The dilemmas of talent management. The case of Kevin Pietersen

May 13, 2015

KPIn the space of a week, Kevin Pietersen, cricket’s most talented and controversial figure, scored a record number of runs and learned that he would not be selected for the England test team

Great individual talent sometimes requires great talent management. Kevin Pietersen’s international cricket career is a prime example.

The English cricket establishment has since his arrival on the scene struggled with the challenge of harnessing the exceptional talent of Kevin Pietersen and dealing with assorted off-field controversies.

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Dilemmas of Leadership: Book Review

January 18, 2010

The text Dilemmas of Leadership is in use on various leadership development programmes. But what are dilemmas? How will knowledge of dilemmas help a leader in the current economic circumstances?

Tudor Rickards, January 18th 2010

The 2006 edition of Dilemmas of Leadership suggested early in its first chapter that

The term [Dilemma] originally referred to a philosophical position that defeats logical attempts to resolve it. One of two outcomes has to be accepted, yet each contradicts previously held beliefs and their logical consequences. The early philosophers talked of being on the horns of a dilemma – where the choice is to be impaled by one or the other horn of an angry bull. Other powerful metaphors also illustrate what dilemma is like: ‘It’s being between a rock and a hard place’; ‘it’s a choice between the devil and the deep blue sea’; or ‘sailing too close to the rocks or the whirlpool’ (Scylla and Charybdis were terms used in mythology).

The essence of a dilemma is that there is no satisfactory choice that suggests itself on the evidence available. This is a position leaders find themselves in, all too often .. There is incomplete information about the consequences of the decisions. .. uncertainties are obviously worse when the decision addresses outcomes of strategic decisions at some time in the future. It can be seen that all leaders face dilemmas.

Since the book was written, the economic world has been shaken to its foundations. It is timely to rexamine the central concept of leadership dilemmas in light of changed circumstances.

Dilemmas and Discovery Learning

The authors suggest that any leader will benefit from developing skills at dealing with dilemmas through ‘map reading, map testing and map making’. By this, they mean examining belief systems for deeply held assumptions and then critically testing these assumptions so that the decision is made through a shift in perspective. There is a hint (p13) that the process has aspects of the work of Thomas Kuhn, who popularized the idea of a paradigm-switch when a belief system radically changes.

Chapters 2-9 examine leadership issues, each with its concealed dilemmas. Theis approach provides a way of structuring the major themes in the vast literature leadership. They can be illustrated by considering the materials in chapters 2 and 3.

There is a long-standing debate on whether leaders are born or made. In chapter 2 we see how this can be better understood as a dilemma arising because of two different theoretical beliefs, one assuming that leaders have special fixed traits, and the other believing that leadership excellence can be ‘made’ or developed. In chapter 3, leaders of project teams are shown to be facing the dilemma of setting clear guidelines under conditions which can never be completely clear of uncertainties (or ambiguities).

The approach has the benefit of demonstrating practical experience and theoretical ‘maps’ are valuable partners for leadership development.

Dilemmas for Today’s Leadership Challenges

Some of the dilemmas are immediately relevant to today’s leadership challenges. Chapter 9 poses the uncomfortable dilemma of ethical leadership. Can an ethical leader operate competitively? This question has taken on new significance in what might be called the post-Enron climate of business. Another dilemma, from Chapter 6, is stated as trust and the limits of rationality. We have written recently in this blog of the attention being paid to the irrational behaviours contributing to economic bubbles, and the failure of leadership to calm things down.

Do dilemmas matter?

A knowledge of dilemmas seems an arcane factor in a search for improved leadership performance. On the other hand, the book does a service in indicating that that leadership is a concept to which theory is still unavailable to provide universal answers. Rather, the authors argue, each leader needs to examine each challenge to develop a ‘conversation with the situation’ (p19) out of which improved understanding and actions may emerge.


On becoming a leader

February 11, 2007

This post takes the humanistic legacy of Carl Rogers to explore: Leadership as map making; Leadership as block busting; and Leadership as bridge building. It offers a framework for use in leadership development progammes at undergraduate, graduate, professional and executive levels.

