Dolphins reveal dangerous leadership patterns

January 24, 2009
Dolphin training for defense duties

Dolphin training for defense duties

It has been suggested that Dolphins are prone to flock towards a pod member in distress, sometimes risking the entire pod. Is there a message for humans in times of crisis?

The plight of the dolphin is both sad and rather puzzling. It was brought to mind by an article applying evolutionary psychology to explaining leadership and followership. I wondered if the article might throw light on leadership patterns in dolphin pods and dog packs, as well as in business, political, and social organizations.

The article, in American Psychologist, has captured the attention of organisational theorists such as Bob Sutton.

The study is entitled Leadership, Followship and Evolution: Some Lessons from the past. It provides an evolutionary perspective to leadership. The thrust of its analysis is that leading and following
are

strategies that evolved in ancestral environments … with potential for exploitation … [and that ] modern organizational structures are sometimes inconsistent with aspects of our evolved leadership psychology [p182]

And so to human behaviors under stress

Homo economicus shows signs of distress. Like the Dolphin, many utter those distress signals, and attract other pod members to their call.

This week [January 22nd 2009] you could hear the distress calls from Jim Rogers, a former partner of George Soros, picked up by The Independent newspaper

When asked his advice for a young person growing up in Britain, Jim Rogers, former partner of George Soros and one of the world’s most successful investors, is forthright. “Move to China; learn Chinese.”

Beware of dirty dolphins

We humans may be prepared to train up dolphins for our security needs, but by and large we hold them in high regard. Unfortunately, many animals, maybe even dolphins, may resort to devious behaviors to help their selfish genes.

The cry from Jim Rogers seems to be that of the dirty dolfin in action.

He has sold all his sterling assets and has “no position” in sterling, but Mr Rogers reveals that he had been planning to short-sell sterling in the present financial crisis, before recent disparaging remarks about the pound’s prospects from his own lips had put paid to those plans. “I should have kept my mouth shut.”

Mr Rogers had in mind a repeat of his previous coup, when he and Mr Soros’s Quantum Fund famously “broke” the Bank of England in 1992, when sterling was forced out of the European exchange rate mechanism, costing UK taxpayers $1bn and making Mr Soros and Mr Rogers correspondingly wealthier.

The moral of the fable

When you hear the cry of a distressed dolphin, be careful how you respond. You may just have heard a dirty dolphin engaged in dastardy behavior.

Acknowledgement

To Earth to the ground website for the dolphin image drawing attention to a story of how how dolphin flocking behaviors may be deployed for security purposes.


What is 3e Leadership?

August 7, 2008

According to a new leadership book, 3e stands for envisioning, engaging and executing. The concept can be traced back to earlier work on Funky Capitalism by the book’s Swedish celebrity-economist author

Around the heady days of the new millennium, a lively book on an old subject emerged from the Financial Times business series. It dealt with the new business world of creativity and ideas. Capitalism, it proclaimed, was transforming itself along the lines of popular culture.

The spirit of the book was captured by a reviewer

Oh dear–a book called Funky Business by two Swedish academics. At first glance it has all the allure of Benny and Bjorn’s (from Abba) sadly never released concept album about life as a middle manger in a multinational conglomerate.

There is something very earnestly hip about the way that Kjell Nordstrom and Jonas Ridderstrale of the Stockholm School Of Economics present themselves. “They do gigs not seminars. These gigs sell out. They have shaved heads and wear black”, says the blurb.
But that’s what makes Funky Business worth reading. It’s not so much the novelty of its argument–which boils down to the idea that in an oversupplied world, ideas are what separate successful companies and successful individuals from the failures. It is the vitality of the argument and, dare I say it, the rhythm of the language that make it so compelling.

Now Ridderstrale has linked up with Brit Mark Wilcox to form an Anglo-Swedish team. They offer a more traditional treatment, delivering a how-to-do-it programme for business transformation. The mood-music has become more earnest, evangelical, and executive-friendly as it extols the principles of 3e leadership.

