Changing Agendas in Leadership
The following essay represents an analysis of a current leadership issue in an organisational context, referencing appropriate literature.
Glossary of Terms
ARI – Australian Racing Industry
QRI – Queensland Racing Industry
QRITC – Queensland Racing Industry Training Centre
SBM – Site – Based Management
It would seem that economic rationalism is a characteristic of our time (Burchell: 1994:36). We as educationalists however still have our task at hand. That is, to educate. We must therefore learn to understand the issues of contemporary business operation in order to be in a position to ensure that the most effective educational delivery can be achieved, given the environmental constraints.
I have isolated two (2) issues that due to their impact on the effectiveness of this delivery, warrant a closer look. The first issue is the debate between centralised and decentralised management forms (Smyth:1993:1) ; and, the second issue is the discussion of engendering; particularly the differences between what is now referred to as the male and female ethos (Rogers:1988:1).
In order to show the effects of these issues, the essay will broach the following areas:
Firstly, the necessary background information about the organisation (QRITC) that I have chosen to investigate, in order to contextualise the discussion, is found in Appendix 1;
Secondly, a brief outline of this educational institution’s (QRITC) management and leadership style, and the effects this has had upon the organisation’s positioning for delivery effectiveness. Note, a summary of the effects the institution’s (QRITC) management and leadership style has had on the operation of the organisation, in my view, is found in Appendix 2;
Thirdly, the proposition that two (2) of the responsibilities of Racing Division, the Management and Leadership of a Public Service Division of a Department and the Management and Leadership of a Commercially Run Operation Sub-Program, are in effect conflicting ideals. Of consequence, the resultant culture at QRITC I believe exemplifies how a centralised ethos, and in this specific instance, one that possesses a lack of sound/accepted forms of management practice, can negatively impact the effective delivery of quality commercial education. It therefore provides the necessary justification as to why development is required to progress the traditional management and leadership style to a more progressive alternative ‘inclusive/ participative’ management and leadership style;
And fourthly, to outline a possible option – a more progressive alternative ‘inclusive/ participative’ management and leadership style – that organisations such as QRITC could pursue, to become a far more effective deliverer of commercial education.
I will analyse what I have learnt from the study of this institution, showing how the issues of ‘Leadership and Management: Changing Agendas in Education’ clarify my understanding of sound educational institutional practice.
Since its’ inception, QRITC has always been very central to political debate, speculation and controversy- sometimes with good reason and at other times merely as a ‘victim’ of political manipulation.
The areas of Government-Industry contention and disagreement seems to be around who has control of what, who should have control of what, and the degree of contribution, both in terms of time and resources. Whilst the Queensland Racing Industry has somewhat been involved in the training process of their industry over the past 4 years, the Government is bearing the greatest degree of responsibility to ensure the training takes place. Although it was originally thought that within this 4 year period, the Queensland Racing Industry would have been in a position to assume responsibility for the Industry, this is still not the case. Based on the current level of Industry involvement, I would guess that it will still be some time before the Queensland Racing Industry is in a position to assume responsibility for the training of its’ participants.
Part of the reasoning behind the media’s involvement and the politicising of the issues I understand is that the industry has felt the government has precluded the industry on any of its’ (major) decision-making processes. That is, the government’s centralised management and leadership philosophy has actually been blamed for the lack of involvement and ownership displayed by the Queensland Racing Industry. This viewpoint is denied by government. The government justifies their position by suggesting that the QRI has never displayed any degree of maturity in the professional running of the industry.
However, irrespective of which viewpoint one accepts (the governments’ or the industry’s), it seems to me that central to this debate is one of professional disagreement and mutual feelings of mistrust and disrespect. These attributes, displayed by the two (2) parties would seem to me to be those stemming from a male ethos, rather than the more collaborative attributes of the female ethos. Termed the male ethos, Rogers suggests it is characterised by a competitive operating style; a hierarchical organisational structure; a basic objective of winning; a rational problem-solving style; and other characteristics such as high control, unemotional, analytical and strategic methodologies (Rogers:1988:1-8). In contrast, the female ethos is characterised by a cooperative operating style; a team organisational structure; a basic objective of quality output; an intuitive and rational problem-solving style; and other characteristics such as low control, empathetic, collaborative and high performance standards (Rogers:1988:1-8) (my italics). This male ethos then is in principle diametrically opposite to the ethics of the female ethos. Given this distinction, it is not possible then to totally dismiss the industry’s claim that the government has not included them sufficiently in the development of the training sector of the Racing Industry. Perhaps then, the claims that the type of training that is being delivered as having only marginal relevance to the industry could be applicable as well.
