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Barbara Kellerman: Leadership Triangle

From the 1970s to the present day, the study of leadership has mushroomed. And one of the foremost academic researchers is Barbara Kellerman, who first became interested in dominance and power at a young age, but discovered a dearth of literature on the subject. Since the mid-1970s, she has been a prolific contributor to that literature.

Barbara Kellerman

Short Biography

Barbara Kellerman took her BA at Sarah Lawrence College, graduating in 1969 and moved to Yale for postgraduate studies, first for an MA in Russian and East European studies, and then for an MPhil and PhD in Political Science, which she earned in 1975.

She stayed in the academic, taking up the study of leadership, with posts at Fordham, Tufts, Fairleigh Dickinson, George Washington, Maryland, and Uppsala Universities. In 1998, she was one of the founders of The International Leadership Association, a membership organisation that brings together people with practical and academic interests in leadership.

In 2000, Kellerman founded the Harvard Kennedy School’s Centre for Public Leadership, which she led until 2003, before stepping down to become its Research Director. Since 2006, she has been the James MacGregor Burns Lecturer in Public Leadership at the John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University, and is also a a visiting scholar and professor at several other institutions, including The Tuck School of Business, and New York University.

Barbara Kellerman on Leadership

Kellerman has researched and written extensively on leadership, putting forward many challenging and compelling ideas. Her 2012 book, The End of Leadership, takes on the ‘leadership industry’, challenging it to really critique the results it achieves.

Kellerman takes a very ‘liberal arts’ view of leadership and is a strong advocate of a great books approach of reading widely and eclectically about leadership from leaders and commentators. Her book Leadership: Essential Selections on Power, Authority, and Influence provides her selection of readings and commentaries.

Her eclectic and innovative approach is nicely illustrated by her book Bad Leadership: What It Is, How It Happens, Why It Matters. It is an unusual approach to study the characteristics and problems of poor leadership – but instructive. Kellerman is foremost a teacher about leadership, rather than a teacher of leadership.

… and Followership

Another narrative in The End of Leadership picks up from her earlier work and emphasises the role of followership and how the balance of power between leaders and the people they would lead has shifted. Her work on followers is every bit as important as that on leaders, and in many ways far more innovative: compare the volume of literature on each!

In Followership: How Followers Are Creating Change and Changing Leaders, Kellerman discusses the essential role of followers and classifies them into five types, depending upon their level of engagement:

  1. Isolates
    These followers blend into the background and fail (or refuse) to engage. They do nothing to support changes and so entrench the status quo.
  2. Bystanders
    Like Isolates, Bystanders refuse to participate, but unlike them, they do, at least, maintain an awareness of events. They are often the silent majority who also contribute to maintaining the status quo.
  3. Participants
    These followers get involved in either supporting or opposing their leaders, and so are important stakeholders to further engage. This is particularly so, because their motivations are led by their own agenda, rather than those of their leader.
  4. Activists
    These followers do not just get involved; they take a lead in pursuing their agenda. They are often highly motivated and energetic, with strong convictions and a desire to lead for themselves. Where they support a leader, they become powerful allies, able to lead parts of a change autonomously.
  5. Diehards
    The strongest emotions lie with diehards, who are prepared to do whatever it takes to support or overthrow their leader. They are rare, but can be fanatical, giving them a significant importance.

The Leadership Triangle

In The End of Leadership, Kellerman describes leadership as an equilateral triangle, with three equal sides:

  1. the Leader
  2. the Followers
  3. the Context

The context represents all of the other stakeholders, the culture, the environment, the technological and process resources and constraints and anything else the leader and followers must interact with. Vitally, Kellerman argues that context changes and therefore leadership and followership must necessarily change too, in response. The impact of changes in technology and shifts in world politics are causing ideas of leadership to evolve continuously.

This is what fascinates Kellerman, and her books and writing are always thoughtful. Her latest book, Hard Times, examines the challenging context of today’s United States, looking at how that context is shifting to create new norms and expectations.

