It is understandable, given the way things are economically and politically, that people should look for leaders, a big brother - or even a sister - to lead the way forward. Old habits die hard. Old certainties have died much more easily than might have been thought. For the western world, growth and the ease of affluence was one of the latter; the confrontation between capitalism and communism, fossilised in the Cold War, another. The dissipation of the latter produced a feeling of euphoria, a conviction that a new era - not just of peace but of plenty - was on the way.
For all our sakes it is just as well that optimism is believed to be incurable, but it can lead to misconceptions and letdowns. Largely, that's where we are today. The collapse of communism as a system and the consequent international genuflexion to the market economy would have been a much better thing had not that old market suddenly reminded us of its ability to falter as well as forge ahead. Where communism has collapsed, fissiparous nationalisms have emerged. It is almost as if a huge pie-crust has been removed only to reveal a '30s filling.
So everyone looks around for answers, for a more suitable scenario, and the concomitant of this search is the hope for a leader who, though inevitably not omniscient, is open to the expectations and potential of people and can devise strategies to realise them.
Leaders face a sea of troubles so it is perhaps apposite, though not comforting that, the time being so obviously out of joint, Hamlet-like tendencies can be observed internationally.
This has prompted our examination of leadership (p38) and we are obliged for definitions from some incumbents. Naturally, we are concerned first with leadership in management, where doctrines such as empowerment and re-engineering offer the prospect of a new dawn. There could be, Simon Caulkin suggests, a new model here: leadership from the ground up. But, be that as we shall see, it is undoubtedly true that for industry, business and economies to flourish, countries do have to rely on national leaders and a productive interrelationship between these. While we wait, we must reach for our own small dawns.
Elsewhere in this issue (p87) we report on some who have achieved them in the Best Factory Awards which we run yearly in association with Cranfield. This year we had 266 entries, a 41% increase on the previous year, which indicates that despite national and international difficulties, many British manufacturers are sanguine enough to cultivate their own vineyard, improve their techniques and put their efforts to the test of expert scrutiny. Furthermore, the rise in entries shows that this is a growing inclination which can only be a hopeful sign if Britain is to reach the desirable productivity growth of five per cent a year throughout this decade.
There are other hopeful indicators, too. More factories are prepared to compare their performance and experience of improvement processes, via benchmarking, with others. Most of the winners have been at pains to motivate their workforce and liberate potential. But there is a long way to go. A recent report by IBM Consulting and London Business School said that only two per cent of UK factories could claim to be world-class but that more than 40% had the necessary practices in place. In this issue we celebrate those who have led the way.