I hold that these two ethos are mutually exclusive, and furthermore, when the controlling ethos is that of a male, then it is by definition, impossible for the female ethos to exist. I believe that it is perhaps this operational paradigm that has prevented the QRI from realising its true potential. That is, to be a self- regulating, responsible, accountable industry body.
It is clear that the philosophy that the division operates out of is one of a centralised approach. Characterised by a hierarchical organisational structure, the division views leadership in terms of how the managers can influence the staff to pull in the same direction. Staff are not asked to participate or contribute in the management process (except in the instances when a hard decision needs to be made and the division wanted the staff to arrive at the realisation that a hard decision had to be made) (Smyth:1993: 1). Gemmill and Oakley suggested that “as a result of deeply ingrained cultural assumptions, approaches to the study of leadership usually start with the idea that leaders are unquestionably necessary for the functioning of an organisation” (Gemmill & Oakley:1992:113). As Watkins noted: “Traditional stances in leadership take for granted the one-directional flow from the leader to the led” (Watkins:1989:10). When discussing QRITC staff relation issues within the division, the word most often used to describe how the division expected the staff at QRITC to behave was ‘compliance’. Rogers proposes that this traditional philosophy is of a male persuasion.
Struggling between the need for departmental compliance, and yet attempting to meet the needs of the fee-paying customers, the staff of QRITC have found themselves in a precarious operational situation. There have been many examples of the conflict of these contrasting needs, with the result being:
an inability of staff to meet the needs of the client, no matter how easy the solution would have been to effect, and;
spontaneous action on the staff’s part to service the needs of the client, only to be reprimanded for acting ‘out of authority’ (that is, not waiting for permission to act).
I think that the resultant culture that has formed is one of frustration (felt by those that can see what needs to happen but no authorisation to do anything about it), followed by operational performance mediocrity (when the staff console themselves of the situational helplessness, caused in part due to the slow response time between when things should happen and when they actually do).
However, at the core of this problem is a characteristic that I feel has had the greatest impact on QRITC. It is what I call the ‘centralised one day, decentralised the next’ syndrome. It is my observation that QRITC suffers from a lack of sound management practice. Defined by Griffin as “that practice that attempts to make the unpredictable, predictable”, sound management practice is clearly accepted as a key to effective commercial organisations (Griffin: 1996:48). It is also accepted that sound management practice results from either a sound manager or ‘sound’ procedures (Gerber:1995:81). The ‘centralised one day, decentralised the next’ syndrome is where the management practices are negligent, and the main controller rules by having a say in every day practice, and therefore never sets in place accepted appropriate management procedures. Things progress smoothly whilst the main controller is involved. Then because things are moving smoothly, the main controller offers or accepts other opportunities to expand the activities. This takes their attention from the original area of activity to the new area. This new entrepreneurial venture then occupies their time and concentration, rather than the original area. Again, staff find themselves in a precarious operational situation. With little direct guidance, staff find themselves in the situation with the result being:
A. Either the staff feel disempowered to make any decisions or show any initiative as they are dependant upon advice for an appropriate action/have been conditioned to be led to an appropriate action; or;
B. they proceed with what they feel is the appropriate action, only to be reprimanded for stepping beyond their authority or for taking the inappropriate action. A natural progression of this is that staff return to situation A.
The problem with the procedures being held by the sound manager approach, is that it prevents effective delegation from occurring, as the delegate to the sound manager relies on their constant input and approval for the manner any delegations are effected. Add to this the situation where the manager is unavoidably removed from the day to day operations, and we have a situation that could go either way (staff respond A or B). Secondly, if or when that manager decides to leave the institution, the procedures leave with them. Perhaps some competent people join the organisation at various points (that is, the organisation buys in expertise to address an immediate/urgent need), and because of those professionals’ own skill levels, a positive impact can be made (to some degree). However, it was my observation, that at some point, those people also get relegated to situation A or B as the controller bounces between projects, giving little guidance, but still expecting to have a hand in the controlling of the operation. These professionals soon get frustrated, and leave. The controller at this point needs to make a mature decision to see the error of their ways (and I would argue that a mature decision-maker would not get themselves into that position in the first place). They need to reduce their activities back to the original core elements until such time that the appropriate procedures have been implemented. Until that occurs I believe, the organisation will stumble along into the future. The culture of these types of organisations becomes set in chaos, blame becomes a common characteristic, and ownership for the organisation is always controlled by the one person. Battling the elements of unpredictable business life soon becomes the way of life: the challenge for these entrepreneurial types. I think that compounding the centralised management style, without sound/accepted forms of management practice, the operational process at QRITC, ensuring the delivery of quality commercial education, broke down.
