Leaders in Local Governance Issues paper about Leadership

Sue Goss
“Leadership is activity which mobilises adaptation” Heifetz Leadership theories began in the early years of the 20th century with theory about ‘leadership traits’ and then ‘leadership behaviours’, and while these theories continue, much of the literature has moved on to exploring the role of leaders in supporting and encouraging ‘followers’ and onto ‘’situational’ and ‘contingent’ ideas about leadership. Leadership is assumed to be of growing importance in effectively mobilising the resources available to an organisation – and while entrepreneurial, financial and planning skills are required to mobilise fixed resources; the importance of values, vision, and human interaction are stressed when leaders are trying to mobilise the human resources within an organisation. Leaders at the top of organisations are assumed to be the holders of vision and direction for an organisation – they are clear about what they are trying to achieve, and capable of aligning organisational design, capability and effort to achieve it. There is an emphasis on ‘telling the story’ and a reserve capacity to mobilise and command. However leadership is not simply exercised at the top of organisations, and increasing stress is placed on team leadership, and the leadership capability required to build consensus and to motivate others, throughout an organisation. Leadership is seen as requiring different skills in different situations. Current thinking, for example, stresses the difference between ‘transactional’ leadership; maintaining organisational performance in times of relative stability and ‘transformational leadership’, securing fundamental change in response to radical change in the environment. (Beverley Alimo Metcalf, Kotter etc) Within this literature a range of leadership approaches or styles emerge – ranging from ‘command and control’ to a more inclusive and supportive style. Textbooks generally agree that an effective leader does not only possess one leadership approach; but a range of approaches, and the skills of a leader are involved in the ability to choose the right approach at the right time. The more recent emotional intelligence literature (e.g. Goleman) suggests that effective leadership behaviours require both self-awareness, and an ability to control the way one impacts on a situation and on other people. New contributors to the literature are beginning to stress the situational context of leadership. Heifetz suggests that leadership is fundamentally relational “people in power change their ways when the sources of their power change their expectations. Their behaviour (as leaders) is an expression of the community that authorises them” (Heifetz 1994) Heifetz defines leadership as an activity, rather than as a personal quality. These more recent theories suggest that simple personal skill is not enough; leadership depends both on judgement and on a decision to act – and both of these things are conditioned by an assessment of the

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circumstances within which the leader or leaders find themselves. Perhaps the most crucial leadership skills in a situational model, are the ability to read a situation accurately, and then to deploy oneself successfully into that situation. What is crucial is therefore not one’s own preferred leadership style or approach – but a wide leadership repertoire – an ability to change styles or approaches depending on audience and situation.

Leadership in Local Governance
If leadership is primarily situational, if we lead differently depending on the demands of the situation, then what is happening to the local governance context which might impact on the sorts of leadership approaches that will work? The stress for the past few decades has been on management – on creating an efficient and effective organisation, capable of delivering successful services. CCT, Best Value, CPA have all driven towards that end. However, at the same time, there has been a sustained movement at the political level, away from simply ‘leading the organisation’ to ‘leading the place’. For directly elected mayors, in particular, but also for strong leader and cabinets; the preoccupations are no longer simply with council services but with all the issues affecting a locality. Government policy has pushed in this direction – the community leadership role is now seen as the key role for local authorities, LSPs, LPSAs LAAs (how many other acronyms are there!) all move us in that direction. Community leadership is both about speaking for a locality (and therefore successfully listening to and understanding the diverse communities that make up that locality) and about orchestrating the resources and organisations within a locality to address its problems. Underlying local area agreements is the possibility of contracting locally between agencies to jointly address key social outcomes in ways that make sense within a locality. It might not get this far, because of bureaucracy at both ends of the process – but it might. If local authorities are to become orchestrators and enablers for a place – the roles of leadership change. Such changes also make governance more important than management – and I want to argue that understanding and leading governance systems is going to be an increasingly important part of the role of leaders at local level. Issues about how decisions are made, to whom decisions are accountable, how they are legitimated, will become far more important over the next few years. As different local authorities and partnerships have designed different ways of working they have without thinking about it, created different governance models, and as managers change jobs between authorities they find themselves within different governance contexts. Understanding those contexts, and making sense of them for both politicians and managers will become a crucial future role. Within a governance context, leadership roles, of both officers and members, are different from those, for example in the private sector. Public sector ‘leaders’ whether politicians or managers are working on the public’s behalf, and are accountable both upwards to government and downwards to local communities; and these accountabilities have to be balanced and managed. Mark Moore’s suggestion that leaders in a public sector context require ‘legitimacy’ to act, and that it is a key leadership role to build and maintain that legitimacy, (Moore, 1995) reinforces the argument of Heifetz that leaders have to act within a context of ‘permission’ and ‘restraint’ from powerful stakeholders and from the public.