Barbara Kellerman describing her work

From the Leadership Industry

The Leadership Pocketbook



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Colin Powell: Leader

By many measures, General Colin Powell is one of the most accomplished military leaders of the twentieth century, holding a slew of ‘first’s and ‘youngest’s. What makes him interesting to the Management Pocketblog is the depth and breadth of his ideas on leadership, that have been widely publicised, most notably by the late Oren Harari, who was a business professor at the University of San Francisco. His credibility as a ‘leadership guru’ is immense, and much of his philosophy of leadership applies well to managers who lead within civilian organisations.

General Colin Powell


Short Biography

Colin Powell was born in 1937 to Jamaican immigrant parents, and grew up in the Bronx in New York. He attended the City College of New York, earning a BS in geology in 1958. But during his time there, he made his most important choice of all. As an averagely academic student at the time, he found his greatest fulfilment attending the Reserve Officer Training Corps. He was good at it too, so on graduation, he joined the US Army, attended basic training, and was commissioned as a second Lieutenant.

Powell’s early military career was dominated by distinguished tours of duty in Vietnam, rising to Lieutenant Colonel in 1970. He was wounded, and also decorated for bravery. He returned the US and to a series of political roles with the Nixon and Reagan administrations, rising up through the ranks of general staff, until President George HW Bush appointed him the youngest (and first African American) Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff in 1989.

He served in that role until 1993, and then retired from the military. He was courted by both Republican and Democratic parties as a potential Presidential or Vice-Presidential candidate and, after declaring himself a Republican, declined to stand, saying he did not have the fire in the belly he would need for such a role. However, in the 2000 Presidential election, Republican Party candidate George W Bush declared that, if he won, he would appoint Powell as Secretary of State – which he did.

Powell was a good Secretary of State – widely liked and respected by staff and international politicians. He served during the 11 September attacks and presented the US case for invasion of Iraq to the UN, putting forward evidence of weapons of mass destruction. When he later learned that the evidence he had been given by the CIA was bogus, he apologised and it is likely that this, along with long-running disagreements with Vice President Dick Cheney caused him to resign and not serve in Bush’s second term.

However, he continued (and continues) to serve the US in a range of voluntary roles, most notable of which is the America’s Promise Alliance, which he founded with his wife Alma, and which she continues to chair. It sets out to help create the conditions for success for young people, especially those it identifies as being disadvantaged by lack of resources and opportunities.

In 2013, Powell’s Alma Mater, The City College of New York, transformed its Division of Social Science into the Colin L. Powell School for Civic and Global Leadership. It incorporates the Colin Powell Center, which Powell founded in Harlem (where he was born) to build a culture of service and to inspire young people with a sense of public purpose and responsibility.

Colin Powell on Leadership

Powell’s leadership philosophy started to become well-known when Oren Harari wrote an article in the American Management Association’s monthly magazine, Management Review, called Quotations from Chairman Powell: A Leadership Primer (1996). This was such a successful article (Powell himself praised it) that Harari followed it up with a book: ‘The Leadership Secrets of Colin Powell‘.

Since then, Powell has himself articulated his 13 Rules of Leadership, in his own book, ‘It Worked for Me: In Life and Leadership‘.

  • Rule 1: It Ain’t as Bad as You Think!  It Will Look Better in the Morning!
  • Rule 2: Get Mad Then Get Over It!
  • Rule 3: Avoid Having Your Ego so Close to your Position that When Your Position Falls, Your Ego Goes With It!
  • Rule 4: It Can be Done!
  • Rule 5: Be Careful What You Choose! You May Get It!
  • Rule 6: Don’t Let Adverse Facts Stand in the Way of a Good Decision.
  • Rule 7: You Can’t Make Someone Else’s Decisions!  You Shouldn’t Let Someone Else Make Yours!
  • Rule 8: Check Small Things!
  • Rule 9: Share Credit!
  • Rule 10: Remain calm!  Be kind!
  • Rule 11: Have a Vision! Be Demanding!
  • Rule 12: Don’t take counsel of your fears or naysayers!
  • Rule 13: Perpetual optimism is a force multiplier!

Three of the Best for Managers

Combining Powell’s own 13 rules, with the 18 lessons that Harari drew from quotations by Powell in his 1996 article, I would like to extract three that I find most relevant and resonant for business managers.

Powell’s Rule 3:
Avoid Having Your Ego so Close to your Position that When Your Position Falls, Your Ego Goes With It!

