Friday, 28 January 2011

What book on leadership would you recommend?

I am in the middle of designing a leadership development programme for senior people working within a large Government agency. I have the idea that during the summer recess (there is a two month break in the learning modules) that we might ask them to read and write a synopsis of a book on leadership. They would bring this back to the first Autumn module.

Naturally, the participants will be able to choose which book they wish to read. But what books would you put on the list as a prompt or starter for ten, for them to consider?
What book (or books) on leadership have read that you have found particularly inspiring, useful or even just a good read? (If you have the time - a one liner as to why this book made an impact - would be peachy!)

I will kick off with one that I am reading right now:

Engaging Emergence: Turning upheaval into opportunity by Peggy Holman (I saw Peggy give a presentation about this in Berlin earlier this year and she was inspirational - it is a book which sets out the source code for how to tackle wicked problems. A must read in these austere times in my opinion)

Thanks for your ideas!

UPDATE: Had some very interesting replies from some people on Twitter and indeed elsewhere - I will be compiling a list at some point. But - the main thing I wanted to say was:
  • It doesn't have to be a book (it could be a movie, or a poem, or a picture, or a you-tube clip, or whatever has inspired you...)
  • It doesn't have to be a book about leadership - it could be any book (or...) that has helped you be a leader - a novel, a biography, a science revision text book, whatever!
UPDATE 2: The list has been compiled now. Go to this link (or above posting) for the document on Google Docs

UPDATE 3: I am now taking this idea and turning it into a whole book of stories and contributions. Please visit this link and consider whether you would like to add something yourself. Thanks!

Tuesday, 25 January 2011

Do you assume your leadership is useful?

I have just been re-reading a great article by Paul Whitby on Assumed Usefulness (The Psychologist July 1980 pp 308-310) which I had mislaid. I tracked Paul down on Linked-In and he graciously sent me a hard copy.

It is a very neat and powerful piece.

In the article, he ‘proposes a model to explain the widespread phenomenon of unwarranted self confidence’. In 1948, Skinner carried out an experiment with some hungry pigeons where he fed them a pellet of corn at regular intervals. As a result some odd behaviours were ‘reinforced’ (to use the behaviourist vernacular) such as head swaying or hopping from one foot to another. These behaviours persisted long after the corn stopped coming. So in this experiment a pigeon’s random behaviour was reinforced by an unconnected reward.

Paul Whitby then goes on to propose that this is what happens with psychotherapy. Psychotherapy (as opposed to more rigorously tested cognitive behavioural therapy techniques) is very popular and many (both therapists and clients) swear by it. Many psychotherapists assert the value of their craft despite numerous objective studies suggesting otherwise. Paul’s view is that in some cases, psychotherapy clients will get better, as they would have done anyway. These naturally occurring remissions are the equivalent of the pellets of corn for the pigeons, and result in collusion between client and therapist over the value and importance of the therapy. This is very challenging stuff and I don’t intend to enter into the debate here about the value or otherwise of the various psychotherapies in use today. I will leave that to others.

But I do want to pick up on Paul Whitby’s comment towards the end of his article where he says the “model is also applicable outside the healing arts. Probably the most fruitful field for Assumed Usefulness is business and management.”

Since first reading this article more than 20 years ago, I have long wondered the same.

How many of the everyday actions taken by leaders have been randomly reinforced in their pasts by performance improvements that happened through happen chance (or even despite what the leaders did)? How many strategies, plans, protocols and policies have merely seemed to work by the random occurrence of a few positive results?

This debate is raging at the moment in police leadership circles. My colleague Peter Neyroud (erstwhile Chief Constable and Chief Executive of the National Policing Improvement Agency) and David Weisburd (Distinguished Professor of Criminology, Law and Society at George Mason
University) have written an article in support of “Police Science: Toward a New Paradigm”. Malcolm Sparrow puts forward an alternative view that instead of ‘scientific policing’ the focus should remain with ‘problem orientated policing’ (“Governing Science” Both articles are well worth putting the time aside to read in full and weigh up the arguments yourself.