3e leadership

The shift from Abba to Abbey Life can be detected in Wiley’s blurb to Re-energizing the Corporation:

Re-energizing The Corporation is built on the groundbreaking 3e leadership model which makes sense of the three Es of Envisioning, Engaging and Executing. By understanding and following the model, you will be able to create compelling pictures of the future of your organization; build a following of individuals committed to getting the vision into reality; and maximize team performance to deliver on your dream.

That’s all right then. Nothing too funky to scare the suits. Indeed, the sparking prose which was so hailed as so much a feature of Ridderstrale’s earlier gigs seems to have been heavily censored.

In defense of the authors, you can’t read too much from a marketing blurb. There are unreconstructed marketing folk out there, even at the heart of the creative industries. They collect information from authors on their next year’s titles, and then convert the ideas into marketing business-speak for the catalogues and assorted publicity media. ‘Avoid clichés like cutting-edge’, I was advised, when undertaking this duty for an up-coming book. So I did my best. Then my cliché-lite suggestions were still rewritten as o a cutting-edge book for all proactive leadersor some such mangled version of what I had proposed.

Don’t get confused

3e leadership is easy to confuse with similar-sounding corporate offerings. For example, 3E is a Californian firm specializing in environmental issues. 3e is the Wilcox and Ridderstrale approach to corporate transformation. You can kind more on their website whch includes a very MBA-like three-D chart.

I missed the pre-launch publicity, and came across it only after I received a request to run a workshop on 3e leadership. (Thanks, but no thanks, Peggy. I’ll pass on that, if only because I have overdosed for some while on promises to help organizations envision engage and execute.

Jonas and Mark may well be on to something. But it’s a competitive market. You’ll have to read the book and decide for yourself.

There’s a case example in Dilemmas of Leadership (The Departure Lounge Dilemma) on having to evaluate the merits of a book which has captured the attention of your boss.

Me? I’m off to find a copy of the earlier Abba version to be found in Funky Capitalism.


Tai Chi, Team Leadership and Contented Cows

April 15, 2008

A Metro News article tells of a new angle on motivational methods.

Rob Taverner performs the ancient martial art in front of his 100 cows every morning to get them in the right moo-d to produce lots of milk.

The 44-year-old organic farmer visits the animals at 9am each day to run through his ten-minute routine of slow movements and breathing techniques – dressed in his distinctive overalls and wellies. He said: ‘Tai chi is all about leaving your problems behind and getting into a better zone and my mood definitely transfers to the cows’.

Crazy or What?

This blog has not been afraid to espouse the unusual. In the past we have looked at Horse Whispering, Mandrill management …

But Tai Chi for improved productivity of a herd of cows? What possible justification can there be for taking this starting point for insights into leadership?

Pause a moment

Many ideas start out as being mocked, and then dismissed as obvious. I assume this is item is likely to fall more in the former than the latter category.

Mr Taverner attracted quite a lot of publicity nationally for his tale of Tai Chi. It had the sort of quirkiness that appeals to Brits. The organic farmer also handled the media rather well. In a radio interview he added a further twist to the tale.

The cows were not just happy but their contentment had been accompanied by a measurable increase in milk production. Did all this leave himself open to ridicule? Well yes, a bit, but not enough to bother a diligent student of Tai Chi. And he had an added twist to the story.

Tai Chi and Team Leadership

He had gone down to his local rugby club over the weekend [April 12-13, 2008]. Seems the under-fourteen squad greeted him with their own humorous (as in Rugby club humourous) version of a Tai Chi warm up.

See? I said there was a connection with team leadership. According to the farmer the team went on to win its competition.

Make your own mind up

A momentary bit of eye candy? Or should we be looking more closely at the rationale for applying Tai Chi as part of a sporting leader’s armoury of techniques which help team members generate fierce resolve?

