The atomisation of leadership – the real cost of austerity?

Apr 9, 2024

Mark Rogers

Local Government is a beautiful thing. (I am equally smitten with Regional Government, too – one of my present temporary homes.) It has been in and out of my life for twenty-five years now and, if you consider my time in teaching, then you can ratchet that up to forty as I always worked in local authority/community schools.

But its beauty is challenged. By an outmoded, regressive, ridiculously complicated and fragmented funding system. By a second decade of austerity more profoundly characterised by its wicked combination of rising demand, complexity and cost, but seriously lagging revenues. By the fast-changing times of which AI, populism and growing intolerance are just some of the signifiers. And in this complexity our leaders – elected and appointed – are identifying new pressures that are stretching the extent to which their experiences, expertise and the prevailing leadership orthodoxies are enabling them to get the job done.

I have heard an increasingly frequent refrain from senior leaders across sectors and systems – not just in Local Government – that this new and constantly evolving set of pressures is more and more frequently manifesting in a tendency to the atomisation of leadership, both in organisations and places. Put simply, as saving money and still making a positive difference to communities passes through this latest phase of complexity, an almost inevitable but worrying human response is becoming more likely – “just let me alone to deal with it!”. As in Physics, so with Psychology it seems – there is a point that is reached when the demands are so numerous and/or profound that, to avoid an explosion, we just want to be left alone to deal with things.

More and more, the Centre is hearing about new challenges to collective, collaborative, ‘corporate’ endeavour. Help is not always seen as help anymore. Instead, it can unintentionally present as a question about trust; or as interference; or even control. And, in the most extreme of examples, we know where this ends up: with leadership’s most invidious and deadliest of characteristics presenting themselves – heroism and hubris.

So, here at the Centre, we want to take what we’re noticing and ask you if you are seeing this too – and what else is manifesting itself? And we want to come alongside you to learn from you, support the deepening of your insight and fold into that our own learning garnered from the work we are doing across a range of local and regional government organisations and places. Our philosophy and practice are deeply rooted in adaptive leadership and the complexity it seeks to responds to. We are, therefore, committed to doing all that we can to serve, support and challenge the multiple beauties that form Local Government.

Mark Rogers, CEO of the Leadership Centre


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