Justin Welby: how a leader deals with news that would devastate most people

April 19, 2016

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The Archbishop of Canterbury discovers his private life conceals a secret that most people would find difficult or even impossible to deal with.  His reaction is admirable

The news headlines promised prurience. The spiritual leader of the Church of England finds himself the product of a brief extra-marital relationship between his mother Jane Portal who was Winston Churchill’s personal secretary, and Sir Anthony Montague Browne (1923–2013), Churchill’s private secretary.

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Richard Branson offers staff autonomy over vacation times and duration. Simples?

October 3, 2014


Richard Branson has announced a revolutionary self-managed policy for his personal staff. At first sight it seems a step towards the idealistic dream of worker autonomy and self-managed work groups. So let’s look a little more closely at the emerging story

This week [september 24th, 2014], Richard Branson was reported as announcing a new policy for his 170 personal staff. They are to have full rights to setting vacations [‘holidays’ or ‘leave periods’ in British vernacular].

Empowerment

‘Empowerment’ of workers has been a theme in OB courses and popular leadership writing for a few decades. This seems to be a further example, with the added weight provided by the authority of Richard Branson.

The basic principle is easy to grasp. The notion has libertarian and emancipatory aspects to it. So what’s not to like about it? And why have such initiatives been the target of Critical Theorists who have tended to dismiss it as a managerial fad?

Behind the headlines

Branson hopes the plan will be rolled out to subsidiary divisions. He has been reported as being influenced by his daughter who told him of a similar scheme at Netflix. The back story begins to take shape.

As one admiring report put it, Billionaire Richard Branson may be the coolest boss ever.

Two ‘maps’ of the story

One perspective is to interpret the story as an example of subtle exercise of power masquerading as enlightened leadership. The scheme is at present on offer to the 170 personal staff of Richard Branson. In his own words, the workers have obligations to act in the corporate interest so as not to damage the company or theirs own careers. The benevolence conceals the power structure on organizational life. The majority of employees are not directly influenced.

Another perspective is to consider Branson to be an authentic leader whose moral compass is towards a happy and autonomous work force. He avoids the dilemma of enforcing democracy by inviting change rather ordering it. He shares a generally non-coercive style with some of the most successful modern entrepreneurs such as Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg who have built creative organizations

Oh, and one more thing …

The story breaks as the engaging fun-loving Branson is launching his new book. The Virgin Way: Everything I know about leadership.

Simples?


Discursive leadership: a note on leadership style

June 23, 2014

Book review: Fairhurst, G.T., (2007) Discursive leadership: in conversation with leadership psychology, Thousand Oaks, Ca: Sage

Tudor Rickards

I became interested recently in Discursive leadership through reading a book on the subject by Gail Fairhurst, an American Professor of Communication Studies.

Many leadership styles have been proposed by practitioners and theorists. They include the charismatic style; those based on theories X, Y, and Z; Machiavelli; authenticity; and moral rectitude.

Discursive leadership may appear to be yet another leadership style. It may also provide challenging insights to a different way of thinking about leadership and the nature of styles.

Discourse and discussion

Readers not acquainted with the term discursive will recognize the similarities with the more familiar concept of discussion. Readers acquainted with post- modern writings will already be aware of discourse theory, which explores the processes of constructing social reality through texts and other narrative structures.

Professor Fairhurst is not describing a style. Indeed, the book rejects the popular view that leadership styles exist as objective phenomena. The departure point is whether a leadership style exists as an objective phenomenon with a measurable and observable essence. The widely- accepted view is that it does, so efforts to study and measure the style are afoot. Professor Fairhurst subscribes to the social constructionist belief that leadership and its various modes are beliefs constructed in social action. It is a point that has been applied to leadership by other scholars such as Keith Grint

This set me wondering whether such a discursive approach could be applied to other leadership concepts. Might charismatic leadership be considered as socially constructed? And how about Authentic Leadership not considered as a style, but as arising from the way in which a social group develops its notions of authenticity?

If Fairhurst’s ideas become more widely accepted, cherished notions of leadership style will receive much-needed revision.

Comments

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21st Century Leadership: the jury is out

April 29, 2014

The jury is out on the emerging leadership maps of the 21st century. In this first report, we hear the summing up by the judge dealing with the evidence of the rise of rational belief systems from the time of Plato to the 18th century enlightenment and beyondThe Judge

Members of the jury. You have the responsibility to evaluate the credibility of the case for and against the leadership theories of the 21st century. To do so, you have to assess the accounts of witnesses brought forward by the prosecution and the defense. The theories placed before you are: Level 5 leadership, Distributed leadership, trust-based leadership, creative leadership, positive leadership, authentic leadership, sustainability leadership, discursive leadership, visionary leadership, charismatic leadership, and transformational leadership,

The theories brought before you are those that have become more powerful since the start of the millennium. Before I summarize the evidence, I believe it will be helpful if I outline the historical background to these theories, and particularly the influence of the dominant rational model, accused of being the ring leader of the entire group.

