Lee has spoken of an inadequate ‘performance ethic’ in Irish life and argues that people are rewarded for their possessions, notably land, jobs, education and wealth, rather than for their performance or enterprise. Guiomard posits that this attitude helps to explain the lack of enterprise and of an entrepreneurial class, arguing that the economy rewards unproductive behaviour more favourably (1995, p.41). The implication that rewards are offered on the basis of ascription rather than achievement, may have characterised Irish attitudes to performance in the past, notably in the public sector, which is the target of much of Guiomard’s criticism. Yet, there is a suggestion, if one considers the findings of the GLOBE study, that the respondents recognise the need for a more performance-oriented society and there is evidence that Ireland in the late 90s has become more performance-focused, as attested by the emergence of the Celtic Tiger. There has been a growth in performance management type systems in work organisations, a trend which is expected to continue in order to facilitate labour market flexibility.
The ‘as is’ score for p erformance orientation stands at a moderate 4.36, ranking Ireland at 15/61 in the top quartile of countries. The value for performance orientation records a significantly higher 5.98, but the comparative rank drops to 30/61, suggesting that many other countries are also concerned to become more performance-oriented. Factors which have contributed to the desire for increased performance orientation include the country’s continued economic development, the shift from an inward to outward focused policy, membership of the European Union, the number of foreign direct investment firms located in Ireland and the global economic environment. In 1985 Ireland became a net exporter for the first time. This outward looking perspective stresses the need to continue to be competitive on a global level, hence the recognition by the Irish sample of the necessity to increase performance orientation in the face of ever strengthening competition. In The Financial Times (26 May 1995), Ireland was recorded as having a productivity record that ‘would be the envy of the Germans, and a balance of payments surplus in line with Switzerland and Japan’. Notwithstanding the recognition that transfer pricing can distort national figures in a small economy (Stewart 1997), there is a strong consensus that Ireland is growing fast. Maintaining the level of performance and growth will be the challenge of the future.
Hofstede categorised Ireland as low on the uncertainty avoidance scale. The GLOBE findings indicate that we have become more risk averse (4.30 ‘as is’, rank 23/61) and desire to become less so (4.02 ‘as should be’, rank 49/61). It is again possible to attribute this belief to the extent of economic and social change since Hofstede’s study. Reference has also been made in Section 1.3 to the fact that as societies mature, they become better at managing uncertainty. A number of examples have been given in respect of Ireland’s attempts to manage uncertainty through better planning and management. Macro-economic planning, the emergence of the ‘social partnership’ to address the problems of unemployment and inflation in the 1980s and early 1990s, improved educational policies linked to future prosperity and building a culture of compliance regarding adherence to a variety of rules and regulations for the good of the country and its citizens are all examples. The welfare system provides a safety net for less privileged members of society although it has been criticised in some quarters for propagating a dependency culture (Guiomard 1995). Additionally, people now insure their lives and possessions more comprehensively against risk, which also ties in with the move to a greater future orientation. In comparison with other countries, Ireland has described as ‘lightly regulated environment’ with respect to employment regulation and benefits (Sedgwick, Noble Lownes 1998).
Another dimension which might be considered as a good example of uncertainty avoidance is the high percentage of private house ownership in Ireland. Indeed, owner-occupation accounts for some 80% of all housing, the highest figure in any European country. The EU average in 1996 was 56%, with 38% in Germany, 47% in the Netherlands and 43% in Sweden (Balchin 1996). Home ownership has always been seen as a sign of personal security which, in the past, was very important in Ireland with our legacy of foreign landlords. This trend also exists within the United Kingdom, where historically it had its roots in the link between property ownership and the right to vote (Paxman 1998, p.122). Whilst the aspiration to own one’s own home may well continue into the next millennium, soaring real estate prices will ensure that for many it will remain unfulfilled in spite of steps taken by the government to try to safeguard what many would consider to be a personal right.
By the same token, opportunism, the testing of boundaries and risk taking continue to permeate Irish life. Recently, Ireland’s Objective 1 structural funding from the EU was threatened by the country’s rapid economic development, which meant that it would no longer qualify for maximum assistance. In an attempt to secure continued Objective 1 funding, the government took the step of dividing the country into regions, a move which was not predicated on any ideological adherence to the goal of decentralisation. Rather, it was motivated solely by the prospect of losing out financially.
Ireland is not a particularly bureaucratic country; much value is still attached to the notion of a word of mouth culture, although the indispensability of written documentation both in the workplace and in dealing with public institutions has gained in importance as the country has evolved socially and economically. Nonetheless, off-the-record conversations do remain intrinsic to how we communicate with each other, together with subtle signalling known as ‘nodding and winking’ which has close ties to the clientelist approach and is much more akin to Hall’s (1976) high context communication. Keeping situations open-ended, providing loop-holes, bending rules (cf. Section 1.3), avoiding closure are mechanisms often used to manage uncertainty at the individual level. For instance, at a critical board meeting in Ireland, the actual meeting is often the formal conclusion to many informal messages and exchanges. The critical agenda setting and networking will have taken place earlier.
Possibly because of the size of the country, people may feel that they can manage the risk and that it can be negotiated. The ‘as should be’ scale may indicate a sense of constraint which is imposed by increased regulation and structure. However, such a view is changing rapidly in the era of freedom of information and increased accountability. It is interesting to juxtapose the risk avoidance scale alongside that of future orientation. Irish people, according to the GLOBE study, clearly wish to be more future-oriented which implies greater emphasis on planning and with this a reduction of risk.
