Ross and Brand are leaders of a latter-day Brat pack

October 30, 2008

The headlines in the UK for all of forty eight hours have been the case of two BBC entertainers who pushed creative expression beyond acceptable limits. Are they members of a latter-day brat pack?

Jonathan Ross and Russell Brand have won accolades for their laddish-style media performances. Jonathan Ross is controversial for having allegedly the highest salary of all BBC performers. He also does cheeky interviews with other celebrity figures. Just the sort of stuff labelled ‘pushing out the envelope of creative culture in the interests of artistic expression’. Or something like that. He famously asked Conservative leader David Cameron in a TV chat show whether he had had sexual fantasies about Margaret Thatcher. (Expressed more pungently). Brand, with whom he does a Radio programme is younger, arguably more gifted . Together, they form part of a latter-day brat pack.

The case has a critical incident which makes for easier study. The dynamic duo star in a radio show involving much jokey humiliation of public figures. In the most most recent broadcast they became caught up in a creative frenzy directed against someone who had had the effrontery to duck out of the victim role he had been persuaded to accept.

The two performers acted out the rage of the humiliated lover ridiculed and publically humiliated by being stood up on a date. Ross in particular played the wealthy prince slighted in public by the showgirl. Brand, perhaps in the role of the understudy: ‘you’re too good for her Johnnie, but you’ve still got me. See, we have fun together don’t we? We can do this show without her!’ Whadya say Johnnie?

My bit of creative licence over what happened is based only on a glimpse of the incident which just happened to be televised. Which is why the drama was oh so public.

As the victim did not answer their call, they left a ‘see how much I care, you bastard’ message on the answerphone. As in South Park tantrums, it got a bit out of hand. The increasingly frenzied pair made more calls, seizing on some highly personal and gratuitous stuff about said victim, and also a close family member of his.

A storm brews up

And there it might have ended. There were no floods of outraged calls from listeners. But this story took an unexpected turn.

The victim was an aging but much-loved comedian. Ideal for stand-up comedy target practice. The rant had also been directed crudely against his show-business granddaughter, who had been a fringe member of the brat pack.

With a little help from other media figures, the Great British public awakes from its slumbers. MPs ask questions. David Cameron had his say (remember his early bit-part as victim?). The Prime Minister is rather busy saving the world from economic melt-down, so can only comment briefly. In one day [Wednesday October 29th 2008] nearly twenty thousand protests flood into the BBC. The Director General, famed for his belief in tough talking, talks tough. Calls for an enquiry, and grounds both of his naughty boys.

Brand decides he doesn’t want a full-time role in the brat pack and makes a decent stab at an expression of regret before quitting the BBC and all its ways, walking away into the sunset

Creative licence and the BBC licence

There is an interesting story here about creativity and licence, although the opposing view is that everything been blown out of all proportion.

The BBC sees itself under threat from several directions. It has to demonstrate that it is still working on the creative edge (as one of its commentators deftly put it). Various laddish programmes have sprung up to critical acclaim, earning enough outrage from the wider public to demonstrate their edgy and creative credentials. The celebrities compete for leadership of a latter-day brat pack.

Rat packs and Brat packs

Only in hindsight is a more balanced view is possible. Strictly speaking I was thinking abut the hell-rasing rat pack (not brat pack which is the label for a different movie crowd). My lapse. The association still holds: Of that earlier pack, Frank Sinatra was a performer of genius. Arguably, so was Sammy Davis junior. Part of the fun of being in the rat pack was shocking the fuddy duddies outside the charmed circle with unpleasant and outrageous public outbursts. But the members had varying degrees of talent. What they most had in common was a destructive streak, shared by the talented and the inadequate alike.

Creativity has a role to play in challenging comfortable beliefs. It often induces reactions of shock and outrage. Unfortunately, the same reactions are also induced by boorish inadequates.

Footnote

An eloquent obituary of Sinatra puts it this way:

Now that my man Francis has bought the Big Casino, who are we gonna look to as our guide for masculinity with style?

… Did they sometimes cross the line with the racial comedy bits? Hell yeah. Women? Love ‘em and leave ‘em. But they had the freedom to make asses of themselves, something the homogenized “please everybody and offend nobody” entertainers of today wouldn’t consider attempting. And let’s be honest–a lot of the “insensitive” routines they performed were pretty damn funny, baby.

