Sunday, 9 January 2011

A [Bitter] Pill to Take, Street Level Bureaucracy, and a Flying Friday

One of the first emails I received this week was from my colleague Phil Barker. He was alerting me to the first review of the Mental Health Ethics book posted on Amazon. Excitedly I opened the link to read the review. I had to read the comments three times and was beside myself with annoyance and guilt. The reviewer (Julie who?) considered much of the book to be good EXCEPT for Chapter 5, which she considered convoluted in its presentation. This is one of the chapters in the book that colleagues and I wrote. Despite my Fathers often aired opinion regarding what he feels might be some peoples inability to truly comprehend the articulation of my labyrinthine vocabulary at times, 'convoluted communication' was not something I recognised as being a characteristic of my work. For a few hours I fumed.

However after some self administered UPR pills began to take effect, my first visceral response eventually faded and was replaced by a more positive acknowledgment of the right we should all enjoy to express an opinion. Yesterday, a different review was posted, which provided a more up-lifting counter point to the first, and no, although very tempted, I didn’t post this more positive review!

As the week moved on, the School began to buzz. Colleagues were returning from their break, lectures, seminars and supervisory sessions were taking place and the movement, noise and colour was great to be part of. Walking around the School to talk to colleagues, students and visitors is a great way of feeling the emotional pulse of the School. It gives me and others the opportunity to promote what Michael Lipsky called street level bureaucracy. He argued that: ‘policy implementation in the end comes down to the people who actually implement it’. Although Lipsky’s concept was predicated on those professions, police, fireman and so on who literally walked the streets, the concept is good in other contexts, if recognised as such.

In my experience, our recent Whole School Project embraced the concept, allowing colleagues from across the School at all levels of responsibility and seniority to make a significant contribution to identifying the need for change, generating options to take any changes forward and then leading the change process through implementation. It may well be a concept that the transformational teams in the University might want to embrace as the next stage of the University Transformational Project starts to gather momentum.

I argue that the promotion of Lipsky’s concepts requires Transcendental Leadership. Such leadership draws upon values, attitudes, and behaviours (altruism, hope, faith and vision) to intrinsically motivate others. Such motivation is concerned with giving others a sense of calling (life has meaning, it’s possible to make a difference) and belonging (to be understood and to be appreciated). As individuals gain a sense of self in this way, the impact on their contribution to the group, organisation and community they belong to becomes more positive, creative and effective.

Transcendental leaders do not desire to manipulate others. They are motivated by altruistic love, a sense of wholeness, harmony and well-being produced through care, concern, appreciation of self and an authentic selfless concern for others – and all without a UPR pill in sight!

And Friday was a very interesting, slightly scary and yet ultimately rewarding day. I spent much of the day involved in interviewing candidates for Lecturer posts in Aeroplane Structures and Systems. The University requires that such interview panels are chaired by an independent Head of School. That was me, and I was having to perform way outside of my Comfort Zone.

At times I felt a little like Sefton Goldberg, the ‘hero’ of Howard Jacobson’s first novel, 'Coming from Behind’ published in 1983, such was my fear of not being good enough in what was a very unfamiliar situation. In the end I thought it was a great experience. And I now know considerably more about ‘solid shapes’, ‘shearing forces’, ‘composites’ and ‘the way air flows across exposed surfaces’, than I did before the day! For me the experience reminded me that it is always possible to learn something new.

Much of Jacobson’s work is concerned with the Jewish experience – his latest book, The Finkler Question, (which won the Man Booker Prize in 2010) is a captivating story of exclusion and belonging, justice and love, ageing, wisdom and humanity. It has been described as being funny, furious, and unflinching, a bit like I might describe my week.