Posted tagged ‘authority’

Do Chief Execs actually matter?

April 3, 2012

How much power do they really have?

Recently I have discovered the excellent Freakonomics podcast.  In the same style as the best-selling book by the same name, this podcast looks at the hidden meaning of everything, and how these things affect everything else; I highly recommend a download.

A recent hour-long special episode asked a simple question; would we notice if there was no president of the USA?  I won’t spoil the show itself by going into the detail, but basically the answer was probably not as much as you might think.  And this got me thinking: How much of the local government set up actually has power and would be noticed if they disappeared?

I’ll start today by considering the top of the heirarchical officer tree; the Chief Exec.  Widely seen by many, especially those who view these things from afar, as having total power and authority over the organisation, the Chief is the one individual who has ultimate responsibility for everything which goes on under the auspices of the Council.  Whilst from some angles this may indeed be the case, as with the US President it’s not anywhere near as clear cut as one may at first (from a distance) presume.

I need to make it clear that I’ve never been the head of a local authority, but I have spent two years as the head of a voluntary sector organisation.  Having been involved in that organisation for some time I began by believing that the top position was in essence that of a benevolent dictator, someone who was in total charge and would be able to make decisions and push strategy and delivery wherever they felt it should go.

In reality however, the position provided little in the way of substantial direct power.  Authority was permitted by members and the bodies which made up the organisation, but any delivery relied entirely upon their agreement and assent.  The role I performed gave me a solid platform and the ability to get my voice heard by all, and afforded my plans and opinions a degree of authority others perhaps did not have.  My role was not one of issuing orders and decrees and more one of cajoling, persuading and guiding, portraying the attitudes and traits I wanted to see replicated by others and essentially being the change I wanted to see in others. (more…)

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Nice guys finish last, but should they?

July 21, 2011

Does power always need announcing?Being powerful is very much like being a lady.  If you have to tell people you are, you aren’t.

So said one of the most influential leaders of the 20th century, and in the intervening years one would like to think that this still holds true.  Sadly, it seems to be a saying that is being confined to the history books.

It has sadly become simple common knowledge in many local authorities that if you are likeable you are not management material.  Those who are amenable, friendly and supportive are seen as valuable members of any team and allowed a certain amount of responsibility, but are then overlooked for more senior roles as they are regarded as soft, easily led or not hard-nosed enough.  Only bossy people get to be the boss.

This isn’t how it should be, and how many want it to be.  A good leader needs to understand the carrot and stick approach.  They need to understand when to offer advice, guidance and support and when to take the advice of Malcolm Tucker and stick the carrot in a certain orifice.

Of the two skills, the latter is certainly the more visible and the more easy to pull off.  We are almost all capable of being nasty, aggressive and belittling, and certainly remember those individuals who treat us in such a manner.  Those meetings when those with any power throw it around, battling with others like rutting stags, are the meetings that get spoken about and give the victors reputations as someone not to be trifled with. (more…)

What’s in a name?

May 26, 2011

Does a 'Mr.' or 'Mrs' really make a difference?I was introduced to our chief executive many years ago when they wandered over to my desk, thrust their hand out and told me their name.  As a young, junior member of staff I actually had no idea who they were, being separated by six layers of management from them, and since then have known them only by their first name.

I now sit on their management team, and still have a very good working relationship with them.  We speak about non-work related issues, and often share humorous opinions on current events.  We are by no means drinking buddies, but would certainly make a point to say hello should we bump into each other in the market or a restaurant.

This is a situation that is not entirely unusual, but one which was unheard of in previous generations.  Just a generation or so ago I would have been introduced as Mr. Clooney (hey, if I’m going to be anonymous I’m going to choose a good pseudonym) and they would have been introduced as Mrs Smith.  And this level of formality wouldn’t have been restricted to senior officers either – surnames were the norm for anyone outside of close working relationships and friendships. (more…)

When flexibility is not a good thing

May 4, 2011

Can you be too flexible?

Thomas Jefferson once said “In matters of principle, stand firm; in matters of style and taste, swim with the current.”  This is something I’ve recently begun to grapple with and something which I’ve noted many others around me also working on in recent weeks.  This is especially true as the financial pressures mount, and older, more experienced staff leave to be replaced by young, less experienced but sharp and keen staff who’s careers are more before than behind them.

Regular readers of this blog will know that some of our writing team (or ‘crew’ as we have also recently been described) have begun to explore this wild waters of middle management.  Stepping up into such a world puts you in strange places.  No longer are you a minion, making the thoughts and ideas of your managers a reality no matter how random, neither are you in a position whereby your whims are other’s commands.

The beauty of local government of course is that being in this position has little if anything to do with how much you earn.  We all know examples of those paid exorbitant stipends with little authority or work scope, whilst others on a pittance seem to be the spider at the heart of the web, with influence far outweighing their hierarchical position and the ability to really shape their part of local government. (more…)