Leading in a Place – Organisation, Partnerships, Community

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There are now three different sorts of leadership roles undertaken within a local authority – and probably within any local agency to greater or lesser extents – leadership in the organisation, leadership in partnerships, and leadership in the community. Leadership inside the organisation might reflect conventional leadership approaches – setting vision and strategy, communicating it, building the capacity and systems to deliver, ensuring resources are available to achieve strategy, skilling up and enabling staff to deliver – the transactional leadership approach – except, as I will suggest below, the other leadership areas will have their own impact. I used to assume that it was politicians that primarily were responsible for community leadership and partnership leadership, but it seems that this is no longer the case.

Leadership in partnerships
Partnerships have weaker power of agency than single agencies, by their very nature, so that a key leadership role is often that of constructing both the authority and power to act; and of connecting partnership decisions to the delivery capability of partner agencies. A partnership remains ‘inert’ – unable to command or deploy resources, unless these linkages are made. At the same time, partnerships offer the possibilities of breaking out of the assumptions and constraints that ‘lock’ member agencies into traditional solutions – they offer the potential of ‘unoccupied’ or ‘experimental’ space – where organisational obstacles and ‘group think’ are less strong. (Goss 2001). Since partnerships operate between existing organisational structures –leaders have to be capable not simply of leading effectively both in their own organisation and in the partnership, but of making sense of the linkages between them, and the limitations this sets up. It is not easy, therefore, to transfer thinking about leadership from an organisational to a partnership context. A partnership is not the same as an organisation – and the local governance context adds a political dimension that does not apply to most organisations. (see Argyris and Schon (1978) for a discussion of agency, organisations and partnerships). Leadership in partnerships therefore requires different sorts of abilities and ways of working. Chesterton suggests that in partnerships, leadership is not ‘defined by followership but by collective endeavour. ” Developing the capacity for local leadership involves establishing the conditions in which ‘solutions are negotiated, not imposed’. He argues that in partnerships the stress should be, not on individual leaders, but on ‘collective leadership processes’. Leadership in partnerships is, at heart, the process of deliberation, “leadership is enacted through discourse which results in adaptation.” He expresses concern that emphasis on individual leadership competencies draws attention away from developing “the capacity of networked relationships.” (op cit) Leadership in partnerships is relational, not positional, negotiated rather than imposed, and is about moving away from individual qualities to the process of creating leadership space for others – spaces which encourage different sorts of leadership to co-exist. Some of the leadership skills that our research has identified are needed in partnerships are: • Helping to negotiate the rules of engagement for all the partners • Creating an environment where relationships can succeed • Enabling partners to understand each others goals and constraints • Encouraging learning, developing space for experiment, room for creativity • Brokering relationships between different belief systems • Using creative tension – drawing strength from difference – negotiating solutions, conflict resolution page 3

Creating trust – mutual accountability, enough to risk committing resources

Community leadership
Local authorities have been given a formal community leadership role – with the objective of securing ‘economic, social and environmental well-being’, the associated power of Community Strategy to achieve this objective, and the responsibility to set up local strategic partnerships to achieve these aims. Local authorities therefore have a formal role within LSPs and are held accountable from the centre for the performance of this role. “There is now no way a local authority can perform its functions effectively without having an effective partnership in place in the locality” (interview) Community leadership has another meaning, however; which is about allowing communities to grow their own ‘leadership’ and to give voice to the different needs and views at community level.” The IdeA describes a community leader as someone who “engages enthusiastically and empathetically with the community in order to learn understand and act upon issues of local concern…mediates fairly and constructively, encouraging trust by representing all sections of the community.” The recent ODPM report “Vibrant Local Leadership” argues that ‘neighbourhood leadership must be a central element of every local councillors role” and goes some way to explore ways that individual councillors should navigate these roles “there is a unique legitimacy conferred by democratic elections, but it has to be realised by the way that leadership is shared and provided” The report recognises the role of other community advocates; “councillors have a role to play in encouraging these advocates to speak up and make their contributions” (ODPM 2005, p 18). However, as many academics and researchers make clear, ‘community’ is “vague and contested term” with “competing and often contradictory” meanings. (Jane Foot 2000 p2) This third element involves different and more contested roles. Working with politicians in the Leadership Academy to define the community leadership role, they describe it in different terms to conventional leadership – with perhaps four key elements; listening, truth telling; building alliances and crafting solutions. It indicates a radical change in leadership approaches by politicians, but the reality is that not all politicians have the capabilities or the willingness to change their style or approach. Politicians often reach power using old styles and find it impossible, or too uncomfortable to change. Nevertheless there are some brilliant examples of politicians who can and do lead in new ways, and we have not yet spent enough time understanding what they do and how they do it.

