“We the people”. Where’s the evidence that transformational leadership works?

November 25, 2013

Dr John Keane

Since the 1980s, leadership texts place transformational leadership at the centre of the new leadership movement. Is the theory supported in practice?

Like many leadership teachers, my lectures refer the new leadership movement as the major change in theoretical thinking. It was introduced around the 1980s, and places emphasis on vision, innovative change, and the transformation of organizations and individuals. It succeeded in challenging the older ideas in which leadership was rather easily muddled up with effective management plus a dash of mysterious charisma and inspiration. Early work frequently referred to John F Kennedy whose death fifty years ago we remember this week [Nov 21st 2013].

I’ll start with examining the possibility of transformational change through political leaders in the west who are considered transformational.

The Thatcher vision

The 1980s in the UK were the Thatcher years. She would be the most obvious example of a visionary leader. The Telegraph offered a succinct and plausible definition: “to release the repressed aspirations of millions of ordinary people”. Advocates of transformational leadership could argue that Margaret Thatcher helped change the aspirations of millions of ordinary people. Others would argue that the transformation has not resulted in more noble aspirations or a more widespread capacity to reflect on personal beliefs and values. That is hardly a surprising conclusion, but arguably it lies at the heart of transformational leadership’s capacity to transform people as well as systems.

The Reagan Vision

Margaret Thatcher’s political soul mate in America was Robert Reagan. He held steadfastly to a vision of a world in which the ‘evil empire’ of the [then] Soviet Union would be defeated and transformed into a democratic society. The Soviet Union did crumble. Again, the vision has been partially fulfilled in the structural sense, but it is hard detect evident that the legacy of Reagan has transformed beliefs.

The transformation of societies and organizations

By the end of the decade, Francis Fukuyama had declared a victory of democracy through the advance of science and rationality and decline of dictatorships. His prediction now seems somewhat exaggerated.

Fast forward

In America, the beliefs of “we the people” today seem to be far from transformed by the heirs to Reagan. Efforts to achieve the changes in President Obama’s “can do” vision stall in what is increasingly seem as a dysfunctional political system.

In the UK this year at her death [2013] Margaret Thatcher was seen as a towering figure who achieved structural changes that many of her political opponents are pleased enough not to attempt to reverse.

The people of Russia appear to be ‘untransformed’ enough to prefer the old style strong-man leadership of Putin over the Social Democratic ideas of the 1980s which appear to have been President Gorbachev’s more transformational vision.

In America, the beliefs of “we the people” seem to be far from transformed by the heirs to Reagan.

The non-transformation of the people

I listen a lot to the publicly-expressed views of leaders. I hear how their visions will transform the broader groups whom they seek to influence. I listen to the views and beliefs expressed by those broader groups.

Should we have a vision non-proliferation movement?

Political leaders speak as one with our business leaders in expressing their visions. Political and business leaders are failing to win the confidence and trust of their constituents. Perhaps we need a vision non-proliferation movement.

The author is a writer and researcher into leadership theory and practice. The views expressed are his own.


Breaking Bad: Not a Plot Spoiler

September 28, 2013

I can’t spoil the plot of Breaking Bad, as until Sunday I won’t know what happens to Walter White. But I have been working on a detective story about a chemistry teacher who takes up a new profession after he is diagnosed with cancer and who faces moral dilemmas in a plot involving the illegal manufacture of drugs

So in my detective story, the scientist, John Keane, becomes a professor of business who teaches leadership after his illness. When his former boss is blown up, Keane is dragged into the case by the Vice Chancellor Wendy Lockinge, a former senior police detective. Both face dilemmas of trust and betrayal as they unearth a drugs plot which had enormous global consequences if it succeeds.

My ideas of what might happen in Breaking Bad are shaped by the adventures of John Keane.

Will There be a resolution of the moral dilemmas in Breaking Bad?

Who cares? Critics, perhaps. In John Keane’s world, moral dilemmas are not ‘solved’ they are dealt with. There will, however, be closure. Conan Doyle killed off Sherlock Holmes. That was closure not resolution.

I would expect some plot closure, but an artistic versus commercial dilemma confronts the writers of Breaking Bad. Can they [should they] keep traction going to meet public demand for more?

Medical considerations

There is only one resolution of the medical condition facing both Keane and Walter White. Creative leaps are permitted but the “get out of jail” ideas are easier to dream up than to write into a final episode: Walt has to be confronted with the dramatic constraints imposed by his medical condition, as well as with the consequences of his decisions and actions.

