Theresa May arrives to lead the fight against invaders

August 24, 2015

thatchertankTheresa May arrives to lead her border troops into action in the battle of Calais. Comparisons with Margaret Thatcher are irresistible. But will her admiration for Geoffrey Boycott be career-limiting?

The Home Secretary has avoided the rather blood-curdling descriptions of ‘swarms’ of migrants ‘breaking in’ to our country, as favoured by The Prime Minister. Today, [August 20th, 2015] however, she takes the initiative from Mr Cameron with a visit revealing details of a plan to deal with what the BBC calls The Calais Migrant crisis.

Reading Theresa’s intentions

The role of Home Secretary requires the holder to survive periods of public invisibility interspersed with possible career-threatening high profile decisions. The job also carries with it healthy aspirations to move into the top job.

So, some statement such as “I have great pleasure in serving my country under our beloved leader than whom there is not nor has there ever been an equal for wisdom, integrity, and fragrance literally and metaphorically” may be taken to mean “you bet your bobbly bits I’m ready to take over, the moment I get the signal that the time is right to give the heave-ho to that spineless apology for a leader “.

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Tata Steel Europe leadership faces a Union battle through its Pension Scheme proposals

March 15, 2015

Tata Steel Europe announces plans to end its current British Steel Pension Scheme on April 1st 2016.   It faces a familiar battle with the British Steel Unions in the UK, where, according to India’s Economic Times, a claim of a total breakdown of faith in Tata Steel’s leadership has been made. A 60-day statutory consultation period begins on March 23rd, 2015

“We feel we have no option but to consult our members and prepare to ballot for industrial action to defend their hard won pension rights,” said Roy Rickhuss, General Secretary of the Community trade union and Chairman of the National Trade Union Steel Coordinating Committee. “It appears they are hellbent on closing the scheme and are not prepared to compromise. We have lost all faith in the company and its leadership, which has brought us to the brink of a major national industrial dispute.”

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Sir Terry Pratchett and Sir Douglas Hague: two gentle knights depart

March 13, 2015

Discworld Gods Wikipedia

On Wednesday March 12th 2015 I learned of the deaths of Sir Terry Pratchett and shortly afterwards of Sir Douglas Hague. I like to think this coincidence would appeal to their shared sense of humour.

They are now linked together in my memory, one, a great creative writer I never met, and the other an economist and statesman who became a mentor for myself and for generations of business and economics students

Pratchett in the sky over India

I was introduced to the inspired fantasy world of Terry Pratchett many years ago by John Arnold when he shared his travel reading with me during a visit to meet business graduates in New Delhi. He had taken with  him one of the early Discworld books.

John, himself a distinguished economist, could well have had something else in his carry-on bag written by our mutual colleague Douglas Hague. If he had, it is little surprise he had decided to fill a gap in my cultural rather than my economic knowledge.

Terry Pratchett’s creativity

I immediately became one of Terry Pratchett’s countless admirers. I remain richly entertained by the unique style of humour to be found in his books. He would have been an excellent subject for a deeper study of artistic creativity. Maybe, one day…

Discworld

His Discworld characters rightly earned mention in his obituaries. Death, of course, gently mocked as a not totally grim reaper; Granny Weatherfax the grumpy no-nonsense witch, and a host of others.

Terry Pratchett retained his glorious humour as his terminal illness prepared him for his personal encounter with death (and with Death). He chose to tweet: Just think of it as leaving early to avoid the rush.

Sir Douglas Hague

Sir Douglas HagueMy memories of Douglas Hague are more direct,  a result of a considerable number of years during which we were colleagues at Manchester Business School. The excellent obituary in The Times prompted me to offer a letter which may or may not be published in its columns.

Letter to The Times

Correction to Obituary of Sir Douglas Hague

Your careful and warm obituary to Sir Douglas Hague today [Thursday, March 12th, 2015] noted he founded The Manchester Business School. That is accurate to the extent that he was among a small influential group of ‘founding fathers’ whose numbers included Professor Grigor McClelland, the first Director of the School.

Might I add a personal note? Despite his economic and political achievements, Douglas was remarkably approachable by colleagues and students. As a junior research fellow, I once asked him in some trepidation whether he would review the latest heavyweight economics volume by Sir Nicholas Kalder for an internal networking broadsheet. He agreed without hesitation and met his deadline, although he could have placed his sparkling review in any of the leading scholarly journals.

He was sometimes teased for his unconditional admiration of, and frequent references to ‘Margaret’ in his lectures at Manchester. His loyalty survived an unfortunate remark of his which made the headlines and which appeared to challenge Mrs Thatcher’s housing policy. Unfortunately, his own formal position as economic adviser to the Iron Lady did not survive the remark.

Tudor Rickards, Professor Emeritus

The University of Manchester

 

Images

Terry Pratchett’s Discworld Gods from Wikipedia; Image of Douglas Hague from a Margaret Thatcher memorial collection via The Said Business School, Oxford.


