their shared firm and established Adidas and PUMA.

The Adidas Puma story seems right for a Hollywood movie. In the 1920s, two brothers grew up and worked in the laundry shop owned by their mother in the 1920s. They stared out together in business togther with a shared idea which created the marketing of clothing exclusively for sporting activities. In the 1930s they equipped Jesse Owens for the 1936 Olympics in Berlin [a story in itself]. But the brothers rarely agreed over anything, and sibling rivalry must have contributed to the split into two firms, still operating in close proximity in a little township in Bavaria.
The family rift is said to have deepened during the war, when a remark about “the B********s returning” during an air raid was taken as cruel rejection of members by one side of the family as others scrambled for the safety of an air raid shelter. It was later claimed the remark referred to a returning flight of Allied aircraft not to family members fleeing for their lives. Whatever, the story tells of a feud which was to split family and employees in the little village of Herzogenaurach for decades afterwards. Today, the old rivalries are mostly muted and symbolic. The Day of Peace celebrations confirm existing practical realities of life in the township.

Leadership Issues

The story introduces a range of leadership issues.

What strategy is suggested which might be of interest to establishing a not-for profit organization charity?

Might founder Jeremy Gilley be an example of servant leadership?

How important is symbolic leadership in establishing such an organization, and why?

What contribution might such efforts make to wider humanitarian efforts against war and towards peace processes?

Is a Televised Pre-Election Debate a No-Brainer?

September 17, 2009


At first sight, the democratic benefits from a televised debate in the UK by the Party leaders prior to a UK general election are overwhelming. But is the case as clear-cut as it appears?

It is an easy case to make. The Prime Minister remains reluctant to take part in a pre-election televised debate. But why should a democracy be deprived of a debate involving its political leaders in the run-in to a general election?

In a letter to party leaders, the head of Sky News, John Ryley, said: “With politics – and dare I say, many politicians – currently held in such low regard, to debate publicly the major issues facing Britain away from Westminster, presents a unique opportunity to re-engage a disillusioned electorate.”

In a letter in reply, David Cameron, leader of the Conservative opposition party said: “Prime minister’s questions in the House of Commons are no substitute for a proper primetime studio debate. People want more than the brief exchange of questions they get at Wednesday lunchtime. They want to see the leaders of the main political parties talking in detail about the issues that matter to them, setting out the policies on offer, and opening themselves up to public scrutiny.”

Presently, [September 2nd 2009], the Prime Minister opposes such a debate. It is generally suggested that the incumbent has more to lose than the challengers. But while this applied to Mr. Brown’s predecessor Tony Blair, it could be argued that the situation is less clear if the incumbent has little to lose through the low standing of his party and his own popularity with the electorate.
Gordon Brown has echoed Tony Blair’s general rebuttal on the grounds that the UK situation differs from the American one. The UK is not calling on the electorate to appoint a President. Nor, he might have argued, is the election some kind of charisma contest.

Sky gets a dusty response

The appeal to public interest in Mr Ryley’s actions were not received with universal approval, notwithstanding his offer to make the viewing available to Sky’s rivals for terrestrial [non Satellite] viewers.

B Sky B’s leader James Murdoch had expressed the company’s dissatisfaction with what he saw as the BBC’s Orwellian influences a few days earlier.

Sky could hardly have expected a positive response from the BBC
whose report noted:

The BBC’s chief political adviser Ric Bailey said there had been lots of negotiations and “informal discussions” as securing a TV debate was a “delicate” process – with the best chance being for broadcasters to work together on a joint approach.
The current ITV director of news Michael Jermey, said he wanted to see the leaders debate on ITV1 as part of a series of programmes during the general election campaign. “ITV believes that a series of leaders’ debates through the general election campaign would be good for viewers and voters. ITV and the BBC are working closely together on this and we welcome involvement from other broadcasters.”

The Times chimes in

The Times [Sept 2nd 2009] added its weight to the debate on the debate,
joining the Murdoch offensive through an editorial (British party leaders must not duck out of a TV debate), a lead story and back up stories, plus the article by its Sky colleague John Ryley with its ‘invitation to collaborate’.

The Times argued that such a debate was important. The examples presented the possibility of a crucial moment, a political tipping point which might occur.

The examples of the crucial moment were North American. There was the infamous five o’ clock shadow which did for Nixon so long ago. There was the relaxed put-down by Reagan of the earnest Jimmy Carter. There was the even more alarming account of a remark from Canadian opposition leader Brian Mulroney which apparently destroyed the credibility of Prime Minister Turner in that year of years 1984. According to the Times Journalist Chris Smith “Faced with this declaration of moral clarity, the Liberals collapsed in the polls and the Conservatives won by a landslide”.