Old Bridge

The title of this post acknowledges the work of Carl Rogers, a pioneer (with Abe Maslow) of humanistic psychology. His ideas on personal development have since come into common currency. In particular the post connects leadership to the title of his most influential book, On becoming a person.

The legacy of Carl Rogers

Carl Rogers (1902-1987) conceived of human development as the process of becoming (self-actualizing). Although his major professional world was that of clinical therapy, his ideas have become influential beyond that domain. His dominant idea is that the process of self-actualization is natural, albeit hindered by various life experiences. We each have an instinctive desire (an aspiration) to develop our potential.

Furthermore, we feel good about ourselves when we are engaged in the processes of developing our potential. This is at the heart of another key concept, that of positive self-regard. (terms such as self-image and identity can be traced back to his work). At a personal level, positive self-regard is unconditional in nature.

However, social groups have developed in ways in which self-regard receives only conditional respect. That is to say, we become restricted by the conditions and rewards of the social group. Such reinforcement distorts the natural processes of development. The individual may have trouble dealing with the gap between the expectations of the group, and his or her perceptions of ‘the real me’.

Over time the individual deals with the problem through psychological defences (Rogers notes two major defence systems, distortion and denial).

Developing yourself, developing others

The core of Rogerian theory is the capacity of the human to self-development. You are your most important teacher and moral leader. However, he also was concerned with the process of developing others (particularly those with seriously damaged processes of self-actualisation). The Rogerian therapist strives to develop openness (‘congruence’), empathy, and respect (unconditional positive regard). If we are to borrow from Rogerian theory for leadership development we must examine whether these principles can translate.

As a first step, we can see how Rogers had worked out a model for encouraging individuals to achieve their potential. This is what the therapist does. I believe we can indeed borrow many of his ideas (changing what needs to be changed) to arrive at a more general model for leadership and for leadership development.

We will be connecting the ideas of Carl Rogers with the leadership text, Dilemmas of Leadership, to explore the importance of map making, block busting and bridge building in leadership development.

Leadership as Map-making

Dilemmas of Leadership suggests that leaders develop themselves through processes of map reading, map testing and map making.

The mapping processes are metaphors of journeys of self discovery. During the journeys, maps of received knowledge, and examined in the context of direct experience leading to revision of personal beliefs.

Dilemmas of Leadership suggests that a text can be read as a Platform of Understanding or summary of a belief system. The POU is a kind of map, ready for use. It covers the historical maps of leadership from trait theory maps, through situational maps, to those maps dealing with new leadership concepts (transformational leadership).

To take a simple example, a student may read a book about leadership and extract from it a map of what leadership is all about. She then has a personal assignment – let’s say it is in a volunteering project. During the project she experiences various events which can be connected to the things she has read in the textbook. The process of testing enables her to make sense of the text-book connected through her own experience. This, in turn, strengthens her skills in future leadership roles. When she acts, she draws on the (always developing) personal map she has been making.

Map-making from the daily news

This blog can be seen as a series of maps about leadership drawn from the news stories appearing every day of the year. Out of personal choice I select a story that seems to have some leadership interest and summarise it for myself. Towards the end of that stage of map-making I find myself doing some map testing. Does the story fit with what I already believe I know? Even more rarely I might make a new connection and discover a new (to me) leadership concept.

For example, I came across several stories about threats, either by a leader or to a leader. A recent rather complicated one involves the chairman of The Royal Mail, Allan Leighton. You can follow the story in an earlier blog. The point here, is that the story reminded me of the way in which a threat takes on a dominating role. I could have been reminded of global warming, but I happened to think of an old chess story attributed to a chess player by the name of Nimsowitsch. This is now leading me to look more actively for examples of threats to a leader, and for convenience I label the process the Nimsowitsch principle. Maybe the concept will help me act differently in the future, not just in a chess game, but faced with real-life crises.

