Sunday, 15 March 2015

On Leadership

To Catilius Severus

While detained in the Capital this week I enjoyed your company and that of junior counsel. I thank you both for your time, which I treasure.

I do not mind frankness in intellectual debate. I hunger to clash over ideas of importance.  As for my sensibilities, given my background, there are few bones in my body that haven’t been deliberately broken a couple of times, sometimes for good cause.

Your problem brought to mind a specific issue.  Today, specialists are increasingly displaced by generalists at a leadership levels. The consequence might be oversimplified by asserting that decision making has drifted from conclusions based on empirical assessment to calls on relationships. Still, this seems to happen more often than not, and it is not perceived as necessarily a bad thing.  Indeed, some now claim credit for this drift as a benefit of their own craft, the end benefit of culture inculcated in private schools for boys or the new feminist approach to business. 

Both styles of decision making have strengths.  Some say that calls on relationships might be the only way really complex processes can be achieved. I have heard Treasury officials who should know better make such a claim in relation to interstate legislation sponsored by the Council of Australian Governments. 

Two specific weaknesses of relationship decision making might be observed. Firstly, problems arise when there is reluctance to engage in communication when that might be perceived as a challenge to the relationship. Secondly, problems arise when a mismatch of skills creates real problems in communicating effectively.  

Worse still, those "called" to support a position may be unable to talk to the idea, explain its value, or describe the consequences of its adoption.

In the law I was trained to separate self from ideas – to combat ideas rather than play the person. "Relationship calls" muddy this approach. Insight does not come from reference – it derives from persuasion walking with reason.  The writer Eupolis once praised Pericles: 
 "On his lips Persuasion hung,
  And powerful Reason rul'd his tongue:
  Thus he alone could boast the art
  To charm at once, and pierce the heart."
I thank you for your invitation to walk to the lake and watch the fireworks tonight. I am afraid that I am long gone, to sit and watch the sunset from the high ridges and pen this note of thanks. 

Peter Quinton
March 2015

No comments: