How leaders can lose it

George Entwistle.
Photo by David Levene for the Guardian.

George Entwistle is definitely struggling as Director General of the BBC. After a reasonable start in leadership terms (See previous blog 17 October 2012), he now stands accused of traits that make it hard to provide effective leadership for the corporation. The key incident that brought theses to the attention of the journalists and politicians circling like vultures sensing the imminent death of a good meal was his recent interrogation by the parliamentary select committee.

Whether George is guilty or not, the failing that the MPs illustrated was:

Not being on top of things

This is a big issue for anyone in management because losing touch inevitably makes it difficult to provide meaningful leadership. This is not something restricted to large organisations either. The moment the number of employees creeps over 10, and certainly as it hits 50 or more, the harder it becomes to spend time with enough people to know what is happening in their work, their lives and their relationships with other stakeholders.

Conventional wisdom states that leaders should know their organisation or their part of the organisation ‘inside out’. Usually, this refers to the commercial aspects such as the organisation’s risk profile, who the customers are, or where profits are generated. However, it is clear from what is becoming known as ‘Savilegate’ that knowing about other aspects such as managerial disagreements, office gossip and complaints of all kinds should also be part of that knowledge.

As George Entwistle, and previously members of the Murdoch family, have shown, answering high profile parliamentary committee members or journalists’ questions with a “don’t know” or “I cannot recall” does not leave a good impression of leadership capability. Similarly, not having forensically examined those things that have gone wrong leaves questions about the leader’s motivations.

The rationale provided by Entwistle for operating in a ‘hands off’’ fashion is that he didn’t want to create pressure by too close questioning, which illustrates the other issue for leadership that is worthy of reflection:

How good am I at judging the line between negligence through lack of curiosity and micro-managing?

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2 comments

  1. And your right, “Conventional wisdom states that leaders should know their organisation or their part of the organisation ‘inside out’. “

    1. I don’t necessarily like conventional wisdom, but in this case, I think it’s right as a starting point.

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