Professor Keith McLay, Pro Vice-Chancellor and Dean of the College of Arts, Humanities and Education at the University of Derby

A global crisis, namely the Covid-19 pandemic, has led to reflections and ruminations on what constitutes effective leadership. There have been many examples of creativity, ingenuity and notably resilience at a local level, particularly within key sectors such as healthcare and the food supply chain, but inevitably attention has primarily focused upon prime ministers, presidents and governments. 

Conscious of that focus, executives across the globe have adopted the daily news briefing as a demonstration of resolute leadership and evidence of the government leading its people through the crisis.

In Britain viewing figures suggest that, albeit in varying degrees, we have become captured by the 5 pm (weekdays) 4 pm (weekends) briefing. The format has remained stable throughout the pandemic: a government minister, flanked by either one or two experts (typically scientists or medical officers or public health officials, although on one occasion eye brows were momentarily raised when the Chief of the Defence Staff, General Sir Nick Carter, pitched up in combat fatigues), provides an opening statement followed by one of the experts running through a now familiar slide deck on the numbers associated with the suppression of the virus and then finished off by a Q&A with journalists. 

The hour or so is slick, systematic and ruthlessly dedicated to the numbers and percentages: the number of deaths, the infection rate, the percentage of public transport use, the number of hospital admissions, the comparability of numbers across the globe and so on.

Taking the analytical approach

There are benefits of accountability and transparency in this approach but history causes us pause for thought as to whether it constitutes effective leadership. 

Listening to the news conferences one cannot help but think back to the approach and leadership of Robert S McNamara, US Defence Secretary, 1961-1968, during Presidents Kennedy’s and Johnson’s administrations when the US involvement in the Vietnam War conspicuously intensified. 

McNamara arrived at the Pentagon at the beginning of Kennedy’s presidency from the Ford Motor Company, where he had been its first President from outwith the Ford family, and he brought with him a preference for a quantitative and systems analysis approach to policy and leadership. 

As the US became increasingly bogged down in Vietnam, with the committal of more and more troops, and determined to prevent the country’s fall to the Communist Viet Cong, McNamara become a familiar sight to Americans outlining his computer modelling, force requirement algorithms and number trends. 

The KIA acronym (killed in action) became the administration’s grisly benchmark and leitmotif which explained, according to McNamara, the path to victory.

It was not enough.  McNamara’s data might have been robust and it provided a measure of the war’s progress, but it did little to secure and retain support of the American people or indeed of service personnel. It ignored the importance of emotional intelligence, of humanity and of a purposeful vision on the other side. 

Oratory with humanity

Unsurprisingly, many Americans felt keenly the absence of the intimate crisis leadership of an Abraham Lincoln or a Franklin D Roosevelt; orators who could provide leadership not immersed exclusively in the data, the numbers and the percentages, but who could paint a picture of a better end after the war. 

Lincoln, commemorating the Battle of Gettysburg, 1-3 July 1863, at which with upwards of 28,000 casualties racked up the largest loss of life in one battle during the American Civil War, did not focus in his address on the numbers and statistics but rather immediately appealed to the nation’s history as “…conceived in Liberty…” and offered a peroration of purpose that after the war there would be a “new birth of freedom”. 

Similarly, FDR in his first inaugural speech in March 1933 at the height of the Great Depression with legions of Americans out of work and bankruptcies writ large across the country, eschewed econometrics and an analysis of the country’s economy and instead caught the zeitgeist of the restoration of confidence in his line: “…the only thing we have to fear is fear itself —nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyses needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.” Like Lincoln, FDR’s leadership was focused on instilling belief.

Recognising endeavour

There are many other instances of such approaches to crisis leadership: McNamara, Lincoln and FDR simply provide a stark comparison. For Britain, Churchill’s oratory during the Second World War, whether it be his offering of “blood, sweat and tears” on becoming Prime Minister or recognising the contribution of the airmen during the Battle of Britain not through data but endeavour – “never in the field of human conflict was so much offered by so few”- provide a similar, if perhaps (now) hackneyed, example.

The government might believe the daily news briefing with its data download, its recording of facts, figures and percentages as an exemplar of leadership demonstrating progress in resolving the Covid-19 pandemic. 

History, however, suggests that this approach is partial; it is leadership by ledger, which has its place but ultimately falls short in convincing its audience. 

Government ministers would do well to consider those leaders from history whose insight into leadership provides a vision and purpose to a better end which captures the imagination and resolve of the people whom they seek to lead.

Professor Keith McLay, Pro Vice-Chancellor and Dean of the College of Arts, Humanities and Education at the University of Derby

You may also be interested in these articles:

Sponsored Video

Advertisers

Upcoming FE Events

Advertiser Skyscrapers

Latest Education News

Further Education News

The FE News Channel gives you the latest education news and updates on emerging education strategies and the #FutureofEducation and the #FutureofWork.

