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Archive for August, 2011

This is an article by Prof John Burgoyne, who is one of my two PhD Supervisors.

“Beyond Leadership? Is it approaching its sell-by date?

 John Burgoyne 11th August 2011

The current preoccupation with leadership must have been going on for a decade or two.  Not that there wasn’t interest in it before, but not on the same scale.  Indeed leadership predates management, which only started with the industrial revolution (Child 1969).

It says in Parkinson’s Law (Parkinson 1958) that when something moves from the Portakabin on the edge of the site to a new main building it is probably on the way out.  Leadership has definitely reached this stage.

I can account for the rise in interest in leadership.  In the ‘70’s and ‘80’s America, in particular, went ‘lean’.  There is a limit to how far one can go in the way of ‘doing the same Fifth Discipline’ (Senge 1990) and ‘The Learning Company’ (Pedler 1991), both learning organisation approaches.

Learning organisations generate knowledge, which in turn need managing, hence knowledge management from the late 90’s on (Stonehouse 1999).

Knowledge management needs knowledge workers (Blackler 1995), and knowledge workers in turn need leadership rather than management.  This is because, in Marxist terms, knowledge workers, unlike other kinds of workers, own and control the means of production, i.e. their brains, which they take home with them.  For other workers the means of production is bolted to the factory floor, literally or metaphorically, and they can be managed easily by giving them or denying them access to it, and hence the ability to earn a living.

So that gets us to leadership, and is the easy bit.  What next?

Well here are some thoughts:

1. Keith Grint has argued that management fashions swing like a pendulum between scientific management and human relations.  Leadership is clearly the latter.  We already see signs of the swing the other way, for example in the British National Health Service there has been a cut back on leadership development in favour of shorter term and more local ‘system improvement’ initiatives, including Six Sigma (for reasons I do not understand).  These are more local, quicker to implement and easier to evaluate.  No doubt the ‘credit crunch’ etc. in all sectors is adding impetus to this movement.

2. Organisation and work is becoming increasingly ‘virtual’, in the sense of working other than face to face, usually through IT.  There are three dimensions to this: (a) personal work style or working at a terminal that can be anywhere: at home, on the move etc..  Secondly internal communication, both between people and between people and machines and databases etc. is virtual, and thirdly, the organisation’s interaction with its clients and suppliers and other stakeholders is largely virtual, think of Amazon.  This may not be so much an end of leadership as a new challenge for it.  The question is whether it is just leadership through another medium, or changes the form, or even the existence, of leadership. Of course IT, the web, networking etc. has the potential to join people up in collaborative networks without leaders.  This is what ‘anarchy’ means, as a political philosophy, rather than the bomb throwing trouble maker in a black cloak, which is the popular association of the word. 

 As I write this there are, or have recently been, city centre riots which, it is said, have been very much enabled and facilitated by social networking resources. This provides an example.  It is also an example, in many respects, of what the UK Prime Minister, David Cameron, is asking for in the form of the ‘Big Society’, an intended empowered bottom-up way of meeting societies needs.  It is perhaps only the ends, and some of the means, that are not what he visualises.  But given the example set by MP’s and their expenses and bankers and their bonuses and insider trading, perhaps not surprising.

 However, despite these examples, leadership and hierarch are not going to disappear overnight, if at all.  The question is whether it is going to be just the same leadership through another medium, or whether this will lead to a change in the nature of leadership itself.  My view is that it will be, and indeed is, start with the former, but may progress to the latter.  My argument for this, which is supportive rather than conclusive, is that it will be part of the general trend reported in ‘In the Age of the Smart Machine’ (Zuboff 1988).  She argues that the initial use of IT has been in the form of ‘automation’, i.e. do things we are already doing, faster, more easily and cheaper, exemplified by everything from robots to IT based payment systems and self-service HR.  After ‘automating’ comes ‘informating’, i.e. saturating the organisation, and beyond, with transparency and information sharing. This sounds very much like the anarchic organisation described above.  However IT also greatly facilitates surveillance and control, in some cases control by just being watched as described in the idea of the panoptican, Jeremy Bentham’s ideal prison (Bentham 1789) where the guards can see into the prisoners cells from a central tower, without being seen themselves (Foucault 1977).  The fascinating book, ‘The Internet Galaxy’ (Castells 2003), points out that the web was developed by what one might see as an unholy alliance of the military, academia and hippies, are largely American.  The military interest was to have a network communication system not vulnerable to having one or a few critical nodes which, if they were taken out, would disable the whole system, the advantages of having a semi-leaderless network discussed above.

