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This article was first published yesterday on the Guardian’s Higher Education Network.

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“Let’s get together, yeah yeah yeah. Why don’t you and I combine? Let’s get together, what do you say? We can have a swinging time. We’d be a crazy team. Why don’t we make a scene? Together.”

Hayley Mills didn’t have research in mind when singing this duet in The Parent Trap, but the lyrics echo a longstanding goal of social science research – that of co-production, in other words bridging the gap or fostering greater connectedness between academics and practitioners.

Getting together to foster dialogues of theory and practice is frequently presented as one of the major tasks confronting academia: challenging researchers to translate their bright ideas into pay-offs for non-academic organisations. Such dialogue has been presented variously as a means of generating ‘impact’ or ‘relevance’ or of increasing levels of ‘knowledge utilisation.’

Joint projects promise the elusive goal of research which is simultaneously academically robust and useful to practitioners. ‘Co-pro’ also challenges the traditional customer-contractor convention in which practitioners commission research which is then conducted, packaged and delivered by academics.

In the last few years, as an academic at Hull University Business School, and practitioner leading a public sector professional association (a “pracademic” if you will), we have been working together to generate insight into how local government chief executives think about their leadership roles. This collaborative work has involved bridging across town and gown, academia and practice. We think it’s been worthwhile but we’ve also involved negotiating a number of tricky dilemmas.

All social science research has political dimensions. What we’ve been struck during our joint endeavours is that academic-practitioner research is infused with its own politics, important to appreciate, given the increasing interest in collaboration of this kind. By politics we mean questions about the purpose of scholarship, but also the tricky issues which arise in the accomplishment of research by two people who have, to a certain extent, distinctive interests, expectations and priorities.

One of the reasons why co-production has generated such interest is its promise to facilitate communication between academic and practitioner communities. However, one of the principal challenges facing participants is the distance between the academic and practitioner worlds.

For example, the local government chief executives we interviewed largely perceived academia as an insular profession, requiring modes of thought, analysis and language which are alien to practitioners’ day to day lives. Equally, we can call to mind innumerable examples of academics patronising practitioners. One professor we spoke to described practitioners, casually but with some confidence, as people who earned “elephant salaries” despite having done less well at school.

Co-production may confer practical benefits, including giving academics access to elites and other worlds, and the capacity to build trust quickly, helping to bring stories, experiences and insights into practice. It may also offer the potential to draw practitioners closer to the benefits of academic inquiry and engage with their context from a different perspective.

However, such research takes place within a political environment that requires continual negotiation of different interests, including those of the members of the team, the communities to which they belong, and the structural imperatives at the intersection of universities and, in our case, the public sector.

The dilemmas and choices we face are also intertwined with the way wider traditions, expectations and imperatives play out in our respective sectors. We don’t operate in isolation from career structures, performance management regimes, structures of reward and sanctions, and the expectations of employers and peers.

It is disingenuous to imply through the presentation of social science that research is a clean, objective process carried out by purists who stand above politics, and this picture is further complicated in joint projects, where participants are mindful of a complexity of interacting demands and interests.

It may be tempting to sweep these tensions and dilemmas under the carpet in case they get in the way of greater connectedness, but paying attention to these dynamics is worthwhile if it contributes to a richer understanding of getting together to form “a crazy team” – and the roles, relations and stakes involved.

We’d be interested to know how other experiences of co-production have played out, in particular how those involved have navigated institutional, sectoral and professional norms and interests.

Do academics engaged in this mode ever feel that their licence to ask critical questions or produce awkward findings is constrained? How have practitioners or pracademics experienced the process? What have they gained and what’s been difficult? Have others experienced negative stereotyping of academics and practitioners and with what impact on research practices? We welcome your thoughts below.

