Nicola Sturgeon named as the most dangerous woman in Britain

April 21, 2015

The leader of the Scottish National Party (SDP) has become the most targeted politician in the General Election Campaign. She must be doing something rightNest of vipers

The Guardian captured the awakening mood in the mainline UK political parties to the danger coming from Nicola Sturgeon’s leadership of the SNP:

According to Boris Johnson she’s King Herod. She’s Lady Macbeth. She’s Attila the Hun.

Piers Morgan in the Mail is more circumspect. For him, Sturgeon is merely “the most dangerous woman in Britain”. This, says Sturgeon, is “possibly one of the nicest things the Mail has ever said about me”.

The newspapers that carried these gentlemanly hysterics, agree that Sturgeon is a kidnapper, warning the UK on their pages that she is holding the country “to ransom”. The Times eschews such hyperbole, suggesting only that she is only going to hold the UK’s defence to ransom.

Gosh. Even if the SNP takes every seat in Scotland – and that’s not beyond the bounds of possibility – it will still only have one in every 13 Commons votes. If Westminster really is this vulnerable, then, really, it’s brought its troubles on itself.

The Evidence from the Manifesto launch

Your editor settled down to review the launch of the SNP manifesto [20th April 2015]. As there would be many reports of the manifesto, I decided to concentrate on the style of the new political star of the Election Campaign. What follows is my unexpurgated notes, (minor corrections for clarity only).

Style.  

Strong, clear, uncluttered content.  Unusually easy to understand.   Compared with other high profile figures in the GE, least evasive. Not shackled by the need to stay on message.

Dilemmas

Like all public speakers, had to speak both to supporters, and a wider constituency at the same time.   How to please the former yet deal with different possibly conflicting views of the important ‘distal’ audience?

Not either or, but both and

As I have argued elsewhere, effective dealing with dilemmas is often a matter of seeing through a block imposed by either or thinking.  Sturgeon demonstrated to process frequently, both in her prepared address, and in the subsequent Q & A.

The launch of the manifesto is taking place before an audience of her supporters, plus a regiment of journalists.  The supporters are there to provide the evidence of their own unconditional commitment to leader and what she had to say about the manifesto.  The journalists want good ‘exclusive’ copy, revealing something suited to their own ends about the leader and her party.

As indicated above, the SNP has been increasingly been presented by opponents including most of the press, as a fifth column, intent on winning seats to gain power in Westminster by propping up a minority Labour government and dishing the Tories. This in turn is intended to achieve another Referendum for Scottish Independence, and to a break-up of the United Kingdom.

It would have been a popular move to say to the faithful, ‘you bet your last bawbee  I’m goin’ta stuff it to ’em.’ (‘Hell, yes’ as Ed Miliband put it).  She also needed to reassure those who were paying attention to Boris and The voters that her opponents wanted to scare off enough to turn away from the SNP needed to hear quite the opposite message.  ‘We won’t cause any trouble and only vote on Scottish matters.

There are various ways of dealing with the dilemma.  Nicola Sturgeon neatly put emphasis on rendering unto Caesar the things that are Ceasar’s and unto the Scotland their entitlement.  The effect was to suggest a win-win process helping Scotland and the entire UK towards a socially acceptable and prosperous future.

 More Yes Anding

A second example of Yes And framing came at the start of the Q & A.

Sturgeon introduced the session by saying in effect: These journalists have their job to do. (Pause, as if to calm an easy-to-arouse border terrier sniffing out an intruder). They should not be badly mauled if you don’t like the questions…  Then a neat punch-line.  Of course, feel free to applaud my answers as loudly as you like. (They did).

The Q&A went well.  The press vipers were pretty much defanged.

Beyond the style

I refocused on the substance behind a pretty impressive presentation style.  Overall, it seemed to occupy the policy space Labour would like to have found itself in, but had chosen to retreat from.

 Her answers for the most part remained clear and convincing. Her dealing with the costing of her fiscal measures was perhaps less sure-footed.

Her emphasis on opposing and even ending austerity was obviously hugely popular for her supporters.

