Tag Archives: Leadership

Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man’s character, give him power.

— Abraham Lincoln


We need to stress that personal integrity is as important as executive skill in business dealings….Setting an example from the top has a ripple effect throughout a business school or a corporation. After nearly three decades in business, 10 years as chief executive of a Big Eight accounting firm, I have learned that the standards set at the top filter throughout a company….[Quoting Professor Thomas Dunfee of the Wharton School:] ‘ A company that fails to take steps to produce a climate conducive to positive work-related ethical attitudes may create a vacuum in which employees so predisposed may foster a frontier-style, everyone for themselves mentality.’ ”

— Russell E. Palmer

via http://www.leadershipnow.com/integrityquotes.html

Leading ethically (thoughts provoked by the movie “Lincoln”)


I found “Lincoln” to be a great movie indeed.  Of all the US Presidents, Lincoln is probably the best known and admired by non-Americans (with the possible exception of Obama).

There is a scene in the movie where Daniel Day-Lewis says (something like):

I am the President of the United States, clothed in great power.  You will procure me those votes!

This is done through Lincoln insisting his inner-circle “procure” the ~20 votes he is short of getting the 13th Amendment (Abolition of Slavery) passed, after it had been defeated at a previous vote in Congress.  He was of course seeking to pass this Amendment during the Civil War when some Northern “doves” wanted to avoid offending the South (with the Abolition amendment) and so dissuading the latter from suing for peace…

His demand made me wonder whether by “stooping to buy votes”  Abe was unethical.

A visit to Wikipedia to check on descriptions of ethics revealed to me the three broad ethical “standards” of virtue, duty and consequences.  By all three I cannot fault what this courageous President did.  I must confess that I was comforted that he HAD acted ethically.

I am saddened that I dare not apply similar standards to many leaders in our times.  The answers would be heart-wrenching.  Perhaps better to “play ostrich”, then…

The only problem with that approach is then we get the leaders we deserve!

Trust in the workplace (part 3): Leadership Development

This post builds on the groundwork set up in my earlier post on “Connections: How Social Capital unlocks Human Capital“.  It completes the trio of practices that are greatly strengthened by adopting a wider-angle view than is common for many HR practitioners.

Leadership is relational and complex

Building leaders is certainly not a quick, efficient process.  If it was, we would not have such a dire shortage of these valuable creatures!  But why is so difficult to do?  Firstly, let us briefly remind ourselves what leadership is. The groundbreaking work of James MacGregor Burns shoots up an illuminating flare (from p.20 in “Leadership”):

…leadership occurs when one or more persons engage with others in such a way that leaders and followers raise one another to higher levels of motivation and morality. Their purposes, which might have started out as separate but related, as in the case of transactional leadership, become fused. Power bases are linked not as counterweights but as mutual support for common purpose. . . . The relationship can be moralistic, of course. But transforming leadership ultimately becomes moral in that it raises the level of human conduct and ethical aspiration of both leader and led, and thus it has transforming effect on both.

Leadership in of it itself is profoundly relational and collective, as Burns (1978) has persuasively pointed out.  This rendering of leadership and followership has provoked me to look at the phrase “field of leadership” with new eyes!

Force fields interacting

It is conceivable that leadership potential is widely present, but deeply buried.  To bring it forth and evoke this gift in others is likely to require significant time and persistent, earnest effort by all involved.

That is the subject we will now fleetingly visit.  This post will take a modest shot at exploring social capital’s catalytic role in the deliberate effort of developing leaders. Even more specifically, we will do a whistle-top tour of the world’s best known corporate university to highlight its key success factors.

Crotonville: The corporate university case-study

General Electric for decades has been the poster child for business schools.  Over the twelve years though GE has faced truly daunting business challenges – the company’s current US$240 billion market capitalisation is around half of what it was at its height. Nonetheless, an indisputable GE core competency is still the way the organisation identifies and develops leaders, as the large number of ex-GE corporate high-flyers, who subsequently became CEOs elsewhere, proves.


GE spends about $1 billion a year on the corporate training of its 300 000+ strong workforce. To put that sum in context: that is more than the South African government spends on training its own one million-plus workforce.

Much of the credit for this enviable “deep bench” of leadership talent belongs to GE’s corporate learning programmes, conducted at their venerable learning facility in Crotonville, New York.  It is the oldest corporate university in the United States, having been started over 50 years ago.  It is also a residential facility with almost 200 executive bedrooms. Intense, face-to-face learner contact certainly seems to be part of the GE success formula (the early Crotonville courses were residential and up to three months in length!)