Kevin Orr is professor of public sector management at Hull University Business School. Mike Bennett is director of Public Intelligence and a former co-managing director of SOLACE – follow him on Twitter @bennettmike

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Speaking to the Daily Mail in March, sources at the department for Communities and Local Government argued

Emperor Marcus Aurelius, Palazzo dei Conservatori, Rome. Photo: author’s own

that “there was really no need for councils who opt for an elected mayor to have a chief exec – because the mayor can take on the executive role and could deal with the directors of various government departments himself.”

Since then, most of England’s cities have rejected the government’s proposal for directly elected mayors, but what of the argument that elected mayors should take on the role of chief executive?

As I have argued before, while some councils will re-badge their senior officer, not many will experiment for long without a senior officer. The reasons for this are well argued in a new report by the Group of 30, an international grouping of central bankers and senior financiers. In their paper on governance of financial institutions they outline 10 tasks that well-functioning boards should discharge. Two in particular concern the role of the chief executive:

Appoint the CEO and gauge top talent in the firm, assuring that the CEO and top team possess the skills, values, attitudes, and energy essential to success. A very good CEO is preferable to a “star” CEO. The board must confirm the appointment of independent members of the executive team, including the chief risk officers (CROs) and head of internal audit, and should be consulted with respect to other very senior appointments. Boards should maintain a focus on talent development and succession planning, which are critical components of organizational stability.

Respect the distinction between the board’s responsibilities for direction setting, oversight, and control, and management’s responsibilities to run the business. It is misguided and dangerous to conflate the responsibilities of management with those of the board. The board’s primary responsibilities include: (a) reaching agreement on a strategy and risk appetite with management, (b) choosing a CEO capable of executing the strategy, (c) ensuring a high-quality leadership team is in place, (d) obtaining reasonable assurance of compliance with regulatory, legal, and ethical rules and guidelines and that appropriate and necessary risk control processes are in place, (e) ensuring all stakeholder interests are appropriately represented and considered, and (f) providing advice and support to management based on experience, expertise, and relationships.”

The Financial Times today reports on the woes to befall Jamie Dimon the chairman and chief executive of JP Morgan Chase and quotes Robert McCormick, chief policy officer of Glass Lewis & Co on the joint role “It is potentially insurmountable conflict. How can you oversee yourself?”

This idea of checks and balances is as essential in the corporate governance of democratic institutions as it is in financial institutions. Human beings are not omniscient creatures, we all require advice, cooperation and partnership to achieve all but the most simple of tasks. It is no dilution of democracy to recognise that political leaders also require others to achieve their goals. And of what value is it to be surrounded by people whose roles you think you can do better than them? JP Morgan Chase seems to be the latest to discover the myth of the emperor-like, all-powerful leader who acts without any real challenge to his authority. Without the cooperation of others who bring new capacity, knowledge and skill, leaders ultimately deny themselves any hope of success. Eric Pickles should listen to the bankers in the Group of 30 and stop encouraging mayors to go macho.

Over the next few months I will be posting some extracts from, or links to, a number of new articles and a book chapter that my friend and colleague Kevin Orr and I have co-authored. Kevin and I used to work together at the Scottish Local Authorities Management Centre at the University of Strathclyde. He is now professor of public sector management at Hull Business School and founder and co-director of the Centre for Organisational Futures. In recent years we have been working together on various research projects and also writing on the politics of co-production in research. The articles on the politics have been the more recent part of our work and will be posted as they are published. The first in this series is based on an article that was included in a joint Improvement and Development Agency/Local Government Leadership Centre publication, entitled Local Government Leadership: Creating Political Value. Originally published in 2008, the piece is a resumé of our research findings into leadership and storytelling among local government chief executives.

This essay outlines some of our headline findings and argues that storytelling should be recognised as central to the ways in which local authority chief executives act as leaders. We confined our findings to three main areas: The ways in which chief executives use stories to:

  • persuade and to construct meaning for others;
  • establish credentials and join the group;
  • build relationships and learn from others in the group.