In other words, this is the view of history as a series of crucial incidents. Unless the debate itself can rise above the quality of the debate about the debate, it is unlikely to add to much public understanding of policy issues.

Wishful thinking

Despite media interest, the whole business may be little more than wishful thinking. After all, it came on a day when the main front-page headline in The Times was Who spiked my pumpkin? A case of vegicide.

Clijsters the US Open and the Wimbledon Roof

September 14, 2009

KIm Clijsters

Kim Clijsters wins the US Open. The story is hailed as a remarkable example of happenchance. But was it?

A wonderful win for Kim Clijsters at the US Open [September 2009]. The match stood above a seemingly endless sequence of technically correct but stereotyped women’s contests of recent times. Her young opponent Caroline Wozniacki showed enough tennis to suggest she will win major tournaments in the future., and enough charisma to ensure a sparkling career.

Tennis remains a minority sport in most countries. Maybe recently it has grown in popularity through Justin Henin and ‘the other Belgian’ player, Kim Clijsters. Maybe in Switzerland through Roger Federer’s impact globally. Too often, the sport can be upstaged, even during Open Championships by some other sports story from football, golf, or athletics, perhaps accompanied by impact of non-sporting shock-horror chemicals abuse.

Even Kim’s tale this week was in danger of being upstaged by the bizarre end to her semi-final win over tournament favourite Serena Williams, who was reduced to a blind rage over line calls and defaulted at match-point. The media nearly forgot the other story.

Kim’s Tale

Here is Kim’s tale. Clijsters shows precocious talent as a junior, but another junior from her own country, Justin Henin was to overtake her and become world No 1 and a multi-slam winner.

Both retire young to seek more stable family lives. Klijsters has a baby, daughter Jada, and appears to be settling for comfortable domesticity away from the sporting headlines.

Then she took part in a match to commemorate (bizarrely) a new roof. OK, a new roof on the Centre Court at Wimbledon, but the event still seems to capture something about the slight nuttiness of Tennis and its promotion. Kim plays a set with three iconic figures, partnering Tim Henman, England’s almost man of tennis, and the sport’s most glamorous couple, and suprstars, Andre Agassi and Steffi Graff

The exhibition game demonstrates the special skills of its very top performers. It still leaves the impression that the enjoyment (as with most so-called senior events) has little to do with the chances of the players competing again at the highest level.

Immediately after the display, almost jokingly, Clijsters remarks that she might just give tournament tennis another go.

After a few warm-up tournaments, she gets a wild-card into the US Open. There is some press interest in her early rounds, to catch the dram of her inevitable demise. But there wasn’t an early-round demise. Her progress to the final included wins not just over Serena but over her formidable sister Venus.

Making sense of the story

The story as it is being told (you might say as it is being weaved or spun) is that ‘if Kim hadn’t played at Wimbledon in the roof-opening exhibition, she would never had an opportunity to rediscover her appetite for the game.’ It is a plausible idea, and I can nearly believe it.

It fits nicely into a widespread belief in fate or luck playing a part in our destinies. ‘If only I had done that …’ ‘If I hadn’t caught that particular train…’. ‘If Kim hadn’t accepted the invite to Wimbledon.’

Her’s another possibility. A year into being a mum with an much-loved daughter, Clijsters begins to miss something. She watches women players win events, and thinks maybe she could do better than that. She agrees to play in a event, and starts training hard because that’s what champions would do. She discovers, as with the Wimbledon experience, that she might still be able to get to the top again. Or she figures that a few million dollars might still make a worthwhile nest-egg. And where better than the US Open, scene of her only Open win, and arguably her best chance again? Puts togther a great back-up team.

Another variant: Kim, even while pregant. remained a celebrity. Jada has hardly been concealed from the media spotlight (her arrival on court after her mother’s US Open triumph was a media imperative).

There were quite a few forces which would have been active in urging Kim to come out of retirement.

My point is this. There may be many possible trigger points which produce what appears to be a tipping point change reaction. Such a trigger point is therefore special in one way, but not in another. There is a trajectory of events which is easier to anticipate, even if we can still marvel at the story which ‘all started at Wimbledon at the roof-ceremony’ .