Acknowledgement

To Jonathan Guiliano for introducing me to Bob Sutton’s entertaining and well-informed blog


Is leadership training up the pole?

October 4, 2007



stairway to heaven

Originally uploaded by t.rickards

A recent visit to a leadership training camp prompted the question ‘what’s the point of all this pole climbing?’.

The very reasonable question was posed by a colleague who had not been part of the experience. Where to start?

Faraday was asked ‘what’s the point of electricity?’ Being a bright spark himself, he was able to reply ‘What’s the point of a baby?’

Experiential learning has to be experienced

It is perhaps a dilemma of leadership. No amount of conceptualizing seems to help answer such a question. The fundamental divide may be between those who learn from experience, and those whose reluctance to engage with experience prevents them from ever finding out for themselves.

Case for the prosecution

It is very difficult to demonstrate the direct link between experiential learning and subsequent real-life behaviors. Therefore, the cost-effectiveness of such programs are also difficult to demonstrate.

Individuals will have very different capabilities to cope with the physical and emotional challenges they are confronted with.

Organizations are increasingly aware of the corporate duty of care, and where the ultimate legal responsibilities and sanctions fall.

Case for the defense

It is very difficult to demonstrate the link between almost any form of business education and subsequent real-life behaviors. There are various technical reasons. These can be found (among other sources) in the Chapter in Dilemmas of Leadership as well as in texts on evaluative inquiry for learning in organizations.

The entire Business School curriculum is increasingly under pressure to accept its limitations, and change to cope with the challenges of the 21st century. The rankings of Business Schools are widely regarded as based on dubious mathematical manipulations and rely on indirect measures of assessing educational value (proportion of faculty with higher degrees; average salary gains among its graduates; ratings in scholarly publications …). Nor is there much agreement about the relative merits of various ranking systems.

Students generally rate experiential projects highly. The exit assessments for the cohort of the Business School described here were overwhelmingly in favour of the projects as a valued part of the course.

A better way?

Here’s a challenge. There must be better ways of assessing the impact of experiential learning as part of a business education.


Manchester Memoirs: Case Notes on The Manchester Method

July 5, 2007

mbs-web.jpgHow effective is project-based learning within business education? A tutor reviews a seven-week project for MBA project teams assessing the strengths and weaknesses of the approach

It is early evening, Friday June 6th 2007. I stagger into the courtyard after two days of Project 2 presentations from the class of 2008. The Class of 2008 is a recently introduced label for what used to be called ‘the first year MBAs ’. The new name reminds us that the class graduates in 2008. Similarly, the class of 2007 is the distinguishing label for ‘the second year MBAs’, now close to graduating. Next week, examiners’ meetings will settle the fate of members of the class of 2007, and confirm which members of the class of 2008 will or will progress towards graduation.

Project 2

Project 2 occupies a pivotal space in the MBA timetable. It’s where teams of MBAs take on projects on behalf of business clients. The projects have been selected as requiring the team to work from a starting brief towards something with more clearly specified and feasible objectives. Most team members have quite a few years experience in business roles. But Project 2 still presents some tough new challenges.

An end-of-semester barbeque is underway in the courtyard. I can’t smell the coffee, but I can smell the hamburgers. The event has been organized in support of a local charity by an indefatigable student from the class of 2008. All seats in the courtyard have been claimed, with the unoccupied ones being guarded for hunter- gatherers in the Barbie line. I try unsuccessfully to see if the sustainability team members were opting for non-veg hamburgers.

Could that be the team that had pulled no punches about their lawyer clients now supping enthusiastically with junior council? It was. I wondered if the barristers had liked my ice-breaking joke a few hours earlier to welcome them? The one about there being no space in front of the School for their chauffeur in the corporate roller? I decide they didn’t.