I like this a lot, because it is about resilience and also about recognising that you can be wrong, you will be wrong and, indeed, this is sometimes part of your job description. Being wrong is a sign of innovating and taking risks and the measure of a leader is not just in how often you are right, but how you make a decision that turns out to be wrong, and how you respond when the facts reveal themselves.

Harari’s Lesson 8:
‘Organization doesn’t really accomplish anything. Plans don’t accomplish anything, either. Theories of management don’t much matter. Endeavors succeed or fail because of the people involved. Only by attracting the best people will you accomplish great deeds.’

As someone who likes to plan and is enchanted by theories, all I can say is ‘ouch!’ But I also know from my experience as a manager, leader and active project manager that Powell is spot on – plans, processes and models are nothing more than enablers that create a framework to make life easier for the people – and the best will succeed even in their absence. That is, of course, not an argument for abandoning good practices!

Harari’s Lesson 15:
Part I: ‘Use the formula P=40 to 70, in which P stands for the probability of success and the numbers indicate the percentage of information acquired.’
Part II: ‘Once the information is in the 40 to 70 range, go with your gut.’

I hate the way he expresses this, but I love Powell’s sentiment that we need to act on partial knowledge or face being paralysed and acting too late. But on the other hand, acting on too little information is reckless. As in everything, finding the right balance is the key to success.

One more thing…

Harari also quoted Powell (Lesson 11) as saying:

‘Fit no stereotypes.
Don’t chase the latest management fads.
The situation dictates which approach best accomplishes the team’s mission.’

The last year or so of Pocketblog (and the next to come, I hope) has taught me that the best of the latest fads are rooted in deep wisdom, and that there is so much of it around that our job is to integrate it into our thinking so we are equipped with the flexibility to respond to whatever circumstances throw at us.

That kind of adaptability – coupled with a deep sense of public purpose – is what makes Powell an inspirational figure.

You might enjoy…

The Leadership Pocketbook

Powell on his 13 Rules (2 mins)

Powell on the most important thing in Leadership (3 mins)

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Nancy Kline: Thinking Environment

The powerful belief behind coaching: whether life coaching, corporate coaching, performance coaching or any other sort is simple: If we fully understand the challenge or problem we face, then we can access our own solution to it. Nancy Kline puts it this way:

Usually the brain that contains the problem also contains the solution – often the best one.

Her contribution is to formalise a set of criteria for what she calls (and has trademarked as) a Thinking Environment. These ten conditions at once make  sense: they are both obvious and insightful.

Nancy Kline

[Very] Brief Biography

There is not a lot of information around on Kline, save that she was born in New Mexico and served on the faculty of a Quaker School in Virginia, where she and her first husband set up a satellite institution in 1972. It was there that she started to think deeply about how to create the space to think. She went on, after twelve years, to be a director at the rightwing Leadership Institute. In 1990, she married her second husband, Christopher Spence, and moved to the UK. Shortly afterwards, she set up her consulting and coaching business and wrote her first book, Time to Think, published in 1999.

Kline’s Thinking

It seems to me that the entire burden of Kline’s ideas is supported by one statement:

The quality of your attention determines the quality of other people’s thinking.

This tracks back to her and her colleagues’ observations of teenage students trying to solve their own problems for themselves and it is the the core principle of her attitude to coaching – and of the attitude of many coaches. Her book, Time to Think: Listening to ignite the human mind and her concept of a Thinking EnvironmentⓇ set out ten conditions that create a good environment in which we can think. These conditions are:

  1. Attention
    You need to listen carefully, take an interest in everything you hear, and be respectful of the ideas, beliefs and values that are embedded.
  2. Incisive questions
    In the coaching context, the questions you ask evoke awareness, so your goal is to shake up entrenched patterns of thinking that can create unwarranted limitations.
  3. Equality
    Speaker and listener deserve equal respect, attention, and time, and must maintain their commitments to one another.
  4. Appreciation
    This one reminds me of the Losada and Heaphy paper in 2004 that shows (and the methodology has been criticised) that  five to one ratio of positive to negative comments drives stronger group performance.
  5. Ease
    Creating time, without a feeling of urgency or hurry. Kline sees urgency as a destructive force.
  6. Encouragement
    Beyond the positive sense of this work, Kline also means us to engender a collaborative rather than competitive mindset.
  7. Feelings
    Letting the speaker express and experience their emotions, to release the speaker from their grip.
  8. Information
    Drawing out a complete and, as far as possible, reliable statement of reality.
  9. Place
    Selecting an appropriate physical environment in which we feel fully respected.
  10. Diversity
    Differences create opportunities. Diversity adds value.