Image showing the publicity machine in action from

Leadership Crisis at London Metropolitan University

September 13, 2009

London Met

Universities are finding the credit squeeze as uncomfortable as other sectors of the Economy. Cases such as the London Metropolitan University are raising questions over their past leadership and future prospects

The illustrative case at LMU was headlined this year after a report by the Higher Education Funding Council for England (Hefce) revealed over 50 million pounds of funding wrongly claimed by the University. This was followed by an action plan from the University which would involve redundancies of the order of 330 full-time positions and 170 part-time.

Barry Jones, assistant general secretary at the University and College Union (UCU) told the Guardian [in Febrary 2009] :

“The university’s management is talking about making 330 full-time positions and 170 part-time jobs redundant, with the 330 positions by voluntary means almost immediately. We said no, that we didn’t want that to happen because it ran the risk of destabilising the university. We are concerned that a reduction in staff might mean a reduction in the standard of the degrees that are being awarded, because there are obviously potential repercussions for students.”

The article continued:

Funding is tied to the number of students who complete a course, and money is forfeited when they drop out. Student completion determines the level of teaching grant that Hefce allocates to universities, and London Metropolitan University had been mistakenly claiming funding for a substantial number of students who did not complete their course.

Currently London Met has 2,300 full-time staff and 34,000 students, one of the lowest staff-student ratios in the country. Morale is said to be at “rock-bottom”, with insiders claiming a management culture of inefficiency and empire-building.
London Met’s vice-chancellor, Brian Roper, signalled his ambitions for the university when he provocatively argued in an interview in the Times Higher Education supplement that Oxford and Cambridge should go private because he believed government money would be better spent on universities “that transform people’s lives” rather than what he termed “finishing schools for the rich”.
London Met business lecturer Rob Thoyts pointed out [online] that Roper’s pay package in 2006-07 had been worth £276,000, and claimed that Roper and other senior managers had received a performance bonus in 2007-08 “despite the financial crisis brought about by their submission to Hefce of defective data of a period of at least three years”.

Last year, Roper claimed that the cost of supporting student diversity, the raison d’etre of new universities, is not properly reflected in the university funding system. Despite their large numbers of students, many from disadvantaged backgrounds, new universities still struggle to compete for revenue with the older universities because government funding is based on the amount and quality of research done by universities, as well as student completions.
Although [the vic-Chancellor] also said that he hopes London Met will become the first post-1992 university to be internationally recognised for the quality of its “applied research” on human rights, social justice and drug intervention, the new universities’ record on research still lags far behind that of their older counterparts – where research is regarded by some academics as more important than teaching undergraduates, who are sometimes considered a distraction.

Later in the year [August 2009] the crisis deepened. The UCU initiated plans for a boycott (“greylisting”) of the University by all its members.
The Times Higher Education reported that:

The union says that [LMU] managers are refusing to negotiate on job cuts or to put them on hold until a review of the university’s operations is complete. The university insists that it has been in formal consultation with all the campus unions since May.
Under the “grey-listing”, the UCU wants the academic community at home and abroad to refuse to work as external examiners on taught courses at the university, decline to attend or speak at conferences there and turn down offers of academic positions.
Sally Hunt, UCU general secretary, said: “The staff and the students at London Met deserve a new leadership and new, open and productive industrial relations. Yet, in spite of our calls for a suspension of their proposals until after the independent reports have been made public, the management appears dogmatically committed to press on with its plans to make 550 redundancies.
The university said it would be cutting only 198 jobs through voluntary and compulsory redundancy. A spokeswoman said: “The university entered into formal consultation with its recognised trade unions in May and has held regular, often weekly, meetings with them since this time. At a recent meeting with the unions, the position on compulsory job loss was discussed.
“As was made clear, the actual position is a total reduction from voluntary and compulsory redundancy so far estimated at 198.5 full-time equivalents. The encouraging scale of the response to our voluntary severance scheme and progress made in identifying redeployment opportunities mean, taken together, that the estimated number of compulsory redundancies is now less than originally anticipated and might reduce still further as we continue the redeployment exercise.”

As with other leadership stories, we have here a complex set of interacting factors, claims and counter-claims. Students of leadership will recognise the need for creative leadership to help move things forward.

A Big Welcome to Albert

September 12, 2009


Leaders We Deserve is moving its Global Headquarters to Cheshire, England. Our first new recruit is Albert who will play an important integrative role.

Over the last few months, Leaders we deserve has been preparing to move into new premises in the dynamic metropolis of Woodford, Cheshire.

We are delighted to welcome Albert (pictured above) who is currently located on the office’s French window, overlooking the runner-bean plantation.

