Managing and Leading PeopleRethinking people and organization

Published July 2010 Updated May 2014 10 lectures
Prof. Keith Grint
Professor of Public Leadership & Management, University of Warwick, UK

Understanding management and particularly leadership has become an essential element of organizational life in contemporary society. Even though both have been critical components of all known large scale and long-lived organizations their rise to fame in the post-war era has nurtured the development of a veritable industry of books, talks... read moreand lectures. Yet we remain stubbornly wedded to the Great Man model of heroic leadership and equally unable to explain why leadership seems so difficult to explain and virtually impossible to replicate from any recipe based approach.

The earliest models we have tend to be military command and control models but the contemporary military no longer operate on these conventional authoritarian lines but have become much more decentralized in decision-making, because their task has shifted from fighting equivalent armies to fighting insurgencies. Similarly the police model of hierarchical leadership has shown itself inadequate in the face of a rapidly changing world. Even those supposedly enduring models of leadership and management in banking and politics have been torn asunder by the recent crises in finance and politics. So we are left with a raft of traditional models that purport to use the ‘science’ of psychometrics and competencies to ensure the ‘correct selection’ or use contingency theory to explain that accurate assessments of the situation are all that is necessary for the ‘correct’ strategy and leadership style to resolve whatever problem faces us. And yet we are beset by problems of inadequate governance, corruption and disengagement by the majority to the point where we are facing a leadership crisis.

This set of talks by leading experts is designed to explore why these problems beset us and what, if anything, we can do about them. Unless we acknowledge that leading and managing in organizations, of all kinds, is not constricted to rational decisions made by disinterested experts then we have little hope of changing the way we run them. But if we don’t ensure some degree of radical change we have little chance of addressing problems such as global warming, economic recession and political and religious extremism. Furthermore, if we can begin to understand how decisions are made, then perhaps we can engage in debates about how to develop leadership and management and why these debates cannot be restricted to ‘neutral’ conversations about improving efficiency but must involve issues of ethics, purpose and responsibility.

Too often we are tempted to look for charismatic leaders to resolve our problems, to take responsibility away from us and to bear the blame when it all goes wrong. So what kind of leadership and management do we need to face and shape the future more proactively and how can we engage people in the resolution of their own collective problems without establishing yet more levels of centralized bureaucracy? Indeed, it may be tempting to assume that the answer is to abandon individual leadership and seek solace in collective forms of decision-making, in dispersed and distributed leadership, but do these alternatives provide solutions to the problems facing all forms of partnerships or are they simply mechanisms for displacing responsibility and avoiding decision-making?

View the Talks (10 Lectures)