Implications of Futures Studies for Business, Organisation, Management and Leadership. Council for Excellence in Management and Leadership (Department of Trade & Industry, 2000)


This research study was one of two that William Tate undertook for the government-sponsored Council for Excellence in Management and Leadership (CEML, 2002). The material was rich and valuable, but there were stumbling blocks. In particular, he considered CEML’s terms of reference to be flawed. The popular but erroneous assumption was that an organisation’s interest in leadership and in improving leadership could be equated with the quality, volume, and level of a company’s commitment to, and expenditure on, leadership development. Quoting from the launch publicity: ‘The Council for Excellence in Management and Leadership has been set up … to ensure that the UK is able to develop the managers and leaders of the future to match the best in the world.’

Why should that equation be assumed? It closes the door on how leadership actually comes about in organisations. It neglects how leadership potential, energy and goodwill is constrained and wasted in and by those organisations. It disregards the organisation’s leadership culture. It takes no account of what is going on around and between managers – in their contextual surroundings, in their system.

This politically convenient assumption, at a stroke, threw away the chance to draw attention to an important domain (i.e. the inside of each unique organisation) where the real effectiveness of applied management and leadership is determined. It let organisations off the hook in terms of needing to examine themselves and their leadership culture, policies and processes; in other words, how management and leadership works in their organisations, and how performance is a function of the organisation system itself.

Tate stuck to his guns and argued that there was such a thing as a level and form of leadership that needed to be taken into account that lay beyond the individual manager and even beyond collective leadership teams. He stated this higher level to be where leadership could be thought of as a property of the organisation. But he was unable to persuade the research project supervisor. He chose to attach an appendix to his report entitled ‘Management’s Relationship with Development’. It includes this passage:

Not all management and manager shortcomings are caused by an earlier lack of development, or are best solved by development. A handful of examples of poor management and leadership at the Millennium Dome, BNFL and British Biotech make the point. The search for excellence in management and leadership is more than a search for development solutions.

To bring about wholesale improvement in management requires interventions at a systemic level. This means pulling holistically on several levers at once, one of which may indeed be a focus on managerial talent. This may be achieved through improved hiring, assigning, developing, utilising, and even exiting (recent cases of negligence in NHS surgery and pathology remind us that the profession may be enhanced by acting with more resolve upon exiting!). The fullness of development interventions can take place at all points along this spectrum.

The development of a profession is not synonymous with the development of individuals who work in it. Incompetence aside, excelling at the latter can never deliver the former. The development of individuals is thus a mix of both generic development of individual competence at both a foundation and advanced level, but is also one element in a wider programme of organisational change and improvement. The people-organisation connections are important. Or put another way: Mind the Gap!