Posted tagged ‘power’

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…)

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…)

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…)

I’ve got the power

September 7, 2010

I noticed a little piece of legislation the other day which really got my mind buzzing.  Actually, it’s less a piece of legislation, more an amendment to old legislation from a bygone era.

It’s around the wonder that is power generation, in the form of electricity rather than quangos.  In previous years, to protect the emergence of new power companies it was ruled that local authorities could not generate and sell electricity to the National Grid.  When coal or nuclear power were the only real generating options this seemed to be fine, protecting an industry from the might of government interference.

However, in these greener days, the advent of solar, wind and even wave power has forced things to change, and a press release from Chris Huhne has signalled just such a change.  In a nutshell, local authorities can now generate electricity using green methods and then make money by selling whatever they don’t use back to the National Grid. (more…)