The Government in Crisis: Now is the time to send for the cavalry: Can management psychology help John Major? William Hartston reports

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The Independent Online
AS JOHN MAJOR ponders his latest crisis and the Conservatives at Westminster cry out for leadership, the science of management psychology offers some support to the Bring Back Maggie school of thought.

For while Baroness Thatcher and Mr Major may personify, to some extent at least, two classic styles of effective leadership, the Thatcher approach is arguably the right one for a crisis. It is possible that John Major is the right man in the wrong job at the wrong time.

According to the researches of Dr Meredith Belbin, a Cambridge management psychologist, there are two types of successful leader and their attitudes towards crises are very different. The first - the Co-ordinator - is the calm but purposeful type. A good listener, good organiser, sensitive but decisive, he has the tolerance to listen to other people's ideas, but the strength of character politely to ignore their advice if he feels it is inappropriate. A low-key leadership style, then, of consensus rather than forceful domination. All very John Major-ish.

The other type - the Shaper - is the complete opposite. Dynamic, impatient, intolerant, entrepreneurial and pig- headed, the Shaper is a thug who gets results by bossing other people around. And everyone who attends Dr Belbin's seminars instinctively classifies Lady Thatcher as a Shaper.

Shapers are natural leaders in a crisis. So natural, in fact, that they are liable to create a crisis if they do not have one. In a period of relative inactivity, you need a Co-ordinator at the top. When trouble threatens, the good Co-ordinator surrounds himself with talented people who come up with the ideas needed to avert the crisis. Shapers, on the other hand, are apt to argue with talented people.

'A Shaper-driven society,' says Dr Belbin, 'is a good thing and a bad thing. You drive with enormous energy down a particular route, locked into it and benefiting and suffering from the consequences. What a Shaper cannot do is admit that she is wrong.'

So would Britain's problems have been lessened by having John Major running the show in the relative calm of the 1980s, then switching to Thatcher's Shaperite Crisis Management style in the 1990s? Not so simple, says Dr Belbin. 'We've done an analysis of Major and Thatcher, and while Thatcher comes out uniformly as Shaper, Major only has Co-ordinator as his fourth-best role.'

In the language of Team Integration, John Major is a Completer-Finisher (a sort of conscientious worrier), a Monitor- Evaluator (bright and analytical, but uncreative and submissive) and, perhaps most of all, a Team Worker (sensitive, charming, good for morale but indecisive). And Team Workers are unadventurous followers, not leaders. Their passive tolerance may look like a good Co-ordinator's patient purposefulness, but when it comes to crises, they are neither strong enough to take decisions nor flexible enough to find talented types to guide them. In short, they need a Shaper to guide them.

According to Gerald Meyers, the former chairman of American Motors, there are seven steps in handling a crisis: take charge; understand the circumstances; define the problem; rank the options; move decisively; eliminate the cause; prevent recurrence. John Major would seem to be still struggling to mount step number one.

But if the Thatcher experience has spoilt our appetite for a Shaper- led culture, and John Major cannot lead us out of crisis, is there anyone with the right Coordinator characteristics to do so? Dr Belbin's researches have come up with one name, a man of no great intellectual pretensions, but with organising skills and proven ability to surround himself with talented people. That man is Ronald Reagan.