Storytelling, 장승업 (張承業 1843~1897), Jang Seungeop, or Owon (Jang’s pen name)

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Connoisseurs of complexity: Leadership and storytelling, by Mike Bennett and Kevin Orr (2008)

Science, once the great explicator, garbles life with complexity and perplexity. Who can listen without cynicism to economists, sociologists, politicians? Religion, for many, has become an empty ritual that masks hypocrisy. As our faith in traditional ideologies diminishes we turn to the source we still believe in: the art of the story.” Robert McKee, screenwriter

Storytelling is not one of the classic features of managerial leadership in local government, yet it will soon form part of a new orthodoxy. As the quote above from Robert McKee, the screenwriter’s screenwriter, suggests, while many traditional forms of authority are declining, the story retains its power. Managing a local authority is a messy business. Robert Chia talks of the ‘blooming buzzing confusion’ of managerial life but in local authorities this is conducted in direct political glare. In the centre of this heat, noise and motion council chiefs are expected to plan services and ration resources, implement policy and manage performance. One way that they do so is by telling stories.

Over the last year we have spoken to wide range of chief executives and senior managers about the role of storytelling in their day to day activities. We found that storytelling forms an important part of the way in which they lead, learn, persuade, establish credibility, network and form relationships. Yet while political organisations have always been a rich fund of colourful stories (who’s up, who’s down, who’s in and who’s out) and powerful visions (I have a dream …) this is excluded from the traditional account of managerial leadership. Our research highlights the distinctive ways in which storytelling serves strategic purposes for chief executives’ leadership behaviour. This short article outlines some of our headline findings and argues that storytelling should be recognised as central to the ways in which local authority chief executives act as leaders. We confine our findings to three main areas: The ways in which chief executives use stories to:

  • persuade and to construct meaning for others;
  • establish credentials and join the group;
  • build relationships and learn from others in the group.

Leadership and persuasion

Leaders are sometimes described as those who can make sense of complexity for others. A powerful means of achieving this goal is through a story that changes the way that others understand their environment. Leaders often use stories to construct a narrative that draws out apparent contradictions and conflicts into an engaging sense of purpose. This art is widely recognised in the world of politics where stories are aimed at changing the state of mind of voters. As the Democrat political psychologist Drew Westen writes, political parties’ big picture narratives must be “clear, coherent, and emotionally alive” to define “the overarching message of its framers, its leaders, and those who identify with it” (p151). In politics, he argues because it is positive emotions that motivate “voters to rally to the polls” (p310) that “successful campaigns compete in a marketplace of emotions and not primarily in the marketplace of ideas” (p305). This point is supported by Republican strategist Frank Luntz when he argues that “words not only explain but also motivate … They trigger emotion as well as understanding” (xiv).

Some of our chief executives described this to us in terms of trying to win the heart as well as the head. They identified that the social roles – better local environments, better health outcomes, improved life opportunities – played by councils give them more opportunity to create powerful or emotive images and ideas than their private sector counterparts. However, they also expressed a sense that this cuts against the grain of some local government traditions. Local authorities are complex organisations founded on principles of corporate governance which enshrine the importance of reason, rules and regulations – and of hard facts, based on evidence. Effective organisation and good governance promise to create order in a chaotic world and make the job of serving the competing publics manageable. Bureaucracy’s potential to produce fairness and equity means that it remains the dominant organisational form, but it is also one which generates jargon and darkness – languages and methods of communication which are exclusive and fragmenting, deadening rather than enlivening and muddy rather than transparent. The chief executives we spoke to stressed the power of stories to articulate purpose, or social mission, in ways which can resonate across different professional or technical groups. Stories transcend the traditional communication methods of council papers laden with facts and figures. As one of our interviewees told us “it’s difficult because our profession, you know, says that professionalism requires one to be detached and factual and rational and all those things … but in reality to lead a group of people and get them engaged in something, you need to be a bit more than that.”

