On the back of Joe Kuipers' recent last blog as Chair of Avon and Somerset Trust which begins
Credit where credit is due:
NOMS published the Probation Trust Annual reports ... I draw the following quote from page 7, a real moment of truth that may haunt those who might have behaved differently and made some attempts to arrest the progress of a TR programme fraught with danger which will surely fail to meet its own objectives:
"progress could not have been achieved without the positive engagement and support we have received from Probation Trusts."…Why did our “Leaders” let us down so dramatically? Being a bit of an old Probation Management Hack, I am in a position (bath chair?) to reflect on the passing fashions in management.
Backalong in the 80's, in the last boom and bust, when Thatcher was “rolling back the public sector” the management buzz was all about being “Excellent” on the back of a highly popular book of the day still influential now (“In Pursuit of Excellence” by Tom Peters) . Also about professional managers as against promoted practitioners, management as a science in itself.
There was then and is now, an utterly erroneous perception that Management was something that the private sector did incredibly well, and public sector did very badly, and from there with the march of neo-liberalism and business-speak we are where we are, mindlessly framing all our policies and philosophies in the language of “indicators” “performance matrices” “funding streams”, and coming to a Probation Office near you as I write, “profit and loss”. Governments, and particularly Conservative governments, increasingly lacking the will or imagination to frame social, moral, political, philosophical arguments for policy, ape Business speak and Business practice. “Value for Money” -VfM- the then mantra of the day, is fine if we had been exercised about the value, rather than, or as well as, the money.
The assumption that management is a profession in itself, implies that the job of a manager is portable from one “business” to another, also that managers and practitioners are discreet groups. Making a profit is one sort of business, but even in that very narrow sphere of human activity, it is acknowledged that managers have great difficulty moving from one field to another, eg services to retail. The assumption that business management is the way to run public services is highly dubious. The assumption that business management is the way to run a country is risible. Government should be in tension- not cahoots- with “business” .
Oh, and when I say “manager” the term has now morphed into “Leader”. Having established that management was a noble discreet calling in itself, the term was then superseded by “Leadership” This is so much sexier and Hollywood. Managers push pens and are bureaucratic. Leaders are out there at the front, being awesome and boldly going where no man has gone before. Oh, the vanity! For the last few years, your pen pushing bureaucrats have been trotting off to the government backed ILM (Institute of Leadership and Management) training programme. The case studies feed this egotistical claptrap: Shackleton, Aung San Suu Kyi, assorted military generals and successful entrepreneurs.
Of course, there is stuff to learn here (no knowledge is useless). It certainly helps to analyse what is the stuff of great leadership, how to spot a good leader. Whether it achieves the aim of increasing the leadership qualities of participants is more debatable.
When confronted with a challenge to the absolute fabric and essence of Probation, to a century of evolution of an institution of national and international repute, what did its Leaders do? They had been selected and groomed to be professional “leaders” whose mission in life is to “lead” whatever portfolio they are commissioned to “lead”. In other words, they followed orders. Almost without exception, (Joe Kuipers being one such) they followed instruction. Some of them (bless) clearly conflicted, some of them rushing to embrace the new order with unseemly haste and enthusiasm.
It feels like betrayal, and it is. This is not leadership.
So what's the point of this reflection? Well, apart from a bit of a ramble, I would suggest that there is a bit of a lack of leadership around the place. Leadership with a capital L. And that doesn’t have to be “from the top” or “at the top”. NAPO is currently electing the next Chair and we should be looking for someone who isn't going to be the same old same old. Notwithstanding my comments about military generals as a model, we are in a bitter conflict and need to rally. Long campaigns are the most perilous. Strategic competence, credible personification of our identity and values, fearlessness and stamina essential. Great communications and maintenance of morale and purpose will be key.
There is a vacuum to be filled for a debate about public policy and public service couched in terms other than those of business transaction. A debate that focuses on morality, society, community: how we want to live, not just what we want to own. How one of the wealthiest countries in the world conducts its affairs internally and abroad. Probation has a rich philosophical, academic and ethical tradition to draw on in this. I believe there are nascent Leaders of public opinion and policy at all grades who could be whipping up a storm here. Butterflies beating their wings perhaps.
And when a suited and booted “Leader” tells you with patronising and amused disdain that the sentiments in the last paragraph are “very idealistic, dear” suggest they get back to their spreadsheet, they are sounding like yesterday. “Business” is already catching on to this. Just a little rumble but it's there and growing.
Lastly, because managers like soundbites and citing authoritative tomes always lends gravitas
“Don't follow Leaders” Bob Dylan
“Be excellent to each other” Bill and Ted
(Editors note : Guest blogs are always welcome. Please get in touch if you are interested.)