Kline’s Offering to Organisations

Kline is clearly a master coach, and her organisation offers a range of training. Her book does not only offer a prescription for how to create an environment where people can think more clearly – and therefore solve problems more effectively. It also contains valuable insights of a range of organisational types. Along the way, what I found most useful, were some of the specific questions she suggests asking others… and ourselves. I would put Kline in a category with another asker of insightful questions, Susan Scott.

Any leader or manager can gain a lot by taking time to think about some of her questions, of which my two favourites are:

What do you really think?

What do we already know now that we are going to find out in a year?

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Brené Brown: Shame, vulnerability, worthiness and courage

Brené Brown is a social work researcher, working at the Graduate College of Social Work, at the University of Houston. I am sure that is what her job description says, but she describes herself as a researcher-storyteller. And the subject of her research and stories is vulnerability and shame, and all that flow from these two, very human emotions.

Brené Brown

Brief Biography

Brené Brown grew up in Texas and attended the University of Texas at Austin, where she took a Bachelor of Social Work degree. She later gained a Masters degree and then a PhD in Social Work, at the University of Houston Graduate College of Social Work. In 2010, she spoke about her research at a TEDx event in Houston. That talk has since become one of the most viewed TED talks, with over 16 million views to date. You can see it, and her subsequent TED talk, at the bottom of this blog.

Brené Brown’s Work

Brown started out to study the connections between people, and quickly learned, through many formal interviews and focus groups, that when she asked about connection, people rapidly started to speak about disconnection and their fear of it. At the heart of her understanding of connection emerged shame – the fear of disconnection and of not being worthy of connection.

Brown characterises shame as a feeling that ‘I am not good enough’ and even of asking ourselves the question: ‘who do you think you are?’ Shame, she points out, is a reflection of our sense of self, which she compares with guilt, which is about our sense of what we have done. Her research shows that depression and poor social functioning – even mental illness – is linked to a sense of shame, but not to guilt. People who have a strong capacity for guilt can address their behaviours, whilst still holding onto their sense of self-worth, or worthiness.

Worthiness is fundamental to Brown’s thinking. The difference between people who have a strong feeling of love and belonging, and those who struggle to find love and belonging is that strong sense of worthiness. This arises from four things: courage, compassion, connection and, crucially, vulnerability.

It is when we own up to our own imperfections and vulnerability that we can find our authenticity and start to feel worthy. People who do this are ‘wholehearted people’.

Brown has articulated this powerfully in her second book, The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You’re Supposed to be and Embrace Who You are. Her subsequent book, Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead, extends these ideas further.

Brené Brown’s relevance to Management

At the start of her 2012 TED talk (below), Brown tells how businesses who want her to speak at their events constantly ask her to speak about three topics: creativity, innovation, and change. She points out that:

‘Vulnerability is the birthplace of
creativity, innovation, and change.’

However, I think the strongest link from her work to management is in the way we manage and lead. Daring Greatly is about taking the risk of making yourself vulnerable – of admitting your fears, rather than hiding them behind the fake certainties of dogma and the false strengths of arrogance and blame.

Too much management and leadership is based on a need to be certain, a need to be right, and a need to be a hero. Allowing yourself to be vulnerable to new ideas, to mistakes, and to weakness opens up a raft of opportunities, not only for new ideas, but also for your colleagues and team members to shine. If you do nothing else, watch the first of these videos.

The Power of Vulnerability

Brené Brown’s 16 million+ views TEDx talk from 2010.

[ted id=1042]

Listening to Shame

Brené Brown’s subsequent TED talk in 2012 has had over 4 million views.