“We the people”. Where’s the evidence that transformational leadership works?

November 25, 2013

Dr John Keane

Since the 1980s, leadership texts place transformational leadership at the centre of the new leadership movement. Is the theory supported in practice?

Like many leadership teachers, my lectures refer the new leadership movement as the major change in theoretical thinking. It was introduced around the 1980s, and places emphasis on vision, innovative change, and the transformation of organizations and individuals. It succeeded in challenging the older ideas in which leadership was rather easily muddled up with effective management plus a dash of mysterious charisma and inspiration. Early work frequently referred to John F Kennedy whose death fifty years ago we remember this week [Nov 21st 2013].

I’ll start with examining the possibility of transformational change through political leaders in the west who are considered transformational.

The Thatcher vision

The 1980s in the UK were the Thatcher years. She would be the most obvious example of a visionary leader. The Telegraph offered a succinct and plausible definition: “to release the repressed aspirations of millions of ordinary people”. Advocates of transformational leadership could argue that Margaret Thatcher helped change the aspirations of millions of ordinary people. Others would argue that the transformation has not resulted in more noble aspirations or a more widespread capacity to reflect on personal beliefs and values. That is hardly a surprising conclusion, but arguably it lies at the heart of transformational leadership’s capacity to transform people as well as systems.

The Reagan Vision

Margaret Thatcher’s political soul mate in America was Robert Reagan. He held steadfastly to a vision of a world in which the ‘evil empire’ of the [then] Soviet Union would be defeated and transformed into a democratic society. The Soviet Union did crumble. Again, the vision has been partially fulfilled in the structural sense, but it is hard detect evident that the legacy of Reagan has transformed beliefs.

The transformation of societies and organizations

By the end of the decade, Francis Fukuyama had declared a victory of democracy through the advance of science and rationality and decline of dictatorships. His prediction now seems somewhat exaggerated.

Fast forward

In America, the beliefs of “we the people” today seem to be far from transformed by the heirs to Reagan. Efforts to achieve the changes in President Obama’s “can do” vision stall in what is increasingly seem as a dysfunctional political system.

In the UK this year at her death [2013] Margaret Thatcher was seen as a towering figure who achieved structural changes that many of her political opponents are pleased enough not to attempt to reverse.

The people of Russia appear to be ‘untransformed’ enough to prefer the old style strong-man leadership of Putin over the Social Democratic ideas of the 1980s which appear to have been President Gorbachev’s more transformational vision.

In America, the beliefs of “we the people” seem to be far from transformed by the heirs to Reagan.

The non-transformation of the people

I listen a lot to the publicly-expressed views of leaders. I hear how their visions will transform the broader groups whom they seek to influence. I listen to the views and beliefs expressed by those broader groups.

Should we have a vision non-proliferation movement?

Political leaders speak as one with our business leaders in expressing their visions. Political and business leaders are failing to win the confidence and trust of their constituents. Perhaps we need a vision non-proliferation movement.

The author is a writer and researcher into leadership theory and practice. The views expressed are his own.


Leadership succession: Tony Blair, Terry Leahy, Alex Ferguson, Lord Browne … and Steve Ballmer

October 7, 2013

Leaders hailed as the greatest by direct comparison with their contemporaries often leave a legacy that is tough for a successor to deal with

This point was examined recently by journalist Chris Blackhurst [October 3rd 2013] in The Independent. He chose four towering figures from recent years, from politics, business, and sport.

He takes as his thesis that succeeding an influential leader is tough. His point is that the departure may be made with more concern by the leader for legacy than for the organisation’s longer term well-being.

The trigger

The article was triggered by the departure of Sir Alex Ferguson of Manchester United football club which was followed by a poor start to the season for the new manager David Moyes. Moyes was very much Ferguson’s chosen successor, one of clearest examples available of a leader’s critical decision over succession.

At Old Trafford, David Moyes has succeeded Sir Alex Ferguson, only to find that last season’s Premiership champions are in poor shape, that the Manchester United squad requires urgent strengthening. As worrying for United’s fans and owners is that Moyes appears to have been put in charge of a team in torpor. They’re no longer playing with the same drive and hunger that so characterised the Ferguson reign.

Blackhurst makes the general point succinctly:

Beware the chieftain who has been in office for a lengthy period; who is used to getting their way, who only needs to snap their fingers and it will be done; who refuses to countenance stepping down, to the extent that no successor is properly groomed; and when they do finally decide to go, it is too late. Quitting while ahead – it’s the best management attribute of all.

He illustrates with the examples of Tony Blair, Sir Terry Leahy of Tesco, and Lord Browne of BP. He touched briefly on Margaret Thatcher, and might have added Steve Jobs of Apple, and [another very recent example] Steve Ballmer of Microsoft. A closer examination suggests that the situations and the leaders are too varied to provide a nice clean theoretical idea. Was internal selection possible or desirable? Did the leader leave without being forced out? Was the evidence of declining personal abilities to do the job?