For all the clear victory in this battle, leaving the enemy in some disarray, the war is far from over.


Toyota, Duty and Destiny

February 21, 2010

The successive bad-news stories at the start of 2010 for Toyota illustrate the effect of cultural factors on leadership and organizational behaviours. An understanding of dynastic history will help assess future prospects for the company

In considering the prospects for Toyota, I found myself reflecting on the nature of dynastic rule. Japan itself is still an example of a dynasty-based culture. The Japanese Dynasty is believed to be the oldest continuing hereditary monarchy in the world, with a bloodline stretching back nearly three millennia (660 BC – present day). The Emperor (天皇) symbolises a unity of the state with the Japanese people, and is head of the Japanese Imperial Family, and also the highest authority of its Shinto religion.

It has more recently become accepted to use the term dynasty to refer to family-owned businesses, where we also find transmission of authority and control handed down from generation to generation. Metaphors can be useful for imaginative purposes, but can also be misleading. Nevertheless, it is perhaps worth reflecting on dynastic leadership, and its implications for Toyota.

The Dynastic Principle

Western thought about dynastic power has been greatly influenced by the German social theorist Max Weber. One of his many significant contributions was his work on the nature of ancient and modern social structures. He proposed that traditional societies maintained stability by the society’s acceptance of the legitimacy of their ruler, and the power this permitted in the interests of the State.

Weber went on to suggest that overthrow of a society’s structure and traditions came about through charismatic opposition to them. For Weber, newer religious forms (aligned to state power) often were accompanied by charismatic leaders. He further argued that new form of control suited to modern industrial societies functioned through the power backed up by the legal authority expressed through rules and regulations. His terminology of bureaucratic control is still in common use. That’s how business students used to be taught about Weber’s theories.

Dynasties ancient and modern

The connections between the foundation of sociological thought, and today’s structuring of global organizations, are also being studied by researchers into institutional forms. A promising new area of work is into varieties of capitalism (VoC). The potential significance of this research can hardly be over-emphasized. It offers insights regarding the competitiveness of industrial firms globally, as much as insights into the diverse attempts to ‘civilize capitalism’ (as one researcher puts it).

Toyota, Ford, and other modern dynasties

Toyota may be seen as a modern institutional form, retaining dynastic power internally. The company was founded by Kiichiro Toyoda in 1937 as a spinoff from his father’s company Toyota Industries, and today’s President is Akio Toyoda.

It would be a great over-simplification to assume that such a family-based structure inhibits change and adjustment. Nevertheless, its response to its recent manufacturing and strategy problems appears consistent with a tendency to avoid radical actions which appear as threats to core cultural values.

Generalisations can be dangerous. In America, the history of the mighty Ford motor empire also shows the dynastic principle at work. From the days of Henry Ford until recently, power resided with the founding family, with current Executive chairman William C Ford the fifth generation (by my counting) of the family on board. Interestingly, Ford also came near to ruin with a safety crisis associated with the Ford Pinto in the 1970s. Ford survived that crisis, but has arguably been relatively slow to deal with competitive pressures. In the UK, its acquisition of the much-loved (but eventually cash-strapped) Jaguar mark was reversed by its sale to Tata, another globalising dynasty.

Born or Made Leaders?

Associated with dynastic structure of institutions or cultures, is the question raised of the fitness to lead. Are descendents of a founding entrepreneur especially equipped to lead into the future ? The evidence is less than clear-cut. At very least, the all-powerful leader acting ‘to the manner born’ is vulnerable to events that threaten the continuity of any organisation. Hereditary rulers of States and leaders of organizations exercise power mediated through advisors. At times the advisors contribute to forces which bring about the demise of the figurehead, in the wider interests of the Institution.

Toyota into the future

Jim Taggart, who writes on leadership issues, points to the manufacturing issues facing Toyota. He also cites a press story criticising Toyota’s risk-management approach . To understand Toyota’s present crisis, wider factors also need to be taken into account. Toyota-bashing in the US, as pointed out, is taking place with regard for socio-economic and political vested interests. Students of leadership will find much to consider in this, and in the ‘born or made’ dilemma of leadership.