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.

  1. I read this as part of my research for your current module… the idea of uncertainty in leadership is an interesting one and one I have thoroughly enjoyed researching away from the module too. I have seen this idea of uncertainly in spades through my research of “leaders” such as Branson, Sugar et al. As much as I believe it is impossible to define leadership, I do feel a defining characteristic is that the ability to voice uncertainty, to not be afraid of it and to embrace it as a positive influence is possibly what does mark effective leaders (I refuse to use the word “good”). apart from those that purely manage.

    Its also reminded me to watch 12 Angry Men again… always a good way to spend an evening

    • And in a sense those leaders that become aware of the significance of uncertainty and its presence and then construct certainty become quite seductive. Followers are happy with certainty as a ‘feeling’ not necessarily with the substance of the ‘leading’ and the actual direction of travel. Is this then leadership or: co-ercion, deception, politics or something else. Leadership doesn’t intrinsically imply it’s moral or good it just is there, so to speak.

  2. I be therefore I am?
    If emersive leaders are engaged in uncertainty are they engaging in a kibd of reflective practice?
    Perhaps a “process” ? (Process a more apt word than system as implies room/space for “messyness”?)
    To “become”. To “become a leader” however would suggest that there is some sort of end point of the “being” journey… That one has arrived and is now a leader, we can say this is true for Fonda as be don’t know the rest of his journey as the credits roll.
    But for the rest of us non-fictional characters? We are all human beings, and because we all “be” , are we all leading too?
    Is this why we are entering an age of cooperative soft management work spaces where; we could argue that we all lead each other though the messy life of the everyday work experience, as we think, do, reflect, repeat day in day out?
    I wonder if this monotonous work cycle is much of an improvement for the average worker, than the old command and control leadership/management system? – as the workplace becomes a brain drain instead of a muscle drain?
    Very much enjoy 🙂

    • I suspect ‘all are leading’, whatever ‘leading’ is. The notion of a joint and messy enterprise feels a little more honest than the constant rounding on one or two people who get fat pay cheques. Although modern bureaucratic frames give considerable power to key individuals as able to achieve maybe more than they probably really can. The idea of modern structures, such as the institutional power that emerges in organisations, being the guiding force, with its members ‘riding’ inside these functional frames also is a concern. The leader ‘as a machine minder’ loyal to modern legal frames, assessing the cost to bending these in another direction, with an inner sense of standing on the glacier pointing. A little pessimistic maybe, like a Thomas Hardy novel, but quite a few senior execs might concur. The ‘good leader’ politically then, as writers have said for some time, appears to a pragmatic West as a ‘good functionalist’, not overly or sometimes at all discordant with the cadence of life. Maybe a few more ‘eccentric’ rather ‘concentric’ figures won’t hurt our world. But at what cost to the individual.

      • The eccentricity of nature and humanity is under this inexorable squeeze as modernity finds it difficult to recognise it has, as you say, put frames around that do not renew us easily.

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