Albert is part of a distributed leadership team, and is currently helping in the identification of his [?] responsibilities.

Alcatel-Lucent: Fact and Fiction in Latest Stories

September 9, 2009

Alcatel-Lucent logo

This week, two stories about Alcatel-Lucent hit the business headlines. Both suggest further leadership challenges facing the organization. In each, it is hard to separate fact from creative fiction

Since the merger of American and French telecommunication firms, there have been a series of boardroom squabbles and upheavals in the merged organization.

Today [September 8th 2009], disturbing news over the AFL agency news-lines reported that five employees of French/American company had occupied its Italian factory at Battipaglia, near Naples, overnight and were threatening to set fire to themselves to protest restructuring at the plant

“They have jerry cans of petrol and are threatening to immolate themselves and set fire to the factory. They’re preventing anyone from getting in,” Giovanni Sgambati of the local branch of metal workers union UIL. [was quoted by News Agency AFP as saying]

He said the five employees of the telecommunications equipment giant entered the factory at Battipaglia, near Naples, overnight.

They want Alcatel-Lucent to abandon its plan to suspend production at the site,” where around 100 people work in research and another 100 in production, Sgambati said.

Alcatel-Lucent said in a statement that it was “managing the situation very attentively along with the local authorities. While we understand the concern of workers at Battipaglia, Alcatel-Lucent is working continuously with local authorities and employees’ representatives to ensure a lasting solution for the employees.”

Alcatel-Lucent, which employs around 2,000 people in Italy, announced several months ago its intention to restructure the Battipaglia factory by giving up production activities and keeping the research facilities. Italian Economic Development Minister Claudio Scajola has announced a meeting to discuss the matter Sept. 15.

The group has been through a long period of cuts and boardroom upheavals since the groups merged.

That alarming story did not have an immediate and violent end [as of September 9th 2009] and the longer term challenges to the company’s leaders regained the headlines.

The rationale for the 2006 takeover was the creation of effective competition for rival Chinese telecommunications accessory manufacturers Huawei and ZTE. But the hoped-for results had not followed the takeover, and rumours developed that a takeover was imminent.

It is not out of the question that the financial markets, especially Wall Street, are using a bit of creative license to promote stories and stock market bullishness.

Update [Sept 16th 2009]

The rumours and denials continue. Huawei’s denials fail to convince:

DALIAN, China (Reuters) – China’s Huawei HWT.UL, one of the world’s top makers of networking equipment, on Thursday denied a report it was in talks to form an alliance with Franco-American rival Alcatel-Lucent (ALUA.PA).

French magazine Challenges said the two companies had begun preliminary tie-up talks, envisioning making a certain number of products together, but had ruled out a merger.

Alcatel-Lucent shares rose slightly in Paris on Wednesday.

“The reports are inaccurate. Huawei is not in discussions with Alcatel-Lucent,” said Huawei spokesman Ross Gan. A spokeswoman for Alcatel-Lucent declined to comment to Reuters on Wednesday.

This is not the first time Huawei has scotched speculation of a linkup with Alcatel-Lucent.

Late last month, the Chinese company declared it had no plans to buy a stake in Alcatel-Lucent, two days after the latter’s stock surged 16 percent in a single session partly on market talk it could be bought by a Chinese rival.

There have been instances though where a Chinese company has said something and later done quite the opposite


Arkansas Hogs get Pre-season Leadership Training

September 6, 2009
Bobby Petrino

Bobby Petrino

An endorsement for leadership training comes from Arkansas Hogs football team after an initiative by Chief coach Bobby Petrino. The seminars were found to help overcome team ‘chemistry’ But will they bring it better results?

This leadership story was reported in the American Football press with more than a hint of astonishment.

After suffering through his first losing season in 2008, Arkansas coach Bobby Petrino realized that a handful of players needed to be taught the proper way to lead a football team. That’s when he came up with idea for the Wednesday morning leadership seminars.

Arkansas offensive coordinator Paul Petrino volunteered to run the hour-long sessions over the summer, and more than a dozen players and assistant coaches followed along. They read a motivational book, studied chapters and talked about the qualities needed to be a leader.

“You always talk about (how) you’ve got to have leaders,” Paul Petrino said. “We just tried to work hard on teaching them how to be leaders.”

As odd as it sounds, the Razorbacks were looking for another way to build team chemistry, get more out of their veteran players and avoid the internal problems that contributed to a 5-7 season in 2008. The seminars helped.

