Leadership:- culpability, communication and context
2018-04-06

'It was a failure of my leadership' stated Australian captain Steve Smith  last week. Leadership issues feature daily in our news but last week opened up a host of leadership stories.

As the cricket scandal broke it appeared that the Australian Cricket Captain And Vice Captain were being suspended alongside the instigator of ball tampering. Soon after it seemed all were in on the act.

However by the end of the week it seemed that the coach was also to resign. There is no evidence at present that he was invoked but it happened under his watch. For some that would be enough to fall on your sword, or enough to be pushed from positions of power. A key lesson here is that leadership is very much so contextual. Influence, circumstances and public mood can all dictate the fate of leaders in these circumstances.

On a similar note, last week saw a report into the emergency services response to the Manchester attacks. Leaders were again in the spotlight, both for praise and criticism. Police leaders were largely praised. Although they were criticised for not communicating the plan for an marauding terrorist firearms attack had been swung into action. Fortuitously ambulance leaders did not know this and for so were allowing medics into the zone despite the apparent risks. If they had known of Operation PLATO they may have withdrawn medics to safe areas, therefore not treating casualties at the scene.

At the same time Fire chiefs were on the receiving end of criticism in the report and also the media response and public feeling. Fire chiefs had kept to protocols for incidents where there is a risk for a second incident. This meant they were not on the scene for some time.

Furthermore, was a discrepancy in protocols between police, fire and ambulance. The report stated; 'From this perspective it is important to reflect on the fact that the Fire and Rescue Service culture differs from the other services in important ways. Whereas police officers are granted considerable autonomy to carry out their duties, firefighters are much more defined by their position as part of a team and the adherence to protocol. The Fire and Rescue Service has developed in this way over decades to ensure the safety of firefighters who face extreme hazards.' (206 Kerslake Report)
Whilst the report and media response scorned the fire service protocols, Civic leader, Greater Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham defended fire staff, however still pointed the finger at leadership culture. In a letter he stated "I know that you were desperate to help but were prevented from doing so by decisions taken above you. The failure is not yours but one of process, leadership and culture."

Two strong questions emerge from last week. If leadership is so contextual, how do we understand and work within those contexts? And moreover, how many leaders really are leaders? Many are managers or followers in reality. What leadership leverage do you have and what leadership leverage do you use?

Amidst it all, perhaps the overarching question is one of purpose- what are we there to do and how do we ensure the way we do it is as welcome as the results aimed for and achieved?

Neil McLennan, is a Senior Lecturer (Scholarship) and Director of Leadership Programmes, School of Education, University of Aberdeen.

Published by Business School, University of Aberdeen

Comments

  1. #1
    Wael Sultan

    From my humble point of view the keys and secrets of personal leadership must be the individual confident of himself to give others confidence in relying on him and also commitment to work and dates to ensure completion of the tasks required of him on time of without fail .
    It is also necessary to enjoy the encourage and determination to achieve the goal, not to fear failure. in addition to the ability to think positively, and to stay away from people who are trying to spread the negative energy among the ranks around them.
    finally I'd like to say very important something the personal leadership always be optimistic coming to life,has willing to endure the difficulties and confront them in order to reach what he wants.

  2. #2
    Neil McLennan

    Wael Sultan makes some good points about having a vision, keeping to it and bringing others on board to meet that vision.

    Communication, emotional intelligence and determination all play a part.

  3. #3
    Luis Miguel Pérez Muñoz

    Thank you for your article Neil.

    Some very interesting points have been discussed, however, I would like to focus on the Fire Services action, or "late" action.

    Following your question: "If leadership is so contextual, how do we understand and work within those contexts?"

    I always start from the premise that there are no perfect actions. This means that there are many different ways of attaining the same (or similar, as there are no identical situations) objectives. In this case, the goal would be:

    For the Police, to reduce or eliminate the reason/cause of the emergency (terrorist)
    For the Medical Services, to treat those which are injured
    For the Fire Services, to reduce the likelihood of further damage to the injured ones and to rescue those in danger without compromising their lives in a non-reasonable way.

    In my opinion, and following my lifeguard background regarding how to and when to act in an emergency, the Fire Services acted appropriately according to the information they were provided and I explain why.

    When acting in an emergency, the first and foremost principle of the rescue services is to secure themselves. After that, the second principle is about securing the place and the environment. And in a third stage, provide help and assistance to those who need it. For these reasons, I believe they Fire Services acted appropriately as the situation was not controlled and they were under risk of being injured by a terrorist.

    From my point of view, a good Fire Service leader in this situation would have made the decision of not acting even if everyone is telling him the contrary (politicians included). In a short and medium term, the potentiality to provide a rescue service and to save a life is much higher in a firefighter than in a regular citizen. So, with a broader perspective of a society, a firefighter life should not be risked if the situation and the danger is not controlled.

    In a more general context, in my opinion, true leadership most of the times is about accepting a loss or a sacrifice in the present to ensure a better future in a middle (or sometimes long) term. For that reason, leaders should be able to manage much more information and of a greater quality than the rest of the people and, consequently, sometimes their decisions cannot be understood by a vast majority of the population.





  4. #4
    Neil McLennan

    Luis many thanks for your comment and my sincere apologies for the delayed response.

    Like you, I was a lifeguard once upon a time and also a lifeguard trainer/assessor, and so I think we come from the positioning.

    It is interesting you note 'no perfect actions.' Whilst we aim for policy perfection and achieving consistency I take your point. Recently I have been interested in Charles Jencks ideas around Adhocism (1973). There is certainly an interesting space around where intentions hit reality and how leaders cope with this. Jencks is always an interesting composition to more rigid approaches to change and project management. Is there a space between formalised/intended and evolving/emergent change and processes. Mintzberg remains useful reading on this.

    You raise some interesting points on prioritisation and management of competing demands and complex information. Two underlying issues to consider are:-

    Firstly, vision and aims- as I stated, "what are we there to do and how do we ensure the way we do it is as welcome as the results aimed for and achieved?"

    Secondly, that of core values and how this impact on all of this. This is an area of enquiry we have begun some interesting work with.

    It was really interesting reading your response and I am glad the article has interested. Do consider joining our courses for more dialogue and indeed decision making around leadership in professional contexts:-
    https://www.abdn.ac.uk/study/postgraduate-taught/degree-programmes/956/leadership-in-professional-contexts/

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