A leader not a manager

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Sustaining a weekly blog on the Labour Party’s existential crisis is a difficult task: events are moving rapidly even here in far-distant rural Norfolk. In our constituency party committed people on both sides of the divide are determined to get their voice heard and to ensure that their views prevail. I am producing this blog edition at a time when there is a stand-off between the Parliamentary Labour Party, who have despaired of Jeremy Corbyn’s capabilities and approach, and many supporters in the country who are infatuated with his leadership.

For several decades, I taught human resource development on a part-time basis at various colleges and universities. In one of my standard topics I tried to engage the students in a discussion on the difference between leadership and management. I would set this as an essay topic and the more organised students would reproduce the following from one of my PowerPoint Slides: ‘The term ‘leadership’ is often used almost interchangeably with ‘management’, but leadership is different: whereas management is about rational thinking, leadership appeals more to the emotions’.

There are many theories of leadership and again I refer back to my old lecture slides. Two observations were of particular relevance. First that leadership is situational: the emotional appeal depends on the context. Secondly that leaders need followers: you are only a good leader if you can attract and retain followers who will offer commitment and support during bad as well as good times. Using this second observation Jeremy Corbyn is indeed effective. He is acquiring devoted supporters, but, and this is an important but, those supporters are interested in establishing a social pressure group, not a Parliamentary opposition, let alone developing a credible government.

Another slide in my standard lecture reproduced the national occupational standards for management that were in force at the time. Four component elements of management were listed: managing operations; managing finance; managing people; managing information. I don’t think I am doing him an injustice when I say that Jeremy Corbyn has not the slightest interest in management and probably doesn’t recognise it as important in any way. It is evident that his communication with those who he should see as team members – his shadow cabinet – has been casual to a degree. Reorganisations have been shambolic. Probably the worst example was the appointment of Ken Livingstone (unwisely pulled out of obscurity) as joint chair of the defence review without notifying his Shadow spokesperson, Maria Eagle in advance.

To his supporters, Corbyn’s sincerity and commitment, coupled with his ability, developed over years of practice, to rally meetings of the already committed, inspires great loyalty. They can turn a blind eye to his glaring deficiencies or ascribe them to unfair media coverage, plotting Blairites; even more disturbingly they can dismiss them as of no consequence. To his detractors, Jeremy Corbyn’s limitations and intransigence, and lack of even the most basic management competence, led to the overwhelming and unprecedented no-confidence vote from people who work with him most closely.

As I am writing this piece there are rumours of an attempt to broker a settlement. This will not work. Labour as a social pressure group and Labour as a potential party of government are wholly different objectives; they cannot be reconciled.

4 thoughts on “A leader not a manager

  1. Hello leftyoldman

    Despite the fact you blog from North Norfolk you seem to have the outlook of the Westminster bubble.

    Be aware that supporters are not “infatuated” with Jeremy Corbyn and it is simplistic to dismiss their wishes so casually. They just support him because he stands for some change in the political setup of this country. If politicians cannot see this country is crying out for a shake-up in the complacency of the political establishment we cannot make any progress. If people could see any progress being made to reform politics in this country, through such examples as PR, perhaps we could have a more measured approach. I see nothing being offered by the Labour right.

    Perhaps Corbyn has made some “mistakes” of leadership and management – but it would be impossible not to with the scrutiny and lack of discipline in the behaviour of the people he is leading. You make a great deal of the difference between leadership and management but you miss out that leadership is a two way process that is formed by the leader and the led. It is not possible to lead unless you get some cooperation and good will. And leaders grow into their leadership role as the unruly get in line.

    As long as the Labour right do not appreciate what is driving Jeremy Corbyn’s support they will continue to divide the party.


    • John, you make at least one of Martyn’s points for him, picking up the mood music (“infatuated”) and ignoring his substantive points. In this respect Martyn has failed to show leadership to you, just as Jeremy Corbyn seems incapable of showing leadership to his parliamentary colleagues, not least because he doesn’t share their goals. And if you can’t lead the PLP, far less the Opposition, how can you ever aspire to lead the government and the country?


      • Kenneth

        I do not understand your assertion that I make one or any of Martyn’s points for him. Presumably you mean that he stated somewhere that people ignore the substantive points? I can see that nowhere in Martyn’s blog and anyway I addressed one of his most substantive points about leadership.

        In turn, though, you do make my point for me that the anti-Corbyn faction tend to not listen to what is being said and jump to conclusions about what people are saying. My point about criticising the use of the word “infatuation” is that it is obviously intended to be pejorative and dismissive about why people support Corbyn’s policies. You compound this by demoting it to “mood music” and saying I ignore the points. The irony is you are ignoring what I am saying and have not addressed any of my points.

        What I am complaining about is this drive to polarise the debate and demonise Corbyn, whatever the cost, whatever the damage to the Labour party and however much it alienates the membership.

        You and Martyn can regret Corbyn’s lack of leadership as much as you like.But I have seen absolutely no evidence that the Labour right have any plan, any ideas or even a person in mind who is any more likely to be able to lead the whole party than Corbyn. Until they can do that they are just self indulgently destroying the party.


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