A dual challenge for chief executives becomes how to interpret a bewildering world for an organisational constituency that is itself characterised by enormous complexity. Storytelling is, therefore, one way in which chief executives make sense of their complex and often contradictory environments for staff, partners and for the wider community. As Barry Quirk has posed it, how do you turn a mass of critical people into a critical mass of people? Stories allow leaders to create a narrative about the challenges the organisation is facing and what it needs to do to overcome them. As one interviewee said, “chief executives construct realities for other people and the way they marshal resources of information, of experiences from other places so they have a successful narrative for their management teams.”

As this suggests, stories are not morally neutral and can spring from different motives. A number of chiefs we spoke to raised an ethical concern about the ways that stories can be used to manipulate audiences. Stories can operate in a grey area between the desire to show leadership and the temptation to manufacture consent. As with other forms of managerial authority its use requires an ethical mindset.

A different image for the managerial leader therefore emerges. Rather than heroic decision-maker in full control of the levers of power in their organisation, a picture emerges of the need to be a “connoisseur of complexity and paradoxes” (Czarniawska-Joerges and de Monthoux, p13), who is able to read and operate in a dynamic inter-organisational, social and political context.

Establishing credentials

Anyone who has been to a SOLACE conference will have observed chief executives telling stories to each other as a means of establishing their credentials and building relationships. Occasionally this will even happen over a drink at the conference bar.

Chief executives in local government come from many different backgrounds and, in a UK context, rarely meet outside of their local or personal networks. We found that stories play a role in enabling chief executives to communicate directly about issues of common interest. Stories can be seen as capital to trade by way of displaying competency and experience; establishing licence to practice. Chief executives we spoke to volunteered examples which often contained the added frisson of competition. One chief described the practice as follows:

A little bit of preening, a little bit of one-upmanship, a little bit of establishing your credentials, a little bit of the unspoken ‘I’m fit to be in this company because I’ve also got a story I can trade.’”

Like most people in work, chief executives also trade stories about the people they work for. As one chief executive told us, “if you tell a Councillor Bloggs story when you’re sitting at the SOLACE conference you can bet somebody is going to try and trump it! Because their Councillor Bloggs is more of a lunatic than your Councillor Bloggs for sure! I mean the tale will get told in the best way but what we’re doing when we do that is we’re either letting off steam or we’re just trying to demonstrate that, you know, I’ve got a hard job back at the office because I’ve got these characters to live with just as much as you do.”

A former chief offered this interpretation: “These things often have mixed motives … it is a bit of a display, you have to hold your own, and if you’re in a peer group and you’re not talking about your situation in ways which are interesting and indicate you’re at the cutting edge, you know, people sort of … it’s a dramaturgical kind of situation and you either have to be in crisis or you have to be fighting the enemy or you have to be doing interesting things.”

Focusing on stories highlights the performative aspects of chief executives networking behaviour, and can give glimpses of the sociological dynamics of these groups. We found that stories offered a compelling way for chief executives to project and to reflect upon issues of common professional concern. Stories provide a means to access collective experience and to establish their right to group membership.

Storytelling and learning

It would be misleading, however, to suggest that chief executives peer to peer behaviour is simply competitive. Anyone who has been to a SOLACE conference will have observed chief executives telling stories to each other as a means of learning, support and mutual reassurance. Occasionally this too might happen over a drink at the conference bar…

Stories enable busy people to cut to the chase, to share common issues and to both learn and gain reassurance. This process is important both for highly experienced chief executives and for those still finding their feet. “I remember, I think it was just before I became a chief executive hearing from a well known figure about one thing in particular he’d done, and I did it when I took the new job… and it bought me months of credit. It wouldn’t have worked if he had just expressed it conceptually, rather than as a story… it wouldn’t have stuck, or had an impact.” Stories, therefore, play an important part in ‘becoming’ a manager.

