Magazine article Management Today

IN MY OPINION: Chartered Management Institute

Magazine article Management Today

IN MY OPINION: Chartered Management Institute

Article excerpt

Chartered Management Institute companion Andrew Kakabadse, deputy director of Cranfield, highlights the need for unity of purpose at the top

Too often over the past year, details of the expedited departures of chief executives of multinationals have filled the business pages.

At the end of 2003, the spotlight was on Philip Condit, who abruptly resigned as chairman and chief executive of Boeing in early December.

A brilliant engineer with a compulsive discipline for project completion and a sophisticated eye for design, Condit faces wide-ranging accusations from being late and overshooting budgets to supposed inappropriate conduct relating to bid tendering at the Pentagon.

However, Business Week has questioned whether Condit has been made the fall guy at a time when commercial aviation is facing a downturn. There is noticeably no mention of a strong team supporting Condit. Instead, accusations of a weak board and the dismissal of key executives for supposed poor performance spring to the surface. So was Condit a poor appointment - an issue that should have been confronted earlier by the board - or a 'lone warrior' shouldering too much responsibility, or both?

Whatever the truth, research at Cranfield School of Management seriously questions the strong man (or woman) model of leadership. Boeing's acquisition and questionable integration of McDonald Douglas, competition from the likes of Airbus and Lockheed Martin, and the need to be zealously attentive to costs are complexities that would elude the capability of any one person.

Emerging evidence suggests that the pulling together of key executives responsible for the critical parts of the business is fundamental to success.

Yet pulling people together is no easy matter. The Cranfield data highlights that 33% of senior executives across thousands of organisations spanning 17 countries hold fundamentally different views concerning the vision, shape, philosophy and sustainability of the enterprise.

That is not the whole story. The quality of debate at senior levels is also found to be wanting. On average, 66% of top teams experience discussion and debate as inhibitive, to the point where critical concerns are not discussed but are allowed to fester. Such issues are deemed 'too sensitive to raise'. Chinese and top Japanese executives emerge as most likely to suppress dialogue, followed by UK health service directors, senior civil servants in the Australian public service, and Irish, Spanish, Austrian and American senior private-sector executives.

Ironically, where dialogue is poor, the vision for the future may well be firmly shared by the members of the top team. Yet the inability to translate vision and aspiration into practical, well-managed steps can mean that known challenges are not confronted. The inability to realise synergies across the enterprise is compounded by neglect of a mounting number of simple and transactional managerial concerns, which ultimately sap the corporation's resources and the morale of its management. …

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