what you get here

This is not a blog which expresses instant opinions on current events. It rather uses incidents, books (old and new), links and papers as jumping-off points for some reflections about our social endeavours.
So old posts are as good as new! And lots of useful links!

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Leaders of change

New readers should note that this blog is a great resource for those concerned about the apparent collapse of key elements of our core systems – and what we should be doing about it. My blogs rarely comment on the trivia which passes for News these days (although I couldn’t resist the recent grilling of Rupert Murdoch by a UK House of Commons Committee) and try to strike a reasonable tone. They alternate between the professional and political aspects of improving governance (particularly in "transition countries" – a combination which gives these posts a distinctive slant. Most of my posts give direct links to papers which give hard evidence of my points. A bit like Google Scholar, I try to stand on the shoulders of giants. Indeed one of the reasons I keep blogging is that I find it is a great way of organising my reading. Anything which impresses me gets worked in; without the blog I would be wasting time trying to find a paper which I knew said something important. Now all I have to do is punch a keyword into the search engine on the site – and hey presto! The blogs are therefore (I hope) more like perennial flowers which can be enjoyed even if a couple of years old. And I am pleased to see that some of my readers do that without being urged.
Exactly a year ago I had a lament on impotence of democratic politicswhich shows you what I mean.

From October 28, I devoted a series of posts to the issue of the role of training in improving the performance of state bodies in ex-communist countries. I was pretty critical – particularly of the EC funding strategy.
The second post in the series summarised my critique and suggested three paths which those in charge of such training in these countries needed to take to make an impact -
1. to signal that the development of state capacity needs to be taken more seriously – by officials, politicians and academics – and to give practical examples of what this means
2. to try to shine some light on the role of training in individual learning and organisational development – to show both the potential of and limits on training and to have the courage to spell out the preconditions for training which actually helps improve the performance of state bodies
3. to encourage training institutes to cooperate more with change agents in the system - and with academia
Part V tried to put us in the shoes of a Director of the National Institute of training of public servants in these countries – facing incredible constraints - and to expand on these three points. Part VII switched the focus back to the funders and tried to reduce the critique to a few bullet points - "Wrong focus; wrong theory"; "context" and "leadership" and then went on to give an illustration of the sort of cooperation which might pay dividends for a Director of a Training Institute.
A final post backtracked a bit to ask what we actually know about the process of developing the administrative capacity which I had made the core of my argument.
It also noted that I should now explore why on earth anyone facing the sort of political and budgetary constraints which exist in the Balkan countries (widely defined) should ever wish to put her head over the parapet and "think big and reach out” as I had earlier suggested . So here goes……

I did make the point very strongly in the posts that each country has to make its own way – each context is very different and requires something which resonates with its key actors. Locals who bring foreign experience (like most think-tankers) are generally just trying to make a name for themselves as can be seen in this (otherwise interesting) book of case studies from the countries which were in the more direct influence of the Soviet Union.
But I am who I am am; my context (at least for the first 25 years of my working life) was the strong bureaucratic system of Scottish local government – which owned the vast proportion of the housing and transport system. I challenged this system – before Margaret Thatcher appeared on the scene – but from a new left and participative rather than privatising perspective.
And I had a lot of allies – first in men and women (more the latter) who worked in impossible circumstances of low income and insecurity – but who had the guts and energy to try to make a better lives for those around them. And, secondly, in a few officials who realised that if they did not use their position, skills and knowledge to try to make things better, then we would soon hit rock bottom. Mark Moore tried to legitimise the work of such committed officials in his 1995 Public Value book.

It is extraordinary people who make things change – sometimes, of course, for the worse. We have been brainwashed in the past 2 decades to believe that change was always for the better – the default option in the dreadful language. I linked yesterday to a Monbiot article which quoted from an important recent book identifying the psychotic element in so many corporate leaders – which has been a theme since Alaister Mant’s Leaders We Deserve. Malcolm Gladwell shows that even the recently deceased and highly regarded Steve Jobs had many elements of dysfunctionality in his pursuit of perfection.
And psychotic management seems to be in an even healthier state in ex-communist countries – although at least one book has tried to celebrate local heroes willing and able to make a difference.

In 2000, Malcolm Gladwell’s famous book The Tipping Point argued that the attainment of the "tipping point" (that transforms a phenomenon into an influential trend) usually requires the intervention of a number of influential types of people - not just a sinle "leader". On the path toward the tipping point, many trends are ushered into popularity by small groups of individuals that can be classified as Connectors, Mavens, and Salesmen.
Connectors are individuals who have ties in many different realms and act as conduits between them, helping to engender connections, relationships, and “cross-fertilization” that otherwise might not have ever occurred.
Mavens are people who have a strong compulsion to help other consumers by helping them make informed decisions.
Salesmen are people whose unusual charisma allows them to be extremely persuasive in inducing others to take decisions and change their behaviour.
Hopefully my next post will be able to make proper use of all of these references!!

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