'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 If they had known of Operation PLATO they may have withdrawn medics to safe areas, therefore not treating casualties at the scene.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.