Exchanging stories is also an informal – if routine – means of sense-checking their experience against others. Stories provide resources for reflection. “When you share tales the biggest thing I notice is how recognisable the things that are troubling me are vis a vis the things that are troubling other people. I mean if I ever went to a conference and came away feeling they’re all talking about something completely different from me, I mean, then I’d start to worry. And that’s quite important because where else do you get that point of reference?”

Chief executives often speak about the isolation that they experience in their roles. It is among peers that they experience a safe environment in which they no longer feel the need to show leadership that they can expose cock ups, near misses and darkest fears. Stories also enable them to experience the intimacy they need from peers while expressing the distance they feel from others not in that group.

As one county chief said “you’re not in competition, not directly anyway with those people and you’re not seen as being responsible for them or leading them. It’s a much more relaxed dynamic”

Conclusion

The role of chief executive is a purposeful one and the stories they tell are expressions of purpose. Storytelling emerges as a well established culture within this context, but one that cuts against orthodox accounts of managerial and professional traditions in local government. It also suggests a different image of the chief executive. Stories reveal the human and emotional dynamics of leadership with effective chief executives acting as connoisseurs of context, not organisational engineers. Stories also offer resources for learning and reflection which can help leaders develop. Exchanging stories is part of how intimacy and closeness can develop between chiefs who can otherwise feel distant from others. Yet they can also be used in competitive ways, establishing pecking orders, acting as currency and to gain group membership. Our work suggests that while other forms of authority decline, the power of the story is alive.

Czarniawska-Joerges, B. & de Monthoux, P. G. (1994) Good novels and better management: reading organizational realities, Routledge, London

Luntz, F. (2007) Wordsthat work: it’s not what you say, it’s what people hear, Hyperion, New York

McKee, R. (1998) Story: substance, structure, style and the principles of screenwriting, Methuen, London

Westen, D. (2007) The political brain: the role of emotion in deciding the fate of the nation,Public Affairs, New York


Here’s a slightly longer version of my piece the LGC has published this week (behind the paywall). This fuller version includes some examples from the archive ….
2011 ended on a particularly sour note for a number of chief executives who found themselves unwanted by their political bosses. After the surprise Wiltshire defenestration, we had the tortuous, self-mutilation in Kent followed by the brutal re-branding of Reading as the issuer of press releases least likely to attract future talent. Aside these most dramatic examples, there was a flurry of other departures leading many to suspect foul play behind the most innocent of early retirements.

Defenestration (in Prague, absolutely not in any UK local authority)

However, taken together with ministerial malice and local political machismo, these events have made some on the local government circuit wonder whether chief executives are about to become extinct.

It is certainly true that it is a hostile environment for senior professionals right now, with councillors  from all parties cutting senior staff as a symbol that the council shares the community’s pain. Of course, some politicians will see this as an opportunity to bolster their own power base, but these will be the exceptions to the rule.

What we see today is a new staging of organisational dramatics, designed to play to external audiences as much as anything. This is as old as theatre itself, of course. It is often gory to watch, it is rarely good value for money, but it allows politicians frustrated by their impotence in the face of the cuts, to put on a show to the voters that they are in control of something, at least.

We frequently see these issues after elections, when new leaders come to power, and we have seen it before during the transition to cabinet government. But normally these are short, if recurrent, trends that lead to evolution, rather than revolution, in the chief executive’s role.

Indeed history is littered with the senior officer casualties who have had their wings clipped, and then with the bodies of politicians who fly too close to the sun. And while the top job remains a cross between a permanent and a political appointment, that risk will remain. The flip side is that many relationships thrive on that tension and ambiguity.

None of which is to say there is nothing new. The particular mix of poisons this year is particularly toxic, and I have no doubt that more of my former colleagues will meet gruesome ends in 2012. But I do not believe that politicians will, as a whole, decide to dispense with senior, independent advice or that we face the end of chief executives as such. Local government has a long and varied history and it is difficult to do anything wholly original. On the appointment of a chief executive again after 10 years operating without one, the then leader of North Tyneside said, “What seemed right in 1992 is now different in 2002.” What goes around comes around.