Assertiveness refers to the degree to which individuals in a society are allowed to be aggressive, dominant and the opposite, non-assertiveness, refers to non-confrontational, non-dominant social relationships. A mean score of 4.08 suggests that Ireland is neither assertive nor non-assertive. The ‘as is’ and ‘as should be’ scales for assertiveness indicate that Irish people wish to reduce this dimension from an already moderate level (4.08 ‘as is’, 3.99 ‘as should be’). Ireland’s communication has a strong basis in the oral tradition with evidence of recourse to metaphor, euphemism and legend and is ‘particularly suited to the expression of ambivalence and ambiguity’ (Bourke 1999, p.206). A study of face-to-face negotiation illustrates that confrontation is not valued (Martin1998). Issues will not be dealt with head-on. Indeed, the nature of communication again points to the fact that Ireland may have more in common with high-context cultures (Hall 1976) on the basis of the implicit knowledge which the participants in an interaction are assumed to possess. Often what is not said, is more important than what is said and an ability to read between the lines is essential. V. Kenny (1985) writing from a construct theory perspective elaborates on social relations in Ireland. He talks of social withdrawal by which he means superficial compliance, indirect communication, the lack of self-revelation and the elaboration of secret worlds. These can result in such behaviours as understatement, evasiveness, the avoidance of conflict and self-exhibition and passive aggression. Evidence of this was found in the focus groups when Irish managers spoke of how they relate to information and behave at meetings by comparison with their counterparts in the U.S. This can be disconcerting for people who speak the same language as us, but do not use language in the same way, including our closest neighbours within the British Isles.
Before concluding on the societal dimensions, it is useful to comment on the two sectors in which the data were collected. A high degree of consensus exists among the middle managers from both the food processing and financial services sectors for Irish society to become more future, performance and humane-oriented. Interestingly, the food sector middle managers place more emphasis on performance, whilst the financial sector managers place emphasis on the future. Both sectors recognise the need for greater gender equality, although this emerges more clearly from the financial services industry where some 50% of employees are female. By contrast, the demand for reduction of power distance was greater in food processing companies. One possible explanation for this is that food sector companies (their owners, managers and the government department dealing with them) have been publicly criticised for their lack of transparency in awarding contracts and in financial matters and have been subject to investigation by the European Union. It is also interesting to record that respondents from the food processing industry, unlike their counterparts in financial services see more assertiveness as desirable, although the difference is minimal. This may be due to the pressures on the food industry: Stakeholders, including farmer/producers and employees feel that their interests have not been protected with sufficient vigour in the light of greater EU, government and consumer demands, which have resulted in the need for greater efficiency.
The broad similarity between the two sectors in their ‘as is’ and ‘as should be’ profile renders it difficult to pinpoint any significant influence exerted by sector on perceptions of prevailing social conditions and the desired direction of social change. In summary, the Irish GLOBE data indicate a considerable shift away from Hofstede’s conclusions, especially in respect of collectivism, uncertainty avoidance and masculinity. We have remained a low power distance country despite our own perceptions to the contrary. There is a much greater emphasis on performance and on future orientation. These findings must be seen as a reflection of the far reaching changes which have taken place in Irish society and which have been documented in the earlier part of this chapter.
One of the central objectives of the GLOBE study is the investigation of the impact of societal culture on leadership. The following section explores Irish societal perceptions of leadership with reference to unobtrusive measures of culture, as defined by Webb (1966), the focus groups, the ethnographic interviews and the quantitative study of societal leadership.
2.3 Leadership in Irish Society
Interest in the study of leadership in Ireland has been relatively limited. Much of the literature which is available on leaders within Irish society and business is autobiographical in its focus, excellent examples being Kenny’s In Good Company: Conversations with Irish Leaders (1987) and Out on their Own: Conversations with Irish Entrepreneurs (1991). In the introduction to In Good Company: Conversations with Irish Leaders (1987), Kenny elaborates on his criteria for selecting the fifteen leaders appearing in the book; ‘they had made a substantial and enduring contribution’ (1987, p.2), he knew them well and therefore trust existed. The diversity of the figures appearing – five from the public sector, five from the private sector, one from the Catholic Church and two from the media – is striking. So too, the absence of women and politicians, although as Kenny points out: ‘There are women in Irish life who have made a major contribution. I just don’t know them well enough’ (p.4). In respect of the attributes of leaders as asserted by the participants Kenny identifies the following recurrent themes:
They have the ability to listen and they have the ability to be tough. A high value is put on trust and loyalty. […] They are not, or at least do not like to be, remote figures: several are happiest among the troops. They think of themselves as pragmatic and practical but with a high level of conviction. They see this conviction as an essential element in influencing others. While they are far-sighted and can see the big picture, they believe ideas come from all over the place. […] They are themselves decisive – they abhor indecisiveness in others. They do not tolerate organisational politicking at all. They like to stretch people and give a lot of attention to selecting them. They have definite views about the qualities needed in a chief executive: he must be the all-round man, both managerial and entrepreneurial; have a good track record; have integrity and be a good communicator; and be totally and exclusively dedicated to the job. While they take much advice, they trust their own judgment and suffer little self-doubt: […] They are continually willing to learn: ‘when you stop learning you’re dead. (1987, pp.6f.)