But that debate is not really about whether the actions taken by managers and leaders should be evaluated but more about who should carry out the evaluation and in what context. I suspect that all three authors would agree that there is no room for Assumed Competence in police (or indeed any other) leadership.

So my questions to you are these: 
  • How do you know you are a useful leader?
  • What evidence or feedback are you drawing on to assert or even prove this?
  • How can you demonstrate a causal link between the policies (or whatever) that you have devised / implemented and the results achieved?
  • Indeed, do you agree that there should or ever can be a causal link?
  • Or would you assert that leadership (and all the actions that arise from it) is an art and not a science: leadership is just too ineffable and complex to be evaluated by reductionist methodologies?
Interestingly and with powerful foresight, Paul goes onto cite an article by Eachus (“The psychology of the stock market”, The Psychologist; Bulletin of the BPS pp 100-103, 1988) where he illustrated how “persistent activity [is] maintained by the occasional and random reward of a large profit which is independent of effort or knowledge”. Paul Whitby wonders whether Assumed Usefulness underpins the behaviour of dealers in the stock market. He speculates that “yuppie merchant bankers are well known for their high self-regard” which leads them to an emotional state prone to Assumed Usefulness.

I wonder...

(You may also like to see my article below about bankers’ bonuses and the questions that Boards and investors should still be asking)

Friday, 21 January 2011

Strategy: two alternative definitions

How about these two definitions:

A 'Strutegy' is a large glossy document where most of the effort has gone into talking with the printers and marketing people. Action is negligible and lasting outcomes even more elusive. Typically written by a small cabal in a darkened room with only a modicum of consultation & research into good practice and wider challenges. The idea of engagement does not feature. Implementing a strutegy is usually done via road shows and key note speeches from senior managers, who will have something more important to do before any questions are posed.


A 'Stractegy' hardly exists as a document and indeed exists more as the collective and focused actions of a wide diversity of people. Any documentation which does exist is recognised as the thinking on a particular day that is probably out of date as soon as the ink has dried. Stractegies are created in dynamic crucibles of insight, learning and practice exchange. In the way that strutegies typically fragment and simplify, stractegies on the other hand are based on processes which connect people together and enable them to wrestle with complexity. Often stractegies emerge when people get together in large groups to discuss the future and the challenges being faced. Outcomes are always the focus with stractegies.

Monday, 17 January 2011

Strategy & Leadership: Do you play draughts?

How do you approach the development of strategies and strategic plans? Some people adopt a ‘draught’ like manner – advancing mostly only forwards, occasionally sacrificing a piece when there is a need to and treating all the pieces on the board in the same way. ("We'll have road show to get the message out to everyone!")

Chess players are different. They recognise the diversity of pieces on the board, play a long game, several (if not many) moves ahead and knowing that even pawns alone can win.

How do you play the strategic planning game?

Is your leadership more like chess or draughts?

Time & parallax

Anecdotally, it seems to me that time is speeding up. Often this happens as one gets older. But it seems as if young people are feeling this too. I have been wondering why. 

When a train travels through the countryside trees far away seem to go by much slower that objects near to the train. This is ordinary parallax. Although of course the train is passing all the objects at the same speed.

What I wonder is that as more and more information is available to us through the internet and beyond, then this is like travelling in a train where everything is close. Everything is whizzing by at speed.

At this speed, are we making the right decisions? 

As a leader, how can you slow some things down?

Are there some things that need to be made to be bit further away so that you can gaze at them longer?

Change Alchemy: time to freeze?

Edgar Schein talked in his book "Process Consultation: Lessons for Managers and Consultants Volume ll" of their being three stages of change:
  1. unfreezing the current state,
  2. moving to the new one and
  3. refreezing around the new state.
This model presupposes that there is time to refreeze. The experience now of many managers is that the pace of change means that refreezing is something of a luxury - everything seems to be in a constant state of transition.