 3. ‘Virtuous’ might be a fitting follow on from ‘virtual’.  Certainly, since Enron and the like at least, this has been a hot topic for both academics and professionals.  On both fronts there has been much discussion of ‘authentic’ leadership and leadership development (Alvolio 2005).  There are a number of problems with this.  Some formulations say having a firm set of guiding values is one of the features of authentic leadership.  Adolf Hitler probably qualifies, championing the superiority of the Arian race.  And it wasn’t just those nasty Nazis, the ‘liberal Christian West’ did it in genocide of the ab-original populations of North America and Australia, to name just two, and there was the slave trade.  The question is what values, and what legitimises them.

Authentic leadership implies an ‘essential’ self to be true to; perhaps a more constructionist view of self would translate authenticity as an alignment of historical inherited identity with current circumstances?  Would the alignment involve adaptation to both?

Then there is the other Marxist view, Groucho this time, adapted: ‘authenticity is everything, if you can fake that you can do anything!’.  Which begins to sound like emotional intelligence as formulated by Golman (Golman 1996).  However in my view he is talking about the reverse, intelligent emotionality, which is taking cognitive control of emotions, deciding which ones to hold back and which ones to let out.  True emotional intelligence, which would mean trusting the wisdom of our emotions would be much more in the spirit of ‘The Inner Game of Tennis’ (and many other things) (Galway 1974), as in the Nike slogan: ‘just do it’. From an evolutionary psychology point of view the emotions are the much longer and hard wired part of the psyche, evolved over millions of years to have wisdom and serve our individual and collective survival.  These are likely to be ‘intelligent’ for us today if they are relevant to current circumstances, which is a debatable question, but I think the answer is at least a partial yes (Nicholson 1998).  Finally, on this topic, Peter Reason has developed the argument that we can join up our emotions, like you can join up microcomputers to perform like one big one, to achieve a substantial collective emotional intelligence (Reason 2007).  This could be a novel approach to shared or distributed leadership? (Pedler 2006).

4. The mention of ‘spirit’ leads us on to spirituality, in the sense of a belief in a power beyond, as distinct from religion, an institutionalised form of this.  Having said that Will Hutton of the Work Foundation has said that many leaders of his acquaintance are deeply religious in a low key and quiet way.

My form of spirituality would come closest to pantheism, the idea that God is nature, or is in nature (Levine 1994).  This is also highly consistent with critical realism, the research methodogical approach that I favour, based on the ontological view that the world is real and an open system with emergent properties rather than the determinist machine of the logical positivists or the sea of cultural meaning of the post-modernists and extreme social constructionist, who are either atheist or agnostic in relation to realism (Bhaskar 1989; Archer 1998; Sayer 1999; Bhaskar 2000; Burgoyne 2008; Burgoyne 2010).

Returning to leadership the implication of this is that it is high time for a return to the work of Mary Parker Follet (Follett 1927), and her proposition of the ‘law of the situation’, which is the idea that if we listen to the world closely enough, and pay attention to the feedback it gives us when we take action on it, then we are picking up on the wisdom, in both an instrumental and moral sense, of the pantheistic, non-theist ‘god’.  This is highly compatible with pragmatism in the philosophical rather than everyday sense (though they share a lot in common).  The central proposition is that ‘the truth is what works’ (Pierce 1907; Dewey 1929).

In the practical world a return from ‘spin’, and the belief that the world can be constructed by PR and propaganda, and in the academic world the extremes of post-modernism and social constructionism are long overdue. Having said that both have much to offer in challenging over entrenched mindsets and practices that may have passed their sell by dates.  Owen Barfield argues, in a book called ‘Saving the Appearances’ (Barfield 1988), we have moved from a world of primary participation, where we directly experienced, say, a clap of thunder, to one of secondary participation where we ‘know’ it is an electrical discharge, and in its more developed form we only experience the ‘language’ though we interpret things, and lose sight of the ‘thing’ altogether (linguistic theory has followed this path).  He argues that the next phase, which we are hopefully entering now, is ‘final participation’ where we combine the two, with a kind of detached but committed and sensitive involvement with reality.  It seems long overdue.