It will be demonstrated later in the chapter how many of these attributes emerge as significant contributors to leadership success from both the qualitative and quantitative GLOBE data. Other attributes which are emphasised by the interviewees include the importance of being able to delegate and to use the talents and skills of others, to build a strong team, to set goals and see clearly where they are going, to seek consensus, to possess determination and patience - although several admit to not being patient - and to take risks. They all emphasise performance. The concept of trust also features prominently. A further point which is raised and resurfaces in the focus groups, relates to the begrudgery of success in Irish society: One prominent business leader records: ‘In Ireland you have to work twice as hard to make an impact and, when you are getting to the top, everyone is trying to pull you down’ (Kenny 1987, p.73). The individual whose name is mentioned most frequently as having been a successful leader in Irish society is Sean Lemass.
Some of the issues raised in the Kenny interviews should be seen in the context of the economic crisis which the country experienced in the 80s. There is a sense of frustration with politicians, with the political system and with the inefficient dinosaur of the public sector, which contrasts with the strong performance ethos which the interviewees cultivate in their own spheres. Amongst the six defects in the operation of the governmental system, as recorded by one of the leaders, four have already been noted in the course of this chapter, notably clientelism, centralisation, neglected political development and arrogant paternalism (ibid., p.257). Twelve years ago, this leader called for the establishment of consensus between government and citizens as the way forward and as a means of promoting collective responsibility. He drew attention to our ‘insular smugness’ as one of the main barriers to a successful society. Since the publication of these comments it is clear that a successful partnership between government and citizens has evolved and that the benefits of this are being by felt by large sections of the population. One can only speculate on the durability of such cohesion and the likelihood of a rerun of the mid-1960s scenario in the wake of a period of economic expansion, as identified by one leader in Kenny’s interview collection:
[…] within a few years, the glamour had begun to wear off. People had begun to be selfish again, instead of being socially cohesive and, by the mid-1960s selfishness was rampant and people were taking for granted a miraculous four per cent a year growth. They felt this would continue indefinitely without any help from themselves. (ibid., p.290)
In the GLOBE societal data there are signs of a desired shift toward greater individualism in public dealings and more family collectivism in the private sphere. How continued economic growth will impact in the long term on these values will be revealed in the coming years.
Interestingly, whereas many of the other country chapters within the anthology can draw on studies of leaders and leadership in their particular societies, there is a singular lack of any incisive theoretical analysis of leadership in Ireland or large scale empirical study. This is in part due to the preponderance of the self-analytic, autobiographical or biographical approach.
The situation is reminiscent of that highlighted by Murray (1987) in respect of Irish entrepreneurship: ‘The existing empirical studies […] concentrate on entrepreneurs rather than entrepreneurship’ (p.43). One study was conducted by researchers in the IMI (Irish Management Institute) and the Institute of Personality Assessment and Research (Berkeley, California) with 37 Irish leaders in the business and industrial sector. It involved self and other assessment based on a battery of psychological tests including intelligence, psychological type, personal philosophy, aesthetic discrimination, personal and social qualities and concept mastery (Barron & Egan 1966, p.13). The authors do not distinguish between the terms ‘manager’ and ‘leader’ and use these terms interchangeably. Moreover, they concentrate on the attributes of the persons under consideration, rather than on leadership. Those attributes which emerge most clearly are ‘the achievement motive, personal dominance and leadership, and freedom from self-doubt’ (ibid., p.20), some of which have already been highlighted in our brief review of Kenny’s 1987 interviews; independence is balanced by conformity; feminine nurturance also features and challenges the authors’ expectations: ‘[…] there is much supporting evidence in the self-description of the more original managers, as well as in the psychological staff description of them, that they possessed to an outstanding degree various features of masculine ascendancy and dominance’ (ibid., p.22). In their conclusion, they observe: ‘There is an odd combination of masculinity and sense of the poetic in them. Their vision is of conquest, mastery, personal dominance, command’ (ibid., p.29). Some of these apparent incompatibilities may be explained by the context of leadership, a dimension which Barron and Egan do not explore.
The contextual nature of leadership is underscored by Kenny (1987), who observes: ‘Leadership is contingent on the circumstances of the time, the constraints and opportunities, the culture or sedimented attitudes of the people we have to work with. There are no solutions that can be transferred at a gulp from one bit of experience to another’ (1987, p.6) He concludes in respect of the conversations conducted with Irish leaders: ‘Any lessons we have to learn from these men must be seen in context’ (ibid., p.6).
