Category Archives: management training

Leadership: Charisma or Competence?


In the last few years there has been a growing interest in leadership and leadership theory –  in the wake of the appearance of political leaders whose election seems to be something of an anomaly.

For instance, Donald Trump is widely regarded as an incompetent (possibly certifiable) loose cannon and the United Kingdom’s Theresa May as a charmless administrator who has suddenly and by accident, found herself in the top job as British Prime Minister.

What Trump and May do have in common, however, is that they are widely regarded as being a perfect example of the Peter Principle. That is to say, they both appear to have been promoted to way beyond their level of incompetence.

But are we judging them too harshly and is our thinking based on the generally accepted but old-fashioned traditional model of the leader as a characterful, outgoing, charismatic ‘general’ who relies on force-of-personality and sublimely supernal oratory to attract and maintain his or her following…..and oh, yes…….there is often talk of ‘a vision’……..and even that is not quite accurate… it is the ability to COMMUNICATE a vision – whether true or bogus which is important.

I have spent many years coaching leaders and even I despair at the apparent shortcomings of the modern day ‘leader’ who has become quieter, far less flamboyant and very often with the wit and cloying personality of a moribund tax accountant.

Let’s have a look at the evolution of leadership – and I’m fully aware that every year, new models of leadership, usually based on previous models of leadership are published by both management scientists and behavioural psychologists in order to attempt to again explain leadership but more often, to sell books.

 Over the years there have been many theories as to what exactly leadership is or what it is supposed to be but in the final analysis, leadership, in its simplest form is best defined as The ability of an individual to influence, motivate and enable others to contribute towards accomplishing a mission.’

That definition has evolved from the original theories which had everything to do with authority. It evolved from the old military model of leadership in which it was believed for a very long time that you could not lead without authority.

From that developed the concept of situational leadership where results were obtained by adapting the use of authority for any given situation.

Many companies still use the old model with the CEO (general) being the solitary commander or leader who delegates duty to the next tier of management – and so on….. until right at the bottom of the pile you have the lowest grade, who supposedly is not able to exercise any sort of authority or leadership. Exactly the equivalent of a private in the army.

In the last 20 years there has been a move away from authority and new models of leadership have been developed based on knowledge rather than rank or authority.

The fact that knowledge is the driving force in leadership nowadays is easily explained, because if an individual is a specialist say in computing, as far as his CEO is concerned, that individual is a leader in his field – and he can also be a follower and a leader.

Specialist knowledge can therefore make an individual a leader in one subject and a follower in another.

If you look at the definition of leadership above, you may be tempted to conclude that ANYONE can be a leader…..or can they?

In the new technological industries, thought-leaders and Nerd-rule are all very well but in politics we still like a bit of charisma.

In the United Kingdom, the British Prime Minister, Theresa May, just like Gordon Brown before her, has an analytical personality.

What does that mean?

It means that decisions are delayed ‘…. until I have ALL the information to hand’. In other words, analyticals can find themselves NEVER making decisions and unfortunately for them (if they are a politician) they enjoy another handicap in that they are not usually ‘people-oriented’. They radiate a certain coldness….although when they find themselves in a position of authority, they do tend to imagine that they will suddenly be able to relate to people and often make the appropriate noises but without any real conviction.

At the other end of the scale is the often-flawed ‘Expressive Charismatic’.

The Expressive really does like people and is able to tap into their emotions without really trying.

These types are able to express NOT what they THINK but what they FEEL.

In politics, an Expressive nature is by far the biggest asset a politician can possess.

Hence the election of Trump over Clinton….which was the biggest triumph of perceived charisma over perceived competence.

Here in the United Kingdom, we continue to gravitate towards leaders who appear safe, grey and competent. Then we remove them and in spite of secretly yearning for an exciting charismatic Expressive leader, we always settle for yet another grey shade of second-best.


The FLOODS: An inept response?

As a manager and director I have always attempted to create a “No Surprises” regime. In the last few years, I have been showing businesses how to achieve that for themselves through a combination of Business Control and honest Management Audit.

“No Surprises Management” is not a magic formula for corporate bliss but it does demonstrate how many of the factors which CAN affect an organisation can be controlled or mitigated.

Most of us have heard of Crisis Management, which, to put it simply, is responding to a crisis after it has occurred. For many years, the skill or otherwise of Management has been measured on its ability to deal with a crisis.

Our Coalition government is currently coming under a lot of criticism because it is not able to demonstrate that it has any idea of how to deal with the current flooding crisis. That is because it appears to be formulating policy on the hoof. The sheer volume of meetings (COBRA #23) also points to a lack of policy and organisation.

However, we have to understand that a collection of political academics, ex-local councillors, union men, administrators and sons of self-made parents have never been told how to deal with a crisis – so we should not really expect too much. It is becoming increasingly apparent that their response is that of a bunch of amateurs.

Modern Management thinking is NOT just about managing a crisis but about Crisis Leadership – which is VERY different. Crisis Management is reactive, whereas Crisis Leadership is proactive, in the sense that plans are in place BEFORE the crisis occurs.

