Dilemmas for Doctoral candidates

October 4, 2014

Doctoral candidates face the two challenges of making a contribution to knowledge and of defending their claims against the toughest of scrutiny. The methodology of conceptual mapping and examination of dilemmas offers an additional research approach

The principles were outlined in 2006 in the first edition of the book Dilemmas of Leadership, a post-graduate teaching text. An earlier LWD post gives a brief overview.

The approach

The approach draws on a social constructional treatment of knowledge generation and validity testing. In its initial use, it was offered to business executives to assist in their evaluation of leadership texts. In this post, it illustrates a way of simplifying the epistemology offered on doctoral courses in business and the social sciences. In its earlier application, executive MBA students are encouraged to study emerging leadership news stories, deriving a conceptual map from each. This ‘map reading’, like any life skill, improves with active and regular practice. ‘Map-testing’ includes processes found in research methods courses for investigating the reliability of the information and its validity. These two processes feed into the third, in which the derived and tested maps of a story are examined and compared with the personal map of the student. This process permits personal and experiential learning. Termed ‘map making’ this is the revised map of the student beliefs about leadership for personal reflection and class discussion.

Beyond the basic system A range of additional procedures are introduced to support the basic system. These include a search for dilemmas as significant hard-to-resolve decisions confronting the actors in the stories, these include the personal dilemmas for the student (‘the most important leader you study is yourself’).

Extending the process to doctoral research The process offers possibilities for modification for direct application in research studies even at the level of doctoral investigations. A workshop opportunity has arisen which will be reported here in a future post.

Update for Doctoral students The brief for the doctoral workshop was The Evolution of Leadership and Management and its links with Theories of Organisation: Bringing it all together. The syllabus indicated that the workshop follows the student’s journey through different perspectives on organisation and management theory (modernism, scientific management & Bureaucracy); neo-modernism (human relations and culture management); critical perspectives; postmodernist organisation theory). Students were advised to revise these topics to be prepared for discussion at the workshop.

Further updates

Further updates will report on the workshop and add discussion points from subscribers.

October 24th 2014

An illustration of the mapping approach applied to a leadership text which asks the question ‘are managers sacked for breaking the rules and leaders sacked for not breaking them?’

November 1st, 2014

Bridging the gap between the empirical and the social

One substantial difficulty for doctoral students is the gulf between the methods of enquiry in the empirical sciences and the social sciences. The former retains the methodology of the dominant rational model. This perspective is one I acquired in my schooldays and have retained as a technical manager trained to examine technical and economic problems through the methodology of scientific inquiry.

My attraction to a second approach involving the methodology of the social sciences grew, as I became familiar with the ideas of the social construction of reality. Nevertheless, I felt that moving completely from a scientific to a social scientific approach was likely to be switching from one horn of a dilemma to another.

November 3rd 2014

Two authors helped me find a way of bridging the gap.

The first was Professor Gail Fairhurst in her book Discursive Leadership in which she shows how social constructionist approaches are able to co-exist successfully with the more dominant model of cognitive psychology.

The second insight came from the work into what Jim Collins called ‘the  Genius of the And’.  Fairhurst and Collins had in quite different ways addressed a way of dealing with dilemmas. In each case, the approach was a form of creativity to escape from ‘either-or’ thinking.  The outcome is a bridging of the gap between the dominant rational model of the sciences and the social constructionist approach of the social scientist

January 5th 2015

This leadership case is a nice way to test understanding of ways of applying a qualitative analysis


Trial of leadership and map-making quiz

November 29, 2013

LWD subscribers are invited to test-run a short [three minute, ten item] quiz. It is being designed for use by tutors on courses using the textbook Dilemmas of Leadership to reinforce the materials in chapter one [2nd edn] on the map-reading, map-making, and map-testing concepts.

Try your knowledge/intuition by clicking here

Improvements to the test could include more feedback on true/false answers, although there is a benefit from leaving an incentive to encourage students to take the test ‘before and after’ reading the required chapter of the textbook.

Tutors may keep records of class averages, also on a ‘before and after’ basis.


The Syrian crisis: Study leadership decisions not leadership styles

September 16, 2013

The complexities of leadership make assessments of a leader’s style less effective than assessments of a leader’s most critical decisions and dilemmas

The story of Syria’s internal conflicts and external attempts at intervention remains complex and obscure. I want to advocate its analysis through a study of leadership dilemmas and decision-making.

