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.


The Strength of weak tries: The Northern Ireland deadline dance

March 26, 2007

Politicians in Northern Ireland approach the most recent deadline in the protracted peace process. The leadership battles are expected to continue up to the deadline after which the fragile power-sharing arrangement faces the threat of being dismantled, and being replaced by direct rule from Whitehall. We examine the nature of deadlines, and the limitations of coercion on leaders in apparently weak negotiating positions.

15th May last year the Stormont assembly met for the first time since its suspension in 2002. British and Irish Premiers assert that 24th November 2006 is the ultimate deadline for the politicians to agree to some format of power-sharing. Multi-party talks begin in October, (with the DUP still unwilling to meet in same room as representatives they believe to be former terrorists). Late January, Sinn Fein accepts policing arrangements (a potential sticking point for them). Elections are announced for the new assembly and these take place on 7th March 2007.

Ian Paisley’s Democratic Unionist Party emerges as the largest party, and will hold 36 of the seats under the proportional representation method in place. Sinn Fein with 28 seats. Are the Ulster Unionists with 18 seats are the next largest parties at the new assembly.

Last week, the elected members signed up for the new assembly, facing another ‘final’ deadline: Peter Hain, the Northern Ireland Secretary reminds them that the assembly will be dissolved, if the parties do not sign up to power-sharing before the March 26th deadline agreed jointly by the Governments of Great Britain and of Ireland.

Mr Paisley was reported by the BBC as saying that the election success

.. allowed him to move forward, despite the fact that he had been
“severely criticized by various people .. Some of them are my personal friends but they don’t agree with what I’ve done, [but] the electorate fortunately has agreed.. It has strengthened my hand – I can afford to go further forward now with things, because I am confident that the people are with me.”

Last Friday, Dr Paisley was seeking last-minute concessions from the British Government in advance of the 26th of March deadline. However, these introduce an economic rationale to his actions. Previously his words and actions appeared to be a continuation of his ‘no surrender’ posture, and refusal to accept the legitimacy of Sinn Fein as political partners.

On deadlines, and the strength of weak positions

We may think of deadlines as all the same. Deadlines are deadlines. But the evidence is that deadlines come in several different shapes. For example, they may be imposed or mutually agreed. Each of these can be more of the so-called absolute sort or the sort that turns out to be more arbitrary. [I leave those with that sort of interest to explore the ‘two by two matrix’ I’ve suggested]

Hostage situations begin with a demand linked with an imposed and absolute deadline. Resolution tends to require movement towards agreement, and movement away from the absolute nature of the deadline and the demands. What begins as an ultimatum, shifts towards a situation of mutual give and take.

Often the ultimatum may be the response of a leader (or more broadly an individual) in a relatively weak negotiating situation. The ultimatum may include a threat of self-harm (‘Don’t come any closer or I’ll jump from this window-ledge’).

This one has been agreed at one level (inter-governmental) and imposed at another level (on the political parties by the Irish and British Governments).

We can also see how deadlines may be presented as immutable when they are actually rather arbitrary. Immutable deadlines would include those when the missing one triggers off other very serious consequences, which can be legal, economic, technological, or medical. Other deadlines seem more arbitrary, for example, when accompanying efforts to achieve movement in political negotiating processes.

This one seems to be an imposed and somewhat arbitrary deadline disguised as an agreed and ultimate one. Dr Paisley on behalf of the DUP places himself in the relatively weak position of opposition to the trajectory of power-sharing. However, he is at the same time a strong position for arriving at some concessions and some wriggle room. There has already been a possibility of a billion pound offer in what appears to be a negotiating chip from Westminster this week. Such negotiating gains may just about permit Dr Paisley to do what he has repeatedly insisted he would never do, and sit down with those with connections with terrorist acts of violence. And to do it without losing political credibility to others who would follow his earlier ‘no surrender’ rhetoric.

It looks as if the ‘final deadline’ will turn out to be a more arbitrary one. Dr Paisley may hold his first-ever meeting with Gerry Adams, later today. The latest events more tortuous process towards peace in Northern Ireland since the time of the Good Friday agreement. It may have reinforced the belief that politicians often say one thing and mean another. Sadly, it will also reinforce the more dispairing beliefs of those who believe that politicians are always duplicitous, and never to be trusted. Which was one of the messages in the recent TV series about the traps to personal freedom.


Working to a difficult project brief

January 20, 2007

Project leaders from time to find find themselves working to a difficult or even impossible-seeming brief. Two approaches offer escape from the difficulty. Each involves finding ‘wriggle room’. The first involves a creative reformulation of the project drawing on the marketing maxim ‘what business are we in?’ The second involves renegotiating the project brief.

A project can be seen as a little business, with its business objectives, strategy, constraints and so on. The project brief represents the description of the strategy that the company is following

What business are we in?’

In organisational theory, the question ‘ what business are we in ’ was popularized many years ago in a famous article by Theodore Leavitt.

The railroads collapsed because they thought they were in the railroad business, when really they would have been thinking about themselves as being in the transportation business.

If we translate this into project terms, you could say that the corporate brief was being seen as ‘how to run a railroad business’. Leavitt argued that the project brief should have been challenged and redefined as ‘how to run a transportation business’.

There will always be wriggle room

Continuing to relate this to project leadership, the practical question becomes ‘How can we redefine our brief?’. Here, the general principle is that projects always define complete definition. This means that there will always be’ wriggle room’ or scope for redefining the project. This is where understanding of creative problem-solving, and negotiation come into play.

A good test of clarity of project definition is through asking the simple question: ‘what are we really trying to do?’. A further question is ‘what seems to be the key block or obstacle to achieving our goal ?.

Everything is negotiable (to some degree)..

The context within projects is the need to move from a project as it was initially proposed, to one which offers something acceptable to the client, even it is not what was originally requested.

The fundamental principle is to find a ‘win-win’. This rarely happens unless the project team has built up trust with the client. (Trust-building deserves a posting of its own).

However, professional negotiators argue that everything is negotiable.

George Kohlrieser, a leadership professor and hostage negotiator uses his negotiation system to show how leaders can overcome conflict, influence others and raise performance.

To go more deeply

Goal orientation for redefining your project brief is supported by creative leadership. It can be supported by various techniques or technique systems. For example, A rather formal problem-solving approach (TOTE), is useful for inexperienced teams when there is a preference for analytical methods.

http://www.mycoted.com/Goal_Orientation

Another description of Goal orientation can be found in described in . Do not be put off by the simple example. The article outlines a powerful analytical approach which (like TOTE) is valuable for inexperienced project teams.

This now-aging text Creativity and Problem Solving at Work may still be available in your regional Business School library. It contains one of the early accounts of problem definition through goal orientation.

A newer text is Tony Proctor’s Creative Problem-Solving, which has a business school emphasis, updating Creativity and Problem Solving at Work.

The negotiation system recommended by George Kohhreiser is particularly relevant to project leaders facing difficult project briefs.

Tips for leading difficult projects

Readers of this Blog are invited to contribute tips for leaders facing difficult project briefs? Messages of success (or traps to avoid) are welcomed, as well as unanswered questions.


Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,564 other followers