[ted id=1391]

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Michelle Howard: Not a Wimp

Admiral Michelle Harris is the first woman and the first African American to be promoted to a four star role in the US Navy, and the first African American woman both to command a ship, and later, to reach three-stars. She was recently appointed to be the US Navy’s vice chief of operations – its second-highest-ranking officer. She was also the  officer who masterminded the rescue of Captain Richard Phillips from Somali pirates – later dramatised in the Tom Hanks movie, Captain Phillips.

Admiral Michelle Howard

Short Biography

Michelle Howard was born in 1960 to an American father and British mother. Her father was a Master Sergeant in the US Air Force. She graduated from the US Naval academy and then earned a master’s degree in military arts and sciences in 1998 from the Army’s Command and General Staff College. When she took command of the U.S.S. Rushmore in 1999, she became the first African-American woman to command a ship in the US Navy.

Howard was promoted to rear admiral (lower half) – equivalent to Commodore in the UK’s Royal Navy – in 2007 and to rear admiral, in 2010. She was promoted to vice admiral in 2012, and then, on 1 July 2014, she was promoted to four-star admiral with President Obama’s nomination (since unanimously confirmed by the Senate) to become the Vice Chief of Naval Operations.

Leadership Thinking

From her earliest days as a junior officer, Howard was recognised as an outstanding leader. On only her second posting, aboard USS Lexington, she received the Secretary of the Navy/Navy League Captain Winifred Collins award for the one woman officer a year showing the most outstanding leadership.

But it has not always been easy. Howard said in an interview with Ebony magazine in 1999 that, in the course of her career, she encountered ‘individuals who didn’t want me at the command, or didn’t want me in a particular position.’ 

Speaking about the obstacles she has faced as an African American woman, she said in a 2010 talk about women and minorities in the Navy: ‘This is not for wimps.  You have to keep a sense of humor. You have to develop stamina because there’s going to be tough days. Like the pioneering women of old, you have to let some things go.’

But, for this blog, the most valuable interview is the one that she recently gave to Forbes Magazine, which you can read in full, and watch  extracts below.

The five leadership lessons that Howard offers are powerful indeed, not least because of the authority and careful consideration she brings to them.

  1. If you want to innovate, first take a hard look at yourself–and be flexible about making changes.
  2. Create space for creativity–you never know what could result.
  3. A morning routine can boost observation, not just efficiency.  (my own personal favourite)
  4. An appreciation for the lessons of the past will help you better craft the future.
  5. Create an environment where employees can meet personal goals and they’ll strive that much harder for the professional ones, too.

I shall not give more detail, because you can readily read it on the Forbes website. Please do.



You might also enjoy the Leadership Pocketbook and the Diversity Pocketbook.






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Roselinde Torres: Adaptive Leadership

Roselinde Torres

Roselinde Torres is an inspirational thinker, who is actively researching and developing the field of organizational leadership.

Like many people, I first became aware of her through her ten minute TED video (which is embedded at the end of this blog).  Her ideas are simple, but thoroughly researched.

Brief Biography

Torres is currently a senior partner at the international management consulting firm BCG – formerly Boston Consulting Group; perhaps most famous for the BCG Growth Share Matrix.  At BCG, she leads their thinking and research into leadership.

Before working at BCG, Torres led internal consulting teams at Johnson & Johnson and Connecticut Mutual Life, and was also a partner at Mercer Delta Consulting.  She studied English and Spanish at college, and also gained an MS in Human Resource development.

Her ideas

As regular readers of this blog will know, I am easily seduced by a good model, and I very much like Torres’ model of Adaptive Leadership.  Adaptive leaders operate effectively in a modern uncertain and ambiguous environment, by creating the conditions to enable dynamic networks of stakeholders to work together, towards common goals.

Torres argues that adaptive leaders need to build and enhance their abilities in four dimension – which she describes as new, but I think that is a touch hyperbolic.

What makes the model a little more clever than some is how she finds language to chart the four dimensions onto compass points north, east, south and west.  Adaptive Leaders need to:


Navigate a VUCA (volatile, uncertain, complex, ambiguous) business environment, by embracing all of those subtleties, rather than by trying to over-simplify them or ignore them.  For this, Torres argues, they need to cultivate a wide diversity of perspectives and share their leadership responsibilities.