Is this the case? How much of this apparent pace of change has been manufactured by people who make a living out of change?

As a leader, is it your role to speed change up or slow things down?

Friday, 14 January 2011

Police: who will be the leader?

There is now draft legislation to replace Police Authorities with elected Police Crime Commissioners. As we await the passage of the legislation into law, the debate is continuing about how these new PCCs will work - or indeed whether they should happen altogether. Today the Civil Service Live Network put up a debate between a past Home Secretary and a think tank Chief Exec about the pros and cons of this new policy. You can access it here.

It is a debate that I felt moved to add my six pennyworth - here is what I wrote:

Not being able to name the chair of local Police Authority is not a powerful argument. Not even knowing that such a body exists is perhaps more convincing. Certainly, despite their best efforts, the awareness of Police Authorities is still very low amongst the general public. But there again, how many citizens really understand how all public services join up and are governed?

Quoting the research about public satisfaction with the police is not best placed since that has far more to do with how members of the public feel treated by police officers & staff (sadly) following a crime that it does about concerns about the setting of overall priorities.

The gap between reality (crime has been going down significantly in recent years) and perception (fear of crime & antisocial behaviour is still high) is notable. I ran my own one person campaign to get fear of crime included in the responsibilities of the local Crime & Disorder partnership legislation (1998) but failed. I do wonder, had it been in there whether things would be different now?

The gap is down to many factors not least the media coverage of crimes, the doubt over 'statistics' (lies, damned lies etc) and the ability of many in and involved with the police to really 'connect' with the public. PCSOs have been doing a remarkable job here and local PC led neighbourhood teams have been making real inroads. But, how many of these structures will survive austerity measures is yet to be seen. I do worry that expectations on these new PCC's will be so high whilst at the same time front line services will be cut back (there is only so much money to be saved by reducing the IT department to one person and an electronic dog) - that a perfect storm will be created. And in this storm, the perpetrators of antisocial behaviour and broad acquisitive crime will have a field day. Crime and fear of crime will rise together. I hope not, of course, but the omens are not good.

But on the other hand, over the years I have been working with the police as an independent adviser / coach / facilitator - I have seen the police HQ car parks grow and grow...

I don't think the last Government 'chickened out' - I think they ran out of legislative time. By the same token, one could argue that this Government has chickened out of a national restructuring and moving away from 43 independent police forces in E&W. Interestingly though - Scotland and possibly Wales are moving towards whole country forces in each case.

It is vital "that local people had a real say over the policing in their area" but I am just not sure that PCCs alone will be the answer. They may be part of the answer - but on their own - almost certainly not. I speak as someone who has lived and worked in the Thames Valley Police for nearly all of my adult life. It is a very large patch which extends from Milton Keynes to Witney to Reading to Slough to Eton and so forth. The idea that all these geographically (and otherwise) diverse communities could all feel represented by a single person is a stretch of the imagination. What will be critical, assuming the draft legislation becomes law, will be to elect a person who has a very clear and convincing plan for how to 'stay in touch' with the broad sweep of the area. I can only hope that the preferential voting system that the Government is proposing to use for electing these PCCs will be able to ensure that the best possible people - politically and otherwise - become the new PCCs. I also hope that the rigour of scrutiny and challenge that must happen as part of the selection processes and subsequent campaigns of all the candidates will tease out the wheat from the chaff (ie the really committed, knowledgeable and citizen focused people from the 'place people' that the central political parties may try to parachute in).

Once these people are in place - yes there will be some very tricky issues around governance and relationship with the Chief Constables to resolve. On its own, I don't think that is an argument against having the new PCCs. However it is an argument for some very clear thinking about roles and boundaries before the PCCs are elected. Perhaps some simulations, thought experiments and the like would not go amiss. This is not wholly new terrain since PAs have had the lead responsibility for Best Value while the CC is operationally independent. It was never really tested when (say) the PA decided the 'Dogs Section' should be closed down on BV grounds while the CC said that it was an operational matter over which he/she had complete autonomy. This was never tested.