The importance of context is further elaborated by Leavy and Wilson who set themselves the task of exploring how ‘leadership, context and history interact in the formation of an organisation’s strategy and how this changes over time’ (1994 p.2). The research is case-based including interviews with 40 executives and an analysis of archival material on four organisations and the successes and failures of thirteen leaders who worked within them. In the model of strategy formation which they present, the leader constitutes one component alongside context and history. Their analysis of leaders is focused less on attributes and more on the challenges which they faced within their organisational and historical context. Strategy and leadership are seen as distinctive concepts which are interrelated (ibid., p.2). The authors emphasise their attempts to adopt a multi-level approach ‘to describing and analysing the influence of context on strategy and leadership’ which they claim, with reference to Pettigrew, to be unusual in the fields of leadership and strategy (ibid., p.5). Leaders, they posit, are ‘tenants of context and time’ (ibid., p.3). They classify the leaders who form part of the study into four generic groupings, i.e., builders, revitalisers, turnarounders and inheritors (ibid., p.113) and identify five contextual factors which seem to have exerted the greatest influence on strategy within the organisations under scrutiny. They are: technology, industry structure on a national and international basis, the international trading environment, national public policy and social and cultural transformation (ibid., p.141). Perhaps the most interesting source of influence, from the perspective of the current research, is the social and cultural transformation within Ireland which has had profound implications for the nature of leadership. The authors draw attention to the shift in the 1960s away from the leader as ‘nation-builder’ who was ‘driven by values forged during the revolutionary times’ and in times of peace had harnessed this ‘nationalistic passion and leadership talents to the practical patriotism of laying down the economic infrastructure of the new state’ (ibid., p.165). The new direction of leadership was towards ‘careerism, managerialism and professionalism’ (ibid., p.163), epitomised by Tony O’Reilly3:
Under his [Lemass’s] leadership a new kind of hero or economic patriot, the professional manager, began to rise in stature. The men who rose to govern the country in the post-Lemass era had come to power because they were men of ambition rather than of destiny who had chosen politics as a career. (ibid., p.164)
Without pre-empting the findings of the focus groups and ethnographic interviews which form part of the GLOBE study, it is interesting to record that leaders within the business community, including O’Reilly, were seen as being effective within the context of their organisations, but not as outstanding leaders within society. This raises further interesting questions as to the historic dimension of leadership and the durability of certain kinds of leader figure within public memory which, in turn, is kept alive by stamps, monuments and other unobtrusive measures of culture.
2.3.1 Unobtrusive measures of Culture and Leadership within Irish Society
Stamps, statues, banknotes and street-names possess symbolic significance. They ‘recall, evoke the sentiments of, or otherwise render recognizable the cultural mappings of basic social and ecological relationships in human society’ (Garrison & Arensberg 1976; cit. Kane 1986, p.549), they bear witness to the historical and social evolution of Ireland and its continuing transition and shaping of a new identity. These unobtrusive measures point to an ideal of leadership which is clearly centred around the notion of the romantic hero and liberator, possessing vision and willingness to risk his life for the freedom of the country. This type of visionary leadership still has validity within Irish society in the 1990s.
The emergence of the Irish State and its evolution from a small, inward looking economy to a fully integrated member of the European Union is charted by its stamp design. In particular, it has chronicled in recent decades the changing face of nationalism and the burgeoning self-confidence of the Irish nation. Irish stamp design reflects the country’s ongoing search for its own role and identity within the context of its post-colonial relationship with Britain and the new opportunities promised by Europe. As David Scott observes:
Ireland, though a small country on the margin of two major cultural nexuses – Britain and continental Europe – has mostly attempted to promote an authentic image of its cultural identity rather than resort to the vacuous neologisms or characterless glamour promoted by some small Southern European, Near Eastern or West African states. (1995, p.92).
The semiotic value of stamps as an assertion of nationhood cannot be disputed. The first stamps to emerge post 1922 thus reinforced through their use of motifs and symbols traditionally associated with Irish heritage, specifically the shamrock, the Celtic cross and the harp, the religious and scholarly self-image possessed by Ireland (ibid., p.87f.). Up until the Republic of Ireland Act in 1948, which Scott sees as a watershed in Irish stamp design, stamps continued to mirror those themes which were ideologically close to the young State, most notably religion and nationalism. The colour green also featured prominently in this context and has continued to retain its heavy symbolic value, together with orange, the emblematic colour of the Northern Protestant tradition. Scott records that of the 34 commemorative issues produced between 1929 and 1959, twelve celebrated Irish political and nationalist events, 9 religious festivals, 6 cultural themes, 3 economic themes, 2 American- oriented topics, 1 science and 1 the founder of the Argentinian navy, who, significantly, was also a leader in Argentina’s independence movement (ibid., p.88; Miller 1986, p.37). Both the US motifs and the Argentinian commemorative issue attest the permanence of the diaspora within collective memory. Of interest are not only the prominence awarded to the patriots of Ireland’s struggle for independence, also a distinctive theme of monuments and statues of the period, and the minor attention to economic and scientific matters, but also the choice of language on the stamps. The Irish language featured exclusively in 16 of the commemorative stamps, 4 were bilingual Irish-English and 1 bilingual Latin-Irish; the remainder were English (10) and Latin (3) (Scott 1995, p.88). Those in Latin reiterated the dominance of the Catholic tradition, whilst the choice of Irish underpinned the sense of national identity which was being forged by de Valera in his establishment of an Irish Catholic Nationalist State.
The period after 1949 shows a move toward bilingual stamps, connoting the growing self-confidence of the Irish nation which also found expression in the broadening of the range of topics depicted by Irish stamps. The inward looking policies which characterised the de Valera years ceded in the late fifties to a gradual opening of the Irish economy which culminated in accession to the European Community. The sixties witnessed a nationalist revival which coincided with the fiftieth anniversary of the 1916 Easter Rising, which together with its heroes was remembered in commemorative issues (ibid., p.89). Scott also documents a renascence of the Irish language in commemorative issues during these years, which may be linked to the country’s need to reassert its own cultural identity and heritage during a period of social and economic change which saw a shift toward Europe. The increase in literary and artistic motifs together with a greater emphasis on themes which attest Ireland’s technological and scientific accomplishments reflect the move to a more international outlook and process of maturation as a state.