Flashback

A couple of months ago, the teams from the class of 2008 had bid for the Project 2 assignments they would like. Before that, there has been a lot of work by the project support staff, canvassing for projects. After the student bidding, there are some disappointed students and some would-be sponsors. There will be further bidding. It’s a neat process, with good learning challenges. One down-side is that faculty have trouble in advance predicting will be favorites. This year I tried to hard to ‘sell’ a project only for the offer to be totally spurned. Another great project (so thought the tutors) was likewise turned down. Teams have offered assorted explanations for their preferred choices, but there’s no obvious pattern revealed, and maybe undisclosed reasons.

The projects

A strong tradition has emerged that the specific details of projects remain confidential. The senior administrator of the project has a shredding machine in her office, and she ensures there are no documents that might lead any information to be revealed to anyone outside the restricted circulation list. Which is one of the reasons I won’t be saying much about the projects.

Team dynamics: Not an Apprentice in sight

Project 2 took place over roughly the time period of the BBC TV show The Apprentice. I am immune to the charms of Alan Sugar’s program. I am spending quite enough of my waking and working days with teams of people working on business tasks.

One more time: what is The Manchester Method?

At The Manchester Business School, our short-hand for the learning provided within projects is The Manchester Method. This defies conclusive definition for the same reason that social constructs such as leadership and creativity have defied definition. The concepts take on new meanings as they are tested in use. This explains why, over the years, The Manchester Method has been described in various ways. When students ask about definitions I offer the one most reflecting my understanding at that particulat time. Recently I have been saying that

The Manchester Method is a learning process of a kind which permits participants to engage directly with experience, and which facilitates links between the experience, and relevant theoretical concepts.

But I still show overhead visuals with an earlier definition which actually is a well-known description of organizational culture: The way we do things around here.

Learning Gains

The MBAs learn about leadership, co-dependence among team members, dealing with multiple ‘stakeholders’, tackling the ambiguities of business projects, and much more beside, A minority will go more deeply into the pedagogy, in personal logs and follow-up studies.

Each project is unique. But every project has been selected so that it permits learning rather general behavioural principles. One set of these were imported from the pioneering work of The Tavistock Institute. These suggest that any social group will be prone to defense mechanisms against uncertainties, and perceived threats and fears. The symptoms are easier to detect from the outside. They are broadly actions which can be interpreted as scapegoating, finding in a person the symbolic object on which to project blame.

This is where it gets interesting. A team may have someone who is not working very hard. In some cases the rest of the team acts to get rid of the free-rider. In another team, the team is unable to make contact with the sponsor, and is at risk of not completing the assignment. Sometimes the final report then puts too much emphasis on the weaknesses troubles of the sponsor. Yet another team finds an explanation of their difficulties as unprofessional behaviors of a tutor, or course director, or maybe collective incompetence of those connected with the project.

These are the dynamics which are swirling around. They reflect what happens when teams tackle tough problems. They have not been deliberately inserted into the project as a social experiment. And, the faculty does not deliberately act in what are described as unprofessional ways. As painful as the process is, the mini-crises do turn out to have scope for constructive learning.

A Painful Experience

I reflect on some project highlights and lowlights. Not for the first One team, frustrated by actions (or inactions) of its tutor decides they have been badly treated. Why not send the tutors a memo? How about sending a copy to the project coordinator? In which case, it may be better to send a copy to the overall course director as well. In which case, maybe a copy to the Head of the School seems an even better idea.

Could have been worse. One year, a particularly outraged team sent copies to The University’s Vice Chancellor. Perhaps we should give more specifical illustrations of wicked problem solving

What Didn’t we get a better Grade?

Today I had another familiar requests on behalf of a team. Why didn’t we do better? One student has arranged to meet with me to discuss this. How honest will I be? Will I find time to turn the discussion [later today, July 4th 2007] into a further little opportunity for personal development? Not just for the students, but for myself and maybe others involved in the project. Will I be able to recheck with the second reviewer before the meeting? Will I find my notes out of which we agreed the particular grades two months ago, for the seven presentations we sat in on ? Will the notes still be somewhere in the middle of the pile of documents in my office, ‘tidied’ into archeological layers in a ‘pending’ pile?

