Time for public leadership

flood_640
Floods in York, December 2015

By Martin Vogel

One needn’t look far to find examples in the news of messed up leadership. This is why our forthcoming session with Robert Phillips on trust is so timely.

From the news over Christmas, we have:

If Robert’s argument is that trust is an outcome of leadership, not its message, how do the above examples match up?

Sports Direct appears to have grasped that action is needed more than words. Its founder, Mike Ashley, has pledged to increase pay levels and declared an ambition to become ”the best high street retail employer after John Lewis“ – an objective he acknowledges will be achieved only after a long haul.

Volkswagen’s new chief executive, Matthias Müller, has been criticised for trying to move on from the emissions scandal without having reassured – through action not words – that the firm has gripped the culture that brought about its deceptions.

But the floods possibly contradict Robert’s thesis, as the Government and local authorities have so far attracted little blame for the plight of flooded households and businesses.

What has this to do with coaching? Robert advocates a new approach to leadership – which he calls “public leadership”. This recognises the broad responsibility of organisations towards their communities and society, beyond whatever narrow sectional interests they exist to pursue. If this is accepted, should coaches play any role in inviting leaders to engage with this agenda?

More generally, where organisations fail there is an onus on diverse sections of society to hold them to account. Michael Skapinker – a long-time observer of corporate scandals – makes this point in relation to the recent decision by the Financial Conduct Authority to drop its investigation into banking culture:

“For the system to work so that people do not lose trust in it, companies need to be corrected when they go wrong. Because regulators sometimes fail to do what they should — such as the FCA now and its predecessors before 2008 — others need to pile on the pressure, whether it is legislative committees, the media, consumers, campaigners or researchers. It was a research group, the International Council on Clean Transportation, that alerted the US authorities to VW’s suspicious emissions. Some of these groups over-reach. More often, they allow malpractice to go undetected, as much of the media did before the 2008 crisis. That is why one part of society needs to step in when another does not. It is through their actions that the system is kept honest, more or less, or at least honest enough for it to keep functioning. Criticism can sting, but we all need it if we are not to sink into cynicism.”

If, as coaches, we aspire to be viewed as professionals, we must engage with this discussion and work out where we stand in relation not just to our corporate clients but also to trust in the system as a whole. Can coaching as a profession be trusted to stand up for society’s interests when we work inside organisations, or are we at risk of colluding with corporate agendas gone astray?

Join the discussion with Robert Phillips on 21st January.

Trust is an Outcome, Not a Message
21 January 2016, 6.30–8.30pm
Space in Marylebone, 10 Daventry Street, London NW1 5NX
Members £35 inc. VAT; Non-members £42 inc. VAT

Book with Eventbrite

Image courtesy ALH1.

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