Archive for May, 2011|Monthly archive page

Ego, anger and their leadership

In Uncategorized on May 20, 2011 at 4:23 pm

Or to be precise 12 Angry Men, one of the finest Hollywood offerings – the 1957 version of course; and the outstanding Lee J Cobb, whose character (Juror No. 3) explodes his way to the film’s denouement: “You lousy bunch of bleeding hearts!” Yes simplistic but nevertheless revealing that our most powerful driver of change and leadership practice is frequently less shareholder value than our selves (a deliberate gap in between those two words). Peter Checkland’s Soft Systems Methodology (something that needs a better word than ‘system’) is given star treatment here as Cobb’s complexity is unpicked as he reveals he hasn’t been trying the accused but his own son. How much of our practice is consumed with excorism’s of our own messy journey?   We lead through ourselves warts and all is the image we might take from the jury room and maybe boardroom. Professor Steve Kempster’s research at Birmingham University in the area of ‘becoming a leader’* suggests that leadership learning is difficult without a forensic – to keep this metaphor rolling – analysis that goes beyond the rhetoric. This is less systems thinking as I suggest system implies strong patterns whereas an ethnographic worldview (leaders as a cultured being) prefers motifs and resemblances; suggesting leadership is intuitive and felt instinctively more than programmes accompanied by any certainties.

John Berger asks why does the artist start with his first brush stroke at the top of the canvas rather than the bottom. The answer is the artist intuits this decision but cannot know why. In fact to seek to know why is spurious and counter to the art itself. Art is the antithesis of a system. It is freedom itself. Paradoxically, the challenge might be then for leaders to not only know their world but to know themselves, or possibly their being; a suggestion we take from Cobb’s coming to terms with himself at the end of the film. Cobb is the boor round the table where Fonda begins the process of change via a question to himself, not an assertion of fact. He simply proffers ‘I’m not sure’. An admission rare and suggesting considerable personal security. It’s rare for leaders to offer their uncertainty; as their followers tend to then fling themselves into the trenches when the comfort blanket of charisma is stripped back to reveal the Gollum-like-figures within. But the transparency of leaders coming-to-terms with their predilictions, or in Strauss-Khan’s case, pecidillos, might save us all.

Waterstones put in the grip of the small

In Uncategorized on May 20, 2011 at 12:25 pm

This is a cute little snippet in today’s rag.

“When I interviewed Daunt in 2006 he told me that he was wary of what he called “the Waterstone’s brick wall” – when a company reaches the size at which systems and processes overtake passion and instinct. This, he said, is why he has deliberately kept Daunt Books small. He said that this tipping point is reached when a business has 100 staff. He has certainly hit the wall today – Waterstone’s has 4,500 staff.”

Can Daunt Books owner James Daunt inject soul back into Waterstones?

“Daunt believes that if the customer service and experience of shopping is good enough, then people will not mind paying a full price for their books. This is what he said: “Whether a book is £20 or £15, where does that come in the equation of being dealt with by a responsive member of staff who knows what they are talking about and is not wearing a Def Leppard T-shirt with a spike through whatever? Customers go out with a spring in their step about reading the book.””

Something here about authenticity and alignment of business values or just heady idealism?

Daunt Books in London: 


Reflections on the nature of slow inexorable change

In Uncategorized on May 18, 2011 at 9:41 am

My first visit up to the ‘all seeing’ Castle Hill in Huddersfield, West Yorkshire, yesterday with Mark to shoot a video introduction to an international variant of one of our MBA modules, but this doubled nicely as a video blog on my current research. Particularly keen to share thoughts on the nature of slow change and how embedded ideas (worldviews) drive change more than the charismatic individual (Soren Kierkegaard’s notions). It struck me afresh being up there how the convergence of ideas (more so than one off events) moves the world on and how spotting these subtle (Peter Senge’s observation) and less seductive and charismatic ‘images’ deserve our attention; that is the desire is to pull away from the organisational frame of reference on leadership primarily and put into the mind the notion that our practice is infused by our residual worldview. The notion of our ‘opinion’ and ‘position’ influences our practice more than the abstractions of theory. Also, that theory is partly a ‘history lesson’ on how the world was when that particular fragment of reality was observed and scribed. How much then is our leadership practice a fitting of the world to old frames of references so we can please seductive theory than paying attention to the here and now and offering a unique and original description of the world as we are experiencing it? Here is video link:

Public access: 


From ‘special friend’ to poor friend

In Uncategorized on May 6, 2011 at 7:54 am

Britain is in danger of looking a little lost and confused. The reeling back with distaste over the US’s triumphalism at the demise of Bin Laden reveals Britain’s lack of clear worldview. At the end of WWII US Secretary of State Dean Acheson said ‘Britain has lost an Empire but not found a role in the world’. Not a lot has changed.