They came from an era where entertainers didn’t solely rely on attitude to carry their act. Today, far to many entertainers lean on an “image” to get their message across. It’s as if they hope that all their bullshit posturing masks their innate lack of any real talent. With most of them, when you look past the slick, prefabricated veneer, you find a surprisingly shallow act underneath


Obama McCain: Stripping the Noise out of the Polls

October 29, 2008

myspace-polls.com

myspace-polls.com


Poll-watching has been part of the fun of the Presidential campaign. When the noise is stripped out, the statistical reality is not in accord with the stories being spun

Polls are fun. Swings, even those within the ‘corridor of (statistical) uncertainty’ of 2%-3% for a specific poll, have regularly been used to present a news stories.

There have been plenty of stories built on statistical blips. But when the entire set of results are presented together, the dominant undulations are mostly noise. The polls are rather like regular visits to a fortune teller, who tells a story derived from yarrow sticks, tea leaves or Tarot cards.

The BBC has been providing an excellent comparative summary of four polls. These come from four different organizations, each with variations in methodology. I will rely on visual inspection only (which is enough for spotting the broad level of noise and the most significant real effects statistically).

The four polls

The four polls presented in the BBC summaries have been from Gallop, Rasmussen, Washington Post and Ipsos. These were selected from a more extensive compilation of results from the pollster organisation.

The trends revealed from the four BBC polls lead to several conclusions. Across the period of polling any one poll is mostly showing a lot of noise (swings within the corridor of uncertainty of say 2% for one trend line). The blips just even out over periods of several months. You may wish to interpret it as day on day shifts in voting intentions. But the results are also consistent with repeated confirmation of a ‘null hypothesis’ of no significant difference found. This is further confirmed if any claimed swing is not detected uniformly across the polls.

This sort of inspection shows that the polls are prone to ‘false positives’ – results that show a significant swing over some time period, for one poll, but not for the others. It also suggests that among the false positives were blips associated with Hillary Clinton pulling out of the race, Obama declaring himself Democratic candidate, and arguably the recent conventions. THis way you can just about detect a slight and temporary ‘Palin Bounce’ for the McCain campaign followed by the subsequent drift downwards.

Inspection along the time-scale of the polls revealed almost identical poll percentages for Obama and McCain towards the start (Feb 2008) and recently (Sept 2008). The base-line shows round 50% for Obama, 44% for McCain.

There have been two ‘stand-out’ periods in which McCain has been shedding a few percentage points. One has been over the period of the financial crisis of the last month (Sept-Oct 2008). That, unfortunately for McCain, is significant for several reasons. First, the most recent data are always treated as the most newsworthy and important (the well-known immediacy effect in decision theory). Secondly, the election is advancing rapidly, so that the effect is taken even more seriously.

The polls now all say Obama. The averages for the popular vote have stabilized, and are interpreted as a narrow win for Obama.

Looking State by State

Attention has turned to evaluations are based on probabilities of the candidates winning each State. This is a far more sensible way of using statistics, as the victory does not go to the winner of the popular vote, but to the winner of delegates of the Electoral college. The State by State assessment has more sensitivity towards the range of probabilities of each State staying the same as last time, or switching the affiliation of the nominated members of the electoral college.

On these assessments, Obama is more clearly in the lead, and explains why the commentators are writing as if the result is more clear-cut.

One week to go

With less than a week to go, some of the theories have come and gone. McCain’s run-in seems to have been in military terms a courageous scramble. Obama’s a dignified avoidance of appearing too much of a winner, but still appearing a winner.

One day to go

Commentators are talking as if the polls suggest Obama is a near certainty. McCain claims a last-gasp gain in support enough to give his supporters continued hope. There is even more of a narrowing of concentration by reporters around the one issue ‘how will the voters vote’ and a decoupling of opinion from contextual factors. By that I mean that the economic back drop, for example, has hardly had a mention in comparison with the vivid impact of the latest Joe the Pumber encounter. Bewitched, bothered, and bewildered.