You will recall hearing from several witnesses that the influential leadership theories of the 20th century were broadly considered to be based on a dominant belief system in the effectiveness of rational actions informed by rational reasoning. That is to say, leadership was the execution of rational behaviours by rational actors.

The advocates of rationality have pointed to the great advances made through application of such rational behaviours for over two millennia. Two thousand years, members of the jury. Rationality, it has been claimed, was worked out as a means of establishing truths about the material world, and the worlds of science and mathematics. Many centuries later a new philosophic approach to rationality was worked out which claimed it to be the key that unlocked human consciousness from a state of ignorance or unenlightened beliefs. You heard the philosopher Immanuel Kant state that [I quote] “immaturity is the inability to use one’s own understanding without the guidance of another.” In other words, enlightenment is the process of undertaking to think for oneself, to employ and rely on one’s own intellectual capacities in determining what to believe and how to act.

The French academician René Descartes gave evidence of his rationalist system of philosophy and of the objectivity which reveals reality. The Enlightenment is sometimes called “the Age of Reason”. Its leading philosophers followed Descartes’s attempts to deal with the issue of objectivity and the reality of what we perceive and believe to be true.

The enlightenment ushered in an age of rationality and modernity as science and the scientific methods of analysis helped in the advances in industrial practices. An age of modernity in thinking and creating had replaced earlier less enlightened ages.

By the 20th century, the scientific approach of rationality, if I may use a popular expression, appeared to be the only show in town. As I have explained it, I have not yet made an important point. The rational model has indeed been dominant for over two centuries. Dominant but not, if I am to be precise, utterly without rivals. There were other shows in town, and it is witnesses of these that were introduced by the prosecution, who argue that they remain muted as evidence of the excessive power being wielded by the dominant rational model in leadership theorizing.

I will now move to the ten theories and the evidence of the influence of the dominant rational model.

[To be continued with the judge’s summing up of the ten theories]

Level 5 leadership,
Distributed leadership,
trust-based leadership,
creative leadership,
positive leadership,
authentic leadership,
sustainability leadership,
discursive leadership,
visionary leadership,
charismatic leadership,
transformational leadership.

Expert witness statements

Matheson, Carl, “Historicist Theories of Rationality“, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Winter 2011 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.),

Bristow, William, “Enlightenment“, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Summer 2011 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.),


Swansea football success hints at leadership secrets

February 25, 2013

Michael LaudrupSwansea City’s victory in the Capital One Cup Final over Bradford City was hailed as a heart-warming story of sporting triumph. We examine its leadership themes

As Swansea City was winning its first major trophy in its hundred year history [February 24th, 2013], I was returning from the arctic city of Tromso, after a visit that deserves a future blog post of its own.

I arrived home early evening to hear the BBC football commentator Alan Green on a radio phone-in describe Swansea as ‘coming from the Welsh valleys’. Sorry Alan, that’s like describing Londonderry as ‘somewhere in Ireland’. Swansea is on the Gower Peninsula, to be found forty miles to the west of the Welsh valleys.

The story was creating itself

The match had recently finished. As I listened, the callers to the programme were creating an instant myth. Their story told of a glorious encounter between two teams of heroes. The arena was the great battle-ground of Wembley Stadium. This was not a battle of good and evil. Although Premier side Swansea was the clear prematch favourite, Bradford, three divisions below them, had reached the final through defeating among others the mighty Arsenal and Liverpool teams.

The battle of everyday heroes

In mythology, the ordinary becomes heroic in battle. In this myth, both Bradford and Swansea had become heroic. The central heroes were the players who fought out the battle. There were also the battalions of supporters, not fighting against each other but witnesses to the performance. At the end of the match, rival fans embraced in respect. There was a tragic hero in the figure of the Bradford goal-keeper who fate decreed had unwittingly broken the rules, and was dismissed from the field, not in disgrace but in an act of atonement.

The glorious battle

The battle was fought not for the annihilation of an enemy but for the celebration of the encounter. Swansea ‘gave an exhibition’ which means a celebration of beauty in the performance. They won 5-0, a record score for the competition.

The apotheosis of Laudrup

The phone-in also revealed the elevation to the heights of the Swansea manager Michael Laudrup. The former Danish international player had helped create the team and its a free-flowing style. His gracious post-Match interview, speech acknowledging the achievements of Bradford was recognized as one showing authentic leadership.

His managerial acumen was shown by his skills at early identification of the talents of the Spanish player, Michu, ahead of the scouting teams of the wealthy European giants.

Laudrup’s destiny?

Already we can see ahead the inevitable outcome of mythic success. Laudrup, through the glorious victory of his team, will leave the little club of Swansea City. There is already talk that he is destined to replace another great football manager, Arsene Wenger, at Arsenal.