Sir Alex Ferguson, for example, announced his retirement a few years earlier and the market value of Manchester United plummeted. The evidence is that he retracted and spent the next few years considering how his eventual retirement might be planned more successfully. He did not ‘refuse to countenance stepping down’, although Margaret Thatcher’s political demise was closer to the description offered by Blackhurst.

Tony Blair was successful in winning three elections for Labour, which he had reshaped as New Labour. His legacy is haunted by his military policy in Iraq. Blair tried but was unable to arrange a successor he wanted. Gordon Brown is seen as contributing to Labour’s defeat at his first election. Sir Alex a close confident of Tony Blair seems to have learned from his friend the art of personal retirement planning with an impressive and rapid entry into the lucrative celebrity circuit.

Terry Leahy at Tesco appears to have selected Philip Clarke or agreed with the decision. Mr Clarke found that the company was in near free fall.

Lord Browne, whom Blackhurst suggested stayed to long at BP, left after personal problems. His chosen successor Tony Hayward was engulfed by the greatest disaster to befall the company.

Steve Jobs left Apple for health grounds, but had some say in the appointment of his successor.

Lady Thatcher had no say in the matter, although her departure opened the way to Tony Blair’s successive election victories.

The dilemma of succession

Succession remains a dilemma for a leader, and for those considered candidates as a successor. The issue has been around for nearly as long as stories have been written about leaders. We should at least be aware of the possibility of the ‘hero to zero’ process, as an earlier and over-generous evaluation of a leader is rewritten.

An example of this can be found in an article in Business Week in 2006 hailing the succession planning in Microsoft when Steve Ballmer replaced Bill Gates. Mr Ballmer’s departure this month [Oct 2013] was told in a different way.


“Render unto Thatcher the balls that are Thatcher’s,” I thought

September 30, 2013

George Osborne makes his much-trailed speech to the Conservative annual conference. Outside, the journalists were playing the game “which Prime Minister has the most balls?”

The Chancellor starts with goodish joke about entrepreneur and TV personality Karen Brady, who had introduced him. After the warm-up there is golden moment for a powerful follow-up. He missed it with a badly delivered pitch on the Government’s economic record, which was a bald set of statistics.

A grown-up party and HWPs

The First mention of debt was not the debt we own to the central banks, but indebtedness to efforts of hard-working people [HWPs]. A second mention to HWPs followed a little later, and a with a curious emphasis: “We are a grown-up party for grown-up people.”

Then a joke about Vince Cable which seemed to puzzle the audience. He also turned Miliband’s slogan [Britain can do better than that] against him. Then another joke about brother David Miliband [Cain and the less able]. He was certainly not making any effort to soften his image. The audience remained cool.

Fixing the roof

More on last government’s policy of not fixing the roof. Promised not to be fooled into believing in abolishing boom and bust, [an attack on last Labour Premier Gordon Brown who said he did when he was Chancellor, and has been reminded of it ever since.] The Chancellor promised to have stable surpluses to use to fix the economic roof when the storm breaks. Does this mean accepting a Laissez-faire fiscal policy?

Hard working people again, six minutes later. Building up to something bad about to happen to the nasty, lazy not hard-working people.

“I want to freeze fuel duty.” [Me? I want to visit Confused.com. Miliband’s energy price freeze bad, George’s fuel duty, good?]

Oh this is even trickier. He needs to diss his coalition partners if only in a tit-for-tat way. Audience remains a bit Confused.Com.

“We will not abandon the long-term unemployed.” That was the much trailed item. “We will have ways to help them”. Seemed pretty tough help. Actually he hurried on with less elaboration than i expected, to making a case for High Speed Trains and for Frackimg. He ended with a paean on to Margaret Thatcher’s life and death. We are heirs to her optimism, a Government with a plan for a grown-up country.

My first thoughts are that this was a surprisingly unconvincing effort from a man noted for his political astuteness, and met by a less than enthusiastic reception by tan audience usually not difficult to please. Outside the hall, the not-so-grown-up journalists were asking people to chose where to put their blue balls. The container showed Thatcher as having far more balls that Cameron.

Play the Game, Mr Cameron

On leaving the hall, Mr Cameron was asked to play the game of which Prime Minister has the most balls, but he moved past in a very grown-up way.

Render unto Thatcher

“Render unto Thatcher the balls that are Thatcher’s” I thought


Leadership lessons from the life of Margaret Thatcher

April 18, 2013

Margaret Thatcher Freedom Fighter

A post on Leadership Lessons from the life of Margaret Thatcher is under preparation. It will include an examination of obituaries and appraisals in the media over the period between her death and her funeral [April 8th -April 17th 2013].

These include the view from The Economist which concluded

This is a crucial time to hang on to Margaret Thatcher’s central perception: that for countries to flourish, people need to push back against the advance of the state. What the world needs now is more Thatcherism, not less.

Subscribers’ comments will be welcomed.