As with stamps, the figures who are represented on banknotes tend to be overwhelmingly male. Whilst Ireland has produced a significant number of prominent women in both the literary (Maud Gonne, Lady Gregory) and political (Countess Markiewicz4) spheres, the representation of women as contributors to the country’s development tends to be limited to their participation within the caring professions, religious life and as homemakers, reasserting the centrality of the family together with its Catholic ethos within Irish society. In spite of the erosion of the role of religion and the dominance of the Roman Catholic Church, the achievements of founders of religious orders continue to be commemorated on current banknotes. Indeed, banknotes immortalise many of the figures who have at some point appeared on stamps, most notably, those who have furthered the Irish cause during her colonial past, including Daniel O’Connell, father of Catholic Emancipation, and Charles Stewart Parnell, and those who have made a major contribution to literature such as James Joyce.
The focus within collective memory is firmly on the patriot-hero, a theme which is captured by statues and monuments around the country. Monuments and public sculptures are significant insofar as they ‘are commissioned and placed by a small, powerful group (the politics of public space)’ (Hill 1998, p.11) which, in effect, attempts to determine the shape of public memory. The turbulent history of Ireland and its passage from colonial to post-colonial status are reflected by many of the monuments. Classical monuments, which were erected by dukes and viceroys to the honour of kings or military prominents of the British Empire and were thus equated with imperialism, have in a number of cases vanished. Some were removed after independence, as was the case with the equestrian statue of King William III of Orange5, symbolic of the Protestant tradition, or were blown up, the fate of Nelson’s Pillar in 1966. The latter, erected between 1808 and 1809 expressed, like many other monuments of its time, an Irish Protestant identity (ibid., p.62), which was not the religion of the majority, yet it became the centrepiece of Dublin’s main street and, according to Hill, ‘[t]his protected it from being removed, despite the voices raised in the nationalist atmosphere of the nineteenth century and after independence in the twentieth century, arguing that a monument to Nelson was irrelevant and undesirable’ (ibid., p.64). The arbiters of ‘the politics of public space’ were at the time of its erection the land owning and politically influential Protestant class. It is important not to confound ‘Protestant’ with ‘British’ for many of their number sought greater freedom from Britain. By the mid 19th century there was general support amongst Catholics and Protestants for the need to forge an Irish identity through monuments, even if the conception of this identity was not always shared. The monuments which emerged during this period thus paid tribute to those who had furthered either constitutionally or at arms the cause of Irish sovereignty and the fate of its people, most notably Daniel O’Connell. Representatives of the literary tradition included figures such as Edmund Burke and Oliver Goldsmith. In the 20th century the heroes of 1916 provided the symbolism with which to shape the identity of the newly independent state, an image of Irishness also communicated by stamps. Moreover, independence monuments frequently adopted religious imagery which also underpinned the ideal of the Nationalist Catholic State.
Smyth charts an important evolution within Irish commemorative art in the 20th century which moves away from a narrow ethnic view of public memory to a ‘view, which searches for Irish identity across the broader front of Catholic and Protestant traditions encompassing the Celtic, Norman and English influences in politics, institutions, art and thought’ (Smyth 1985; cit. Hill 1998, p.201). This may also be considered against the backdrop of a maturing state which is questioning the need to give explicit expression to the nationalist legacy in line with its growing European orientation.
Other forces have also been at work in determining the changing orientation of public sculpture. The process of its selection has become more democratic. There are new patrons amongst the business community who wish to emphasis their links with art and thereby to provide the ‘philistine’ pursuits of commerce with a more acceptable face and to reinforce their own status within the community. Artists and literary figures such as James Joyce, W.B Yeats and Oscar Wilde continue to be immortalised in stone, yet frequently are cast in shapes and forms which hold a more popular and, indeed, humorous appeal. Other sculptures address themes which have impacted on everyday people both in the present and past. Women tend to be represented either as the mythical Erin or in their role as mother or carer. The most recent memorial to the Great Famine stands symbolically alongside the International Financial Services Centre, a testimony to Ireland’s recently found success. Their juxtaposition encapsulates the crossroads at which the country now finds itself: growing self-confidence co-exists with a sense of nostalgia and looking to the past rather than the present for inspirational leader figures.
Those persons commemorated by stamps and monuments are the same figures whose names appear on public buildings and streets, which were frequently, rather than comprehensively renamed to reflect Ireland’s transition to independence. Sackville Street became O’Connell Street; train stations are named after the 1916 hero Pearse and the trade unionist, Connolly. Lack of public recognition of achievements and achievers in the business world may be due to the relatively recent commercial success of the country; businesspeople who wish to have a building named after them, tend to have to provide the funding. In spite of the significant contribution made over the past centuries to the advancement of science – notables include Boyle, Holland and Walton - the country has not shown the same enthusiasm as other European countries such as Germany and France in lauding its scientists through streetnames or buildings.
In the next section we turn attention to the view of societal leadership emerging from the focus groups which constitute the second qualitative component within the methodology employed by GLOBE.
2.3.2 The Focus Groups6
When Zaleznik (1992) posed the question, ‘Managers and Leaders: Are They Different?’, he concluded that they were, suggesting that for managers style seems to count more than substance and process more than reality. Making such a split between leaders and managers is a technique for highlighting differences. The nature of such differences became apparent during the two video and audio-taped qualitative focus group discussions held in Ireland in 1995. The participants, both male and female, were drawn from a cross section of industrial and commercial backgrounds. On the basis of the focus group research, several preliminary hypotheses are presented in respect of leadership characteristics in Ireland.