Drucker poses that the emerging world is going to be of a somewhat different form to that which the traditional theories have been based upon (Drucker:1997:19), thereby necessitating a further change in our perspective. It follows then that a new organisational theory is needed. Limerick, Cunnington and Crowther present what they see as a new management process required for such organisations, given the times (Limerick, Cunnington and Crowther:1998:231).
Referred to as the 4th Blueprint, Limerick et al outline the characteristics that an organisation would be. Centred on a principle of participation, the new organisation utilises a new perspective (relative to the traditional view) of what leadership is required. In a participative leadership approach it is said, that neither the concept of leadership nor authoritarian hierarchical rule exists. Fundamentally, with the participative approach, the concept of who leads is a much broader concept. In such a model, everyone within the organisation can be seen as being a leader, an interdependent, self-regulating team player that is assisting the organisation to a greater, degree of success, whatever that may be.
Rogers puts forward that the distinction between authoritative and participative leadership approaches can be explained from the philosophical viewpoint, the male and female ethos (Rogers:1988:1). In a participative leadership approach, the characteristics of the female ethos (as already explained) exist. That is, a cooperative operating style; a team organisational structure; low control, collaborative and high performance standards (Rogers:1988:1-8) (my italics). In contrast, the concept of authoritarian hierarchical rule is characterised by the male ethos traits; a competitive operating style; a hierarchical organisational structure; a basic objective of winning; and high control (Rogers:1988:1-8). I would therefore put forth that only once the concept of authority is disregarded, can the concept of participation be adopted. It is at this point of mutual exclusivity, that the concept of leadership necessarily changes.
Organisations of the future need everyone thinking about what new directions to pursue. No one person can now lead from the front. Future leadership will depend on complex knowledge and innovation from all. Innovators will lead by showing where an industry is likely to go next. The implication of this is that leaders will not necessarily be inside an organisation to achieve this. We already speak of ‘market leaders’. It follows then that leadership can come from anywhere.
I think that at present, whilst it could be argued that we are moving towards such an ideal, our governments are controlled by the ethics of the traditional male ethos of accountability, politics, power and securing and maintaining ones’ personal (financial) position. I believe that the Division of Racing exemplifies this view. However, if it is the requirement of contempoary business to have many active participants throughout the organisation, it could now be said that this traditional ‘male’ concept of leadership is redundant. It has been suggested that a solution to this call for a more balanced view of educational organisations, incorporating more of a female ‘participative’ ethos, is site-based management.
I will take this opportunity to introduce the basic premise of site-based management, highlighting how an educational organisation could benefit, in real terms through such increased efficiencies in productivity, procedures and a greater degree of product/client alignment through product diversity (Cope and Kalantzis:1997:135). Site-based management has almost as many variants as there are places claiming to be “site-based”. Smyth, Caldwell, Crowther, Hargreaves and others note the diversity of terminology. The internet also displays the diversity of interpretation, with many using the expression as a recognisable ‘buzz-word’, irrespective of the authenticity of the concept.
Several reasons for initiating site-based management (SBM) have been presented. Noble, Deemer and Davis explain SBM is typically implemented for the following objectives: shared governance through decentralisation; and, collaborative decision-making. They continue by suggesting that “explicit and implicit outcomes for school- based management often…include 1) improved academic achievement; 2) increased accountability; 3)empowerment; and 4) political utility” (Noble, Deemer and Davis: 1996:1). Therefore the ultimate outcome of SBM could be seen as a way of improving learner achievement. Although site-based management appears in many guises, and at its core is the idea of participatory decision-making at the institutional site, despite all the variations in rationale, its main stated objective is to enhance student achievement. Participatory decision-making and school improvement are presumed to be related, but that’s not always the case. To others, site-based management is a governance reform designed to shift the balance of authority among institutions, their greater districts (in QRITC’s case, the industry) and the state. This tends to be the rationale behind state efforts rather than district reforms, and it is often part of a larger reform agenda that claims to trade institutional autonomy for accountability to the state (Caldwell and Spinks in Caldwell:1996:4). To others again, site-based management is a political reform initiated to broaden the decision-making base, either within the institution, the larger community, or both. But democratization of decision- making as an end in itself leaves open the question of who should be involved in which decisions (Caldwell and Spinks in Caldwell:1996:4). This would appear to be the QRI’s motive/view.
Site-based management may also be an administrative reform to make management more efficient by decentralising and deregulating it. Here, too, management efficiency presumably serves the ultimate goal of the organisation-student learning. Yet another premise of site-based management as educational reform is that the way to enhance student learning is to let education professionals make the important professional decisions (Rizvi: 1993:1). It is this practice that I believe QRITC has shown to benefit the learners. Decentralised management forms, allowing education professionals to make the important professional decisions, could net positive benefits for QRITC. One result could be a more aligned organisational/client product, effectively giving the learner a better education. I would argue that by preventing the educational staff at QRITC from consistently making these decisions, is negatively impacting the organisation’s ability to effectively deliver commercial education.
Some however are more cynical. Smyth reports that the “rhetoric of devolution” (one of the many terms for SBM ) is claimed to be occurring as a means for the government to be delegating the responsibility, but withholding the authority that normally goes with that responsibility (Smyth:1993:1). The situation I suggested earlier – when a hard decision by the division needed to be made, so the division (out of character) delegated the responsibility to the staff in order to have them arrive at the realisation themselves – exemplifies this. Further complicating the landscape, there are often underlying motives. Stated purposes may obscure far less lofty aims, such as weakening entrenched and distrusted local managers, creating the illusion of reform without investing more resources, putting a positive spin on central office downsizing by calling it decentralization, or simply trying to shift the blame for failure to the institution itself. It would appear that several have accussed the Division of Racing of being guilty of these practices.
To add another perspective to the positive picture being painted about SBM, I would like to propose the down side of participative practices. When a group is formed by bringing together people who have never worked as a group before, who may have no experience in collaborative decision-making, and who may in fact have a history of being adversaries (farriers and stewards, educators and business operators, for example), progress may not always be an ensuing result. This has been exemplified in several government initiated industry advisory panels. Individual lobby interests have taken precedence over the agenda items that effect the industry as a whole. To make matters worse, some members who may be subject to evaluation by other members (potential industry assessors and the QRITC manager, most obviously), have elected to withhold their opinion for the fear that their view would impact their potential assessing opportunity. I would ask, that in the examples presented here, is this participative process going to necessarily improve student/learner achievement? Will it in real terms benefit the learner? Or, will this participative forum have flow on effects, benefiting the industry or educational environment, perhaps indirectly influencing an improvement in learner achievement?
Participatory management (SBM) does not I believe hold the view that all parties have to be involved in all levels of discussion, everytime. Some decisions are best left to the professionals in the institution (as presented), some to parents, and others to students. Some decisions are appropriately made by representatives of several constituencies, others by a formal industry body. Nor does site-based management mean that all decisions are appropriately made at the institutional level. Institutions have to accept that they belong to a larger system—industry and state – that must provide a strong centre if decentralisation is to create effective education (Caldwell:1996:3-19)
An example of a decision that should be best left to the institution’s professionals is that of curriculum and instruction methodologies. Curriculum and instruction methodologies are difficult to deal with, for educators and non-educators alike. These issues are even more difficult to tackle when governing bodies mandate new assessments that require teaching methods that may be unfamiliar to the actual instructors that have to implement them.
In addition, when there are serious consequences for unsatisfactory student performance – especially teacher or principal dismissal – but a lack of knowledge about how to improve student performance, trust and constructive dialogue are further undermined. This therefore raises the issue of who decides what within the process. It has been my experience that sound decisions are made by those who are informed about and care about the issues and who know the context in which the decision will be carried out. Otherwise, there is no guarantee that these decisions will be any better than those made by policymakers many steps removed. In fact, it is even possible for this scenario to occur within a school-based decision framework if the decision is made by only one person, and that person was uninformed and insensitive to the context. This also occurred at QRITC some time ago, when the Division allowed delegation of responsibility for the curriculum. However, I would understand that this delegation occurred as a result of the Division not being:
informed, or ;
having the time to be involved due to other ‘pet’ projects in other areas.