All the polls, all the ‘objective’ analysis point to only one winner. So why are so few commentators (including me) refusing to say there is no hope left for John McCain? Maybe Obama’s recent rallying cry to his supporters offers hope for Senator McCain as well:

Obama the university lecturer embarks on a little treatise on what hope actually means – “that thing deep down inside of us that insists, despite all the evidence to the contrary, there are better times ahead of us”. It is a line he has been polishing now for days, if not weeks. And his audiences always get it, and love it.

Acknowledgement

To myspace-polls for the image and their encouragement to turn us all into pollitical pollsters.


Painful Prescott is a turn-off

October 28, 2008
“]John Prescott [wikipedia]

John Prescott is obsessed with class. So is the BBC. They deserve each other.

One basic assumption examined in Leaderswederserve is that leaders are shaped and created by society’s needs. The BBC programme on John Prescott [Monday Oct 27th 2008] is a case in point.

In a rare moment of exercising my democratic rights, I escaped the BBC’s latest grubby venture into celebrity television last night with another twenty minutes to go. If you count the second programme, I will have missed an hour and twenty minutes of vacuity.

Humiliation television

Why did the programme get to me? Partly because I am increasingly intolerant of entertainment in which reality is filtered through the ghastly mechanisms which create the images of celebrity humiliation. The principle was anticipated in Andy Warhol’s phrase about pop culture and fifteen minutes of fame. That’s not quite accurate. Warhol was a bit of an irony-free zone. There is an uneasy overlay of knowing irony of the media professionals, alongside ingenuous performances of some of the wannabe celebs in the productions of Big Brother, Dragons Den, Strictly come Dentistry, The Apprentice, not to mention series in which clever people are filmed meeting ordinary people who have passed some criterion of admission into the performance.

Trying to avoid the genre is hard in a world of downloads, and multiple repeats. When that first fifteen minutes of fame has ended, those dumped are lined-up for more interviews, more fifteen minutes worth of fame.

That’s the general point. There is a collusion between those involved which is sometimes used to justify the programmes. ‘They know what they are getting in to’ is the start and nearly the end of one line of justification.

In the case of the Prescott performance, there was a grain of truth in this. John Prescott is developing his career towards celebrity status, bringing into the process the elements of the former Prescott brand of class warrior.

Unspoken in the bit of the show I watched, was further justification in that his departure from the centre of the political scene was souped up with a sleazy sexual episode. So he didn’t just know what he was getting in to, but he had it coming to him didn’t he? Especially as the show could also be a vehicle for introducing Pauline, the sparky and loyal wife.

The turn-off

All that being said, John and Pauline Prescott are a couple about whom an interesting programme could be made. Sadly, this was not it. There was even a story there to be teased out around class, but for such a story, a more imaginative touch was required.

The programme was a turn-off for me because it was never going anywhere new. It hinted at investigative journalism, but settled for something a lot more voyeuristic. It just wasn’t interesting.

Don’t do it, Pauline

Those professional critics who watched the show found the Prescotts rather endearing. Pauline, in particular caught their eye for her performance as the articulate working-class girl enjoying the novel experience of sharing the limelight with her larger than life husband.

Pauline Prescott is now likely to take her place in Andy Worhol territory as a celebrity wife. And yes, if she does, ‘she knows what’s she’s getting into’ so whatever happens, it’s perfectly OK in the world of instant celebrity.

Or is it?


Leadership and the Local Peak Syndrome

October 26, 2008

New leadership ideas and actions are particularly valuable when the going gets tough. A new book based on Culture Theory shows how to understand and overcome the local peak syndrome

There is a cartoon often shown during leadership programmes. It shows a mountaineer planting a flag on the summit of a mountain. But the drawing can be expanded to show what the climber had missed. He has reached a local peak, and the real challenge looms ahead. What’s worse, he has to get off the local peak before he can start climbing again. It’s a powerful visual image.

Local Peak Syndrome

Mountaineer and author Michael Thompson knows quite a bit about expeditions to conquer the world’s greatest peaks. He took part in successful yomps up Annapurna and Everest in the 1970s. He is also a pioneer of Culture Theory, and although he doesn’t use the term, he also knows about the local peak syndrome, which he outlines in his latest book Organising and Disorganising: A Dynamic and Non-Linear Theory of Institutional Emergence and its Implications published by Triarchy Press

The title may put some potential readers off. That would be a pity. Readers may be pleasantly surprised at the enjoyment and benefit to be derived by signing up for the expedition.

