>> Friday, February 08, 2013
This question has been nagging me for a while:
Do you have to experience something first hand to really understand the situation?
When I first read about Girl Guiding's new CEO Julie Bentley, I was surprised by the lack of "as a Guide" or "working with the such and such Unit" comments. I have no doubt at all that she is totally qualified and experienced to be our CEO, the job description is not one for mere mortals, you need true grit and I'm sure she has it.
But this bothers me:
Overall purpose of job:
To work in partnership with the Chief Guide (Chair of trustees) to:
provide vision and leadership for the whole organisation
develop and deliver the overall strategy for the ongoing development and management of Girlguiding UK.
Can a leader really provide a vision that will work and leadership we can follow, if that leader has never experienced what is being lead?
Julie Bentley is visiting units but she isn't doing the week in week out responsibility. She isn't feeling like she has to climb a mountain each term trying to get Rangers to plan their own meetings and then actually turn up and do what they planned.
She hasn't tried to call a parent in an emergency when the new policy is that you can't hold paper records of your contact details and your internet connection has died.
Each of these things are minor and surmountable, they are just examples of week to week drag: the same girls, the same cold hall, the same 'more fundraising' for the same issues over and over and over. Do you need to feel this pain to really appreciate that it is damned hard sometimes?
Can you really empathise, really understand it and create workable policies without ever having experienced it? Guiding often has 'working parties' and I do believe that the experiences of the Unit Leaders filters through. Our Chief Guide is a Guider herself, as was our founder. I really think that it is a unique experience to be a Guider in Charge, to keep turning up to keep on keeping on. Also known to Scout leaders and other voluntary youth workers.
Do you need to have experienced that to be able to successfully 'provide vision and leadership for the whole organisation'?
This isn't just about Guiding. What about Government? Should the Secretary of State for Health have any idea about how a hospital runs. Try this for Jeremy Hunt's experience:
"After university Hunt worked for a short period of time as a management consultant, and then decided to pursue life as an English language teacher in Japan. Whilst living in Japan he became a proficient speaker of the Japanese language and enthusiast of modern Japanese and other east Asian cultures.
On his return to Britain he tried his hand at a number of different entrepreneurial business ventures, including a failed attempt to export marmalade to Japan. Hunt joined Profile PR, a public relations agency specialising in IT which he co-founded with Mike Elms, a childhood friend. With clients such as BT, Bull Integris, and Zetafax Profile did well during the IT boom of the mid-1990s."
I'm not feeling overly confident here about my NHS being in safe hands.
Does it matter? I've always felt that success is more about the cognitive intelligence and core ability of a person than of their actual qualifications and indeed, experience. But surely there has to be an element of understanding the nitty gritty to truly lead successfully.
I am a firm believer in 'back to the shop floor' not for one visit, or even multiple visits but for a solid amount of time, in the same place and getting your hands dirty. In some companies this could be almost impossible as the shop floor varies so widely but for some companies it's not so hard.
And for Girl Guiding it's a bit of a no brainer, you've just got to have the keys to a cold church hall, in your work coat pocket as you battle the traffic so you aren't late, to feel your grumbling tummy whilst you listen to grumbling Rangers and then laugh as they start to tell you a story about their Young Leader night and how much their Brownies loved it. Perhaps you have a little Brownies looking up at you wide eyed with pride as they have just lit their first ever candle, maybe it's a little bouncy Rainbow so excited just to be there......
....for Girl Guiding it's definitely a no brainer, Julie Bentley needs to run a Guide unit for a solid term. If she can come out a Guide meeting after a term of teen hormones, sulking, stooping, chewing Guides with her head still held high....
then "And—which is more—you’ll be a man, my son!"
Or even better you'll be a Guider, my love.