A second example is the map of management and organisational structures often known as Fordism (after Henry Ford’s production line innovation). A colleague suggested that Toyota’s lead production methods were moving manufacturing away from Fordism, and associated with a new leadership approach. I found refrences to Toyotism. What if, I wondered, we were seeing a shift in leadership approaches to include Eastern philosophic values. Perhaps inspired by a well-known book on the Tao of leadership, I added another concept to the map, and coined the term Toyotaoism.

An invitation to make some leadership maps

I believe in the processes of map reading, making and testing, and invite you to try them out for yourselves. You could keep a diary or learning log. Which, come to think of it, is not that far away from the process of writing a weblog or blog …

It’s a process of triangulation through which you combine your connect your received knowledge maps, with your personal experiences, and with the stories available every day of other leaders and their actions.

Leadership as block busting

Leadership as block busting was dealt with in an earlier blog. One new twist is worth mentioning, namely to link block busting to the leadership development ideas of Carl Rogers.

In his writings, Rogers explained creativity as the output or manifestation of self-actualisation. Why is creativity so rare and prized? Because of those distortions of the (Rogerian) ‘true’ self through socially imposed bias, which produces denial or distortion of the creative journey of discovery.

There is an enormous body of literature, theory and practice dealing with ways of breaking out of the assumptions imposed in an individual. We have been applying Lateral Thinking methods with cohorts of MBA students for several decades and summarised it:

Lateral Thinking for Project Work

For a recent introduction to creativity in business see the (admittedly lengthy) monograph from The Innovation Research group at Brighton University Business School. The report goes far more deeply into the brief summary offered here.

We have identified several Lateral Thinking techniques which help in the production of new ideas. The techniques (Reversals, Wouldn’t it be Wonderful If, and Jolts) are summarized in a power point presentation on using Lateral Thinking in project teams.

Bridge building

The leader as bridge builder is implied in the leadership literature. The textbook Dilemmas of Leadership explores the concept as trust-building. Leaders who believe in a trust-based style accept that they have to grant followers permission to act without direct leadership control. This leads to a dilemma of granting power to others if the leader wishes to exercise more direct control over them. Trust-based leadership facilitates and invites change rather than directing it.

In Celtic legend the story of the giant Bran tells of the way a great chief has to be a bridge.

In the Romance of Branwen, there is a curious passage where Bran and his men come to an impassable river. Bran says, “he who will be a chief, let him be a bridge”, and lays himself down to form a bridge over a river, allowing his army to cross over. The narrator of the romance tells us that this was the first time the saying was uttered.

In negotiations, the bridge building style is essential where it is vital to avoid win-lose outcomes (that’s back to the Nimzowitsch principle, by the way). It is necessary as peace process negotiations develop. It is often needed to resolve honesty held differences, by making a creative leap.

The related concept of ‘join up’ was originally developed by Monty Roberts (The ‘so-called Horse Whisperer’ in the film starring Robert Redford). Join up involves collaborative working, even if one partner may have more power and responsibility that others. It has since been extended to provide insights for trust-based leadership methods applied in Primary and Secondary Schools, as well as in business and social care environments. (Note, these are unequal power partners, where there can still be respect, Rogerian unconditional positive regard of the other partner, be it a child, a horse, or a remedial prisoner).

A parallel has been proposed between creative leadership and trust-based leadership

A simple to use concept is to look for Yes And rather than Either Or in your leadership efforts. As a bridge building technique, Yes And has been documented as having been applied successfully in numerous trust-based projects to achieve better decisions, harmony, innovation, and other creative outcomes. It offers a way to work through the (Rogerian) blocks which would otherwise reduce individuals to feelings of powerlessness.

Discussion Points

Various approaches have been described to support the process of leadership development, that is to say the process of becoming the leader you are capable of becoming. Using a humanistic approach developed by Carl Rogers, three aspects of leadership development were studied: map making, block busting, and bridge building.

In what ways do the suggestions support (or challenge) your beliefs about leadership, and suggest learning for future actions?