Empathise with the people they lead, seeing the world through multiple perspectives, and drawing people together.


Follow a cycle of trial and learning.  Adaptive leaders are not afraid to conduct experiments before committing the whole organization to a strategy.  This means learning from failures, but also seizing successes.  It can lead to greater agility combined with higher certainty of success.


Create sustainable success for all stakeholders, by developing lasting assets like networks of collaborators, and influence into the wider social setting of the organization.

Roselinde Torres: Adaptive Leadership

In her TED video, below, Torres picks up on some of these themes and emphasizes three questions leaders need to ask, which I shall paraphrase.  Do watch this ten-minute video, though.  Torres is clear, eloquent and persuasive.

  1. Where are you putting your attention, so you can anticipate the next changes?
  2. How diverse is your personal and professional network?
  3. Are you courageous enough to abandon practices that have made you successful in the past?

These are fabulous and thought-provoking questions.

[ted id=1930]

This talk is available on the TED website.

You can read much more about the Adaptive Leadership model in two splendid articles on the BCG website:

An interview with Roselinde Torres on How to Cultivate the Next Generation of Leaders.

Management Pocketbooks on Leadership: The Leadership Pocketbook.


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Reward Failure

Yup, you heard me.

Nice Try

But why?

Well, first, we need to define terms:

Reward: celebrate, congratulate, give praise.

Failure: making the effort and not succeeding.

You get what you reward, right?

Dead right.  So, if you only reward success, people will succeed more, yes?  Of course yes.  But to achieve that, what behaviours will you get?

Protective, cautious behaviours that are calculated to minimise the risk of failure of course.

So what will change?  Very little – too much risk.  In fact, all you will get is ‘safe’.

But what if you reward failure?

Well, if you just reward failure, that would be silly.

But if you reward the effort,

… and if you include in your evaluation of effort the good judgement that leads to well calculated risks

… and if you assess ‘well calculated’ against the evidence available at the start, and eschew ‘hindsight bias’

Then maybe your team will realise that success is not easy, but that striving for real, hard-fought, worthwhile success is something you value – and so should they.

Reward good judgement and effort – not success, which may, after all, have little to do with either, and everything to do with luck.

Don’t reward luck.

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Management Secrets of Queen Elizabeth II

The Diamond Jubilee of Queen Elizabeth II

This blog is published on a Bank Holiday, so we don’t expect many people to be at work, reading it. But a diamond jubilee is a big deal – and so is Queen Elizabeth II. Over the last sixty years, she has proved herself, among much else, a great manager.  Let’s look at how.

1. Professionalism

The Queen is the consummate professional – putting in many hours of work every day (still) and, until recently, maintaining a work schedule that would make Apprentice candidates and Dragons shudder.

2. Chief Executive

She is Chief Executive of one of the nation’s oldest established, biggest and most successful family businesses.  And she has run it pretty well.  Whilst openly acknowledging the occasional wayward members of the family, and allowing the odd unsuccessful venture from some of them, she has ensured that the succession is assured with all of the major players showing signs of commitment to the business and high levels of professionalism themselves.

3. Mastering a Brief

The Queen prepares well for every engagement, famously knowing all about the people she meets, from Lord Lieutenant to Lunchtime Assistant (Dinner Lady in old money).  And she also keeps up with her red boxes (literally, red boxes in which Government papers are sent to her daily), devoting many hours each week to assimilate everything the Government sends her.

4. Brand Management

Her identity and that of her family, the House of Windsor, remains clear and, despite some setbacks, currently has not only great name recognition (“The Royal Family”) but also high levels of brand approval.  It has adapted well to modern media and the website is supplemented by YouTube, Flickr and Facebook pages, and a Twitter stream @TheBritishMonarchy.  I doubt that the Queen herself tweets – but how many CEOs do?

5. Financial Control

No longer right at the top of the Sunday Times Rich List (now at 262, with £310m), this could be argued to be a weak area, but she has reduced the scale of the civil list and, unlike some of the higher fliers, is not running a global business.

6. Coaching

The Queen’s regular meetings with her many Prime Ministers have, by many accounts, often taken the form of a non-judgemental conversation, in which she asks many probing and insightful questions.  In management, there’s a word for that style of conversation.