The tutors on the project are still trying to arrange time to get together for a debrief sometime during the following few months. Immediately after the project there was a general exodus to catch up after seven weeks more closely confined to barracks. Holidays, conferences, last-minute contingencies, and (honestly) out-of-town responsibilities mean we are still trying for a date that works for a full complement of the dozen or so support staff directly involved in the project.

Incremental innovations

Each year there are various suggestions to fix what went wrong. Some ideas make it into next year’s project planning. At first, tutors may have to introduce changes as experiments, aware that any change which impacts on assessment is not ‘authorized’ until accepted after scrutiny on various committees. Also, the experiments make documentation a little-less reliable.

Is it worth it?

Projects are particularly challenging as a mode of business education. We tend to keep faith in the benefits of this kind of experiential learning. A surprising proportion of colleagues hang in there, rather than seek alternative ways of justifying their careers.

That’s not to say we do not also experience some of the doubts and darker moments of the MBA teams. As one management scholar liked to say ‘every project appears to be a failure in the middle’.



Sarcozy finds some wriggle-room at Airbus

May 20, 2007

Early into his honeymoon period, President Sarcozy finds himself in action at the fermenting Airbus organization. Contrary to his reputation and inclinations, he finds a waiting move, buys himself some time, and preserves some of his limited options.

Airbus was always likely to be an indicator of M. Sarcozy’s presidential style. Politicians may be accused of not listening, but they do listen to the evidence provided by popularity polls, especially those connected with the votes they may be winning or losing in democratic elections.

During his own leadership campaign, his call was for a strengthening of the leadership of the company through attracting new investors to its board. This came through more clearly than his views on the difficulties facing the company, such as immediate production difficulties and the longer-term strategic and governance issues which have been the preoccupations of its chief, Louis Gallois. The plan to address these problems has led to Union unrest not only in France, but elsewhere in Europe where the plans also threaten jobs.

In an earlier post, I suggested that for all Sarco’s intentions, it is hard to see him being in a position to make a difference to Airbus, in the short-term. A gesture of masterful inaction is likely to be his best outcome at the moment.

Kissing Angela Merkel

Sarco has had to balance his new international role with his inclinations to preserve what he sees as a cherished French asset. So he has already made warm overtures to German Chancellor Angela Merkel. Hamburg’s Airbus manufacturing plant is, like Toulouse in France, facing major job-cuts. The International Herald Tribune acknowledges this as a necessity, commenting from the Toulouse:

As Louis Gallois, the French chief executive of Airbus, noted wryly in a session with reporters here , “He is kissing Angela Merkel every time they meet, but that doesn’t mean anything.”

For Gallois, a seasoned executive with ties to the Socialist Party, the election of Sarkozy injects another volatile element into what is already one of the hardest repair jobs in European industry.

The article further points out that Sarkozy has been sending out mixed messages during his campaign, leaving it unclear whether

… he is, at heart, a free-market reformer or an economic nationalist determined to prop up France’s industrial patrimony. Given his track record and the imperatives of French politics, several experts said, he is likely to be a bit of both. Sarkozy, they predicted, will give Airbus leeway to proceed with cost-cutting, while at the same time moving to strengthen France’s influence over the enterprise.

Sarco finds a waiting move

There are times in politics, when as in chess, the leader has to find a waiting move. In chess, the idea is to move without disturbing the delicate balance in a complex and dynamic situation. You do best by effectively not disturbing the status quo.

So it was in Toulouse. Facing angry Unions, represtatives of the Company’s French leadership, and the wider international press, he signals two somewhat contradictory positions. Yes, he will ‘stand by’ and ‘do his duty’ to the interests of the French employees. But in the longer term, he does not rule out selling the Government’s stake in the company.