 5. ‘Spirit’ also means ‘of the essence’, so whiskey, for example, is much stronger than beer, and is called a ‘spirit’ because it contains more of the ‘essential’ ingredient, alcohol (I am spiritual in this sense too!).  ‘Ephemeralisation’ is the word used by Buckminster-Fuller (Buckminster-Fuller 1969) to describe this process.  Think of the wristwatch size transistor radio of today with the suitcase size monsters of a few decades ago, that is ephemeralisation.

This has a strong resemblance to becoming ‘lean’, and products with a high knowledge content, for example the laptop computer that costs several hundred pounds, but only a few tens of pounds of actual material. Also, we are moving to products that provide the customer with an identity, for example the Nike T shirt that may cost £50 but only cost 50p to make in China, the same to ship and distribute, and a pound or two to market.  This, for the wealthier and more developed parts of the world at least, is ephemeralisation and also has ecological advantages.

The implications of all this for leadership are worth thinking about.

 In conclusion, the organisations that leaders need to run today, and at least for the foreseeable future, need to be created, creative, innovative, learning, knowledge managing, virtual, virtuous (ethical), ephemeralised, networked, generative (co-evolving with the environment, not just adaptive to it, a Peter Senge term (Senge 1990), connected, sustainable (in both the ecological and economic senses, antipoetic (same as ‘generative’), politically enlightened, realistic (see argument under 4 above), total quality, meaning giving (see the Nike example above, and it applies to employees as well), wealth creating (in the original sense of the word, wellbeing, not just loadsa money (Carter 1971)), complexity thriving (Peters 1987), high performing, dynamically capable (a post knowledge management term for the learning organisation (Helfat 1997), dialogical (see ‘Deep Blue Sea for an approach to leadership based on this (Drath 2001)), good company (good as in moral and company as in people working together, see: (Pedler 1991) ).

 I hope these ideas are a partial basis for think about what post leadership or new leadership might look like.

Perhaps there is scope for someone to offer an MA in Post-Leadership Studies? I would be interested in being involved.

References

Alvolio, B. J., and Gardner, W. L. (2005). “Authentic leadership development: Getting to the root of positive forms of leadership.” The Leadership Quarterly 16: 315-338.

 This Special Issue is the result of the inaugural summit hosted by the Gallup Leadership Institute at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln in 2004 on Authentic Leadership Development (ALD). We describe in this introduction to the special issue current thinking in this emerging field of research as well as questions and concerns. We begin by considering some of the environmental and organizational forces that may have triggered interest in describing and studying authentic leadership and its development. We then provide an overview of its contents, including the diverse theoretical and methodological perspectives presented, followed by a discussion of alternative conceptual foundations and definitions for the constructs of authenticity, authentic leaders, authentic leadership, and authentic leadership development. A detailed description of the components of authentic leadership theory is provided next. The similarities and defining features of authentic leadership theory in comparison to transformational, charismatic, servant and spiritual leadership perspectives are subsequently examined. We conclude by discussing the status of authentic leadership theory with respect to its purpose, construct definitions, historical foundations, consideration of context, relational/processual focus, attention to levels of analysis and temporality, along with a discussion of promising directions for research.

 Archer, M., Bhaskar, R., Collier, A., Lawson, T. and Norrie, A., Ed. (1998). Critical Realism: Essential Readings, Routledge.

 Barfield, O. (1988). Saving the Appearances: a study in idolatry. Middletown Connetticut, Weslyan University Press.

 Bentham, J. (1789). An introduction to the principles of morals and legislation. London.

Bhaskar, R. (1989). Reclaiming Reality: A Critical Introduction to Contemporary Philosophy. London, Verso.

Bhaskar, R. (2000). From East to West: Odyssey of a Soul, Routledge.

Blackler, F. (1995). “Knowledge, Knowledge Work and Organizations: An Overview and Interpretation.” Organization Studies 16(6): 26.

Buckminster-Fuller, R. (1969). Operating Manual For Spaceship Earth. Illinois, Southern Illinois University Press.

Burgoyne, J. (2010). “Evaluating Action Learning: A Critical Realist Complex Network Theory Approach.” Action Learning: Research and Practice 7(3).

Burgoyne, J. G. (2008). Critical Realism. The Sage Dictionary of Qualitative Management Research. R. Thorpe, and Holt, R. London, Sage: 64-66.

Carter, C. (1971). Wealth: an essay on the purposes of economics, Penguin Harmondsworth.