A number of threads can be identified in respect of Irish attitudes to leaders and leadership. There would appear to be only low levels of leadership identification and followership characteristics within a societal context. There is little confidence in Irish business figures as leaders, whilst the memory of past public figures, including statesmen such as de Valera and Lemass, is very much alive and they are generally credited with the shaping of modern Ireland
Management, as an operational activity, was contrasted with the strategic focus of leadership by the focus group members. Leadership was perceived to be a very senior management characteristic. For example, when asked whether they could identify leaders at different organisational levels, identification was almost solely confined to the highest echelons of the organisation. Outstanding leaders are seen as visionary, charismatic, inspirational, tenacious and risk takers. They can take a ‘helicopter view’, they possess intelligence, tremendous drive and are outstanding motivators. Verbs used to describe leaders included ‘to inspire’, ‘to guide’, ‘to stimulate’, ‘to direct’ and ‘to communicate’. Leaders have an ability to command respect and to take tough decisions and, critically, to get people to follow. This, in turn, raised the question as to whether implementing the vision was a function of management or leadership? In both groups there was a consensus that leadership involved influencing people to do something. In this context, the role of the leader in creating versus implementing an existing vision was discussed and the notion that leadership is about getting people to follow or to buy into the vision, rather than actually creating it. Similarly, a leader can take an idea and create a vision around it, a view which corresponds with Gardner’s ‘innovative leader’ (Gardner 1996, p.10). Examples cited included de Valera and Haughey. Hitler was also mentioned in the context of not having created National Socialism, but having created a vision around this concept in the minds of the followers.
It was also suggested that leaders need to manipulate people and that leadership sometimes consists of negative control with leaders concealing their real objectives. In the words of one participant: ‘I think being an outstanding leader is not seeming to manipulate, but is manipulating all over the place. And he's not seen to control, he is controlling. He's using all sorts of techniques, methods to get his own way’. It is worth recalling the old adage that Irish people cannot be led but rather, they must be inspired. Indeed, Irish people tend to be low on obedience to authority – a point which has been discussed within the context of power distance - and consequently do not always make good followers. In Ireland powerful people are frequently seen as leaders, yet the feeling in the focus groups was that it was important to distinguish between having power and being a leader, the difference lying in the use to which power is put. Such a view is also expressed by Gardner (1996, p.16). Indeed, the abuse of authority conferred by what might be referred to as ‘position power’ is rejected by the participants. There is a strong awareness of the negative side of leadership, encapsulated by the statement, ‘Great leaders can have very […] negative attributes’. Adolf Hitler and Jim Jones are mentioned in this context.7 Likewise, some of the participants noted that a good leader doesn’t have to be liked, but that he must enthuse people to follow: ‘Very often they’re not liked. Very often they’re authoritarian, but they still get the work done’. One view to emerge clearly from the focus groups was that outstanding leaders are often those who remain in the background, rather than flaunting their authority.
A further point relates to the notion that leadership is context framed. The participants were unable to divorce leadership from context, irrespective of whether the context is generated by a political party or an organisation. The leader stands out from the crowd in his own micro-culture and his status is achieved both by an ability to inspire and by knowledge of the industry. This assumption contains interesting implications for the GLOBE hypothesis that organisational culture will exert a greater influence on organisational leadership than societal culture.
The focus group members have reservations about conferring prominent Irish business figures with leadership status. There was great dissent as to whether the outstanding businessmen in both the Irish and international business sphere, could be considered as outstanding leaders. The conclusion was that they were outstanding business people but not outstanding leaders. This view might have a historical dimension, in that Irish perceptions of leadership are of romantic heros, or it may be that business leaders are not widely recognised outside their domain. Our relatively late emergence as an industrialised nation implies less experience of prominent business figures. It is also worth recalling a point made by one Irish management writer who observes that it is the peasant culture which attributes lesser value to business, than, for example, the professions (Kenny 1991, p.4). Furthermore, it has often been suggested that Irish people do not laud financial success and that attitudes of begrudgery exist (ibid., p.5). The notion of begrudgery together with the preference for indirectness in communication, which has been discussed in the context of assertiveness, are clearly articulated by one focus group member in a comparison of Irish and American communication styles:
Americans are much more enthusiastic […] if you think you can do something in Ireland, you say, ‘Well I think I can, I’ll try anyway’. Americans, if they have a vague idea, they say ‘Absolutely, I can do it’. […] and they come over here and we think they’re eejits [idiots] for saying they can do it when in fact they can’t. We love to see them fail.
One interesting point to emerge from the focus groups is the contrast between the lack of confidence in Irish business leaders operating within Irish organisations and the general belief that they perform well abroad. There appears to be great confidence in the potential for Irish business leadership outside Ireland. The qualities which were identified repeatedly by the focus group participants included adaptability, versatility and lack of bureaucracy. Indeed, the lack of structure which was criticised within indigenous Irish management was regarded as a strength in international performance. These views were summed up successfully by one participant who observed:
I think the Irish have proved themselves to be very adaptable, whether it comes from our history of emigration. […] I think we have established a reputation for working hard and although we may be perceived as not working hard in Ireland, I think we go abroad and embrace a certain culture. I think we adopt a camouflage of a particular culture no matter where we go and I think we adopt the rules of that society in order to succeed.
Some of the points raised in the focus groups in respect of leadership coincide with features of Irish societal culture which have been elaborated in Section 2.2. Characteristics of outstanding leaders such as willingness to take risks and an ability to cut through bureaucracy, in other words, low uncertainty avoidance, the desirability of competence in one’s particular leadership context which ties in with the desire on a societal level for greater performance, the recognition of the importance of people with its implicit orientation toward a humane society are recurrent themes which tie in with the societal level indicators. So too, the desirability of lower power distance is mirrored in the rejection of authoritarian leadership.