From the archive

January 2000, Bristol make chief executive post, held by Lucy de Groot, redundant.

July 2001, 4 senior officers share chief executive post in Birmingham while the council consults on new political executive arrangements.

April 2002, North Tyneside announces it will reappoint a chief executive after ten years without.

June 2003, Labour leaders in Hull propose to delete chief executive post remove the chief executive role and run the council through a head of paid service, a city treasurer and a town clerk.

July 2003, Mike Whitby, leader of Birmingham, proposes to put chief executive post, then held by Lin Homer, on an annual contract. Chief executives needed, “more incentive to do well in the job at an earlier stage,” he said.

A little over a year ago, I was called to a meeting with two senior civil servants, from two different government departments, to be briefed on the government’s public service reform white paper, Open Public Services. The aim of the paper was to present a new angle on the government’s strategic agenda. Yes, there was austerity, yes there would be cuts, but the white paper would present the positive case for reform, joining up the change agendas in health, police, schools and local government. It was explained that, at the next election, the government wanted to be able to say more than it had cut the deficit. It also wanted to be able to articulate its underlying strategy and achievements in public service reform.

 


However, the white paper, as then drafted, never saw the light of day. It was caught up in inter-governmental disagreement, partly between Conservatives and Liberal Democrats, partly between departmental interests, and partly between those who believed in harder or softer policy. In the end the paper was re-written several times and, although accompanied by a strongly worded article by the Prime Minister in the Telegraph, it was eventually launched to a bit of a shrug of the shoulders from public service chief executives. Everyone could see its pro-market  rhetoric, but what impact would the words on the page actually have in the real world of services designed or commissioned? It was written as if market forces didn’t already exist in great swathes of public services and yet had little to say about how more would be done in this direction.  Furthermore, perhaps because it was read as a post-hoc attempt to make sense of existing (and much harder-edged) policy commitments in health, police, schools and local government, it had nothing like the bite of those departmental drivers.

Interestingly, therefore, Ben Brogan at the Telegraph has an update today saying that “Downing Street is starting all over again on public service reform.”

I agree with Fraser Nelson who says this is “depressing,” but it is not surprising. The white paper was always a bit of a badge, stuck on to create the impression of change, but running the risk of over-promising what the government had no idea how to deliver.

I’m in Coventry this week doing a piece of work with the City Council and partners for Macmillan Cancer Support. The essential driver for the work is that the cancer profile in the UK is changing. Due to our lifestyles and our growing life expectancy more people get cancer, but due to investment in prevention and to advances in medical care, more people survive cancer. In other words, as Macmillan chief executive Ciaran Devane puts it, “the number of people dying from cancer is falling but the number of people diagnosed with illness is rising.”

Macmillan estimates that the number of people living with or beyond cancer stands at two million and is rising by more 3% a year.

The challenge for the country – and for charities like macmillan and for statutory and government agencies – is how to support the growing number of people for whom cancer wasn’t a death sentence, but whose lives have been deeply affected by the disease.  (See for example the National Cancer Survivorship Initiative)

My work for Macmillan, with Coventry, is to take a look at existing community services for people affected by cancer and to make some recommendations for improvement. I have a five day programme during which I will be speaking to services users, frontline professionals, GPs, consultants, service managers as well as elected members, directors and the chief executive. After 2 days I have been impressed by people’s willingness to engage and encouraged at their openness to new ideas.

It goes without saying that this is not a project can hope recommend huge amounts of new spending, so the emphasis is on innovation and service redesign. Not the old cliché about doing more with less, but doing things differently. Doing the right things and doing them better.

