9. Effective Leadership and the Environment
If we focus only on the LibDem party and its role in the Coalition, and on the ‘here and now’, the tuition fees u-turn still might not have had particularly damaging consequences. To paraphrase Andrew Grice, they’re just on a steep learning curve.
If we look at the broader implications for the political environment at large, any complacency soon evaporates.
Effective leadership is also hallmaked by the way the organisation engages with its environment. Good leadership encourages:
- a keen awareness of the organisation’s interdependency with the environment;
- a sense of stewardship toward the environment, which is considered an obligation of operating within it;
- a focus on the long-term health and welfare of the environment, which actually influences organisational decisions and actions.
How has the LibDem leadership fared against these leadership considerations?
Time will tell, but the vital signs of the British political system were not good, even before the tuition fees debacle. According to the latest annual British Social Attitudes report (National Centre for Social Research), also reported in the Independent newspaper:
“…the banking crisis, anger at MPs expenses, and the recession have taken their toll on the perceived trustworthiness of politicians. Four in 10 ‘almost never’ trust British governments of any party to put the national interest first..”
This is the highest ever level of distrust recorded, four times the late 1980s level. At these levels, the very sustainability of the political system may be threatened.
Did the LidDem leadership cause this by itself? Of course not.
Is it doing anything constructive to address the issue? No.
Is it making a major contribution to driving these levels of distrust even higher? Undoubtedly so.
Bill Tate has written about the need to see leadership through a systems lens, not simply as a matter of individual competence and attributes. His ‘fish-tank’ analogy puts it well:
“The employees (including managers and leaders) in the organisation are like fish in a fish tank. People outside are adept at seeing the fish, but most fail to recognise that it’s the water that sustains them and gives them organisational life. And the water is dirty! If you will pardon the expression, people…are constantly shitting in it, making it fearful, stressful, murky, confusing and insecure.” (William Tate  The Search for Leadership, Triarchy Press)
Although he is referring to a single organisation, the analogy works just as well for the bigger system or environment, in which many organisations operate.