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Sex, Leadership and Rock ’n’ Roll (...and the NHS)

Peter Cook is just about to launch his book on leadership. Provocatively titled Sex, Leadership and Rock ’n’ Roll – Leadership Lessons from the Academy of Rock’ it explores Leadership through the metaphor of music. He writes for FHIT as a guest author.

Peter explains the Rock ’n’ Roll analogy and why it is an appropriate model for leadership in times of turbulence and complex change.

book.jpgIn the beginning there were orchestras……

For the last 200 years people have led organisations as though they were orchestras. Obsessed by the need for order and control in the way work should be organised, they created structures into which people were fitted. This meant that one person (the conductor) held the composer’s operating instructions (the score). The performer’s main role was to follow the score accurately and without deviation (improvisation). This analogy has remained attractive for the following reasons:

  • It gave leaders a feeling of absolute control and certainty about the future. This enabled leaders to make plans about long term futures based on extrapolating from the past. Essentially, a top-down planning approach to strategy.
  • It gave followers certainty about their role and required performance levels. Fixed job descriptions and performance management methods provide a rhythm and routine to daily life that lets people know that they are doing what is required of them. Over time, such systems become ‘unconscious structures’ or ‘scores’ that create conformity and level performance to acceptable rather than extraordinary levels.
The orchestra analogy assumes that the conductor (the leader) has the right sheet music, is supremely good at conducting and that the orchestra members are very good at following a pre-planned score. In other words, this analogy is most appropriate for stable bureaucracies. However, it is increasingly out of step with the way that work works, because:
  • The leader usually does not and cannot know everything required for establishing a top down strategy.
  • At best they only have some of the sheet music, or, even worse, might be using an outdated score.

These days you find staff who won’t follow the conductor’s directions. This is more likely if your current staff come from the so-called Generations ‘X’ (X = people born between 1964 and 1981) or ‘Y’, (Y= post 1982). These people are noticeably different from the ‘Baby Boomers’ (pre-1964).

They crave change, challenge, hedonism, speed, instant gratification, progression and freedom. They are individualistic and reject traditional forms of leadership based on the command and control model. In short, they will not be pushed around, even other people think it’s good for them. Moreover, they are very aware of their ‘market value’ and will walk if they think that they are not well catered for.

This is particularly noticeable in some parts of the NHS these days and manifests itself in the so-called ‘War for Talent’ and ‘Employer of Choice’ strategies adopted by many Trusts.

Part two of Peter's entry will be posted soon.

Peter's book “Sex, Leadership and Rock 'n' Roll” can be ordered on Amazon.

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