Many years ago I worked as part of a team providing advice to the Scottish Office as they developed Best Value policy north of the Border. This was at the beginning of the Blair era, before the creation of the Scottish Parliament. The Scottish Secretary was Donald Dewar, Henry McLeish was the minister responsible for local government and the driving force was Wendy Alexander, special advisor to Dewar and general modernising whirlwind of the time.

Donald Dewar and Wendy Alexander

Best Value, as it had emerged in England, seemed to those of us working in public service reform in Scotland, to be an overly mechanistic and superficial regime that would produce huge amounts of bureaucracy and have little chance of changing the ways that large organisations operated. The critique of English Best Value policy was that its focus on reviewing a set number of services, over a set period of time, put too much emphasis on operations without questioning strategy. In other words, it prioritised efficiency over innovation. We, therefore, argued for a Best Value policy in Scotland which followed Drucker by asking whether we were doing the right things before asking whether we were doing things right. We wanted Best Value to start with questions about service users/citizens/customers and their needs, rather to accept traditional definitions of what a service was. Through this focus on service redesign we thought councils would be liberated from doing things as they had always done them, they would design services around people, places and communities and their needs, not around along traditional service and professional tramlines.

As we wrote to Ministers at the time (in 1998), “Emphasise that Best Value should challenge the definition of services not simply endorse them. Services should be considered in terms of the needs and experience of service users, not historically defined council activities. For example, some older people may receive a service to support them in their own home. This may involve activities from several council departments, the health board and other agencies. Imaginative Best Value service reviews might take all of these activities together, redefine them as a single holistic service, and review how they work together and how they can be improved.”

We went on to say that we had a concern that “councils are further entrenching historically defined activities by performance benchmarking rather than benchmarking processes and recording and adopting best practice. This will often mean that benchmarking is restricted to other councils doing much the same thing, based on much the same service definition.”

At the time did a lot of thinking about how services were defined and contrasted the kinds of services that councils put up for challenge and the services that users or citizens perceived. We had various services in mind that we would use to challenge councils, including “reception” services for older people of vulnerable adults seeking information and advice. However, we also had in mind the corporate leadership of services. None of us believed that there was anything ideal or necessary about leadership taking a hierarchical form (it worked well, but it had inherent dangers). So what would it mean to benchmark the service provided by directors or chief executives and to look at other ways of procuring that service? Was it conceptually or practically impossible for councils to source leadership/corporate management from outside? We thought conceptually yes, but practically no.

it is with huge interest, therefore, that I follow the experiments in new forms of leadership/corporate management that are springing up across the country. I want to acknowledge and state very clearly that there is no example I’m aware of that is born solely from a desire to innovate, or produce better services. They all come from a mix of political expediency, the desire to be seen to be doing something and more noble goals. I expect that we will continue to see reversals in some places, where new political leaders decide they want to appoint their own person. It was always thus, that’s how political organisations get run.

But the examples of west London where Kensington and Chelsea, Hammersmith and Fulham and Westminster are coming together in an asymmetrical hybrid is the apotheosis of pragmatic and principled change. In the east of England we see a three-way marriage proposal between Breckland (Norfolk) and South Holland (Lincs) (who are already espoused under Terry Huggins as joint chief executive) and Great Yarmouth (Norfolk).

What both these examples show is that in the same way that councils source services from across the country, from across the globe, it is becoming possible to procure leadership and corporate management in this way also. So far councils are not straying too far from the traditional role of chief executive as embodied in a single person, but I expect we will see where the chief executive role becomes more and more high level, they will bring in other forms of professional advice and expertise from a wide range of sources to replace that given by senior permanent staff who have more and more been stripped away. There is nothing wrong or broken with the traditional chief executive model. It has never been fixed, it has always evolved. My point is that over time, therefore, we will see the evolution of leadership forms in local government that are more open to external sourcing for some of its roles and functions.

What is the right thing? Leadership. What is the right way? There ain’t one.

Thanks to the Daily Record for the picture of Donald and Wendy.

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