I will return

I will return, he promises. In July. When he will be accompanied by his new friend Angela.

If not masterful inactivity, we have seen an example of how to create a little wriggle room in a tricky situation.


Match Of The Day: Brown versus Osborne

April 18, 2007

Many of us missed Match Of The Day, Brown against Osborne, in the Westminster League. Although televised, the match attracted fewer viewers than the Manchester United/ Sheffield United Premiership football clash, which I watched. Sheffield United seemed to drag the front-runners down to their level. Meanwhile, at Westminster …

The Westminster match was a hastily arranged fixture in advance of more serious contests over the coming months. Brown had been challenged to defend his actions of a decade ago. It was to turn into a one-on-one battle between Chancellor Gordon and his Conservative man-marker, George Osborne.

Two hundred miles to the North West, Sheffield’s finest were at Old Trafford, where they were fighting for their place in the Premier League against the table leaders Manchester United.

Sheffield Manager Neil Warnock said that his team would be facing the best team in the world. While this would be contested by many fans from teams in the English league and beyond, he was effectively making the point that Sheffield were massive underdogs (you could have placed a bet at 14 to 1 for a Sheffield win).

What Sheffield did at Old Trafford

What Sheffield did at Old Trafford was to compete physically, never giving up, against more talented opposition. Young and energetic defenders followed their manager’s plan in man-to-man marking against some of the most elusive and skillful players in the world. Tackles flew in which sidelined United players, and added to concerns about the casualties sustained in recent battles.

The result was as predicted by the bookies a win for the table-toppers and likely Champions. But the win was a narrow 2-0. A week ago, also at Old Trafford, Manchester United had scored seven goals to win a quarter final match against one of Italy’s top teams. General consensus was that Sheffield had dragged the Manchester team down to their level.

Meanwhile in the Westminster League …

Please understand: I am just playing with this metaphor to see how a sporting battle might offer insights into a political contest. In this metaphorical sense, Gordon Brown might be seen as the odds-on favorites, entering the field with a ten-year record for financial success. His opponents’ tactics (like those of Sheffield United) were to challenge public perceptions of the top dog.

Over a decade, Gordon Brown has been regularly called upon to defend his financial actions, in such matches. He has been largely successful in preserving his reputation as a skillful and prudent Chancellor. (Let’s not forget his long-time ally Prudence).

I only caught the highlights in a late night news broadcast, which also indicated the final score had been a comfortable but not overwhelming victory for Gordon Brown. Had the conservatives set up a dogged man-to-man marking system that had minimized the nature of their defeat? Possibly. Had they dragged the Government forces into a scrappier sort of tussle than they would have liked? Again, possibly.

The BBC reported that

The arguments have been well rehearsed over the past few weeks, even years, but shadow chancellor George Osborne was not going to let that stop him .. The “raid” on pension funds had been a con, had devastated the funds leaving Britain with the worst system in Europe and been done in the face of official advice warning him of the consequences ..

The Conservative party went all out on this anti-Brown campaign, even producing a mock newspaper, imaginatively called The Moon, to hand out to rush hour commuters at train stations around the country, and declaring “Gordon Brown ate my pension”.

Gordon Brown ate my pension.

Yes, these are the defiant words of a street fighter.

Did the conservative battle plan work?

To the extent that they had shaped the nature of the fight. To the extent that the Tabloidification of the argument may contribute even marginally to a public perception of the Chancellor (shortly to become Prime Minister) as a man of stealth. It may be a dirty battle, but it may not have been totally futile.

In business, I have reflected on smear campaigns for many years. I’d like to see some decently researched evidence. If there’s anyone out there with some solid evidence I’d like to hear from you. In absence of such evidence I hold to a business principle. You smear your opponents at your peril. It’s a kind of wicked problem-solving. The unintended consequence is to risk a wider reaction of ‘a plague on all your houses’ among the neutrals. It contributes to the low opinion held of politicians by increasing proportions of voters (or perhaps, I should say non-voters).