For one thing, the author is a confident guide, and illustrates the journey by means of lots of interesting maps of other expeditions including investigations into environmental problems of the Napalese region, climbing expeditions, and (in some contrast) the move of Arsenal Football club from Highbury to The Emirates Stadium. The stories illustrate a rich version of cultural theory, and have implications for leaders of all kinds.

The virtues of ‘clumsy’ solutions

For example, the Arsenal story shows that The Emirates Stadium site would have been overlooked in favour of elegant but simplistic solutions favoured by three different groups of stakeholders some of whom would have made for implementation of these ideas difficult. Thompson calls the outcome a necessarily ‘clumsy’ (but effective) resolution as opposed to elegant but unacceptable front-runner proposals.

His point is that many well-intentioned policy initiatives, and strategic plans fail to take the complexities of change into account. This is particularly apt in the current environment of what Alan Greenspan referred to as an economic Tsunami.

Social solidarities

The next point in his argument is that complex systems have what he calls solidarities each favoured by some people involved. These solidarities are recurring patterns of social coherence. They are labelled the hierarchical, the egalitarian, the individualistic, the fatalistic and the autonomous solidarities.

These four terms can be derived from the celebrated work of Mary Douglas, and a more recent ‘two-by-two’ grid of them can be found in an essay by Aaron Wildavsky (try googling Wildavsky and Culture Theory).

Readers may be more familiar with ‘two by two’ management grids (high and low levels of structuring, and high and low levels of groupiness), or maybe the two-by-two of sociological paradigms by Burrell & Morgan.

We need to know a little about cybernetics to see where Thompson has taken such treatments. Essentially he grasps one of the nettles too often ducked. What might be the mechanisms through which people (and groups) move from one ‘box’ to another?.

Burrell and Morgan’s work helped generate a lot of debate about whether such movement was possible, or whether the belief systems of the boxes represented incommensurate paradigms.

Thompson’s solution is to add a fifth element. In doing so he mentions the principle of requisite variety, cherished by cyberneticians since it was developed by Ross Ashby, many years ago.

Ashby worked out the requirements for any configuration of any system to be stable (‘we could see the stable states as ‘solidarities’). These were the viable states of the system, which had the survival property of the appropriate degree of requisite variety

Dr Thompson takes Ashby’s principle a few steps further, invoking a formal proof that requisite variety for systems stability exists in five and only five solidarities bracketed together.

The formulation began to remind me of even more ideas, including one associated with Lawrence and Lorsch, a team of Harvard organizational theorists. They proposed that differing conditions shape organizations into different (sub)systems, with differing integrating mechanisms. This contributed to Harvard’s pioneering reputation for contingency models of organization.
Thompson’s integrating device (the autonomous ‘solidarity’) introduces his fifth component into the established ‘two by twos’.

How real is real?

The author makes it clear that he believes that organizational stability (viability) needs the existence of five solidarities. And not just any old five solidarities interacting in any which way, but mediated through his specified autonomous solidarity. In so doing he believes he gets around many of the difficulties of prevailing theories of social structures.

You will have to read the book to see if this ‘essay in persuasion’ works for you. I was partly already converted into accepting some of the basic ideas presented. Time will tell whether re-reading helps me reach a greater level of persuasion on other suggestions in the book.

I was fortunate to have taken part in discussions some years ago, with cybernetics theorist, Stafford Beer.

Stafford had developed a model of organization which I (and other colleagues) regarded at the time as a powerful metaphor. Stafford was emphatic that his model was more than a metaphor, rather an identity for an organization’s defining features.

I sense a similar conviction to Stafford’s in Michael Thompson’s treatment of his five solidarities. Stafford’s famous model also has five interacting systems. (It even has at its Level 5, a super-ordinate integrating mechanism similar to that of Thompson’s autonomous system) . Broading this further, we might reflect whether Senge’s fifth discipline (learning to learn) might not be a similar integrating mechanism within yet another systems theory of change.

Buy the book

If you find this half as interesting as I did, you must get hold of Organising and Disorganising. And, if you haven’t already, have a go at any of Stafford’s books still in print. Brain of the Firm would be a good one with which to start.