The surprise

In the great tragedies by definition there is a tragic end to a heroic but flawed figure. The audience is purified by the experience. At the same time there has to be a surprise. “In the end, Walt dies”. OK, so do we all, but we don’t know how or why. The greatest stories retain a mix of the inevitable and the unexpected.

Writers as subtle and dynamic as those involved in Breaking Bad have their own ultimate creative challenge. I haven’t the faintest idea how I will be surprised in the final episode. But I expect the unexpected.

What happened to John Keane?

Well, the answer to that would be a plot spoiler, wouldn’t it? But there is a surprise.


Low Status High Security: lessons from the Snowden case

August 19, 2013

By John Keane

The Snowden case has drawn attention to a characteristic of espionage in an electronic age in which high security information is accessible to security-cleared contractors of relatively low status

The phenomenon of electronic espionage by low-status contractors is becoming increasingly discussed after several high-profile leaking stories, which for shorthand sre being labelled as wikileaks. The BBC noted recently that the conditions are well-known, but little has been done to address the problem. The article points to the need to grant contractors high security status. They cite the large consulting firm Booz Allen as having remarkably high numbers for staff cleared for accessing Government information. Of its 25,000 staff, nearly half have security clearance to top secret class information. These are the ranks from which Edward Snowden emerged.

A leadership dilemma

Security analysts recognize that the management of vast information flows requires considerable back-up support. I think of it as a wormhole in the blogosphere through which data can slip. In principle, the dangers can be reduced by greater care in allocating access to highly sensitive data. In practice we have a leadership dilemma of the electronic age.

The author

This post is written by Dr John Keane of Urmston University in Northern England where he teaches and researches into leadership and the history of economics. The views expressed are those of the author.


Richard Dawkins re-interprets memes and offers a creative tautology

July 23, 2013

by John Keane

Just for hits

Rickard Dawkins continues his Odyssey in search of scientific truth against the forces of superstition. In the sponsored advertising video Just for Hits he raises interesting questions about the logic behind his reasoning

What lies at the core of this eight minute glossy video? Its title hints at it. At one level it is Just for Hits. That which is designed is designed for a purpose, he declares. If designs are fit for purpose, they survive and spread. He has already borrowed the metaphor of a virus. Concepts intended to spread are fit for purpose if they spread.

I rather like to concept of a meme spreading through imitation. It offers a description (but not necessarily an explanation) of the processes of cultural replication. I am the sort of person who likes to examine possible mechanisms in search of explanations. The principle behind a design, if you like.

The Darwinian principle of natural selection

The Darwinian principle of natural selection is a very satisfactory one which fits observations and permits predictive trials. I prefer it to other wide-range explanations, as does Professor Dawkins. The mechanism is elegantly captured in the notion of blind variation and selective choice.

‘As if’

At very least, I believe that blind variation and selective choice ‘works’ in the natural world. It offers what most scientists would consider a robust basis of an explanatory theory. Its scientific respectability can be examined in various ways. One way is to assess its success as if it describes what results in the variety of the world, the survival of genetic material or natural selection. It works as if the world operated according to its beautifully elegant principles.

The whiff of tautology

I am not the first to be troubled by a whiff of tautology in the way it is applied to explain just about observable aspect of biology (including leadership).

Many years ago, before I heard of Richard Dawkins, I asked a distinguished Professor of Cell Biology whether a gene was a material entity or a metaphor. He told me that was a good question, which I came to suspect was polite way of saying he would have trouble providing an answer.

For the hits

The whiff of tautology is stronger in the concept of a meme. The closest I get to understanding the memetic replicator is that humans have a deeply embedded inclination to imitate. Well, yes. So viral messages ‘go viral’ because they have something which triggers the imitative response.

Creativity

Dawkins suggests that creativity may be part of the story. He reinvents (or knowingly imitates) a mechanism for creativity examined by scholars such as Dean Simonton . Pithily, it is a version of the natural selection mechanism of blind variation and selective choice.

The ghost in the machine

Arthur Koestler was another deep thinker on the act of creation. He offered the metaphor of the brain as a machine, with creativity as the ghost in the machine. This recognizes the mysterious nature of the creative principle. Professor Hawkins has written about his own sense of awe at the evolutionary principle. Koestler would probably agree, although perhaps favouring the aha moment of creative discovery. [Another of Koestler's classic books was called The Sleep Walkers which examines the way progress is ‘stumbled upon’.]

Acknowledgement

To Guardian journalist Andrew Brown who drew my attention to the tautology in his comment piece about Richard Dawkins’ ‘meaningless meme’.

