Mary P Follett and the Guardian – MBS public leadership partnership

29 May

We will hold the second MBS Guardian Public Leadership roundtable on the 7th June in Wakefield – where local leaders will talk about the role of future leaders, particularly in the public sector.

Too much press talk of leadership ‘heriocs’ obscures what leadership really means in the public sector – the days of merely ‘managing the shop’ and ‘overseeing operations’ in one organisation have gone. Neither is leadership a matter of charisma and charm. Surprisingly for some, there are some very impressive public leaders in the North and in the public sector – which was the reason for setting up the MBS Guardian partnership to give voice to those who are not only trying to find ways of transforming their own services but also developing collaborative relationships with those in business, communities and the Third Sector in the context of increasing demands and drastic cuts. Cath Fry, a former Manchester Cllr who died recently has left a very deatiled account of how the council were left in a very similar situation in the early 1990s when Margaret Thatcher was in power.

The press focus on nationla public leaders, and especially those who are more visible to them in London, but there are examples of impressive public leaders in the North, who realise that it is the way organisation collaborate that is important to the revival of places, competition might be an initial stimulus but it is only a catylist if the wider context is open to innovation because of the foresight and leadership or those who collaborate. Current examples transforming public leadership in the North can be read by looking at the MBS Transforming Management site.
http://tm.mbs.ac.uk/public-management/future-public-leadership/.

The workshop conversation will appear on the Guardian Public Leadership Hub at http://www.guardian.co.uk/public-leadership-networks on June 8th 2011.

Obama has shown that leadership is indeed about words as well as deeds, no matter how hard some would like leadership dismissed as a set of competences and or tasks, how leaders frame conversations matters and how we frame leadership is equally important. The long-time focus on leadership as a matter of personal qualities not what leaders think and do is unhelpful to creating the conditions for innovation for those those attempting to transform practice in a way that adds public value, and is not only concerned with the ‘bottom-line’.

This process is about how people engage as well as what they intend and the words written in an action planning process. An interesting argument is developing in London between those who are finding mutual solutions by only engaging with those who already seek them, and tend to view community engagement through ‘rose tinted glasses’, without recognizing the fact that community organising can be a matter of daily negotiations and grievances, when it involves those who disagree, cannot see the point and want no change. Stress comes from the emotions of engagement – Those backing the Big Society are in danger of romanticising community organising as did the Chicago Settlements in 1890s, leaving themselves open to the accusation that they were ‘well-meaning’ but paternalists. Its worth reading Mary P Follett who got her hands dirty and wrote about community leadership and probably invented community development. She saw the connection between community organising, leadership and active democracy. See Mary P. Follett – creating democracy and transforming management, by Joan Tonn Yale Uni press ISBN 0-300-09621-6 2003.

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