These are the leaders we deserve, for as long as we accept the tactics of the playground which too often we are witness to.

Postscript

It was The Times wot done it. Originally, the story of Gordon the Pension Snatcher was broken exclusively by the Times newspaper. Today, it tucked away its report of the Brown-Osborne battle on page 22. Perhaps the accompanying Parliamentary Sketch by Ann Treneman rarther spoiled the Thunderer’s thunder. The headline ran ‘Hurricane Gordon sweeps in and demolishes his opponent’. Ouch!


Creative Leadership: Ahmadinejad 1 British all-stars 0

April 16, 2007

250px-des_browne_mp.jpgenglandlineup_l.jpg_41231963_ahmadinejad203iafp.jpg

The people have spoken. And they don’t like the decision to permit fifteen members of HM navy to be paid for stories of their mystery tour in Iran. But in the wider scheme of things the story reveals a lack of creativity from British political and military figures. This contrasts with the theatrical but effective performance from President Ahmadinejad of Iran

‘OK I made a mistake. It’s all my fault. I’ll resign. I’ll fall on my sword’

A state of near hysteria is reached in the political climate in the UK following the release this week of fifteen sailors from their unexpected visit to Iran. Under such conditions, groupthink favors a search for a scapegoat over more productive efforts.

In rapid time, the scapegoat was found in the shape of Defense Secretary Des Browne. And so it came to pass that he faces a very public trial in the House of Commons on Monday. Support from his own party will be calculatedly luke-warm. Attacks on Tony Blair and Gordon brown will be largely neutralized. I suggest that the episode has revealed a sad lack of creative leadership from the British side.

Too much like Chicken Little?

A few months ago an American economist suggested that the European view on climate change and global warming was too much like Chicken Little. We tended to dash around, crying out that the sky was falling in. I didn’t agree with that.

Chicken Little showed signs of clinical hysteria. The European stance on global warming seems more an understandable anxiety that there are too many in the global hen house in a state of denial.

But in this case, it is a bit more like Chicken Little, but with more and more creatures raising the alar, with little substantive cause.

“It’s a calamity” cried chicken Cameron.
“It’s a shambles” chirped chicken Chris Huhne.
“He’s made a terrible mistake” crowed chicken Simon Hughes
“Where was he when he should have been making a statement? ” piped up Portillo
“Heads must roll” chorused another group of chickens on the Downing Street squawk-line.

Creative Leadership

Creative leadership involves processes of thinking and acting in ways that are both effective and relatively unexpected. The process may be temporarily restricted to a bounded view of what is effective, excluding considerations of moral intent or action. If we accept such restrictions, there is no doubt that President Ahmadinejad (perhaps representing a wider group of Iranian leaders) demonstrated creative leadership, and no-one particularly did on the British side.

So should heads roll?

Beats me. Public opinion seems to be in line with politicians in outrage and lust for a victim. If Browne is humiliated, it is how our democracy works. We get the leaders we deserve, and can sometimes sooner than later dispose of leaders we feel have let us down.

How creative thinking might refocus attention

My preference is to work harder to find more imaginative and beneficial ideas. A well-established principle is to search widely and chose wisely. For example, the focus of political attention last week was essentially ‘How to get the sailors back safely with out major concessions’. The focus was on negotiation where negotiation was difficult. It seemed rather sensible.

This week the focus seems to have been ‘how to punish whoever allowed the sailors to sell their stories’. I would like to have seen more attention paid other ‘How to’ challenges:

How to change operational procedures so this sort of thing is less likely to happen again ..
and
How to communicate what has happened, effectively and without upsetting people.