7. Change Management

A lot is made of the continuity of the British monarchy, but the reality is one of constant change.  The last sixty years have been no exception.  And whilst she has avoided the pitfalls that led predecessors to far more rapid change (Magna Carta, Civil War like Stephen/Matilda, Charles/Parliament, Roses etc, or reformation), she has created a highly agile institution that, whilst in no way a creature of the twenty first century, at least looks fit to continue within it.

Management Pocketbooks you might Enjoy

The Modern Monarch's Pocketbook

The Modern Monarch’s Pocketbook has been delayed, so in the meantime, if you are a UK resident and reading this on the Bank Holiday, enjoy the end of your break.

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The Science of Leadership: Warren Bennis (Part 1)

Over the last year, Pocketblog has studied the work of many fine business thinkers.  It is time to turn our attention to Warren Bennis.


Bennis is not just an expert on leadership – which he undoubtedly is.  It was he who created the modern interest in the subject, with the book he co-wrote with Burt Nanus: ‘Leaders: The Strategies for Taking Charge’.

Bennis was greatly influenced by Douglas McGregor, who both taught and mentored him.  McGregor was influential, with his Theory X and Theory Y, in examining the ways we can manage colleagues at work, and influence their motivation.

The Story of Motivation in the Workplace

… is one of shifts towards and away from a prescriptive scientific perspective.  In a recent Pocketblog, I described how FW Taylor invoked ‘scientific management’ to create a repeatable process for optimising work-rates.  His follower, Elton Mayo then discovered that human factors can over-ride the simplistic approach to theoretically optimised efficiency levels.

It was Douglas McGregor who characterised these two approaches as Theory X (controlling, task-focused management) and Theory Y (more democratic, relationship-driven management).  McGregor argued powerfully in ‘The Human Side of the Enterprise’ and later books that Taylorism could not work sustainably in the modern world; Theory Y must dominate.

Enter Warren Bennis

Bennis followed McGregor in studying organisational development and looked to him as a mentor.  McGregor to a great extent shaped Bennis’s career and we will see more about that next week.

What Bennis contributed was a focus on the work of leaders, and what leadership means in an organisational context.  For all those of us who work in organisational development or leadership development, he has provided the foundations of modern thinking.

And for me, his principal contribution is the body of evidence he accumulated to show that leadership is open to everyone.  It is not a product of birth, of genes, or even of the type of school you went to.  It can be learned and developed like any other skill.

The Science of Leadership

There are two ways of doing science.  In my own discipline of physics, you can even study it formally in these two ways: experimental and theoretical.  Theoreticians dream up grand theories in response to limited experimental data, and then make predictions that experimentalists test.  It is only when the data prove the theorist wrong that science truly advances.  The smug feeling theoreticians get when the evidence supports their theory cannot mask the deeper knowledge that it can never constitute proof.  A theory is never more than one experiment away from falsification.

Experiments, on the other hand, are glorious.  They always yield knowledge.  Maybe it corroborates existing knowledge – which is comforting – or maybe it challenges it, from which progress arises – which is truly exciting.  Theorists know we are at the weak end of the process.

Bennis is a data gatherer.  He has not presented a grand theory of leadership.  Not for him: four leadership styles, six leadership roles or eight ways to lead.  Bennis and Nanus started their revolution in leadership thinking by surveying 90 leaders, from business, sports, the arts and exploration.

Some Ideas 

Bennis is perhaps best known for his tabulation of the differences between leaders and managers – which we mentioned a year ago.  The phrase ‘managers do things right: leaders do the right thing’ has become a commonplace – even turning up with very little adaptation, in a speech by Nick Clegg over the summer.

But many other ideas that we accept as commonplace were first articulated in their modern form by Warren Bennis:

Leaders learn from failure.
Adverse circumstances and a series of failures is a more valuable learning route than early and continued success.

Leaders create empathy
Leaders must bring people alongside their own views and they can only do this by empathising with their followers.

Leaders create great groups
Bennis and Nanus argued that great results emanate from great groups and it is the role of a leader to bring them together and and create the opportunities for them to thrive.

So here is the deal

Leadership can be learned and it was Warren Bennis who did more than any other thinker to put these ideas to us.