Providing trustworthy and positive Further Education news and views since 2003, we are a digital news channel with a mixture of written word articles, podcasts and videos. Our specialisation is providing you with a mixture of the latest education news, our stance is always positive, sector building and sharing different perspectives and views from thought leaders, to provide you with a think tank of new ideas and solutions to bring the education sector together and come up with new innovative solutions and ideas.

FE News publish exclusive peer to peer thought leadership articles from our feature writers, as well as user generated content across our network of over 3000 Newsrooms, offering multiple sources of the latest education news across the Education and Employability sectors.

FE News also broadcast live events, podcasts with leading experts and thought leaders, webinars, video interviews and Further Education news bulletins so you receive the latest developments in Skills News and across the Apprenticeship, Further Education and Employability sectors.

Every week FE News has over 200 articles and new pieces of content per week. We are a news channel providing the latest Further Education News, giving insight from multiple sources on the latest education policy developments, latest strategies, through to our thought leaders who provide blue sky thinking strategy, best practice and innovation to help look into the future developments for education and the future of work.

In May 2020, FE News had over 120,000 unique visitors according to Google Analytics and over 200 new pieces of news content every week, from thought leadership articles, to the latest education news via written word, podcasts, video to press releases from across the sector.

We thought it would be helpful to explain how we tier our latest education news content and how you can get involved and understand how you can read the latest daily Further Education news and how we structure our FE Week of content:

Main Features

Our main features are exclusive and are thought leadership articles and blue sky thinking with experts writing peer to peer news articles about the future of education and the future of work. The focus is solution led thought leadership, sharing best practice, innovation and emerging strategy. These are often articles about the future of education and the future of work, they often then create future education news articles. We limit our main features to a maximum of 20 per week, as they are often about new concepts and new thought processes. Our main features are also exclusive articles responding to the latest education news, maybe an insight from an expert into a policy announcement or response to an education think tank report or a white paper.

FE Voices

FE Voices was originally set up as a section on FE News to give a voice back to the sector. As we now have over 3,000 newsrooms and contributors, FE Voices are usually thought leadership articles, they don’t necessarily have to be exclusive, but usually are, they are slightly shorter than Main Features. FE Voices can include more mixed media with the Further Education News articles, such as embedded podcasts and videos. Our sector response articles asking for different comments and opinions to education policy announcements or responding to a report of white paper are usually held in the FE Voices section. If we have a live podcast in an evening or a radio show such as SkillsWorldLive radio show, the next morning we place the FE podcast recording in the FE Voices section.

Sector News

In sector news we have a blend of content from Press Releases, education resources, reports, education research, white papers from a range of contributors. We have a lot of positive education news articles from colleges, awarding organisations and Apprenticeship Training Providers, press releases from DfE to Think Tanks giving the overview of a report, through to helpful resources to help you with delivering education strategies to your learners and students.

Podcasts

We have a range of education podcasts on FE News, from hour long full production FE podcasts such as SkillsWorldLive in conjunction with the Federation of Awarding Bodies, to weekly podcasts from experts and thought leaders, providing advice and guidance to leaders. FE News also record podcasts at conferences and events, giving you one on one podcasts with education and skills experts on the latest strategies and developments.

We have over 150 education podcasts on FE News, ranging from EdTech podcasts with experts discussing Education 4.0 and how technology is complimenting and transforming education, to podcasts with experts discussing education research, the future of work, how to develop skills systems for jobs of the future to interviews with the Apprenticeship and Skills Minister.

We record our own exclusive FE News podcasts, work in conjunction with sector partners such as FAB to create weekly podcasts and daily education podcasts, through to working with sector leaders creating exclusive education news podcasts.

Education Video Interviews

FE News have over 700 FE Video interviews and have been recording education video interviews with experts for over 12 years. These are usually vox pop video interviews with experts across education and work, discussing blue sky thinking ideas and views about the future of education and work.

Events

FE News has a free events calendar to check out the latest conferences, webinars and events to keep up to date with the latest education news and strategies.

FE Newsrooms

The FE Newsroom is home to your content if you are a FE News contributor. It also help the audience develop relationship with either you as an individual or your organisation as they can click through and ‘box set’ consume all of your previous thought leadership articles, latest education news press releases, videos and education podcasts.

Do you want to contribute, share your ideas or vision or share a press release?

If you want to write a thought leadership article, share your ideas and vision for the future of education or the future of work, write a press release sharing the latest education news or contribute to a podcast, first of all you need to set up a FE Newsroom login (which is free): once the team have approved your newsroom (all content, newsrooms are all approved by a member of the FE News team- no robots are used in this process!), you can then start adding content (again all articles, videos and podcasts are all approved by the FE News editorial team before they go live on FE News). As all newsrooms and content are approved by the FE News team, there will be a slight delay on the team being able to review and approve content.

 RSS IconRSS Feed Selection Page