Moving away from certainty
In modern local governance, all three approaches to leadership are probably all needed, but we are not yet adept at determining which role is being played in which situation, and which leadership skills and styles are needed. As we move away from conventional organisational leadership, however, we move away from a highly predictable and controllable world, and away from leadership through direction, into worlds that are less certain, less predictable and less easy to control. The worst mistake, however, (one that central government keeps making) is to try and take with us the relatively directive,

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bureaucratic approaches that have worked in the past into these wider and less directable spaces. As complexity increases, the ability of linear, top down systems to control or even understand situations reduces. If we find that we have to keep increasing the bureaucracy, the systems, the paperwork, the diagrams – and yet progress never gets any nearer – it’s a sure sign that we are moving into new territory, where different approaches are necessary – approaches based far more on accepting the flow of situations, looking for opportunities, intervening by adding value rather than controlling, helping to tell a story, unlocking the potential of others, supporting the leadership of others – enabling many things to happen at once. In a city, or a large rural area, very many things are happening at once, and events have multiple and complex causes – and many different sorts of participants all of whom have different needs and intentions. Learning to accept, and help others to work within, that complexity is probably a key part of leadership in the future. Crucially, we need to be able to reflect on the sort of ‘leadership space’ we are in, and to adapt accordingly. Simple Order Command and control Top down Technical Direction Machine Bureaucracy Push energy Leader Complex Chaos Enabling and empowering Shared, participative Adaptive Jazz Organism Complex adaptive systems Pull energy Leadership systems

Leadership systems
Leadership systems don’t have a single ‘brain’ directing action from the centre; but they have a number of sources of leadership, individuals and organisations, working collaboratively to make things happen. An organisation could be seen as a leadership system, as could a partnership. Chesterman has argued that partnership working is more like ‘jazz’ – many people doing their own thing to a shared tune. Leadership systems are more able to work in uncertainty, since thinking, learning, responding is scatter red and more diverse – leadership systems open the possibility of engaging communities and the public in determining solutions to the problems they confront. Leadership systems are not simply random, however, they need to be nurtured and encouraged, they need different sorts of leadership, which needs to be actively engaged and committed. The sorts of things that leaders do to maintain leadership systems might include understanding the relationships and forces in play and helping to explain them to others; holding the complex environment and enabling risks to be taken and innovations made; enabling and unlocking the leadership of others. In a governance context, this may also be about creating legitimacy, protecting space for innovation by securing consent; ensuring accountability, helping to engage all those who have a stake in key decisions, orchestrating the involvement of communities, helping different

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stakeholders to understand each other, and helping to build alliances based on common good and common goals, rather than sectional interests. Below, I set out some of the thinking we have been doing about LSPs as a leadership system, just as an example.