More in Part 2, next week.

Some Management Pocketbooks you might enjoy

The Leadership Pocketbook
As you would expect, a lot of Bennis’s ideas suffuse this volume.

The Management Models Pocketbook
Looks at models of leadership that are often informed by Bennis’s thinking.

The Emotional Intelligence Pocketbook
Bennis has often stressed emotional intelligence as a vital leadership skill.

The Empowerment Pocketbook
Empowerment is what a leader should be about.

The Self Managed Development Pocketbook, and
The Learner’s Pocketbook
Bennis argued that leaders need to be learners.

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The Apprentice and Five Levels of Leadership

One of the most compelling critiques of contemporary business leadership is Jim Collins’ ‘Good to Great in which he defines five levels of business leadership.


Level 1 Leaders

… are Highly Capable people who make ‘productive contributions through talent, knowledge, skills and good work habits.’

Level 2 Leaders

… are Contributing Team Members who contribute ‘individual capabilities to the achievement of group objectives and works effectively with others in a group setting.’

Level 3 Leaders

… are Competent Managers who ‘organize people and resources toward the effective and efficient pursuit of predetermined objectives.’

Level 4 Leaders

… are Effective Leaders who ‘catalyse commitment to and vigorous pursuit of a clear and compelling vision, stimulating higher performance standards.’

Level 5 Leaders

… are Executives who ‘build enduring greatness through a paradoxical blend of personal humility and professional will.’

Personal Humility and Professional Will

Collins’ ‘paradoxical blend’ is not something we see in many Apprentice candidates. In fact most are at pains to describe themselves as charismatic, ruthless and ambitious.

Curiously, Level 5 Leaders are charismatic – but in a very different way. Their calm humility exudes a sense of wisdom and self control. They are ruthlessly determined, it is true, but with a commitment to integrity that means they take great trouble to be fair. And their ambition is not for themselves, but for their business.

Diligence and Details

Level 5 leaders are able to wrestle at length with the details, see through the gloss to the truth and work hard – relentlessly even – to build a business of lasting value. Their outward modesty – few were well known outside their industry – belied a ruthless advocacy for their business.

Built to Last’ was Collins’ earlier book (with Jerry Porras) about what made some companies great.

Collins concludes that each of the ‘good-to-great’ companies he studied was led by a Level 5 leader, but none of the less-successful companies he compared them with were.

The Apprentice: what level of leadership?

Until the Apprentice, one might have characterised Lord Sugar as a Level 5 Leader, but now he courts limelight in a way that Level 5 Leaders never would. Arguably though, he has built his business empire and created a property portfolio that meets all of his material needs and more, so it’s time to have fun.

But what message is he, through the needs of a prime-time TV reality show, sending to young business people? What levels of leadership do we see week after week?

I Leap to the Show’s Defence

Who knows how this series will end? But let’s step back a year and look at how the last series ended.

imageLast season’s winner (I hope this isn’t a spoiler for anyone still working through their over-full video collection) was Stella English. Far from the fluffy charisma bunny, Stella was accused by some peers as dull. But she knew how to focus on the business issues and – uncharacteristically for Apprentice candidates – could manage a team.


Stella left school with no qualifications, but flourished in a Japanese bank that cannot possibly favour gobby managers with no substance and, interestingly, described herself as ‘like a dog with a bone. I can’t let go.’

Maybe Lord Sugar recognises the value of Level 5 Leadership after all.

That said…

Ellie Reed - The Apprentice Series 7As the voice-over and Lord S keep reminding viewers, this series is different. He is looking for an entrepreneur: not a manager. So he let calm and steady Ellie Reed (‘I’m just a nice person really, but I have got a dark side if somebody treats me badly’) go, alongside Level 0 Poseur Vincent.

Let’s keep watching.


Management Pocketbooks the Candidates might Enjoy
… or just benefit from!

… hey! Maybe the people who get signed up for Series 8 should buy the whole DVD of 50 top Pocketbooks!



More Apprentice?

We know that The Apprentice is not watched by everyone interested in management, so we won’t let the series take over your Pocketblog. If you are a fan, please do check out my own blog, where I aim to draw a management lesson from each episode, on the morning after.

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