Friday, March 16, 2018

From Analysis to Paralysis

For the past two years I have to deal with academics, some of whom are actually quite world renowned. Many have reinforced this very prejudice of mine: inability to add one plus one.

Of course, I am just dramatizing with this metaphor. What I am trying to say is simply this: They don’t seem to be able to do simple things! They get too bogged down by the ghosts they see in everything.

I was trying to be polite when I allowed an academic to take a look at a concept that I was working on. Being trained by people from the University of Hard-knocks, my approach has always been this: Firm up your objectives and formulate a broad-based strategy to achieve them. Do things incrementally and tweak as one goes along.

This academic wanted me to satisfy him with DETAILS, DETAILS, and DETAILS. Obviously despite his credentials, he has not fully understood the Carl von Clausewitz who, in his classic On War, simply argues that the moment you step into the battlefield, things are unlikely to work out the way you have planned on paper. You need to be vigilant and act and react according to situations. No wonder it is often said that business school professors are not entrepreneurial materials!

I wrote him off without any reservation! (How arrogant I can be!)

The Star Cruises, one of the world’s leading cruise lines, was founded by the late Tan Sri Lim Goh Tong of the Genting fame. I played a small part in its inception. I was posted to Athens to pursue a casino licence and we were almost on the edge of clinching one when the incumbent government was voted out of the office. He decided to pull out of the race. An offer came through: two one-year old luxury ships for only half of the actual cost. He bought them without going through all the feasibility studies. The rest is history. Today the Star Cruises also controls the Norwegian Cruise Lines, if I am not mistaken.

Too much analysis will only lead to paralysis! How wise the saying is!

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Boao, An International Forum?

The Boao Forum is supposed to be China’s Davos; so it claims!

But the organisers are mostly of Third Word materials.

I was registering my attendance for their April 8-12 do.

I am half literate in Chinese. After the registration fee of USD7,500 had been paid, I was directed to a website to book my room in designated hotels. Without paying attention to the in-out dates, I promptly paid up. That’s where nightmare began. I didn’t know it was for April 9th in and April 11th out. But the conference is from April 8-12! I tried to change the dates, but there was no feature in the link for me to do. I could not do anything and decided to wait for the Lunar New Year to be over before I tried to contact the secretariat.

I wrote and they promptly replied that it could be done. BUT IT COULD NOT BE DONE! I asked a colleague to telephone them. Indeed, it could not be done on line as advised. It involved the cancellation of the existing booking and making a fresh one; even then they had to fix something before I could effect the booking. Done finally! But I am just wondering if I don’t have a colleague who could speak with them in Chinese! Isn’t this supposed to be an international do?

The next frustration: I need a visa to go to China. I thought I had everything ready – Invitation Letter, Hotel Confirmation and Air Tickets. My wife took it to the China Visa office.

Where is the chop?

What chop?

The host’s chop!

Another round of calling the secretariat…

No one answered from the English-speaking desk. I dialed again and spoke to the Chinese desk. Done!

How do those non-Chinese speaking guests cope?

Friday, March 9, 2018

Distributed Leadership – Emperor’s New Clothes?

I had read much about Leadership and Leaders since my business school days, but I had not come to know this term Distributed Leadership until I got involved with The HEAD Foundation, which is an organisation devoted to promoting good causes in Human Capital and Education in Asia, two years ago. Be that as it may, when I heard it for the first time, I could more or less figure out that the term has had something to do with a form of leadership that is distributed across the rank and file in an organisation. I was happy to leave my understanding that way.

Until I listened to a talk given by a distinguished academic in a lecture in Malaysia recently!

I can understand his rationale in promoting “distributed leadership” in schools but I am not convinced that it is something fundamentally different from those concepts that I am already quite conversant about. Neither am I convinced that it is a form that will answer schools’ need.

Principals and heads of subjects and functions constitute the leadership in schools. They have to exercise leadership in the context of policies which have been laid out by the government. There isn’t much they can do in this area.

But there are still good schools and bad schools. And you can always tell who is a good principal from one whose leadership leaves much to be desired. Ditto the heads of subjects and functions.

A good principal is one to whom everyone would look up to – from students to teachers and general staff. His or her good leadership is “written” all over the school – from upkeep to discipline to examination results. He or she knows how to delegate duties and responsibilities. School leadership is all about passion for the job, ability to motivate and traits to emulate – commonsense, exemplariness, courage, wisdom, foresight and vision and what-have-you. He or she also knows when to be firm and make difficult decisions. More often than not, reputation precedes presence, even to the bureaucrats from the ministry or department that directly supervises the school and to the parents and visitors.

This new concept argues that leadership in schools can be better exercised if it is distributed across the ranks. Certainly, but this form of leadership is only skin deep – functional, transactional or instructional rather than inspirational or transformational. It is a concept that is basically descriptive rather than prescriptive in utility.

All the leadership knowledge does not a leader make.