So it is a big debate - which will only kick into gear when / if the legislation is passed into statute. When that happens, I hope that Civil Service World will host more debates like this (on and offline) to flesh out just how this new leadership role will operate in the context of 150+ years of policing.

Debate: Elected police and crime commissioners

I am left pondering on how the new PCCs (assuming it becomes law) will impact upon leadership in the police service - not just at the chief officer level but also throughout the organisation.

Sunday, 9 January 2011

Process matters!

NetrootsUK was billed as a “one day event to help network and inspire progressive activists working on the web”. As someone with this blog, my small creative ideas blog and my Twitter account (...facilitating the conversations, ideas & questions to help build a more ambitious, creative and fair world), I decided to go along to the event in London yesterday, along with about 600 other people. It was busy, fascinating & diverse, and the day made me think a great deal. (And I thank the organisers, sponsors and contributors who made it happen.)

But: did it help me network and was I inspired? In order: broadly no and very variably so.

It was a long day, a good half of which was spent in a large plenary listening to speakers. Some were very good: Stella Creasy MP gave a passionate & inspiring speech and Clifford Singer entertained the audience with his use of comic sans (among other things)! However the broad view that emerged from the parallel tweeting and some conversations that I had, was that this was not what the delegates had come really come for. The agenda in the middle of the day was jam packed with a range of interesting seminars. I only managed to get to three of them: I would have liked to have to gone to more. Towards the end of the event, an ‘open mike’ session, which I only understood what that meant when it happened, had six speakers who hurriedly gave us information about their particular project. There was interaction and participation, but not nearly as much as there could have been.

At the end of the day, I was left feeling tired and frustrated as I knew how much more could have been achieved. This was not because of the content of the day (the seminars were good) but the process. The process was mostly didactic, constraining and preset. In many respects it was a classic conference form which was (perhaps) doubly frustrating as the people attending were anything but. The principles of interactivity, emergence, self direction & exploration, randomness, transparency and creativity which are what make social media / Web 2.0 such an exciting medium were almost absent in how the conference was structured. There was just so much untapped potential in the room.

If I had been in charge (as it were...) this is what I would have done: 
  • made the whole event Open Space so that the people attending would have been able to shape the overall agenda and indeed their own conference. The event would have been far more fluid and allowed for people to network in open & deliberate ways that would have been so much more productive than the happen-chance discussions you might start (with the person standing next to you in the lift or over coffee). 
  • explained the process of how the day was going to function at the beginning so that people would have understood how they could make the most of it. For example I would have at least announced or publicised that there was free wifi for everyone to use in the subterranean room (away from mobile phone signals). 
  • have real and virtual walls for people to post their ideas, thoughts, concerns, links etc 
  • told people in advance what they were coming to and how they would be able to sponsor discussions and workshops. (Whilst some lunchtime seminars were organised like this – so many more could have been put on.) 
  • put all the chairs in a several concentric circles so that people could face each other rather than be put into passive audience style rows all facing the podium and speakers. (This was meant to be about networking – not a series of academic lectures!)

I am well aware that I am probably in a minority in my focus on process & outcomes as opposed to content. What comes first for most people, it seems – conference organisers and delegates – is content: who is speaking about what. I start with the outcomes: how do you want the world or yourself to be different as a result of the event? The form (or process) of the event must follow this function (outcome). If the purpose of yesterday’s event had been to inform people of some of the work going on around political activism in the UK at the moment, it did reasonably well. But as the purpose of the event (as billed) was to inspire people (to take action) and help people network, then this event did not succeed as much as it could have done. An opportunity was lost.

If there are any follow up events – nationally or locally – I sincerely hope that greater attention will be paid to the process of these events so that more, so much more, can be achieved. 

Moreover, progressive politics aside, what large or small event are you in the process of organising?

Does the form of the event match the outcomes you wish to achieve? How do you know? How will you evaluate the event (or meeting, or briefing, or whatever...) for how well these outcomes are achieved?