[Dr John Keane writes on matters relating to leadership and the history of science. He teaches and researches at The University of Urmston.]


Dawkins re-interprets memes and offers a creative tautology

June 25, 2013

Reviewed by John Keane

Rickard Dawkins continues his Odyssey in search of scientific truth against the forces of superstition. In the sponsored advertising video Just for Hits he raises interesting questions about the logic behind his reasoning and the hint of tautology in that logic

What lies at the core of this eight-minute glossy video? Its title hints at it. At one level it is Just for Hits. That which is designed is designed for a purpose, he declares. If designs are fit for purpose they survive and spread.

He has already borrowed the metaphor of a virus. Concepts intended to spread are fit for purpose if they spread. I rather like to concept of a meme spreading through imitation. It offers a description (but not necessarily an explanation) of the processes of cultural replication. I am the sort of person who likes to examine possible mechanisms in search of explanations. The principle behind a design, if you like.

The Darwinian principle of natural selection

The Darwinian principle of natural selection is a very satisfactory one which fits observations and permits predictive trials. I prefer it to other wide-range explanations, as does Professor Dawkins. The mechanism is elegantly captured in the notion of blind variation and selective choice.

‘As if’

At very least, I believe that the concept captured as blind variation and selective choice ‘works’ in the natural world. It offers what most scientists would consider a robust basis of an explanatory theory. Its scientific respectability can be examined in various ways. One way is to assess its success as if it describes what results in the variety of the world, the survival of genetic material or natural selection. It works as if the world operated according to its beautifully elegant principles.

The whiff of tautology

I am not the first to be troubled by a whiff of tautology in the concept of natural selection. I struggle with the argument that ‘success’ in evolutionary terms arises because the successful are more equipped to succeed.
Many years ago, before I had heard of Richard Dawkins, I asked a distinguished Professor of Cell Biology whether a gene was a material entity or a metaphor. He told me that was a good question, which I came to suspect was polite way of saying he would have trouble providing an answer.

For the hits

The whiff of tautology is stronger in the concept of a meme. The closest I get to the memetic replicator is that humans have a deeply-embedded inclination to imitate. Well, yes. So viral messages ‘go viral’ because they have something which triggers the imitative response. Their purpose is to exist.

Creativity

Dawkins suggests that creativity may be part of the story. He reinvents (or knowingly imitates) a mechanism for creativity examined by scholars such as Dean Simonton. Pithily, it is a version of the natural selection mechanism of blind variation and selective choice.

The ghost in the machine

Arthur Koestler was another deep thinker about the act of creation. He offered the wonderful metaphor of the brain as a machine, with creativity as the ghost in the machine. This recognizes the mysterious nature of the creative principle. Professor Hawkins has written about his own sense of awe at the evolutionary principle. Koestler would probably agree, although perhaps favouring the aha moment of creative discovery. Another of his books was called The Sleep Walkers which examines the way progress is ‘stumbled upon’

Acknowledgement

To Andrew Brown who drew my attention to the tautology in his comment piece about Richard Dawkins’ meaningless meme.


Inferno by Dan Brown. Not another Review

May 29, 2013

InfernoI bought Inferno by Dan Brown to see if I could detect its deep secret, the explanation of the commercial success of the author. I believe I have cracked the code

Dan Brown is a genius whose insights will save the world from itself. The critics laughed at him, but we know what they did to Christopher Columbus, Homer Simpson, and Ron Hubbard. Yes, they laughed at them too.

They aren’t laughing now

As the world-renowned comedian Bob Monkhouse said: “when I was growing up, I said I wanted to be a comedian. They laughed at me then. They aren’t laughing now.”

To avoid plot spoiling

To avoid plot spoiling, I will offer only the broadest outline of what happens. The central character is “the eminent Harvard symbologist Robert Langdon”, hero of earlier books including the best-selling Da Vinci code.

Langdon, accompanied by the young medical doctor Sienna Brooks (IQ 208) face and solve numerous puzzles and threats on their lives mostly in and under the historic architecture of Florence. The threats in this “breathless race-against-time thriller” also produce philosophic dilemmas for the reader who is able to pause for breath long enough to contemplate them.

Cracking the code

Mr Brown has cracked the code of producing a best-seller. But I have cracked his code, deeply hidden in the text of his latest block-buster. You will need to study each page carefully before you will see the symbolism.

Brown is creating magical new usages of the English language. At first the results are unfamiliar enough to invite scorn from the critics, the scholars blinded by their own expectations. There is the playful use of adjectives, deliberate parodies on pulp fiction writing in descriptions of cathedrals and cupolas, museums and mausoleums. From these cleverly concealed clues we see the workings of genius intent on concealing what needs to be concealed – the secret of writing a best-seller.