Our government should know and have identified the (only) SEVEN types of crisis which will affect it and it should have procedures in place which are ready to deal with each. In fact, ideally, it should have an “umbrella” plan which can deal with ALL of the following:

1. An Economic Crisis. The 2008 banking crisis has been the best example so far, but one should include issues such as Labour unrest, unemployment, a sudden decrease in the “tax-take” or even a Stockmarket crash. If you cast your mind back to 2008, you may realise that there was no clear Crisis Leadership, merely a panicky stab at Crisis Management (by the banks as well as by the government) and because there was no contingency planning, it cost BILLIONS more than it need have – and I bet that there STILL isn’t a plan in place.

2. An Informational Crisis. A loss of confidential information is a good example. Remember the panic over the Telegraph’s disclosure of MP expenses claims? The NHS has wasted MILLIONS on an abortive migration to a new computer system. Ministry of Defence details have been leaked to the media. ALL of these issues have been dealt with as a Crisis rather than by Crisis Leadership.

3. A Physical Loss. Loss of key equipment. Government and MI5 laptops getting into the wrong hands. Selling an aircraft carrier to Turkey and then having to go cap in hand in order to buy-back components for spares. It was clear in each of those cases that there is no Risk Assessment with procedures in place to deal with loss.

4. Human Resources. The loss of a Minister because of expenses fiddling or Police lies. Those are always a real risk which once again were dealt with as a crisis. Simple Crisis Leadership in the shape of some very simple succession planning would have made it look as if someone WAS in charge!

5. Reputational. Rumours, Politicians being caught with their pants around their ankles, damage to a government’s reputation or even slander are all very real risks. They are inevitably dealt with as a crisis and on an individual basis.

6. Psychopathic acts. Assange is one case which springs to mind. Kidnapping and terrorism or even one MP smacking another one in the House of Commons Bar. All require a procedure! However, I bet that the ONLY psychopathic act which the government and its departments are half-ready for, is a terrorist attack!

7. Natural Disasters. In the UK, we are limited to flooding, the odd explosion or fire. Of these, flooding is the topical one and because of a lack of foresight and political will, a major crisis is unfolding.

Pre-planning for crisis (Crisis Leadership) starts with thinking about the unthinkable. It is also about acknowledging that every crisis can go on to create another apparently unrelated crisis. In addition, every crisis is capable of being the Cause and the Effect of any other crisis.

For instance, the floods could be either the  cause or the effect of an economic crisis.

Imagine that in the first instance, there is a flooding crisis. Someone can then cause an Informational crisis by leaking minutes of a meeting during which it was decided to severely limit the expenditure on flood defences. There may have been a Physical loss of dredging equipment as a result of bad policies with another physical loss being an unusable railway line such as the one in Dawlish. A Human Resources crisis has been demonstrated by Ministerial bickering, the loss or Owen Patterson and the installation of a totally unprepared Eric Pickles as the government spokesman who is now flip-flopping from studio to studio, defending the undefensible.

A Reputational crisis has clobbered not only the Environment Agency and Lord Smith but is likely to engulf the entire Coalition Government because the perception is that they are ALL incompetent.

The above are only a sketch which demonstrates how a single crisis , if not managed properly, creates several others in its wake.

So what should happen in the future?

A cross-functional crisis team should be assembled, with an expert from each of the seven types of crisis. Each member of that team should be polled, in order to give the other members of the team a detailed understanding of all the crises which they believe could occur on their ‘patch’…………..A COBRA meeting, consisting of the usual suspects listening to a DC soliloquy plus a couple of soldiers in Camo gear (for the cameras) is NOT the way forward!

The next step is to produce a high-level ‘map’ of ALL crises and how they may interact and produce hitherto unexpected effects or as we are currently seeing…a chain reaction.

Until a non-political team such as this is put together, the United Kingdom is doomed to experience crisis after crisis with politicians who create the crisis charging themselves with making the effort to deal with the crisis and unwittingly delivering further crises ……………ad infinitum.

Management: Two views

As an Executive Coach of over 25 years, there is one pet hate which I have developed – the Management Model.

Every year, new models arrive and new training methods  sprout like weeds.

99% of them are derivative.

For instance, when applying a bit of pseudo-psychology, a classic Johari Window may be used. This one which is based on the Merrill-Reid Social Styles Model. Here it is:

So, we coaches and trainers tell our charges that as managers, they are either Driver-Expressive, Driver-Analytical etc. We know that accountants are Analytical-Aimiable or that a Finance Director might be a Driver-Analytical.

Then we all nod wisely and have a discussion.

But so what?

It’s no more than Mystic Meg telling you that you are “emotional” but “you like to get your own way” or that “you never give up” or ” you have a small scar on your left knee”……I can even sense you nodding as you read this!

Unfortunately, if you have staff and you are a bad manager, this is the Management Model against which they are likely to be judging you:

So, if you are a manager or an “executive”………think on……….ditch the “Bossmanship” and self-importance. Someone , somewhere may be ridiculing you.

….and oh yes……………….ditch those Management Models as well as those “soft” skills of Management.

You already have those.

(RR posted by Gemma)