Bridge on the River Kwai


The role of the senior manager in local government involves leadership in a political environment. You don't decide policy you don't so much shape strategy as influence and advise. You must convince staff you own the policy and strategy. You don't say the cabinet have decided  because that may give the impression you are not totally behind the policy and strategy which could lead staff into a Bridge on the River Kwai scenario. They think they are doing a good job by sabotaging their own efforts, deliberately doing things that will undermine the strategy and make the policy fail whilst appearing to be working hard to get things don. In the film Bridge on the River Kwai this is shown in a scene where the new British commander is inspecting the work of British and allied prisoners of war building the infamous railway line. One of his senior officers points to a poorly secured section of railway track and says , "someone is doing a good job". The commander realises that whilst he has no desire to help the enemy his leadership role is to build the best bridge that British engineers and allied prisoners can built, he wants his men to take pride in their work and insodoing provide a sense of purpose, improve moral and give him leverage with their Japanese camp guards. His leadership* is very effective, the horrendous death toll is reduced and he is able to improve the lot of his men.

The out come is a better build railway bridge of which he is extremely proud. He is therefore greatly conflicted when a group of some commandos arrive to blow it up. Much like a public sector manager who having spent years building up a service involving painful restructuring, and strenuous  negotiations to change working practises  finds a change of political direction involves dismantling what took years to establish. What's more he is require to convince the new administration he can sell their vision with as much enthusiasm as he sold the previous policy and strategy!  
* Clearly elected members are in no way comparable to Japanese prison camp guards but the film does show the leadership role to be complex and involves addressing hard questions about integrity, the thin line between being determined and single minded and being arrogant,delusional and obsessive. 

Blair McPherson former director author and blogger 


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