Strategic Leadership

for Leaders in an Uncertain World

25 years on -and that from one of Tories leading thinkers

On Wednesday 20th May Daniel Finkelstein wrote a well argued article in the Times entitled Will the next Mr Speaker get the new era? He argues that large political parties arose in the era of mass media and that the information revolution is changing all that. The thesis is that the shift is thus from closed politics to open politics.

About time someone noticed. This is exactly what Norman Strauss argued 25 years ago, among other places in the Article “State of Mind that Can Stop Decline” He pointed out that government is not well designed for building a bridge from values to policies and legislation- as we so graphically see now! In the days well before Barack Obama went to his graduate studies at Harvard and much before Lord Layard from LSE recognised the need for lifting UK dismal levels of life satisfaction, Norman wrote:

Building a positive ‘can do’ altruistic ‘mental-welfare state’ is what modern politics should be about.

Any of the major parties doing anything about it? If not, why not?

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July 6, 2009 Posted by | Government, Politics, Systems, Values | , , , , | Leave a comment

Learning Lessons from Iraq war- UK Government Inquiry

Sir John Chilcot (former senior Civil Servant) and 4 other officials, among them 2 historians, 1 ambassador (in Russia) and 1 member of House of Lords (responsible for judges appointment) will head an independent inquiry into the Iraq War to last a year- as announced by Gordon Brown, PM this afternoon in the Parliament.

All the comments I saw about this seem to miss the main point: Who among these 5 people is an expert on processes required to identify Lessons Learnt?

In addition, I wonder:
1. What support will the new Privy Cousellors have in doing this important job?
2. Why is this an ‘Inquiry’ rather than ‘Audit’?
3. Who will be responsible for putting LESSONS Learnt into practice?

Having worked in BP, where it was routine to carry out Large Projects Reviews so that Lessons Learnt can be applied in subsequent cases, I know that neither the process required to pinpoint them nor their later usage were easy or attempted by people without extensive experience in the actual domain nor without the deep familiarity of the process to be used. As it stands, I am deeply sceptical about the capacity of the appointed Committee to do the job they are tasked with so that results can be truly usable!

No wonder we, the knowledgeable public, are sceptical about the politicians and Government.

June 16, 2009 Posted by | Diplomacy, Government, Knowledge, Leadership | | Leave a comment

If you see what is required in good time why is it so difficult to open minds of opinion formers?

Those with the classical education know about the fate of Cassandra. For others suffice to say that by telling truth to power got her into deep trouble. This may not be so dangerous in our times, yet it is certainly not appreciated and most likely totally ignored.

Just follow the controversy brewing about Sir Gus O’Donnell’s comments reported in the Financial Times about the vacuum at the top of US Treasury civil service in times of real crisis. We can add to this the thoughtful follow up by Willem Buiter in his Maverecon blog post To the victor go the spoils: who answers the phone in the US Treasury? in the same paper who points out the costs The price of the US spoils system: the emasculation of US macroecononomic policy making. However, only two days earlier in the same paper two eminent USA professors have declared about the same situation that When a house is on fire, you put all your initial effort into putting it out.

Lets turn to the economic situation in UK. A day earlier in the same paper we have an article where Gillian Tett in Lost through destructive creation starts off with:

Six years ago, Ron den Braber was working at Royal Bank of Scotland in London when he became worried that the bank’s models were underestimating the risk of credit products. But when the Dutch statistical expert alerted his bosses to the problem, he faced so much disapproval that he eventually left.

“I started off saying things gently . . . but no one wanted to listen,” Mr den Braber recalls. The reason, he believes, lay in “groupthink . . . and pressure to get business done” – as well as a sheer lack of understanding about how the models worked.

Tales of that nature go some way to explaining how the west’s big banks brought themselves to their present plight and tipped the world into recession.

Now remember, this is the paper that has twice ignored the attempts by Norman Strauss to point out how these issues can be addressed at the fundamental level first in Q3 2008 and then in December 2008. Yet the Editors are willing to give space to the contributions like the most recent An unruly phenomenon in constant need of social control.

Let Cassandras have their say! Otherwise we will be indeed stuck with the closed circle of Future of Capitalism Top 50 leaders with no new face from another discipline, a young thinker or an old rebel among them framing the debate about all our futures!

PS I have just spotted a letter that fits some of the contrarian criteria Let a few uncomfortable truths appear on your pages, FT by Dr Roman Wolczuk. A case of synchronicity or?

March 12, 2009 Posted by | Civil Service Reform, Future of Capitalism, Government, Leadership, Letters, News, Politics, Strategy | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

More calls for wisdom and integrity- Wall Street Journal and Peggy Noonan

As the time for inauguration of President-Elect Obama draws nearer, there are more reflections on the state of the nation in America and his task ahead. So, in her recent article in WSJ, columnist Peggy Noonan says:

The reigning ethos seems to be every man for himself.

An old friend in a position of some authority in Washington told me the other day, from out of nowhere, that a hard part of his job is that there’s no one to talk to. I didn’t understand at first. He’s surrounded by people, his whole life is one long interaction. He explained that he doesn’t have really thoughtful people to talk to in government, wise men, people taking the long view and going forth each day with a sense of deep time, and a sense of responsibility for the future. There’s no one to go to for advice.

He senses the absence too.

It’s a void that’s governing us.

She finishes with saying:

What a task President-elect Obama has ahead. He ran on a theme of change we can believe in, but already that seems old. Only six weeks after his election he faces a need more consequential and immediate. In January, in his inaugural, he may find himself addressing something bigger, and that is: Belief we can believe in. The return of confidence. The end of absence. The return of the suit inhabited by a person. The return of the person who will take responsibility, and lead.

Much as she seems to think that these are new challenges, they really are not. Though UK is by no means as large as USA, the scale of the undertaking faced by the incoming Thatcher Government in late 1970’s was much larger than that now laying ahead of President-Elect Obama. One of the main reasons for the difference is that almost all major countries in the world are affected by the current economic downturn in similar ways. So far it would appear that they have followed very similar routes to trying to find ways out. Yet, none seems to have taken on board the lessons that have been so successful in turning around UK economy and bringing the much needed ‘return of the person who will take responsibility, and lead’ Miss Noonan seeks above. What is required is neatly summed up by Norman Strauss in his article appropriately entitled “State of Mind that can Stop Decline”.

How do we make sure that leaders pay attention to the lessons of the past?

What sort of leadership across the society do we need now?

December 22, 2008 Posted by | Business thinkers, Government, Leadership, News, Strategy, US Elections08 | , , , , | Leave a comment