This is a series of blogs that expose the fatal flaw in the leadership revolution of the past 40 years. This is the thoughtless conflation of leadership with management. ‘Leaders’ and ’managers’ are wholly distinct roles. This conflation has distorted both organisational life and democracy, as I will show. But where did it come from?

Austerity has required, over the past 40 years, heavy cuts to public sector budgets. Cuts on the scale we have seen in health, education, policing, social work and elsewhere can only be made securely under regimes of command-and-control. Essential decisions associated with redundancies, so-called ‘SMART’ working, reduction in support and resource and so on – these decisions cannot be subject to appeal or argument. And so emerged cultures of power concentration at the top of organisations – a return, in many ways, to feudal forms of organisation. The demand was for leaders – not just leaders, but heroic leaders who had the flare and the courage to take ‘difficult decisions’ and to see beyond them. To have a vision for the organisation. University Vice Chancellors, as heads of other public services, were constitutionally labelled ‘Chief Executives’.

The guide was a grossly distorted view of leadership in the private sector, driven by the ‘bottom-line’ and supposedly based on a militaristic model of army generals and brigadiers leading their infantries with the broader vision. Of course, this too easily dismisses the range of creativities truly found in private enterprise.

Along the way, public sector managers were derided for being mere ‘administrators’ – ie. managing on the basis of historical arrangements, merely tinkering with pre-existing budgets and working practices. For managers to be too closely associating with the workforce – with the practitioner – was akin to the military occupier ‘going native’. These heroic leadership regimes celebrated distance from the messiness of real-world experience, from a complexity that blinded practitioners and their hands-on managers to the brilliance of a vision. Leaders saw the world differently, more truly.

These blogs will explore this sorry state of affairs and remind us of alternatives. Do read on!

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