Monday, 20 February 2012

Predicting leadership young, and a cultural case study

More from the DOP 2012 conference, this time from the pen of Jon Sutton, Managing Editor of The Psychologist and the Digest.
Could C. Moustaka and colleagues, including Ian Bushnell at the University of Glasgow, be pioneering a new field of lifespan occupational psychology? Their poster asked ‘Leadership starts young: Do attachment style, personality and narcissism predict emergent leadership?’ Assessing late primary and early secondary school children during a visit to a science centre, the authors found that extraversion was the best single personality correlate of leadership, but that this was supported by experiences that may well include effective attachment. Aspects of so-called ‘narcissistic performance’, such as ‘I am very good at making other people believe what I want them to believe’, were associated with leadership performance on a ‘build a tower’ task.

‘Culture eats strategy for breakfast: the tale of a nomadic storyteller’ was the intriguing title of a talk from Trixy Alberga, Head of Culture Change at the Highways Agency. Based on a comment made to her, the title reflected the belief that ‘culture is more powerful than strategy, since it reveals how things are actually done, whether or not this was intended’.

The Highways Agency, part of the Department for Transport, promotes the more effective use of the strategic road network by addressing the causes of congestion and unreliability. A large workforce, with mixed backgrounds including culture and preferences brought from previous organisations with powerful cultures, led to clear challenges for Alberga. She reported that engagement scores had suggested there is real room for improvement, especially in leadership at all levels; there were persistent rumours and some data about behaviours regarding diversity; and a greater number of grievances, complaints and sickness than desirable.

Alberga recounted her struggle to tackle the ‘multitude of conflicting stories’ around the organisation’s culture and systems. In attempting to agree a new vision, Alberga has worked towards ‘one story to unite all’. The result – ‘we take professional pride in keeping our roads moving safely’ – is currently the subject of debate, but it was fascinating to hear Alberga describe the occupational psychology behind the choice of each word. Supporting this was a range of interventions including a diary study of how people actually feel about the communications they receive; a ‘back to the floor’ scheme for senior management; and new performance data to include cultural features. ‘Still talking’, concluded Alberga, and these stories from someone making sense of a major and complex organisation were well worth hearing.

1 comment:

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