Platforms of Understanding and the resolution of leadership dilemmas

April 27, 2012

Research Note by Tudor Rickards

The concept of a platform of understanding can make a contribution to reflective analysis of leadership decisions and dilemmas. We examine the discussion through a case example within a radio call-in programme mediated by Victoria Derbyshire

This research note is primarily a technical one for leadership students, although I hope it may be of interest to a broader audience interested in social influence processes.

Making sense of business stories

Students studying the text-book Dilemmas of Leadership are encouraged to make sense of business stories and discussions. One of the approaches involves identifying belief systems which are described as platforms of understanding.

An example illustrating the Platform of Understanding concept

Recently [April 27th, 2012] I was trying to understand an argument being put forward in a broadcast discussion about the current industrial dispute in the UK between tanker drivers and their employers. The discussion took place in a BBC Five live radio programme which included texts, emails and and calls from listeners.

“Making your point” suggests a personal Platform of Understanding

Call-in programmes often encourage callers to “make your point”. A “point” may be examined as an expression of a personal set of beliefs and assertions. In the programme, the callers provided two opposing platforms of understanding.

One view was various variations of the same basic “point” that the tanker drivers were entitled to strike. The opposing view rejected the first perspective. Variations arose from different understanding of the “why” of the potential strike.

The advocates of the opposing POUs had no way of engaging with those of the opposing perspective, nor ways of influencing them to their point of view. The discussion (when left unmediated) was going nowhere.

How dilemmas may be suggested by studying opposing beliefs

In this case, the opposing perspectives may be seen as something along the lines of

[1] “rights of workers” (a platform of understanding)
[2] “social/economic perils of conceding to the claims of the worker’s demands” (opposing platform of understanding).

Creative leadership

A skilled presenter is able to encourage the discussion beyond what would otherwise be irreconcilable positions (although sometimes there may be a conscious choice to “let the people speak” and demonstrate the lack of a simple solution to the dilemma). This has been described as a form of creative and facilitative leadership.

The presenter, Victoria Derbyshire, was able to clarify factually incorrect aspects of assertions being made, and help move to a discussion of the broader dilemmas of workers’ rights and economic well-being, without reducing the discussion to right-wrong point scoring.

More speculative “map-making”

I have outlined a few general points which show how looking for platforms of understanding helps in making sense of arguments and disputes. These ideas may be extended to more speculative ideas which are my own particular musings and map-making from the case example.

There is much to be gained for examining platforms of understanding. The process reveals how two platforms of understanding may construct a shared platform of misunderstanding It also shows how over-rigid adherence to personal platforms of understanding reinforces difficulties in dealing with the dilemmas which are in partly socially constructed from such rigidities. Finally it increases the claims that dilemmas can be helpfully addressed through creative leadership.