A Cast of Heroes

Classical Drama requires an entire cast of heroes. Before and beyond the battle can be found the wise chief. The Swansea City chairman could claim credit for seeking out managers with the spirit to lead the club to greatness. His earlier choices were Roberto Martinez and then Brendon Rodgers . Their success at Swansea meant that they were fated to accept a move away for an offer they could not refuse.

Next year

Next year, as winners of the League Cup, Swansea will play in European competition. The myth will continue its fated path. Victories will bring glory. Glories will fade into memory. Sic Transit Gloria Mundi


In search of authenticity in a leader: should we start with politicians watching a televised football match?

May 31, 2012

David Cameron is claimed to be dropping in popularity for his inauthentic behaviours. An example is examined, based on his image as an “authentic” football fan complete with rolled-up sleeves, watching the transmission of the European football cup final with other world leaders

Andreas Whittam Smith of The Independent constructed an entire article around an episode taken as as evidence of the Prime Minister’s inauthenticity of leadership style.

Opinion over analysis

The piece was intended to provide opinion rather than deep analysis. In that respect it has a degree of authenticity. That did not prevent comments in reply which came with a great deal of anger directed at Mr Whittam Smith’s opinions of Mr Cameron, as well as counter-arguments about other politicians.

The article did seem to select some rather contradictory and selective examples to compare and contrast the authentic with the inauthentic. Boris Johnson and Francois Hollande were cited as authentic; Cameron and Sarcozy as inauthentic.

It would have been better to examine the evidence of inauthenticity beyond a simple either-or classification. However, the author of the piece captures one important point about authentic leadership:

What is going wrong for the Prime Minister, David Cameron? His personal standing with the electorate has fallen precipitously, according to opinion polls. I found a small clue to what may be doing the damage in one of the pictures of world leaders attending a summit meeting at Camp David outside Washington last weekend. They had taken time out to watch the Chelsea/Bayern Munich football match.

The photographers had snapped Mr Cameron leaping to his feet with arms outstretched to celebrate Chelsea’s winning goal. It was the football victory salute. What could be more natural? Chelsea had won the Champions League for the first time. Yet it reminded me of the mid-1980s when Mr Cameron was at school.

Was that Mr Cameron’s problem, I wondered? For false notes are damaging in politics, just as authenticity is a great asset.

The authentic leadership concept

There is considerable interest in authentic leadership among researchers at present. A special issue of Leadership Quarterly examined the concept.

A leading advocate is Harvard Professor Bill George, the former business leader, who argues for authenticity as a factor necessary for 21st century leadership.

But leaders may need to be inauthentic at times

The concept is not without its critics. It may be argued that authenticity of belief may be a secondary consideration in dealing with urgent crisis situations. (“He’s a greedy self-centred individual, but I’d want him with me in a tough corner”).

Put another way, leaders need a mask of command, a concept which may need to be considered within discussions of authentic leadership.

Acknowledgement

The image appeared in various cropped formats around the web. I fould this example of David Cameron, plus other easy-to-identify football fans at the moment of Chelsea’s triumph over Bayern Munich on the website of Nation.com Pakistan.

Note to subscribers

This blog written as the author prepares for renewal of home-office facilities. More to follow.


Gary Speed RIP

November 27, 2011

Gary Speed

Update [Dec 3rd 2011]

After his tragic death, there was a surge of acknowledgements of the life and achivements of Gary Speed, both within and beyond the football world. The original post [below] captures the mood in the first 24 hours, as the news spread around the world

Gary Speed died suddenly on November 27th 2011 at the age of 42

The Wales Manager Gary Speed was promising a bright future for Welsh international football. His young team was gaining in confidence after three consecutive wins.

A premature death

In the days that followed his death, there were tributes from around the world. The picture from countless friends that repeatedly emerged was someone who had transcended the egotistical danger of fame.

Here is a video of BBC radio bulletin which was broadcast a few hours after news of his premature death. It includes the silent tribute paid to Gary Speed at the start of the Swansea City:Aston Villa match which turned into spontaneous applause.

Modest but of fierce resolve

In the vocabulary of Leaders we deserve Gary Speed might be seen as a version of the Level five leader (modest but of fierce resolve) . Others might see elements of the the charismatic figure from whom friends and colleagues wanted approval. The more recent ideas of authentic leadership also come into the picture.

Press discipline

The media respected the wishes of the family for respect to be shown without intrusion. Perhaps the publicity being given to the on-going Leveson inquiry into press standards was an influential factor in this.

On the day of his inquest, web stories begin about the contribution of tabloid media to Speed’s death. The Sun is showing great interest in the emerging story and has provided stunning (but non-exclusive) coverage.

The Tributes

Among the many tributes, one of the most imaginative was from Leeds fans

Earlier this week Leeds fans chanted Speed’s name for 11 minutes from the 11th minute of their match against Nottingham Forest in honour of their former number 11.