Other suggestions please to the Admiralty and No 10 Downing Street …

It’s not all black farce

The developing story of the release of the sailors and marines was interwoven with other events with more tragic overtones. There were fatalities to British troops in the middle east on the very day of the release. There was more fatalities when two helicopters collided earlier today (Sunday April 15th 2007).

These are the events that we expect our politicians to be dealing with. Don’t we? We will hear predictable and widely shared expressions of regret and condolences for the families of the dead servicemen. I will watch for evidence of some creative leadership from the British political all-stars as the battle enters another phase in the House of Commons this week.


All in the same boat: Teamwork theory in the 153rd boat race

April 6, 2007

_41514288_cambridgesad203.jpg_41514106_oxford2203.jpgOdds-on favorites Cambridge University lost last year’s boat race against ancient rivals Oxford. This year, the light-blues have been advised to follow Business School theories for coping with the heady mix of individual ambitions and team spirit. We assess whether the ideas hold water.

Last year Cambridge lost the annual varsity bragging rights on the Thames. Defeat sometimes sharpens the appetite for new ideas. According to this week’s Economist, Cambridge Coach Duncan Holland has been assisted by Mark de Rond from Cambridge’s Judge Business School.

Mark is an American strategy theorist who is tipping his toe into more behavioral waters here (I can’t get away from aquatic imagery at the moment). The article goes on to mention a recent idea on how members of organizational work teams relate to one another.

Competent Jerks and loveable fools

The basic idea, by Casciano and Lobo, originated in the prestigious Harvard Business Review last June. Their work examines the relationships between managers with differing levels of competence and of likeability. Details of the work can be found in a summary by AsiaOne Business:

The authors studied four organisations – one which is profit-motivated, one non-profit, another large and the fourth, small. No matter which organisation they studied, they found that everybody wanted to work with a lovable star and nobody wanted to work with an incompetent jerk. They say things got more interesting when people faced the choice between competent jerks and lovable fools … surprise, surprise, the two researchers found out that the reverse was true in the four companies they analysed.

“Personal feelings played a more important role in forming work relationships – not friendships at work, but job-oriented friendships – than is commonly acknowledged, even more important than evaluations of competence.”
The competent jerks represent an opportunity for the organisation because so much of their expertise is discounted.

Evaluation of the research: The popularity of the ‘two-by-two matrix’

The research study is presented in the form of the two-by-two matrix. As a teaching and diagnostic tool the two-by-two is among the most popular ways of helping people escape the ‘either-or’ trap and think in more dimensions. After a while the experienced management trainer becomes adept at turning any relationship between two variables into a two-by-two format for teaching purposes. (Try it for yourself, if you don’t believe me).

For example, in the famous management matrix by Blake and Mouton we can explore more deeply the interplay between task-oriented and supportive preferences of leaders.

This new two-by-two contrasts high and low likeability and high and low competence. As with the Blake and Mouton matrix, this immediately makes sense to many people. The four boxes are nicely labeled. The simple idea simply expressed has another nice wrinkle. It gets to the trade-offs and dilemmas when people have to chose between workmates they believe to be one or two dimensions short of being a likeable and competent star.

Will the model stand the test of time?

Casciano and Lobo have got their idea off to a good start. It has every chance of being a fashionable concept which works its way into Organizational Behavior (and Organisational behaviour) textbooks. After which there is a mimetic force at work. Does the theory extend or challenge sound organizational theory? Not really, but that is to be ungracious. At least, it has several features of earlier successful ‘thought leadership’ stories. The publication in the prestigious Harvard Business Review will do its prospects no harm.

Will it help Cambridge win the boat race?

I can’t quite see it. In the boat race, the rowers have all already have been selected as highly competent. There’s no rowing incompetent among the candidates for the top boat. Actually, the article implied that there was, mentioning one rower who is a not the technically most-gifted and yet who is much liked and a motivational character. I’m not sure how the Cambridge business coach got that message across (unless, of course he is himself a highly competent and likeable star; neither a competent jerk nor a likeable fool).


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