Monday, 29 April 2013

I'm Spartacus!

In the current issue of Management Today, Nigel Nicholson offers “A New View of Leadership”.

Some of what he describes is not new – he offers a triangular model of seeing (vision), being (identity), and doing (action), which may be considered an attempt to bring together visionary, authentic, and action-based approaches to leadership.  Nicholson calls his contrivance “The Leadership Formula”, but it seems to me to contradict the much more interesting opening to his article.

Describing the collective behaviour of animals and birds, in herds and in flight, Nicholson asks “who is leading?” and characterises this as a “very human question and presumption”.  We can all, no doubt, recall instances where managers (aspiring leaders) see the key to teamwork as effective leadership (their leadership). Instead, Nicholson argues, teams that lack leaders do not lack leadership, because “leadership is not a thing (nor is it necessarily embodied in a charismatic individual) but a process”.

I’ve written before that anyone who has served in the forces, or has played a team sport, knows that leadership is often exercised by individuals other than the designated leaders, and sometimes by a collective. There is an increasing understanding that leadership is not the exclusive preserve of senior managers, something exercised from the top down – rather it is something anyone can do, in the right place and the right time.  We are all (potential) leaders, we are all Spartacus.

Nicholson seems to me to have carried this argument a step forward, emphasising that leadership is more than an individual quality, it is a condition to be cultivated in a work team or organisation, a pre-condition for success.  I am grateful for his insight and analysis, even if I feel he does spoil it a little by decrying “recipe books”, then going on to offer his own individual-centric “formula”.

Sunday, 14 April 2013

Reason overcome by emotions

If you’re not interested in football, you could be forgiven for wondering what all the fuss was about recently-appointed Sunderland coach Paolo di Canio, and revelationsof his fascist sympathies.  In a nutshell, many people involved with Sunderland Football Club would prefer they did not employ someone of such an extreme political persuasion. Less well known was the recent attempt by some supporters of Hamilton Academical Football Club to remove a stadium director who was once a member of the British National Party (BNP).  I suspect there are many other examples.

This is not confined to football, of course.  The European Court of Human Rights recently ruled that a Bradford bus driver sacked (nine years ago) for membership of the BNP had his human rights breached (and by implication was unfairly dismissed).  Since the leaking of a BNP membership list in 2008, there have been calls for BNP members in many occupations to be sacked.

One correspondent to People Management argues that BNP members should not be admitted to the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development.

Fascism (like its bedfellow racism, with which it is often confused), is understandably repugnant to most people, but does that mean its adherents should be driven from employment and society? Of course, it may be very upsetting for employees to find a colleague holds such views, but the emotional public reaction to fascism does not help judgements as to whether this is acceptable on a case-by-case basis.

The very word “fascist” is akin to “paedophile” in its capacity to evoke outrage, and provoke ill-considered responses – the modern equivalent of a medieval burning at the stake.  Surely in an enlightened society, a modern civilization, we should have better ways to combat people with these attitudes, using reason, and a measure of understanding and compassion?

Human resources professionals have to advise on, and manage these instances, in pragmatic terms.  The solution to many problems among people in a workplace lies in learning and development, but how much time and resource can we legitimately spend guiding emotional fascists from their intolerant views towards a more co-operative working relationship with colleagues? This is the real business issue, obscured by political campaigning against fascists, confusion of fascism with racism (highlighted by the Di Canio case), and reason overcome by emotions.