Castells, M. (2003). The Internet galaxy: Reflections on the Internet, business, and society. Oxford, Oxford University Press.

Child, J. (1969). British Management Thought: A Critical Analysis. London, Goe. Allen and Unwin.

Dewey, J. (1929). Experience and Nature. La Salle, IL, Open Court.

Drath, W. (2001). The Deep Blue Sea: Rethinking the Source of Leadership. San Francisco, Jossey Bass.

Follett, M. P. (1927). Leaders and Experts. Bureau of Personnel Administration, New York.

Foucault, M. (1977). Discipline and Punish, Harmondsworth.

Galway, T. W. (1974). The Inner Game of Tennis. New York, Random House.

Golman, D. (1996). Emotional Intelligence: Why it can matter more than IQ. London, Bloomsbury Publishing.

Helfat, C. E. (1997). “Know-How and Asset Complementarity and Dynamic Capability Accumulation: The Case of R & D.” Strategic Management Journal 18(5): 339-360.

Levine, M. P. (1994). Pantheism: A non-theistic concept of deity London, Routledge.

Nicholson, N. (1998). “How hardwired in human behaviour?” Harvard Business Review 76: 134-147.

Parkinson, C. N. (1958). Parkinson’s Law: The Pursuit of Progress. London, John Murray.

Pedler, M., and Burgoyne, J. G. (2006). “Distributed Leadership.” View – NHSIII journal(11): 2.

Pedler, M. J., Burgoyne, J. G.,  & Boydell, T. (1991). The Learning Company: A strategy for sustainable development. Maidenhead, McGraw-Hill.

Peters, T. J. (1987). Thriving on Chaos: Handbook for a Management Revolution. London, MacMillan.

Pierce, W. S. (1907). Pragmatism. New York, New American Library.

Reason , P. (2007). “Education for Ecology: Science, Aesthetics, Spirit and Ceremony.” Management Learning 38(1): 27-44.

Sayer, A. (1999). Realism and Social Science. London, Sage.

Senge, P. (1990). The Fifth Discipline, The Art and Practice of the Learning Organisation. New York, Doubleday.

Senge, P. (1990). The Fifth Discipline: The Art & Practice of the Learning Organization. NY, Doubleday Currency.

Stonehouse, G. H., and Pemberton, J. P. (1999). “Learning and knowledge management in the intelligent organization.” Participative& Empowerment: An International Journal 7(5): 131-144.

Zuboff, S. (1988). In the Age of the Smart Machine. London, Heineman.”

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You don’t? Don’t worry, nor do I! So why post about this concept, which is a topic in linguistics?

Well, I was in my favourite bookshop again today (Blackwells, in Oxford) and for various reasons I was browsing the linguistics shelves. My attention was caught by the length of the single-word title (20 letters). “What could that be?” I thought. “I know, I’ll take a look at the blurb on the back cover. The back cover blurb usually gives one an idea…”

But the blurb on the back cover said this:

Degrammaticalization

Grammaticalization is a well-attested process of linguistic change in which a lexical item becomes a function word, which may be further reduced to a clitic or affix. Proponents of the universality of grammaticalization have usually argued that it is unidirectional and have thus found it a useful tool in linguistic reconstruction. In this book Professor Norde shows that change is reversible on all levels: semantic, morphological, syntactic, and phonological. As a consequence, the alleged unidirectionality of grammaticalization is not a reliable reconstructional tool, even if degrammaticalzation is a rare phenomenon.”

Well, clearly this concept is not one about to give up its secrets to the non-technical reader without a fight. And actually shouldn’t linguistics be the last subject to allow itself to give in to the temptation to pile on the syllables in the study of itself?  I shouldn’t carp – the same is often true, of course, in Management Education, where the legacy of ‘Management Science’ which dominates the highest starred Academic Journals has tight grip, and where the scourge of the “professionalisation” (19 letters) of academia with the consequent publish-or-die mentality that many, of not most, people in universities secretly hanker after can also be detected.

Of course, I know it’s unfair to pick out (and pick on) Muriel Norde’s book. After all, not only is it surely read by others in that field (albeit probably a  narrow one), the fault here could quite easily be mine.  Perhaps the blurb above really does make sense. Perhaps, too, it’s really not supposed to unless you are already in the know (and “being in the know” is a way of establishing a group identity). I guess the point is that it’s only when you take yourself out of your everyday lexical comfort zone that you realise that you, too, could just as easily be guilty of making sure that no-one who doesn’t already understand you can understand you. Academics, and academic writing, should have some kind of safety release-valve, a “deflate” button which the listener or the reader may push to let out the hot air when the levels of pomposity and verbosity get dangerously high. Oversimplifying complex ideas (as happens a lot, for example, in Harvard Business Review) produces dangerous results when readers read it at face value as though it hadn’t had the thinking kicked out of it in the editing process (amazing how the revered word “Harvard” can turn leaden ideas into gold). Equally, overcomplicating complex ideas (either by esoterically hiding one’s own ideas behind an endlessly referenced edifice of everyone else’s, or by joyfully inserting language that you know others will not) can deprive the rest of us of any benefit of that thinking.

We are always in danger of taking ourselves too seriously, I think. Words are important; language is, after all, our principal way of conveying a lot without needing to be  endlessly literal. The possibilities of language to move, to make clear, to offer insight are almost limitless. On the other hand, so is its potential to leave unchanged, to obscure and thus leave one none the wiser.

Writing by academics doesn’t have to be hard work.  I’m currently reading, and very much enjoying, Chris Grey’s “A Very Short, Fairly Interesting and Reasonably Cheap book about Studying Organizations”, part of a refreshing series of titles with a tint of Critical Management Studies in their ideas. It shows that one can be accessible and serious.

I’ll admit my own reading has broadened in the last few years to include a lot of things which before I would never have had the interest, patience or (if I’m honest) wherewithal to have tackled. Good reading begets more good reading – and there truly are some difficult texts that reward one for the effort. I’m still trying to crack Paul Ricoeur, mind!

In addition, I like writing (though I also find it laborious) and I do enjoy the challenge of writing about complex ideas. I know, too, that I still constantly fall well short of those heights and those parts reached by the authors I most admire.

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This week I received in the post an invitation from CIPD to take part in a conference in London. The title of the event is “Coaching for Performance and Business Change”. This may be proof that either coaching has begun to have an impact on the mindset of those who are responsible for the well-being of others in an organisation, or, in a desperate attempt to seem fashionable, the term has been press-ganged and forced into service as the latest “buzzword” and synonym for what amounts to “same-old, same-old”.

Having looked through the conference program, I’m inclined to the latter, which is very disappointing. The brochure starts by stating that “Coaching is a powerful tool for enhancing the performance of your people and adding real value to your organisation.” Well, maybe. But what is the definition of coaching being used here? The organisers don’t supply one. What follows, however, he is a list of organisational clichés. For example, it goes on “at a time of relentless change, the need for sustainable organisational performance is a key priority. Businesses need employees to take ownership of their performance, strive to meet business objectives and demonstrate resilience and confidence when managing change.”

I reckon you could easily substitute half a dozen buzzwords other than ‘coaching’ at the beginning and still come across with the same message. The sound of creaking wheels of a large bandwagon echo through the whole agenda of the conference. Coaching is presented as a driver for performance, for innovation and (one presumes) profit –  there is even a session on the holy grail of any management training, namely “evaluating and providing ROI”. Coaching is supposed to be about the agenda of the coachee, and expecting something like coaching to do what most training has failed to do in the last 20 or 30 years seems at best unrealistic and confusing and at worst actually damaging for everyone involved.

Who knows, perhaps the event will be thoroughly worthwhile, if only to netowrk. But I can’t help but feel that the agenda as offered twists the concept of coaching and tries to shove it into the ears of those responsible for learning and development in businesses in a way that the CIPD thinks will sound palatable, and which can be sold further up the organisation eager to know how HR spend can be justified in measurable ways.

A sign of our times, I suppose, is the inclusion of a session entitled “the 10 minute Coach: tools and techniques for the time-strapped manager”. I’m not sure why we have this relentless march towards everything being done in the quickest time possible. Certainly, there are times when the quick application of good coaching principles such as positive intent, genuine curiosity and insightful questioning can be just the right thing, but surely the idea that an organisation could adopt ‘ tools and techniques’ to use when “managers do not have the time to do it” is missing the point.  Next we’ll be invited to attend a workshop which will let us know how effective the “coaching tweet” can be for targeted and sustainable performance innovation potential maximisation.

Am I being too purist? What do others think? To see what the fuss is about, check out this link: www.cipd.co.uk/coachconf

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