My executive students are familiar with the principle through applying it to current leadership cases. Here is how the approach may be effective in understanding some of the complexities of the Syrian crisis [as of September 2013].

Media treatments

Media treatments are arriving at a narrative or interpretive story of events in Syria. In the narrative, the Syrian leader Bashar al Assad faces increasing attempts to overthrow his regime by a complex set of internal interests. The American President Barack Obama would like to intervene, preferably with support from the international community. The Russian President Vladimir Putin argues that the forces opposing Assad are waging war against a legally constituted leader.

The nature of narrative

Narrative by its nature is interpretative. It implies a belief in a story. I like to think of the story as a map or interpretation of a real-world reality. The Russian, American and Syrian maps differ. The real-world events involve thousands of people being killed, millions being displaced. If the narratives are maps, the conflict is the territory represented in the maps.

Dilemmas

News stories provide us with the maps. One way to examine them is to consider evidence of the most important dilemmas facing leaders. That way we glimpse the leadership processes better. For example, an excellent analysis in the Wall Street journal [updated and uploaded 15 Sept 2013] gives a Western map of current events. It also suggests the dilemmas facing President Obama.

Through mixed messages, miscalculations and an 11th-hour break, the U.S. stumbled into an international crisis and then stumbled out of it. A president who made a goal of reducing the U.S.’s role as global cop lurched from the brink of launching strikes to seeking congressional approval to embracing a deal with his biggest international adversary on Syria, Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Mr. Obama saw the unintended outcome as better than the alternative: limited strikes that risked pulling the U.S. into a new conflict. It forestalled what could have been a crippling congressional defeat and put the onus on Russia to take responsibility for seeing the deal through. U.S. officials say the deal could diminish Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s chemical stockpile more effectively than a strike, though it leaves Mr. Assad and his conventional arsenal in place…

[D]uring a news conference in London on Sept. 9. Secretary of State Kerry, in response to a question, ad libbed that Syria could avert a U.S. attack if it gave up its chemical weapons.

Minutes later, his Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov, called him. “I’d like to talk to you about your initiative,” Mr. Lavrov said from Moscow, where he was hosting a delegation of Syrian diplomats.

Map-reading

Before I can assess or ‘map-test’ the ‘rightness’ of decisions, I need to ‘map-read’ thoroughly. The story suggests a critical dilemma. Mr Obama [it says] wants to reduce the U.S.’s role as global cop, but finds himself ‘lurching into launching a strike against Syria’. The dilemma, and the Presidential decision-making start to resolve with ‘the unintended outcome’ of the public remark by Secretary of State John Kerry and the reaction by his Russian counterpart.

Map-testing

This interpretation of events can be tested. Kerry’s statement is the most public. That it was ad-libbed and not offical policy is a piece of map-making or interpretation by the WSJ. Mr Lavrov’s reply is reported but not public. Subsequent events give it, and the narrative or map some plausibility.

Map-making

The events may have helped President Obama re-make his map to increase the chances of a non-military approach to Syria. The debate continues whether this is ‘true’; whether it was influenced by the decision of the Parliament of the United Kingdom to withhold support for military action; whether The Russian position and that of President Bashar al-Assad are to be trusted. But these become speculations. By sticking with dilemmas and decisions we avoid the morass we find ourselves in when dealing with such speculation.

I have chosen to examine the dilemmas facing President Obama. A richer picture (or map) emerges only after examination of other maps, other decisions, other leaders.


Guilt: a new insight into leadership effectiveness and pathologies

November 27, 2012

Guilt has been identified as factor associated with leadership effectiveness. We assess the promise of the GASP scale, and consider the absence of guilt in leadership pathologies

Citing the work of Professor Taya Cohen [image opposite], William Kremer of the BBC World Service suggests that guilt may be an under-researched factor of leader effectiveness.

Shame and guilt cultures

For background, he notes the work of American anthropologist Ruth Benedict, who as early as the 1940s identified shame cultures such China and Japan, and guilt cultures such as America:

In a 1946 study, [Benedict] distinguished between “shame cultures” such as Japan and China, and “guilt cultures” such as the US. Whereas the guilty conscience is a means of social control in individualistic societies, face, honour and ostracism have the same role in Eastern societies, including China and Korea. Although the distinction is controversial, research suggests that in some cultures shame can be a springboard to positive action. For example, one study found that Chinese managers in Hong Kong used shame to resolve conflicts, while separate research has found that US managers were more likely to use shame to punish employees.

