Friday, 13 November 2009

Raise them up and knock them down

Picking up from where we left off last time, the Chartered Management Institute runs a blog site for its members’ network. Based on its ‘manifesto’ for a Better Managed Britain, the call for strong managers and leaders has inevitably surfaced. There are several reasons why I argue against this, not least that an organisation’s services are provided by systems, not individuals. A systems thinking perspective puts the leadership focus back where it belongs: the aim is to have a well-led organisation.

Hence I say to the CMI blogging community ‘Management and leadership come about when the organisation gets its collective act together. Management and leadership result from attending to the spaces between managers and also between their personal, departmental and company agendas. Management and leadership come about when all the gaps down which talent and energy is wasted are plugged. … strength is needed by the system to control and channel the dangerous tendencies of overly strong managers. Wars and battles (even within organisations) are usually the result of too little restraint, not just self-restraint but that which comes from the system – for example, cabinet leadership. A strong leader doesn’t necessarily equate to wise or competent; it may just mean loud, over-confident and dominant.

Look at the example set in the failed banking sector by Royal Bank of Scotland and Northern Rock. Fred Goodwin and Adam Applegarth were too strong, and the system that surrounded them was too weak. Examples of hubris from the United States were as extreme or more so. Excessive power corrupted their judgment and the decision-making process.

So my response is: give the strength and the glory to the system, not to the individuals. However, there is a problem, as shown by the torrent of invective that followed my article ‘Sometimes it’s the workplace that’s stupid, not the staff’ (Guardian, 11 November). A child psychiatrist explained readers’ response this way: “Systemic thinking is infuriating to the paranoid mind (to all our paranoid minds!) precisely because it doesn't blame an individual. It's public hangings versus democratic discourse. No contest?”