Management, leadership, personal development

posted by Kaihsu Tai on July 25th, 2007

In Trinity Term 2007, I took a course called Introductory Certificate in Management. I recognized that there were three parts in what was introduced in the course:

  1. the questions asked and issues raised (“How to get things to happen”), or, in academic speech, “problematizing” (so far so good);
  2. the mechanisms proposed (not so convincing); and
  3. the evidence supporting the mechanisms proposed (not so sure).

Most of this was life skills made explicit. (That is fine. On that note, how have our informal mechanism for teaching children and youths life skills and empathy developed/atrophied in recent decades?) But for the rest, usually a very business-like (in the narrow sense) and command-and-control model of management (bureaucracy in the lesser sense) and leadership (Führerprinzip?!) prevailed, in addition to some behavioural models. I wondered to what extent this capitalist–corporate model can be applied to other organizations such as the trade union, the church, the political party, the co-operative, the family; where most participants are unpaid volunteers. Or even in the university, which in its etymological sense is a Å«niversitās, a distinct form of corporation more like a co-operative than a modern limited company. For example, see Herman Dooyeweerd, A New critique of theoretical thought, volume II, page 392:

This ‘universitas’ was looked upon [by the Stoics] as a multiplicity of individuals naturally existing without sensory-spatial points of contact as corpora singula et unita (σώματα ἡνωμένα). But these individuals were supposed to be combined in thought into a unity by means of a fictitious juridical bond and named by one word (uni nomini subjecta).

(Also see further discussion in volume III.) Happily, I had our wonderful tutor Cecilia White, who recognized this deeply and navigated us through the mire.

To compensate, I decided to embark on my own research in non-violent leadership. I set out to read the autobiographies of Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King, and Nelson Mandela. In addition to non-violence, another general theme was their insightful and wise political judgement: they were certainly not naïve! I also tried to seek out mentors who are “leaders” (or primus inter pares) in primarily-voluntary organizations such as Chris Goodall, Green Party’s parliamentary candidate for Oxford West and Abingdon, who graduated from Harvard Business School. He asked: Is this command-and-control model the one for the twenty-first century? Do we deepen democracy and make aware the interconnectedness using this model? (When I have the opportunity, I would also like to talk with my friends Bob Adams and Vivian Woodell.)

Eric Hobsbawm talked about organization doing what it always had known to do: for example, early railways adopting the structure of military (The Age of capital, page 235, Folio Society edition):

The alternative to instruction was command. But neither the autocracy of the family nor the small-scale operations of craft industry and merchant business provided much guidance for really large capitalist organisation. So, paradoxically, private enterprise in its most unrestricted and anarchic period tended to fall back on the only available models of large-scale management, the military and bureaucratic. The railway companies, with their pyramid of uniformed and disciplined workers, possessing job security, often promotion by seniority and even pensions, are an extreme example. The appeal of military titles, which occur freely among the early British railway executives and managers of large port undertakings, did not rest on pride in the hierarchies of soldiers and officials, such as the Germans felt, but on the inability of private enterprise as yet to devise a specific form of management for big business. It clearly had advantages from the organisational point of view. Yet it did not generally solve the problem of keeping labour itself at work, loyally, diligently and modestly.

So rather than these models, I checked my source and found a warning against a “king” in 1 Samuel 8:6b–18:

Samuel prayed unto the LORD. And the LORD said unto Samuel, Hearken unto the voice of the people in all that they say unto thee: for they have not rejected thee, but they have rejected me, that I should not reign over them. According to all the works which they have done since the day that I brought them up out of Egypt even unto this day, wherewith they have forsaken me, and served other gods, so do they also unto thee. Now therefore hearken unto their voice: howbeit yet protest solemnly unto them, and shew them the manner of the king that shall reign over them. And Samuel told all the words of the LORD unto the people that asked of him a king. And he said, This will be the manner of the king that shall reign over you: He will take your sons, and appoint them for himself, for his chariots, and to be his horsemen; and some shall run before his chariots. And he will appoint him captains over thousands, and captains over fifties; and will set them to ear his ground, and to reap his harvest, and to make his instruments of war, and instruments of his chariots. And he will take your daughters to be confectionaries, and to be cooks, and to be bakers. And he will take your fields, and your vineyards, and your oliveyards, even the best of them, and give them to his servants. And he will take the tenth of your seed, and of your vineyards, and give to his officers, and to his servants. And he will take your menservants, and your maidservants, and your goodliest young men, and your asses, and put them to his work. He will take the tenth of your sheep: and ye shall be his servants. And ye shall cry out in that day because of your king which ye shall have chosen you; and the LORD will not hear you in that day.

On the other hand, here is Jesus’s model of leadership, as stated by Derek Wensley of Newham United Reformed Church in an article ‘Grow your own leaders’ in Reform magazine, June 2003:

Jesus’ classic strategy for equipping a team of twelve apostles who began a world-changing movement two millennia ago is still valid and effective:

  • I invite you to be with me
  • you observe what I do
  • you do what I do and I observe you
  • you invite others to be with you
  • they observe what you do
  • they do what you do and you observe them
  • they invite others to be with them, who in turn observe what they do and so on

In the course, there was also a strong emphasis on “personal development” and the “educative” duties of the manager, but the “managerial” duties seemed to trump that. I was taught recently (at a vocational enquirers’ conference) that vocation is driven by the Holy Spirit, whereas “recruitment” is driven by the needs of the organization: think “person specification”. Recall that in some other languages than English, “vocational training” would be rendered “formation of calling” (Beruf, formación). This is in stark contrast against word “skills” in the popular vernacular (“skill-set”, “upskilling”). The phrase should be seen as a spiritually-loaded phrase in its full sense.

I suppose the organizations with which I get involved show what I am trying to say: Procedures in the United Reformed Church can be derogatorily called “Swiss”, with its various councils, including the important, frequent, and plenary church councils. In its working, I have learnt from fellow Christians that good “primus inter pares” leadership is about bringing out the “leader” in everybody. The Green Party of England and Wales does not even have a Leader, unique (at times painfully so) among major British parties.

Inasmuch, I am an anarcho-syndicalist. For very good reasons, I hope:

Wherefore thou art no more a servant, but a son; and if a son, then an heir of God through Christ.

Galatians 4:7; or rather, we are not to live as consumers in Wal-Mart/Tesco, but as members of the Co-op. Knowing this, walk in there – into the world – like you own the place! Because your heavenly Father runs the place, and we are all children of God. Now this should be the starting point for thinking about management, leadership, and personal development.

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  1. On August 22, 2007 at 10:12 Gordon said:

    Not sure that most organisations really work well on a command-and-control approach – over-reliance on targets etc is well-documented to distort performance.

  2. On March 21, 2010 at 13:34 Rebecca Nestor said:

    This is very interesting and it’s great to see such a thoughtful critique of Western management ideology. Have you come across integral theory as an alternative approach to leadership that draws on the spiritual element?

    See e.g.,%202005.pdf