Professor Taya Cohen from Carnegie Mellon University has looked at the correlation between guilt proneness and ethical action. Her work is directed towards understanding the role of moral character traits, such as guilt proneness, and why interactions between groups are characterized by more competition, greed, and fear than are interactions between individuals.

The GASP scale

The GASP scale has been described in the scholarly journal of personality and social psychology in an article by Professor Cohen and co-workers, Introducing the GASP scale: A new measure of guilt and shame proneness.

Another gasp

The GASP scale is simple enough to produce another gasp from traditional cognitive psychologists who would deny that anything credible can be extracted from a four item inventory. [I would argue on the contrary that the more imaginative the concept, the simpler the means needed for collecting initial quantifiable data]

Claims for the emerging research

The research suggests that leadership may be associated with feelings of guilt which are translated into actions of social benefit. I have heard variations of this from friends who acknowledge a sense of guilt instilled in them through a Catholic education.

Leaping to conclusions

I find the central idea of interest although the concept is one which risks too rapid evaluation. There is need for some thorough ‘map-making and testing’ here. Maybe Benedict’s guilt/shame distinction would be a starting point.

The absence of guilt

I find Professor Cohen’s work a refreshing addition to the leadership canon. Most of my life I have tended to dismiss guilt as a residue of social shaping and something to be overcome. However, a complete absence of guilt may be a contributing factor to the behaviour of leaders deficient in ethical judgements of their actions, and thus one explanation for the much discussed dark side of leadership.


Government Minister says definition of child poverty is flawed. What does that mean?

November 15, 2012

David Laws speaking on behalf of the Government says that the definition of Child Poverty is flawed and needs changing. But to understand what he means you need a ‘map’ about the nature of definitions

Tudor Rickards

The Government Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith will say in a speech today [15th Nov 2012] that simply focusing on income levels is too narrow and other factors should be considered.

The newly appointed Schools Minister David Laws added:

“Traditionally we have defined poverty simply by income. But this is not enough. The experience of child poverty is about more than whether their family income this week is low.”

Debate on the nature definitions may seem abstract and academic while children in deprived financial circumstances are in need of practical measures to help.

In one sense I agree. Progress is less likely if a subject is not understood.

Working definitions

I find it useful to think in terms of ‘working definitions’ which are provisional and useful ways of promoting conversation. If we agree in discussion, we have reached a common ‘platform of understanding’.

Lexical definitions

A dictionary provides a set of lexical definitions, sometimes indicating which are archaic [no longer of common usage].

‘Correctness’ of definitions

Based on the context of the Minister’s remarks, he was talking about a search for a definition that would be ‘correct’, that is to say a true representation of something which may be empirical or conceptual. Politicians and law-givers can create one form of legitimacy for a definition ‘Child Poverty is as it was defined under the Poverty of Children act’, or ‘the Poverty of Children investigation’. Politicians would naturally prefer to have a say in what the ‘correct’ definition is. This makes it easier to defend policies by reference to the definition.

It is important to be aware of a pervasive belief that there is a ‘correct’ definition in the stronger sense of capturing the essential features of whatever is being defined.

Essentialism

Professor Keith Grint has argued in his books that definitions of leadership assume ‘essentialism’, [the ‘real stuff’] whereas it may be more value to consider leadership as being defined in terms of non-essential terms such as interpretations of reality ‘as we see it’.

Theoretical definitions

Investigative research requires yet another kind of definition which makes clear the ‘map’ being examined in the research, and offers scope for further enquiry or ‘map-testing’. In this case, the ‘map’ is that of Child Poverty. IThe politicians are attempting to help in the drawing up of the new map.

Where’s the pain?

The clinical and ‘scientific’ approach sets aside real world suffering and pain. Political scientists have the trickier task of indicating they are primarily concerned with more than definitions.


The answer to the question “what’s the difference between map-reading, map-making and map-testing?”