LSPs – an example of leadership systems
Within any one LSP there are many very senior people with proven leadership capability in their own fields. And yet, attending LSP meetings, one is sometimes forcibly struck by the contrast between the number of ‘leaders’ around the table, (including chief executives, senior managers, vice-chancellors, police superintendents etc) and the absence of leadership in the room. Sometimes a relatively junior local government officer is struggling to exercise leadership while the rest of the LSP members are being restless, fractious and negative! Almost all LSPs, by nature of their membership, include people who in other contexts are ‘leaders’. Leadership within an LSP is in part a decision by individuals or organisations about whether or not to invest their leadership in an LSP; which in turn is based on a judgement about external factors, or conditions for success. Since the leadership resources of an organisation are scarce, and cannot be deployed everywhere at once, organisations are choosing how to deploy their leaders and their leadership. These choices are heavily influenced by external drivers, but also by political and organisational priorities. A decision to exercise leadership commits an individual leader to commit time and energy, and they often are uncertain about the added value of the partnership – so they attend with a ‘watching brief’ trying to gauge the importance of this work for their own agendas, but for the time being, withholding leadership effort. Of course this can create a vicious circle, since without leadership investment the meetings decay into talking shops, fewer leaders attend, the value drops further etc. This suggests therefore, that the effectiveness of leadership in an LSP is not simply about skills and capabilities, but includes also an accurate reading of the situation, and being able to create a ‘leadership system’ that draws on and produces leadership from many players. LSPs have to move from being an ‘empty structure’ to a capability for action. However, a partnership offers no automatic connection between ‘leadership’ and ‘followership’ – in other words when an LSP commands ‘jump’ – it is not clear that anyone necessarily jumps. Leadership is therefore necessary to create the linkages between the outcomes agreed by the partners, the strategy adopted to achieve those outcomes, and the delivery systems available through partner organisations. Once those linkages have been created, leadership will be necessary to ‘turn on the current’ so that energy and resources flow sufficiently robustly to make things happen. There are perhaps three identifiable stages in any partnership – dialogue to agree outcomes; strategy to identify how they might be achieved; delivery; taking action. Leadership is needed to ensure the partnership work continues to develop momentum through all three stages: i.e. does not simply stop at the agreement of outcomes, nor at the agreement of strategy, but is able to ensure that action follows. It may be more helpful to see three different ‘fields’ within which leadership needs to take place:

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Political leadership – supplying democratic legitimacy and the resources and power of the local authority- having the right mind-set and skills throughout the local authority to work effectively in partnership Leadership from partner organisations – ensuring that partners are able and willing to deliver to partnership aims (This sort of leadership could be strengthened by a public service board model – offering a structural basis for contractual agreements between key public agencies and shared delivery targets, performance management etc.) Community leadership – securing the consent and active engagement of the wider community

The success of each LSP in creating or supporting leadership in each of these areas will vary widely – some will be very successful at political leadership and very poor at community leadership. Few will succeed equally in all three areas all the time. But partnership problems can often be identified with failure in one of these three areas. Clearly, if leadership is coming from a number of different sources, some can, to an extent, substitute for others. Thus if political leadership is strong, the partnership can, to an extent ‘carry’ passive partners. We suggested earlier that changes in political leadership had been less disruptive than might have been imagined. Where there is strong community and partner leadership, other ‘leaders’ go into overdrive when there is a change of political administration, to listen, adapt and redesign the process to ensure that the new politicians will be willing to ‘invest’ their leadership. All three areas of leadership are unlikely to be carried by the same individual, and that perhaps the most successfully led LSPs have a number of key ‘leaders’ working closely together. This reinforces the suggestion from the current leadership literature, that the most important capability leaders need is the ability to ‘read’ a situation, and use judgement to respond accordingly. In the most ‘advanced’ partnerships, attention is actively being paid to the linkages between these three fields of leadership and active ‘system leadership’ is in place to ensure these linkages are effective. When leadership in one or more ‘fields’ is missing, LSPs are unlikely to succeed: • If political leadership is missing – the partnership tends not to be able to deliver – loses momentum – becomes a loose network • If community leadership is missing – local people feel excluded – lacks legitimacy and buy-in • If public agency leadership is missing – partner agencies don’t align strategy or resources, council leads – but can only deliver in areas of its own control. Leadership from these fields has to connect successfully through three stages – from outcomes to strategy to delivery. What is perhaps surprising is not that so many LSPs experience difficulties, but that so many of them are continuing to move forward. The leadership requirements are complex, but luckily so is real life – there is plenty of leadership out there. Many LSPs now say they are ‘on the cusp’ of the move to delivery – a leadership challenge in itself. Time will tell if LSPs remain at the ‘talk’ stage, or are able to make a transition to create authorisation for action.

References
Alimo Metcalf, B, (2000), Transformational Leadership, Leadership and Organizational Development Journal 21/6

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Argyris and Schon (1978) Organisational Learning; a theory of Action Perspective, Reading, Mass, Addison Wesley Collins, J, (2001) Good to Great, Random House Idea (2004) Skill and Capacity Framework for Councillors Chesterman, D (2005), D Local Authority, Demos Foot, J (2000) Community Leadership, Open University Goss, (2001) Making Local Governance Work, Palgrave. London Heifetz (1994) Leadership Without Easy Answers, Harvard University Press Moore, M (1995) Creating Public Value, 1995 Harvard, Cambridge, Mass ODPM (2005) Vibrant Community Leadership

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