Vogel Wakefield blog

Vogel Wakefield blog

December
09
2016

Universities and public value

I have a blog post at the higher education website, Wonkhe, discussing the lessons universities can learn from the BBC’s experience with public value:

“On the face of it, the higher education sector is in a weaker position than the BBC. It has to overcome the disadvantage of its fragmentation to present a robust voice to policy makers and the wider public. Compared with other sectors, it has enjoyed a good financial settlement through austerity – but at what cost? The marketisation and commodification of education and research have proved an anathema to many working the sector.

“As universities contemplate the gulf between themselves and the public that Brexit has revealed, public value thinking could help them get closer to their communities and articulate purposes that the public would get behind. This in turn could help diffuse tension between academics and managers, if managerialism were mobilised in the service of a project that academics might find more inspiring. Clarity of purpose would allow for greater differentiation between universities – research-intensives, balanced, teaching-focussed – and, more importantly, provide a more robust foundation for dealing with government and the new regulator, the OfS, as we enter the Brexit-era.”

Read the full post at Wonkhe.

 

September
30
2016

Leading mindfully is a radical challenge to corporate orthodoxy

meditating

 

Book review: Leading Mindfully by Amanda Sinclair

I sometimes wonder whether we have reached peak mindfulness in the corporate world. So widely discussed – apparently embraced by banks, Google, the US Army – yet so hard to integrate into organisational culture. Leading Mindfully by Amanda Sinclair at first looks like a contribution to the bandwagon. But it is, in fact, a profoundly subversive exposition of the philosophy of leadership. It takes us to places that aren’t routinely part of the discourse of management theory: the role of the senses, the pursuit of happiness, the erotic dimension of leadership. In its evocative depiction of what leading with integrity looks like, it highlights the malpractice inherent in leadership as we know it in most organisational contexts. Reading it before and after the Brexit referendum, I also found in the book insights on how Britain finds its way through the chaos and uncertainty that lies ahead.

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July
11
2016

How to lead in chaos

York Against Brexit Rally

York Against Brexit Rally

 

Two weeks on and we’d better get used to the sense of bewilderment and drift. Unless the Conservative Party revises its plans, there’ll be no political leadership in this country till September. The vacuum in opposition politics could well outlast Labour’s leadership contest. Even once we have functioning political parties, the work will only just be beginning. Unraveling the implications of the Brexit vote will last years. Building new strategies, negotiating new trade dispensations, embedding new institutional arrangements, tackling social justice: these projects will last many years. Uncertainty – more than that, unknowability – is the environment in which all organisations now operate.

For those working in organisations, an urgent question is how to lead in this chaos. There’s a lot to play for. Those who can shake off despondency and find their ground, without succumbing to false certainty, can play an important role in shaping a positive outcome. As I said in my previous post, this is a time for distributed leadership: for individuals to step up to influence their colleagues. But what does this mean in practice?

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July
03
2016

Who will lead us from this chaos?

Your Country Needs You

 

My blog post last week, on the social fracturing that led to Brexit, has resonated with many readers. On every day since it was published, the piece has attracted more traffic to the site than we would normally see in a week. It speaks, I think, not just to the anxiety about what the vote has revealed about our nation but also to another anxiety about the contribution to that state of affairs made by the organisations of which we are part.

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April
25
2016

Cut ego down to size in leadership

audrelorde

How can we presume to lead until we understand from where we’ve come?

 

Book review: Leadership for the Disillusioned by Amanda Sinclair

Amanda Sinclair published Leadership for the Disillusioned in 2007, shortly before the financial crisis that has done more than anything in my lifetime to undermine public trust in corporate leadership. It’s telling that the most resonant example she cites of leadership that chips away at our illusions is the collapse in 2001 of the energy company, Enron. The most resonant corporate scandal of its time, the Enron affair could nonetheless be explained away at the time as an isolated if grand case of fraud that didn’t call into question the contemporary view of corporate leadership as a largely benign practice that broadly benefits society. Since the banking crash, our social system has become more widely perceived as governed by an ideology of corporate self-interest that nearly brought society to its knees and continues to serve the enrichment of a tiny minority. Throw in (to name a few UK examples) the phone hacking scandal, the Mid-Staffs Hospital scandal and the Jimmy Savile scandal and, if there were grounds for disillusion in 2007, there is widespread acceptance now that leadership as traditionally construed faces a crisis of legitimacy.