Ramos sacked by Spurs

October 26, 2008
Juande Ramos

Juande Ramos

Juande Ramos is sacked by Spurs after the team’s dreadful start to the 2008 season. What are the leadership lessons for the club?

When Tottenham Hotspur won the Carling Cup Final at Wembley [February 24th 2008] against a much-fancied Chelsea team, coach Juande Ramos received plaudits for the transformation achieved at Tottenham since his arrival earlier in the season.

I asked the question at the time whether Ramos had really made such a difference at the club. To be sure, he had shown exceptional skill a few months earlier when a tactical reshuffle seemed to have influenced the course of an important UEFA cap match

But in the longer term:

There is a wider issue that should be mentioned. The arrival of Juande Ramos, and departure of Martin Jols is a far more complicated story to untangle. It would be simplistic to suggest that the Board was correct in replacing a leader who had achieved rather unexpected success over five years at the club. That story requires a far more detailed study over a much longer time-scale than the ninety minutes of a football match.

So what happened next?

The Carling Cup final was the last moment of celebration at Tottenham for the appointment of Ramos. The new season began with gloom as the club parted with their talented (and key) strikers Berbatov and Keene. Poor results continued. Ramos received the usual endorsements of support from the board, but it was only a matter of time.

Leadership lessons

Ramos did not become a bad coach overnight. The situation at the start of the season was dire. The club has tended to survive by selling players to balance the books. The sales of Berbatov and Keene were always likely to make the job of the coach difficult.

If there has been a failure of leadership, the decisions of the board have played a large part in the story. The financial considerations, and the players’ indications of a wish to leave may have been critical. However, the board always had the option of giving Ramos a longer stay. But as with Jols, the decision was made, and another good coach is on his way out of the club.


Engineering firm A E Harris has Survived Ten Recessions. How did it do that?

October 26, 2008
Russell Lockcock

Russell Lockcock

There are few firms that have survived three generations of family ownership unscathed. Engineering firm A E Harris has done so and also battled through ten recessions. How did it do that?

The evidence suggests that the added value from family ownership diminishes in impact after two at most generations from founder to son or grandchild. Few firms survive into the fifth or sixth generation of family ownership, although European examples are perhaps more common than American, where market dynamics have tended to increase the proportion of firms succumbing to takeover or worse.

A powerful example from England is that of relatively small manufacturing firm A E Harris. Its survival for over a hundred years has seen it outface ten recessions, according to its current chairman Russell Luckock. He should know, he has been its leader for over fifty of them, taking over as a young man of 21.

He told The BBC about his experiences

“The company was founded 128 years ago by my great-grandfather just near the same central Birmingham site that we occupy today. The firm started out making hand made jewellery and tool making equipment and has gradually expanded to the company I run today. I started out at the firm as a favour, helping out for a few weeks, but I stayed on a bit longer and have now been here 53 years. It’s important to realize that you get a recession about every 10 years and each and every one you go through will be different …”

The seventy four year old leader sees a recession as a time requiring drastic and painful cost-management but also a time of seeking new kinds of business. He has recently been forced to cut back and close down unsuccessful sites, but the company survives.

I don’t think Mr Luckock would see himself as an example of servant leadership, but he captures some of its characteristics, such as a strong sense of duty and responsibility to his employees. He talks of fighting tooth and nail to save jobs, but has made the adjustments if needed for survival of the rest of the company. For example, in the last decade the business shrunk from nearly 200 employees to around forty, against competition from the Far East.

There are some parallels with Warburtons, another example of a UK family firm, and one that has survived into its fifth generation of the family.

This kind of firm is, arguably, an extended family, with strong family values. Survival through a tenth recession can not be guaranteed, but A E Harris has as much chance as any as it takes on its tenth battle against such tough economic conditions.

Your Chance to Vote


Joey Barton in New Job Search

October 23, 2008
Joey Barton (Wikipedia)

Joey Barton (Wikipedia)

Joey Barton says he intends to become a role model for kids who can’t relate to the squeaky cleanliness of David Beckham. Leaderswederserve reveals an overheard conversation
Leaderswedeserve recently happened to overhear a mobile-phone conversation on a train heading for Newcastle.

Hello, yes this is Max. Is that you Joe? Listen. I’m on my way now. You’re a lucky boy. But if you want me to manage this for you, no press interviews until I say so.