“I think we got a lot out of it,” said Arkansas defensive end Jake Bequette, who was among 14 Arkansas players who attended the weekly sessions. “You can never have too much leadership on a team, and that’s one thing (the coaches) were trying to promote, was leadership from within.”

Running back Michael Smith said the team has bought into Petrino’s philosophy, which wasn’t necessarily the case a year ago when some players took issue with the way things were being run by the new coach.

“There was a lot of complaining, a lot of guys disgruntled about things and not wanting to maybe go to work out or worried about a two-hour practice.. now, it comes second nature to us to know that we’re going to have a two-hour practice.”

Smith was among the players who spent an hour a week [on the leadership seminars which he believed ] brought the players together and created “a support system” for everyone else on the team.

“There were a lot of guys last year who may not have totally bought into the system. That’s not the case this year,” Smith said. “I think pretty much everybody has bought into the system, believes in it (and) knows that we can be successful in it.”

Bobby Petrino isn’t a coach necessarily known for being in touch with his feelings, but the leadership seminars were among the unconventional strategies he has used to shake things up following a disappointing 2008. He also took his assistants on a coaches’ retreat in late July [2009], giving them a chance to share ideas and philosophies.

“I think [the seminars] helped some guys become better leaders. I think it helped some guys become better followers,” Paul Petrino said. “Not everybody can be a leader, but it also taught them how to act and how to go out there and prepare’s been a good thing. Our team chemistry right now is 100 times better.’

One step at a time

Leadership theorists Tudor Rickards and Susan Moger have argued for some time that poor team performance is associated with what Petrino calls bad chemistry, that is to say poor team dynamics. They have shown that poorly performing business teams (teams from hell) need to overcome personal differences before functioning efficiently. No surprise there. They also argue that this is only one of the barriers to overcome on the journey to outstanding team performance.

If their results from business teams apply to sporting teams, the Hogs may still have another barrier to overcome if they are to make progress. On the over hand, a bounce-back from a bad season may be the results of other factors. The case study will need to have a few more results filled in before conclusions can be reached on the effectiveness of their leadership seminars

Using Creativity to Explore a Business Issue

September 1, 2009

Benign structures [metaphor]

Creative problem-solving techniques can be powerful ways of exploring any complex business issue. An example is given applying a process of mapping, perspective seeking, and idea activation, used within project scenario work

The Manchester Business School MBA includes project work on creative leadership. In assessed workshops, participants apply a creative problem-solving system as a means of generating a scenario for a real or simulated business client.

The Scenario

MBA teams are presented with a real and contemporary business issue. Leaders we deserve posts have been used for this purpose. The structure to support the team is known as the MPIA system, an acronym for its stages of mapping, perspective seeking, and Idea-activation.

MPIA is a version of the Parnes-Osborn creative problem-solving approach which has been developed at Manchester Business School where the principles behind the approach have been studied

In this application, the group has to apply the MPIA system to explore the project. The presentation is made to a client and a faculty member who grade the effort independently. Through this, the team experiences some of the ambiguities of a realistic project, one of the features of the s-called Manchester Method

Basic MPIA Structure

Here is the basic MPIA structure:

Start-up: Check team members understand the MPIA system, and the roles they are to play; set time-limits for the stages of work on the project; check that all group members understand and agree to the structures to be followed.

Mapping: Share information available using a structure such as a mind-map for sharing information.

Perspectives: Use ‘How to …statements’ suggested by the map produced in Stage 1. Avoid complex How Tos (split them into ones with a simple central objective). Include wishful ‘How Tos’ (‘Wouldn’t it be wonderful..).

Idea Exploring: Using the rules of brainstorming, generate as many ideas as possible postponing evaluation in any way. Include apparently impossible but desirable ideas as these may become a trigger to an original and feasible idea.

Activation of Ideas: Link short-listed ideas to practical action steps. Pay particular attention to the presumed needs of the client.

Team Dynamics and interventions

The difference between the most successful teams and others is often a result of better attention to team dynamics.
A creative climate is supported by ‘idea-leadership’ (ensuring ideas are individual contributions are respected and not ignored). The process leader is also servant to the psychological needs of the group.

When things go wrong, teams are advised to call for a brief ‘time-out’ after which the team will find it easier to make progress. Creative teams are characterised by various actions supportive of a positive psychological climate such as the Yes And reaction to an idea’s perceived weaknesses.

To go more deeply

The process illustrates distributed leadership, with different team members taking responsibilities for leading in process issues. You can find out more about the educational principles behind this as an example of The Manchester Method of experiential learning