The only female figure to be mentioned by the focus group participants as personifying outstanding leadership, which may mirror the traditionally patriarchal nature of Irish society and the relatively recent phenomenon of female political leaders, was ex-President Mary Robinson. Curious is the naming of Charles Haughey as a leadership figure in spite of a number of scandals which have shadowed his career, beginning with his trial and acquittal in the seventies on suspicion of arms shipments for the IRA. During his period of office as prime minister dishonesty and shadiness in political and personal dealings were never far away, although he continued to enjoy a great deal of support amongst the grass roots members of his party and the broader electorate. Whilst the extent of corruption is now being aired in the public domain at various tribunals of inquiry, some years after the focus groups were conducted, Haughey is recognised as having possessed vision, a notable example being the establishment of the International Financial Services Centre, and charisma. Whereas previously wrongdoing was often countenanced, the tribunals now seem to have assumed an almost cathartic function, marking Ireland’s growing confidence and desire for greater transparency.
Many of the themes voiced in the focus groups re-emerge in the ethnographic interviews which will be discussed in the following section.
2.3.3 Ethnographic Interviews
Two semi-structured interviews were conducted with Irish middle managers. Both were audio-taped and subsequently transcribed. As in the focus groups, the main qualities of an outstanding leader were considered to be vision, charisma, willingness to take risk and drive. The outstanding leader fulfils a strategic function as opposed to the competent manager who is effective on the operational level and doesn’t take too many risks. The outstanding leader sees the big picture – the so-called ‘helicopter view’ mentioned in the focus groups – and is able to take a global approach, to maintain control, to adapt to situations and to get around bureaucracy and red-tape which may stand in the way of achieving a goal. He will adapt behaviours and strategies around the organisation and, if necessary, change it to achieve his goals. Inability to delegate, getting bogged down by smaller issues, aggressive and dominant behaviour together with steamrolling ideas and opinions are the hallmarks of ineffective leadership. Whilst it was recognised that the leader must on occasions be assertive, consensus was seen as a preferred orientation together with the notion that he must buy people into the vision. To achieve this, charisma was seen as critical. The ability and desirability of looking ahead was also seen as critical and links in with the move to greater future orientation as expressed in the questionnaires on societal culture. The views expressed in the interviews correlate broadly with those documented in the focus groups. In turn, they reflect many of the values which have been pinpointed in the quantitative study of society ‘as is’ and ‘as should be’, most notably, the preference for more collectivist, consensus-based leadership, low uncertainty avoidance and low assertiveness.
Outstanding leaders identified by the interviewees included Richard Branson, Mahatma Gandhi, Margaret Thatcher and Lee Iacocca. What they had in common was conviction in their goal; they were able to keep this end goal in sight, to maintain a clear sense of their vision and not to be side-tracked by minor incidents. They were self-motivated and even if they failed, they tried again. It is interesting to note that the choice of leaders centres on figures who are not Irish. One of the interviewees did mention the achievements of Tony O’Reilly, described by Leavy and Wilson (1994) as ‘the archetype of the new national hero emerging from Lemass’s economic revolution’ (p.124), but added that whilst he had created the vision, he didn’t share it with the people with whom he was dealing. The emphasis on consensus building alongside the individual achievements of the leader indicates the desire for a more inclusive, consensual approach to leadership.
The contextual dimension of leadership was also asserted, much in the same way as in the focus groups: ‘I found it very hard to pick out two or three well known, outstanding leaders. I could give you hundreds of names, if you took the likes of Hitler or any sporting or political or army situations. But they are created by the events that surround them and I don’t believe that they would be outstanding leaders put in other time situations or put in another set of circumstances’. It was considered difficult to achieve consensus on who is or is not an outstanding leader.
A point mentioned by one of the interviewees, which recalls an issue raised in the focus groups, relates to begrudgery in Irish society. Within the business community, there is an underlying assumption that anyone who makes a success of things has been involved in some form of shady dealings. Kenny (1991) underlines this perception: ‘If you fail in Ireland, people always like to be able to issue their condolences. If you succeed, they all wonder what funny business you are up to’ (p.5). However, the belief is expressed that the old system of ‘you twist my arm and I’ll twist yours’ is changing, undoubtedly mirroring the societal changes which have been highlighted earlier in this chapter and which have emerged in the analysis of the societal data. These changes are further reflected in the quantitative study of societal leadership.
2.3.4 The Quantitative Study of Societal Leadership
The middle managers who formed part of the Irish sample were asked to rate 112 leadership items on a scale between 1 (greatly inhibits a person from being an outstanding leader) and 7 (greatly contributes to a person being an outstanding leader). The items were distilled into 21 leadership scales. The results for Ireland are summarised in Table 2.
The characteristics of leaders in Irish society which are deemed by the respondents to contribute to outstanding leadership include performance orientation, vision, inspirational, integrity, decisiveness and ability to integrate. Other attributes which feature as positive contributors include modesty, diplomacy, willingness to sacrifice self, humanity, administrative competence and team organiser. By contrast, significant inhibitors include face-saving, self-centredness, malevolence, non-participative orientation and autocratic style. Such characteristics have in many cases already been highlighted in the focus groups, the ethnographic interviews and the review of unobtrusive measures and they also demonstrate a strong correlation with some of the findings from the quantitative study of societal culture ‘as is’ and ‘as should be’. Furthermore, a number of the positive attributes emerging from the quantitative study are congruent with the qualities identified in Kenny’s (1987) conversations with Irish leaders, such as integrity, decisiveness, performance, vision and team integrator (cf. Section 2.3).
