Beyond leadership

It takes a leader to transform a service(s) to build, to innovate to inspire but what happens when the task is to dismantle, to scale back, to down grade? Is it still leadership if you are dismantling the empire rather than building it?

When the dynamic talk of creating a fitter, slimmer more efficient organisation is replaced by talk of no longer providing services, no longer employing staff, no longer being a viable standalone organisation do we need a new definition of leadership?

 We are so used to the idea that leadership is concerned with bringing about change for the better what happens when it isn’t? What happens when you move from changing the way you do things to stopping doing the things? The leader of Birmingham city council highlighted this issue when he described the consequences of a 50% cut in budget. It’s no longer a case of changing the way you run libraries, museums and leisure centres it is no longer being able to afford these services. What about the small councils that are no longer viable and must negotiate themselves out of existence? What type of leadership does this involve?

When success is not based on helping more people, influencing more decisions or attracting more resources but instead on how much money can you save, how many posts can you cut, how many services can you out source, how creative can you be in cutting costs, how low can you keep the council tax is it still leadership?

If instead of inspiring staff with your picture of a better future you are describing a less attractive future, taking staff where they don’t want to go, persuading them that they just have to get on with it. Do we still call this leadership or have we gone beyond that rhetoric?

Blair McPherson author of UnLearning management and Equipping managers for an uncertain future both published by Russell House www.blairmcpherson.co.uk

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