Sinclair’s book brings home the extent to which corporate thinking shapes how we view leadership. We’re culturally attuned to a managerialist model that construes leadership as invested in figures of formal authority at the apex of hierarchies. Leaders are action-oriented and ego-driven, their self-regard pumped up by status or absurdly inflated remuneration. The trend towards authenticity in leadership is of a piece with such ego-massaging, encouraging managers to identify themselves with their work role and self-actualise by bending others to their agenda.

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February
29
2016

Tim Cook: public leadership in action

Tim Cook: public leader

Tim Cook, CEO of Apple

 

Apple’s showdown with the Obama administration over the latter’s demand that it decrypt the phone of one of the San Bernadine terrorists is a test case in public leadership. The dispute counter-poses the social goods of national security and citizen privacy. The FBI wants the former to trump the latter. Apple is arguing for the two to be held in a more considered balance. What’s interesting from a public leadership perspective is that Apple is taking a considerable risk; it’s by no means clear that things will play out in its favour. This is no mere PR stunt.

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December
04
2015

Trust is not a message, it’s an outcome: the lesson for leaders from a defector from PR

Trust is an outcome.

In Trust Me, PR is Dead, Robert Phillips has ostensibly written a book on the bankruptcy of public relations. It’s more interesting, though, as an insider’s guide to the bankruptcy of much corporate leadership – and, more importantly, a cogent call to arms for leadership that can inspire trust. I say “call to arms” since this is not a manual for leaders of the kind that sells at airport bookstands. It’s more a citizens’ manifesto – stirring us from neoliberal slumber so that we may realise our distributed leadership and haul conventional corporate leaders into the service of a fairer form of capitalism. It’s a foretaste of how leadership must surely evolve to meet the challenges of our more transparent, networked society and the expectations of the Millennial generation who will soon inherit the workforce.

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June
26
2014

Corporations as a force for good? Could do better.

Supplying a force for good?

Supplying a force for good?

 

“Corporations as a force for good” was the optimistic title of a talk given by the London Business School academic, Lynda Gratton, at the Royal Society of Arts today. Her thesis was more a paean to than a critique of corporations. On the evidence she presented, I found her optimism a little premature. Corporations can be great conduits for the creativity and fulfilment of employees and the fulfilment of societal needs at massive scale. But they are vessels for trapping employees in alienating conditions, exploiting their consumers and society at large and they often ask too few questions about their supply chains. “Could do better” would be a more appropriate assessment of the current contribution of corporations.

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March
14
2014

The Co-op, revolution and public leadership

The 99 per cent – disaffected with “venal values”

The 99 per cent – disaffected with “venal values”

The tragic mistake that the Co-op keeps making is to try to accommodate itself to the era of unrestrained, crony capitalism just as we need it to prove that its 19th Century mutual values are a plausible alternative to corporate excess.

Euan Sutherland – who resigned this week after the leak of his £3.5m pay package – demonstrated not only a poor fit with the Co-op’s mutual ethos, but a complete lack of the leadership values that will turn round public disaffection with business.

It may have been lame of Sutherland to declare the Co-op “ungovernable” before he’d even attempted to reform it, but this was consistent with an executive whose leadership style had demonstrated – as Will Hutton put it – no understanding of his organisation’s core challenge:

“That challenge is to marry Co-op values with a new and better functioning business model. What is astounding is that it occurred to nobody, not the executives themselves, that by being offered and accepting sums this large the management were trashing the very values they were on a mission to rebuild.”

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