The profile to emerge from the qualitative and quantitative data indicates that within Ireland charismatic value-based leadership is endorsed. The attributes which embody such a view of leadership must be contemplated against the backdrop of societal change in Ireland which has been discussed in earlier sections. It is not difficult to understand why performance-oriented leadership is valued if one considers the dynamic imposed by social and economic innovation. There is a sense in which respect for performance is inextricably linked with Ireland’s stage of industrial development and the search for leader figures who will maintain the momentum of the Celtic Tiger and deliver both economic and social outcomes. It is worth reiterating that the societal culture data emphasise the desire for greater performance and future orientation.
The Irish participants observed that vision is an extremely desirable characteristic for any leader in Irish society. The desirability of inspirational leadership underpins the notion that Irish people need to be inspired rather than led. So too, willingness on the part of the leader to sacrifice him/herself for the common good may connote some form of residual adherence to the image of the romantic hero which features so prominently on stamps and monuments and continues to shape collective memory. It also attests the positive value attributed to risk taking, a perspective which emerges from the focus groups, the ethnographic interviews and the questionnaire data on societal culture. The importance attributed to the characteristic ‘team integrator’ suggests the centrality of buying people into the vision and the ability to ensure commitment to the vision, a view echoed by the qualitative research. Decisiveness and integrity are esteemed and may reflect the move towards the expectation of greater clarity of vision coupled with the shift away from the clientelist approach towards transparency within Irish society. Furthermore, the view that decisiveness substantially enhances leadership effectiveness marries well with the aspiration to maintain the momentum of progress into the next millennium and with the point expressed in the ethnographic interviews that a leader is someone who sees things through. The recognition that administrative competence enhances societal leadership can also be linked with the broader thrust toward performance orientation.
Within the societal culture data the humane orientation features prominently on both the ‘as is’ and ‘as should be’ scales. Indeed, Ireland enjoys one of the highest rankings on the ‘as is’ scale and there is belief that Irish society should be more humane. Various explanations have been offered which potentially account for the value attributed to a style of leadership which is more compassionate, including the belief that the Celtic Tiger has undermined the ‘softer’ human values on which Irish society traditionally based itself. Contributing to this profile is the fact that modesty and diplomacy are seen as positive dimensions of societal leadership. It has already been documented in the focus groups that leaders do not flaunt their authority. A further point to recall in this context is the more indirect nature of interpersonal communication within Irish society which seeks to avoid open conflict. Such a view fits in with the finding that Ireland is a relatively non-assertive society. The impression that leaders should adopt a consultative style is also reflected in the societal data which suggests the existence of a more collectivist culture in Ireland than that recorded by Hofstede.
It is interesting when considering the inhibitors of leadership that face-saving behaviour with its implications of evasiveness and ambiguity is negatively evaluated. This may signal a desire to move away from a feature of Irish society characterised by Lee (1982 p.4) as the ‘peasant residue in the Irish psyche’ which ‘confuses the distinction between necessary confidentiality and furtive concealment,’ thereby underpinning ‘suspicions grounded in the face to face nature’ of society in Ireland (cit. Leavy 1993, p.145). The tendency to conceal may also be a legacy of Ireland’s colonial past which is ceding to the recognition of the benefits of greater transparency. The dissimulation of truth has undermined the credibility of some recent Irish leaders. In the new spirit of accountability, the aforementioned investigative tribunals reveal the extent of dishonesty and concealment practised by political figures and by the leaders of many of our most esteemed institutions.
Autocratic, self-centred leaders have never been endorsed within Irish society, perhaps a consequence of several centuries of occupation by a colonial power. Similarly, malevolence is seen as a significant inhibitor of leadership in the questionnaire data, although it is worth recalling that the focus groups drew attention to the leadership ability of figures such as Hitler, albeit including recognition of their negative attributes. Non-participative leadership is also deemed to inhibit leadership, a perception which is not surprising if one considers the emphasis which is placed on being a team player. A further characteristic which has a slight inhibiting function is focus on procedure. Again, this perception corresponds to a view expressed in the ethnographic interviews that outstanding leaders can cut through red tape in order to achieve their goals. Similarly, emphasis on procedure was identified as characterising managers, not leaders, in the qualitative focus groups. The fact that the questionnaire respondents eschew bureaucratic procedures is not surprising if one considers the tendency, which has been inherent within Irish society, to circumvent rules and regulations.
In conclusion, the profile of societal leadership which emerges from the questionnaire data broadly echoes many of the trends identified within the qualitative components of the research and also the dimensions of societal culture. Perhaps one of the most striking observations to emerge from the qualitative data is, on the one hand, the confidence with which the participants distinguished the attributes of successful leaders, and, on the other, their reluctance to identify leader figures in the Irish business community. Named leaders were either foreign or Irish political figures. A second point to note is the emphasis placed on context in shaping leadership effectiveness.
This section completes the review of societal culture and societal leadership in Ireland. The following sections turn attention to the sectors in which the Irish data were gathered. They will discuss the organisational cultures in the food processing and financial services industries and finally present the preferred leadership characteristics in the two sectors. Central to the reflections presented in these sections is a consideration of the interrelationship between organisational culture and societal cultural.