Where’s the sex and violence?

Another part of the secret is to break away from the increasing pornographication of the novel. There is the acknowledged sexiness of Sienna Brooks but not a lot of sex. There are quite a few violent deaths, fifty shades of gore you might say, but no extremes.

Don’t listen to the critics

My advice is “don’t listen to the critics”. Borrow a copy of Inferno from a friend who will be happy to pass it on to spread the Brownian message. Study it with eyes wide open and strangely you will see the secrets concealed in its 461 pages printed on forest certified paper.

Acknowledgement

This post was guest edited by Dr John Keane of Urmston University


Have you ever been accused of being a spy?

March 27, 2013

John KeaneJohn Keane

Have you ever been accused of being a spy working for MI6? I know someone who has. Even more disturbing, he has the same name as myself

I became aware of the story originally when I looked up my name on the web. My namesake is [or was at the time] a professor at The University of Westminster in London. He recently blogged about the disturbing news he received though a telephone call from a friend. He tells his story in his blog in a post entitled Laughter and Tears on being accused of spying for MI-6:

[Dateline London, Saturday 1st August, 2009]

One of those weird moments when glum silence is the most sensible reaction. A colleague telephoned to spill the bad news. ‘This morning, in a preliminary statement before the highest court of the Islamic Republic of Iran’, he began, ‘you were named by the Deputy State Prosecutor as a co-conspirator in an organised attempt to overturn the present regime by means of a velvet coup d’état.’ Surely a prank call, I thought. ‘ You’re accused [with the distinguished Western intellectuals Jürgen Habermas and Richard Rorty] of acting as CIA and MI6 agents. I’ll e-mail more details this afternoon.’

Professor Keane denies all allegations

In 2004, during one such visit to Tehran, I indeed taught an officially approved short course based on research for [my book] The Life and Death of Democracy (which has just been published).

It is not true that I participated in ‘operations geared to the collapse of the governments of Eastern Europe’. I did not spend ‘the years 1973 and 1975 in Czechoslovakia’ (I lived in Canada during this period) and at no time have I ‘often travelled to Poland’ or worked for the ‘Polandising of Iran’.

When my colleague hung up, animal laughter morphed into a cloud of pensiveness, riveted by the thought that words can ruin lives, or torture and kill. It is no laughing matter for scholars to be lumped in with plotters, mercenaries and secret agents of ‘Western’ and ‘Zionist’ reaction.

From a scholarly point of view, the most worrying development, recently confirmed by the Supreme Leader, is the link that has been drawn between the human sciences, the universities and the so-called ‘velvet counter-revolution’.

Detention without trial – which is prohibited by the constitution – and death in custody have nothing to do with reason or justice, or with the Prophet’s call for listening to people and treating them with kindness and respect. Friends: that is why you know that whatever you say or do in weakness will be used against you – and why you have resolved to be strong, cling to your integrity with all your might, and to find courage and consolation in the assurance that your loved ones, and millions of people around the world, will not forget you, or accept your ghastly predicament as fate.

Reflection

I have found it strange reporting about someone with the same name as myself. An additional layer of ambiguity to a fascinating story which itself seems to challenge our sense of reality. Professor Keane captures what we can imagine to be the Kafkaesque sense of panic and disorientation through being falsely accused by a powerful court of Justice.

Background

John Keane [Image above from the University of Sidney website] is Professor of Politics at the University of Sydney. His scholarly contributions include the concept of monetary democracy. He certainly exists, and his blog makes fascinating reading for students of politics and leadership.

The author of this post describes himself as ‘another John Keane’ interested in the processes of leadership in politics, public affairs and business organizations. He holds a position within a research institute in the United Kingdom, where he studies leadership from the perspective of social constructivism. He is also interested in how modes of learning are becoming mediated through social media.


Do Ye Ken John Keane?

March 26, 2013

John PeelLeaders we deserve announce the forthcoming post on leadership from author and leadership researcher, John Keane. John believes that social media such as blog sites are offering opportunities for experimenting with new formats for communicating ideas

John’s post, which takes the form of a piece of creative writing, will appear in LWD within the next few days.

The image

The image of John Peel [not John Keane] is from the nostalgic site Pipe dreams from the Shire . Blame your editor for thinking John Keane shared his name with John Peel before correcting the original title of this announcement. I thought subscribers might still enjoy the image of the celebrated Cumbrian huntsman.


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