O.K. So here’s the story. You’ve done your time. You’ve been lucky. Given more chances than Man U against Celtic. So now you want to give something back to society.
Gorrit?

No, you can’t say that you can do a Heineken reaching those kids David Beckham can’t get to. Why? because you don’t want to draw any attention to Becks. That’s why. And even if you do you don’t call him squeaky bum clean. I don’t care if that’s what bleeding Sir Alex said. From now on, you’ve got to have a pure mouth.

Never mind what Joe Kinnear said. He doesn’t want to be a frigging role model. And he definitely doesn’t want to be your role model.

No, I wouldn’t say that either. Stubbing out that cigar isn’t just the same as what Eric did. And don’t start going off about Eric, either. You’re a smart kid. Work it out for yourself. No Beckham, No Cantona. That’s why you mustn’t do interviews until I say so. Shtum.

Yes, as it happens I do have a plan. First you would have to …

[at that point a train announcement drowned out the conversation. The next thing I heard was]

…got that? Say you won’t be speaking to the press for a long time. Grateful for Kevin’s understanding. Lessons to be learned. Repaying the debt …

[Max listened for quite a while, becoming more agitated]

…be a shining beacon? No. Giving up alcohol? No! Role model? Role model! No, Joey. Just wait until I get there. Joey? Can you hear me? If you say those sorts of things I can’t be responsible.

At that point Max muttered something which he may have heard in the interview with Joe Kinnear last week. Then he snapped his mobile shut, and charged off in the direction of the buffet, shaking his head in despair. I thought I caught a glimpse of him leaving the train at the next stop.

The next day

The next day I heard another conversation. This time it was recorded by the BBC, and the man interviewed was Joey Barton. I wonder if Joey had listened to Max’s plan?


George Osborne and the Dilemmas of Leadership

October 22, 2008
George Osborne

George Osborne

George Osborne hits the headlines accused of illegal soliciting of funds at a dinner party. The case illustrates the dilemmas of leadership, and the specific challenge of balancing public and private activities

George Osborne stands accused of illegal soliciting of funds Public interest is the greater because the story involves figures of great wealth and or political influence.

For me, the interest also lies in the general issue of the dilemmas of leadership, and the specific challenge of balancing public and private activities. It’s a case example which wannabe leaders would do well to reflect on. It’s the sort of thing that crops up in examination papers on leadership.

The context

According to the Telegraph [Oct 22nd 2008]

The son of Lord Rothschild, who usually shuns publicity, wrote to [The Times] yesterday to claim that George Osborne’s visit to the yacht owned by Oleg Deripaska, the Russian billionaire .. was to “solicit a donation” for the Conservatives

The article sketches out the breaking story, claiming that Rothchild had been spooked by the possibility of his links with Deripaska becoming the subject of an investigation.

It’s an extraordinary allegation by [Nat Rothchild] , who was Osborne’s host in Corfu and has been his chum since they were members of the Bullingdon Club at Oxford. He [Rothchild] has also been involved in fundraising for the Tories under David Cameron, and has made a great part of his estimated £1.3 billion fortune through his association with Deripaska.

A few more complications

The story is already pretty complicated. But there is more. Yesterday, Mr Osborne made a hastily convened statement to the press outside Westminster. In it he denied all wrong-doing. But the press, led by tenacious Nick Robinson at his Clark Kent best, probed on. Nick was on the scent of something.

The story behind the story was hinted at. There had been several meetings during the summer which had been hosted by Nathaniel Rothchild. Among whose guests were Peter Mandelson, and as we know George Osborne. (Rupert Murdoch was also present, and may have played a peripheral role in the drama, as I will suggest below).

The sub-plot involved what Peter Mandelson said in private about the Prime Minister. At the time Mandy was widely assumed to be far removed from Gordon Brown politically, and with a reputation for private indiscretions. At some point, Mandelson was indiscrete in private. Osborne was subsequently indiscrete in public, leaking the rather unsurprising news that Mandy had dripped poison about The Prime Minister into the ears of anyone interested in listening.

Not much of a story. But a few months, and a financial crisis later, Gordon, now redefined as a politician of world stature, brings Mandelson back into Government, ennobling him in the process. Osborne’s story had become hot news.

Mandelson’s revenge?