January 27, 2012

Why is is often difficult to distinguish between conceptual map-reading, map-testing, and map-making? Set theory provides one explanation

Big maps have little maps…

One explanation is that any conceptual map draws on other previously created maps. Sometimes you will find yourself reading a map, which itself indicates some map-testing that had gone on during the map-making. From that starting-point it can be seen that map-reading, map-testing, and map-making are not totally isolated one from the others.

Sets within sets

In set theory, the concept might be examined as overlapping sets (Venn diagrams). This offers hope of isolating out the three ‘pure’ processes, plus various examples of overlaps, including the triple overlap of map-reading, testing, and making.

Recursiveness in systems

A related way of looking at it (another mapping) is through the wider systems notion indicated above of recursiveness. This proposes that systems replicate fundamental aspects of themselves at different levels of system. (Think biological cells, organs, individuals, sub-species etc).

That’s why the question does not have a simple answer

We have two theoretical possibilities suggesting why the question does not have a simple answer.

The good news

The good news is that those same principles can be put to positive use, as you reflect on your own mapping processes. If you believe you are primarily map-making, that’s your map of what you are doing. If you are testing (beliefs), you are map-testing (beliefs). This ‘get out of conceptual goal’ card relies on another powerful map known as the interpretative or sometimes the sense-making map. But that would be the subject for another post

An example from Tennis

I’m ‘reading’ (literally, on my PC) an account of the tennis battle at the Australian Open between Andy Murray and Novak Djokovic. The score is one set all. The commentators say that Djokovic is fatiguing. That’s their ‘read’ of what’s happening. Someone adds ‘he sometimes appear to be struggling but isn’t’. That’s testing the fatigue idea.

I am noting the evidence that Murray may be having a mid-match slump or nerves. That’s testing another idea.

Djokovic recovers from his apparent fatigue. Does this test conclusively refute the ‘fatigue’ idea? Do we need the more subtle idea of ebbs and flows of energy?

Commentator says: “Whoever wins this set wins the match. That’s not a fact, that’s just what I think might happen”. Notice how the commentator shows awareness of the difference between a fact and a ‘map reading’ of ‘what might happen’.

Djokovic eventually wins a close match lasting nearly five hours. Murray on interview ‘reads’ the experience as evidence he is getting closer to the play of the World No 1 (and to Nos 2 and 3, Nadal and Federer)

Think map-reading as sense making

The Tennis story also shows how conceptual map-reading is rather like examining and making sense of a map.


Map-Making and Leadership

March 16, 2010

Leaders need maps to lead. The processes of map-reading, map-testing and map-making have made important contributions to the development of our leaders and civilizations

Maps and Map-making have played an invaluable part in the advancement of human knowledge and discovery processes. Maps in Anatolia (modern-day Turkey) have been dated as over nine thousand years ago. Maps have been found in the archeological remains of early civilizations around the world, supporting domestication trade, exploration, and military ventures

The principles of cartography were clarified in the influential writings of Arthur Robinson at the University of Chicago who emphasized that a map is above all something designed with a particular group of users and for some particular purpose or set of purposes. .

The Map is Not The Territory

A well-known saying in management courses is that the map is not the territory. The idea has been popularised by the distinguished organizational theorist Karl Weick in several of his books and lectures. His accounts are based on a poem by Miroslav Holub about a Hungarian reconnaissance unit lost in the Alps. In the poem, the soldiers faced an icy death, until their leader found a map which he used to lead the platoon to safety. On their return, however, it was found that the map was not of the Alps but of the Pyrenees

“we considered ourselves
lost and waited for the end. And then one of us
found a map in his pocket. That calmed us down.
We pitched camp, lasted out the snowstorm and then with the map
we discovered our bearings.
And here we are.
The lieutenant borrowed this remarkable map
and had a good look at it. It was not a map of the Alps
but of the Pyrenees”

The story has been interpreted in various ways. It has been seen as illustaring Weick’s concepts of sense-making, indicating how a map does not have to be accurate to be a means of finding your bearings.

The saying has also become a fundamental principle in the behavioural theory of neurolinguistic programming, in which it stands for the belief that individuals have cognitive structures or maps which provide differing perceptions of their psychological world.

The processes of map-reading, map-testing and map-making are important elements in the text (map) Dilemmas of Leadership.

To go more deeply

Basbøll & Graham, two Danish philosophers, have been untangling the significance of the Weickian anecdote and provide good primary source references. Karl Weick has replied to their article in the same e-journal.