Our poor rhetoric has spun ever since. Churchill said he’d always look across the Atlantic than to Europe. Thatcher said ‘Nothing good comes from Europe’. It was Europe who stood by and said little when the Serbs reaped a whirlwind and it was only American decision making that stopped their bloody onslaught. Blair acquiesced effusively to the neo-cons over Iraq. It was the CIA who radicalised the Mujahideen unchallenged. Today we can’t differentiate the good from the bad over Bin Laden. We continue to be in a paroxysm of poorly expressed critique towards our allies. Why? Because we don’t know our own position from which to build a carefully articulated independent worldview.

In other words Britain is the master of ambivalence. Worst still it is being a poor friend to the US. By giving such a limited challenge to the US over Iraq Britain let down its ally badly. Just when a restraining buddy was needed we back slapped our way into disaster. A monumental tragedy for the world. That was the time to say ‘stop, think and wait’. 14 of the 17 9/11 terrorists were Saudis but Iraq became the subject of a ‘revenge strategy’. What Elliot Leyton terms a ‘violent act to assuage a violent wrong’, America was giving in to its own instincts; and doing exactly what Bin Laden wanted, reacting with hatred. By questioning badly the commando raid on an enemy leader’s compound we are showing poor friendship. This form of operation is the approach to terrorism that we should have adopted all along. To attack the perpetrators and not the communities that have to suffer their bullying presence. Have we learnt nothing from Northern Ireland?

If you board an aircraft in the early hours having signed your last will and testament with the very real prospect of not returning, with the likelihood that your enemy has a contingency for just such an operation then it is fanciful at best to presume you can knock on the front door and ask to be let in for tea and cake. You enter of a world of confusion and terror and if the Americans have learnt anything they will have judged that success in these circumstances comes down to clinical skills. In the past America will have put a cruise missile into the compound and bred a new generation of militants; instead they saved the lives of innocents by risking the lives of their own men and women.  That’s the sort courage I applaud. The disaster of the Iranian hostage rescue, Operation Eagle Claw, and Somalia, haunted America’s military for years. They have the opportunity now to win friends and influence the world. The young Americans on the streets whooping it up can be understood but that shouldn’t overshadow that America might be turning to ‘smart tactics’ and should be encouraged along this road.

Unlike France who have an ideological anti-American position Britain has the opportunity to say ‘no’ to America when it’s in a rage and looking for someone to hit and ‘yes’ when they adopt smart tactics (and being a little realistic in accepting that a qualified success is better than an unmitigated disaster). Our role should be as a strong but balanced critic of all its allies, speaking its mind and showing we have a confident independent foreign policy position.

The causal factors for terrorism are alienated people groups. People who feel hopeless and marginalised. The West’s Imperialism has left its legacy of poorly structured nations whose peoples’ voices are unheard. These are the conditions that ferment Bin Ladens and until we can engage with the communities across the world from whom we extracted ‘globalised value’ we will continue to sow the seeds of our demise. America’s hegemony alienates, as did ours, and it’s a long careful path to restoring their standing in the world. Not by water-boarding or indiscriminate bombing but by courageous restraint.

Theory on stage

In Uncategorized on May 4, 2011 at 10:02 pm

“Theatre and theory are both contemplative pursuits” and the words themselves “come from the same root” (Fortier, 1997). Theory abounds. But ‘to theorise’ isn’t ‘to be’. Life named by the theoretical description isn’t real existence in the here and now.

John Berger in A Fortunate Man offers up “…patients are inordinately relieved when doctors give their complaint a name. The name may mean little to them; they may understand nothing of what it signifies; but because it has a name, it has an independent existence from them. They can now struggle or complain against it. To have a complaint recognised, that is to say defined, limited and depersonalised, is to be made stronger” (p. 74).

Theory then is the stage set for depersonalising life. A naming of something that we should not denote and where connotative language is not satisfying enough. To theorise is to represent life in another form but not life itself.