Monday, 11 May 2015


I’ve written quite a lot on leadership. Shelves in bookshops are crammed with beastly tomes on the subject (“Leadership Plain and Simple”; “the Top 100 Ways to be a Great Leader”; “The Three Levels of Leadership” and over 24,000 more on this subject). I worked out that being conservative there’s around 1 ¼ billion words on the topic and counting.

And I’m not sure that I really believe in the concept of the leader, well not the Genghis Khan sort of leader we keep pretend we’re seeking. It’s the terminology that goes with leadership that worries me. We don’t talk about the calming of leadership or the guidance of leadership. Instead we talk about the “smack of firm leadership”.

We had the legendary workaholic Harriet Green ex CEO of Thomas Cook who allegedly fired people whilst painting her nails. Nice. We had Steve Jobs who when at Pixar, fired people and didn't give any severance pay. Pamela Kerwin, a Pixar employee, pleaded that employees at least be given two weeks’ notice.

"Okay," he said, "but the notice is retroactive from two weeks ago."

Frank Lowe, the advertising man who founded Lowe Howard Spink, being an insomniac, would summon senior executives at midnight to a meeting. They returned home exhausted and he’d call to get them back saying there was other stuff to go through.

Recent research into football management suggests changing managers in general has little effect. The irony of the David Moyes’ debacle at Manchester United was his successor’s record, whilst he was being praised for being so much better, was actually pretty much the same as David’s.

The nearest to making sense of the leadership cult came from Jim Collins in his book “From Good to Great” when he talked about what he called ‘level five leaders’. These were leaders “in whom genuine personal humility blends with intense professional will.”

The second thing I wanted to comment upon is the pointlessness, indeed the destructive capability, of much market research. Anyone in advertising always knew it was futile to expect the average consumer to know what day it was let alone whether an ad was any good. Steve Jobs was smart as well as behaving boorishly from time to time. Dismissing the idea that people knew what they wanted he said average people just can’t predict. Instead: “We figure out what we want. And I think we’re pretty good at having the right discipline to think through whether a lot of other people are going to want it, too. That’s what we get paid to do.”

The polls in the recent election rather prove the point. The one below was pretty typical of a week ago. Scores an F.

Look at trends and think of basics. The conservatives had a better economic plan which just made more people feel safer. A few weeks earlier Benjamin Netanyahu, predicted to lose badly in Israel, won
comfortably by making more people feel safer too.

So don’t ask people. Just work it out…that’s what we get paid to do

1 comment:

Nick Fitzherbert said...

When I found myself - slightly unexpectedly - as the sole leader of my PR company I soon worked out that my main role was to create an environment in which my staff to flourish. Sometimes that meant small things like coming in at the weekend to fix up a bookshelf for someone who had expressed the need for one. This seemed to give me the licence to take a quite rigorous approach in other ways. It remains a matter of pride that I never lost anyone to another PR company.