An ABC of Leadership and Management (part 2)

N is for nature or nurture

Have you ever heard a midwife say, “Congratulations, you’ve given birth to a leader / manager”?  No!  It suggests leadership is almost entirely nurture than nature? 

Research about the psychology of leadership is extensive, yet still there is no one single model.  David McClelland writes about personalised and socialised power. Sadly, I see far too many personalised powered, autocratic leaders .  Where are the servant leaders that Robert Greenleaf writes about, see

As our understanding grows about the workings of the human brain, will we see more biological, physical and chemical processes identifed to have causal impact on leadership potential and subsequent practice?  I’m holding my breath regarding any cogent conclusions concerning politicians! 

Many people like putting letters after their names, e,g. honours and educational qualifications.  Perhaps we should limit the choice to the following two options.  As a colleague of my late father remarked of him, “He was the best effing bastard I worked for.”  What are you, an organisational climate bolstering BFB or merely an FB who sucks all life out of the room they’re in?

O is for organisation

The days of the pyramidal, hierarchical organisation are fatally ill if not already dead.  When I started work, there were 21 layers of management in the bank I joined.  Now I believe there are seven (with some Director layers roles above them), so still a ladder of many rungs.  While much attention rightly continues to be paid to the glass ceiling that the upper rungs of the career ladder tries to penetrate, there is also an issue with the “broken second rung”. How many are denied that first step into management (see U in my next blog),

What structure works best?  In a post last year, see, I mentioned Alfred Sloan’s famous quote, “Structure follows strategy”.  If the pace of change means setting strategy is an obsolete activity, what then for structure?  Does anarchy now loom in organisations? Is that why the NHS is in such a muddle, see accompanying high-level chart depicting more arrows than flew at the Battle of Agincourt?

In determining an organisation’s structural design, do you restrict yourself to the entity itself or should you consider it within the broader network of its suppliers and clients?  Overlooking these interdependencies is a mistake. However, anyone trying to contact a call centre may well sense establishing effective structural points of access receives little or no attention.

Overlaying this organisational architecture are all the policies and procedures that enable an organisation to operate efficiently and effectively.  Is it all too mechanical – what about the people?  Should you use a biological lens to consider structure. For instance, which elemnet is the head, the backbone, the heart and lungs, the reproductive “bits”?  In this animal, what represents the blood capillary and nervous systems?  How does it learn good from bad behaviour?

P is for passion

Ever since reading Nitesh Gor’s “The Dharma of Capitalism”, I have wanted to eviscerate this word from the business lexicon.  Everyone considers there is only a positive meaning to the word, see preceding illustration.  Yet as Nitesh points out there are many downsides, e.g. exploitative, short-termism and greed. Is the strongest driver of passion extrinsic rather than intrinsic motivation? Can we change that? Can we revive the idea of “vocation”?

Perhaps passion does convey more “zing” (see Z in my next blog) than other words such as commitment, engagement or enthusiasm but if its tenor comprises these dark attributes of human nature, should we be using it so freely?   There are a host of synonyms to use – I rather like dynamism or gusto, and the idea of Jim Collins’s Level 5 Leadership of “humility and fierce resolve”. 

Other more acceptable P’s are purpose, principles and probity. 

Where this was said, I can’t now remember, but one organisation laid claim to be “Feedback fanatics.”  The problem here is nicely summed up by Bertrand Russell, “The whole problem with the world is that fools and fanatics are always so certain of themselves, and wiser people so full of doubts.” 

Q is for quality

I first encountered the concept of quality at Barclaycard, when it bought into Phil Crosby’s concept of quality, i.e. doing it right, first time, every time.  “PONCs”, the price of non-conformance, are the measurement units of quality.  Quality spawned six-sigma, a relative of which emerged in Toyota and its calculation of the “cost of re-work”. 

So many organisations appear to plead poverty that restricts their ability to invest in its people, processes, property, systems etc.  Yet, all make mistakes which demand correction.  Some mistakes harm an organisation severely.  In the immediate term, funding what it takes to sort out the mess stops other more worthwhile activity from taking place.  In the longer-term, gouges and dents appear in the bodywork of its reputation or, in the case of Boeing, its fuselage. 

What is your organisation wasting on putting right cockups, can you quantify this?  If you were able to avoid one-third of that wasteful resource spend, what far more positive and productive work could you do? Would your employees be happier, customers more loyal, suppliers more confident about the accuracy of the brief they have, investors wealthier and less environmental contamination? 

R is for risk

A fascinating and important report has just been issued by The Risk Coalition entitled “Raising the Bar”.  The press release announcing its publication is available at, through which you can download a copy of the report.  It will provide some thought provoking reading over Christmas. 

The report suggests creating a C-suite role of Chief Risk Officer and a Board Risk committee, the latter striking me as being another layer of bureaucracy. A good friend who was involved in producing the report says I may be misunderstanding their recommendations, which is entirely possible. 

The City and Wall Street were caught out in 2007 and 2008. Disappointingly, necessary financial shackles are being undone. Old practices of financial manipulation are undergoing resusitation. Potentially, these are more opaque because of the technological progress made in the fields of big data and AI.

The use of different classes of derivatives used to set-off risk creates a market The Economist values in trillions of dollars, see  (By comparison, the numbers in the recent UK political party manifestos look like loose change.) 

I very much like the report’s suggestion to relabel the CRO role as Chief Reputation Officer.  This appeals to me because it more directly connects it to the organisation’s purpose and values, should they have defined either of these.

S is for selection

I’ve read in different places that on a good day between one-half and two-thirds of recruitment and selection decisions work, i.e. the appointed person fulfils their role’s objectives.  Why is there such a lousy success rate? 

If, as Elliott Jaques contends, you can only judge success in a senior leadership role such as a CEO after five, possibly ten years, why do we see the average tenure falling?  The New York Times said in October 2018, “Between 2015 and 2017, the average chief executive’s tenure in the consumer-goods category fell by nearly a year, to five years; for the industrial sector, it fell by a year and a half, to just under five and a half years, according to the data provider Equilar.  At mature companies that are struggling to generate growth, boards are showing less patience with mediocre chief executives. John Flannery lasted barely a year at General Electric before he was removed earlier this month.” 

Too many role profiles and job descriptions are poorly written. The best worst one was for a Director of Patient Experience at a hospital in southern England.  It ran to over a dozen pages.  While the header of every page in the document includes the word “Patient”, it doesn’t appear in the main narrative until page 8 or 9!). 

I challenge people to write a role’s purpose as a Tweet (ideally the old-fashioned 140 character version), to set out eight to ten key objectives. If the role involves managing people, the first one relates to leading and growing the talent of the team.  All too often this responsbility is the last-named objective. This is entirely at odds with the approach of the recently passed Arie de Geus, “I require all my managers to spend at least 25 percent of their time on these types of issues related to the development and placement of people.” 

How much time are you spending on this activity; or are you too busy putting out fires arising from people’s incompetence? When my friend Shay McConnon, see founder of An Even Better Place to Work, see, started working with one retailer, its managers were spending over 50% of their time dealing with discontented staff. Now that is down into the low teens because they are all working collaboritively towards meeting each others’ needs. Selection is working, people are staying and performing! Other similar stories abound in education and health.

Servant leadership is alive and well!

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