The story within the story is now explained as the youthful Rothschild, miffed and anxious over intrusions into his business relationship with Deripaska, beginning to see George Osborne and his indiscetions as the cause of his troubles. Max attacks in The Times, perhaps encouraged by Mandelson. (I assume that was implied in the parting shot from Nick Robinson, who asked Osborne if he regretted ‘crossing Peter Mandelson’).

Dilemmas of leadership

So there we are. A nasty little muddle. A rising star of the political right cast as a foolish young man. What can we make of the story from a leadership point of view.

Political blogger Tim Montgomerie suggested in a radio interview that the story was an attempt by political opponents to nobble George Osborne. Montgomerie pointed out the importance of Osborne’s strategic nous to the party. Actually, as a political attack, it would have been just as effective if George was far less significant, on the principle that picking off a weak enemy undermines the stronger ones).

Whether orchestrated or not, the problem clearly gets back to the management of private and public personas. It makes sense for a public figure to have private conversations with those who might be helpful to the public cause. And the rich and powerful are high on the list. But how to ‘keep your wits when all about you are losing theirs .. walk with crowds and keep your virtue .. talk with kings nor lose the common touch’?

The dilemma is between competing values and trade-offs. There is no free lunch even if invited by a billionaire. But you still have a choice of how you pay. And the more powerful expect some reward. What better than offering a personal revelation about another powerful (and absent) figure? Which was why I noted that Rupert Murdoch might have been present, adding to the temptation of those so inclined to drip a bit of poison. But the rules of the game are those of Omerta. The confidentiality of the diner table is not so much sacrosanct as tradable but with great care. George Osborne traded unwisely.

There is another way …

Most political and business satire presents the utterly amoral nature of those scrambling for survival and supremacy in a Darwinian struggle. In contrast, the dynamics of power I have described are largely ignored in the popular inspirational books about the transformational leader.

It seems to me that there is another way of dealing with the dilemmas of leadership. It involves treating leadership as an unfinished challenge. We can study and reflect on experiences such as these. What would we have done? What might have been a better way to have acted? It is a way available to those who believe that leadership can be developed – regardless of accidents of birth and upbringing.


Battle of Ideas: Picking on the Apprentice

October 19, 2008

Alan Sugar acts out the leadership myth

Alan Sugar acts out the leadership myth


Creative leaders are idea warriors. Which is why many will be found engaging in the debate on bullying at work organized by The Institute of Ideas

The Fourth annual Battle of Ideas will involve over 1500 participants including strands on bullying at work, biomedicine, the family and (inevitably for election week).

The bullying at work session has marketed itself as Picking on the Apprentice. Leaderswedeserve has had a few points to make in the past on the television program. Like ourselves, The Institute of Ideas is more interested in hitch-hiking on the over-publicized programme to get at a far wider wider range of issues.

The bullying event will examine the recent case when a Marks & Spencer employee was fired for whistle blowing. And the example of Jason Toal, a black fireman bullied by colleagues who hurled racist taunts at him and allegedly soaked him with water and binned his paper work.

Other sessions will explore whether management consultancy and the professionals are in need of a stronger moral compass in the interests of the community, and (if that appeal is not enough) for their own post-credit crunch survival.

Political correctness running sane

Many people have developed a kneejerk reaction to describe their feekings of frustration and anger under the catch-all phrase political correctness gone mad. It might be interesting to trace the origins of this.

I have no doubt that themes within the Battle of Ideas will attract the inevitable media take of political correctness running mad . Which is OK. It is a comfort to think that debate offers a chance to develop more balanced views, and more importantly to act accordingly. On balance I’d say that is political correctness operating in a socially healthy way.

Acknowledgement: The Institute of ideas for the press release which prompted this post


Poll Dancing

October 17, 2008
Pole dancing puppy

Pole dancing puppy

Leaderswedeserve has a small but loyal list of subscribers. Maybe the numbers are small because the posts are too lengthy and read a bit too much as if written by a crusty old academic. Here’s a chance to influence future posts

Perhaps the Obama Bush marathon has over-disposed me to opinion polls however futile. So here’s a poll you can take part in, even if you are not a registered American voter.

If you want to offer suggestions not covered by the three options, you can always add a comment in the customary way at the end of the post.


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