Some years ago, I was happy to make the acquaintance of Valerie Iles, a leadership consultant whose domain is healthcare. Like me, she brings an interest in mindfulness. But she has a great ability to draw on a diverse range of other ideas. This year, she held a seminar to hand over her body of thinking. I was already running with it. But, in the months since, I’ve enjoyed re-reading some of her articles.
One that stands out is Valerie’s admonishment against reaching for abstract nouns. This is not the usual tirade against meaningless management coinages but a philosophical challenge to how leaders conceive their strategies.
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.
I’m looking forward to the APECS symposium on the future for executive coaching on 18th June. As part of a group working on the social and business context for coaching, I’ve submitted a discussion paper. I found it a useful opportunity to pull together the themes I’ve been developing at this blog over the past few years. I’ve been receiving a number of requests to access the paper even ahead of the symposium, so I’m posting it here with the following caveat: my thinking on this is a work in progress rather than my last word. Feedback, critical or otherwise, most welcome.
Anglo-Saxon capitalism is experiencing a shift in the socio-economic paradigm by which we organise ourselves. In the period after the Second World War, a consensus was established around social democracy, with its emphasis on welfare, corporatism and mitigating inequality. As this became dysfunctional, it was replaced by a consensus around free markets, managerialism and shareholder value which, itself, is now being called into question by systemic failure. What replaces it will be contested. It could be a more benign form of capitalism in which organisations accept responsibility for greater stewardship of the public realm or it could be something much closer to fascism or something else again. What role, if any, should coaches play in helping executives both to recognise the shift and to play a role in shaping a constructive outcome?
You’d think that the more protracted the after-effects of the 2008 financial crisis become the more willing we would be to ask searching questions about its root causes. Sadly, this seems not to be so. In much public discourse, there is an often unspoken assumption that if only we could sort out the banks, fix the Euro and correct global trading imbalances we could all happily return to the days of uninterrupted growth.
It’s therefore welcome to find – in the shape of Will Morris, current chairman of the CBI’s taxation policy committee and Global Director of Tax Policy at GE – one senior business figure who acknowledges that things have gone wrong at a pretty fundamental level. And it’s even more welcome that he’s come up with a solution that is both simple and elegant. Sadly, his paper Not Just How but Why – which was published by Reform earlier this summer – has received precious little attention, which rather underlines my point.
Book review: What Matters Now: How to Win in a World of Relentless Change, Ferocious Competition, and Unstoppable Innovation by Gary Hamel.
What Matters Now by Gary Hamel is a critique by a renowned management thinker of the apparent collapse in moral values in big business that was revealed by the financial crisis. It’s a startling read because, while being a contribution to the airport news-stand canon of management literature, it uses language and imagery which is alien to the corporate world – precisely to question their absence. Hamel offers an impassioned call for a more compassionate and ethically-grounded capitalism which puts value rather than cost at the centre of its concerns.
An analysis of highly ranked MBA programs by the Public Relations Society of America showed that only 16 percent offer a single course in crisis and conflict management, strategic communications, public relations, or whatever label one chooses to describe management of a precious organizational asset: reputation. Even that course is likely to be an elective. So glaring is this omission that it’s typical for MBA-holding executives to assume “reputation management” or “public relations” is the black art of spinning an alternative version of reality, as though that works in today’s wide-open, relentlessly scrutinized, electron-speed information environment.
Market economies are always vulnerable to chancers and spivs who sell overpriced goods to ill-informed customers and seem to promise things they do not intend to deliver. If such behaviour becomes a dominant business style, you end up with the economies of Nigeria and Haiti, where rampant opportunism makes it almost prohibitively difficult for honest people to do business. Our prosperity depends on a self-enforcing culture of ethical business values, in which traders value their reputation and seek to develop long-term commercial relationships. That is the culture in which banks used to operate: it is time they did so again.