Don’s Diary - Leadership

Maybe because it is “the silly season”, the period in Australia after Christmas but still in summer, a term coined in 1861. However on logging-on and reading the newspapers and correspondence it is hard not see where management has, or is failing in government, business and in not-for-profit organisations. The telltale signs of failure in organisations are always there. There will be loss of support. Unusual staff movements and high turnover are telltale signs of problems. This week three are the Barnaby affair, AVON (est. 1886) ceasing business by the end of 2018 in Australia and NZ, and Myer’s management.

The problems will almost invariably start at the top. Because of the governance model and selection procedures there could be incompetence, and certainly a lack of willingness to engage immediate subordinates who may show up senior management. Fashionable popularist ideas may result in so called “progressive” initiatives, social engineering, and political correctness considered being more important than the exercise of well established management principals. When there are poor strategies, plans, management and supervision, those at the top in denial will say and probably think that we have done our job the problem is you fools who lack the leadership to make it work. Senior staff appointment turbulence imposes enormous disruption and cost on an organisation and reduces confidence in the executive.

In my military days we used to expound the need for “leadership qualities” including: mental robustness, good knowledge of the task, sound judgement under pressure, set an example and lead from the front, courage under fire, bravery, trusted by subordinates and ability to “engage” with them, loyalty, stoic, determination and resilience, and so on. Charisma can also help. While non-combat organisations are different, many of these traits are still needed, but in all instances we need to be careful that the term “leadership” is not devalued in describing a routine management or supervisory function.

If more is expected than an executive position being simply administered, the appointee must be able knowledgeable about the business and be able to engage with the constituency or clientele and this is a near impossible expectation for a non-Freemason in a Craft appointment. Sometimes organisations arrange fellowships or secondments with a more successful sister organization for incumbents to improve their knowledge base, or for their mandatory attendance at both internally conducted and external training courses. The employment of “change agents” is not uncommon: contractors engaged to achieve specific tasks better done by somebody external to the organisation. Staff inducted from a similar, more successful organisation can sometimes be beneficial.

Governments that are or become incompetent are voted out, businesses go broke but non-profit organisations usually have a long time withering on the vine, it could be for 50 years or more, with the management complacently telling everyone that things are normal, that it is no worse than for everyone else, and offering other excuses while they liquidate assets and spend the remaining dollars. They must think that the stakeholders are all dills.

In organisations with a closed selection system for senior management such as ours and where we have any doubts about its capability, there is justification for an independent management audit, but not by someone who is consulting “between jobs”: one of those that say lend me your watch and I will tell you the time. In the case of Freemasonry where we know our principles are sound; the audit should have a marketing focus.

Yours fraternally,

Don Paterson