The previous CEO, Jack Welch truly put Crotonville on the map. “Jack put his time and energy into developing people,” according to Noel Tichy, the management professor who helped Welch revitalise Crotonville.  But the new CEO, Jeff Immelt has definitely not allowed Crotonville to go to seed.

GE’s leadership effort still seek to inspire, connect and develop its current and future leaders.  It does this through the “Crotonville experience” which also gives GE’s training investment a large multiplier effect.  The attendees are directed to go back to their workplaces and do much the same thing – inspire, connect, and develop the people who work for them and who may not be part of Crotonville’s 10 000 annual attendees.

The magnitude of this investment by participants and company is impressive.  What is remarkable is the time-related aspect – both the duration of the courses and the period over which they occur.  It is evident that mutual commitment is essential.  Companies with rapid turnover of talented staff would be insane to make this kind of investment! And they don’t.

By regularly bringing its leaders together to learn and grow, GE can steadily protect and build the social capital of this group. It is a virtuous cycle not easily copied by imitators.

Remarkably, the GE leadership team innately believes that the learning, the effort, the time, the money and the resources GE puts into learning have an inherent payback. Their learning & development teams focus on crafting and fine-tuning curricula and content on how to inspire, connect, and develop leaders instead of figuring out “Did GE make a specific financial ROI from Crotonville?”


Leadership commitment to and participation in leadership development is seen as the critical success factor.  Nigel Paine recounted some Crotonville folklore:

Legend has it that Welch only missed speaking at one top executive programme and that was because he was in hospital having a heart bypass operation. Jack did more than speak at courses, he debated with his top staff for hours on end and made sure that being at Crotonville was neither optional nor an easy ride.  He, apparently, sent hand written cards to those selected for executive programmes.  The card welcomed the individual, suggested that Jack was looking forward to meeting him or her and asked, should the person be unable to attend, to let him personally know, the reason for their absence.  Funnily enough attendance was always 100%!

Jack Welch grasped that building leadership depth requires huge collective effort, with him being the “chief cheerleader”.  Even the new CEO, Jeff Immelt indicates himself as the head of the Crotonville effort.  This is too important to ‘outsource’ to HRD.  It takes leaders to grow other leaders.  It is also a long-term socialisation process (GE top executives spend an average of 12 months at training & professional development events during an average 15 year tenure!).

Not surprisingly therefore, many global organisations have given up on the idea of corporate universities.  Virtual is in.  e-Learning is the future.  But these penny-wise organisations will not reap a great harvest.  They will simply have to (use supply-chain principles to) poach other organisations’ leaders.

Compare this to GE where 90% of their top 600 leaders are promoted from within!

So what do leaders actually “do”? (Part 4)

Henry Mintzberg is my hero – there I said it!  If I was asked which three living famous people I would you have around for “dinner & discussions”, Henry’s name would top the list.  So why does he grip my imagination?

Management maverick extraordinaire!
Management maverick extraordinaire!

Let me give you three reasons (and one of them is not that he is Canadian like Justin Bieber!):

1.  I love the way his mind works

2.  I find his insights so illuminating

3.  His “contrariness” appeals to me

Mintzberg’s beautiful mind

On the first front, he is an unashamed fan of intuition (“Henry Mintzberg explains that strategic thinking cries out for creativity and synthesis and thus is better suited to intuition than to analysis.”) in a world that still pays homage at the analytical altar of Strategy Planning.  He is also not scared of qualitative research.  How can you not love this view by him from a romping essay he wrote about theory development?

…the impression [exists] that “quantitative” research is somehow proper – i.e., “scientific” – even if it contributes no insight, while qualitative research is something to be tolerated at best, and then only when exemplary. This is the double standard that pervades our academic journals to their terrible discredit. It also manifests itself destructively in doctoral courses that teach quantitative methods (mostly statistics) as rites of passages. Those who cannot handle the fancy techniques cannot get the doctoral degree, even though there is all kind of wonderful research with no numbers. Why not instead preclude from doctoral programme students incapable of coming up with interesting ideas. Imagine that!

You will note this comment from him also ticks my third point!

Mintzberg’s illuminating insights

Unlike other leading thinkers in the world of management science, Minztberg does not state principles (like mathematical axioms) and then prescribe them as “best-practice”.  He observes what (successful) managers do and – then after inducing meaning from the patterns he discerns –  describes these “realities” in a form that is intelligible and useful to practicing managers.

Henry M compellingly describes management
Written in 1989

So unlike Henri Fayol (1841-1925) who declared that the function of management is to Plan, Organise, Direct and Control, Henry Mintzberg concerns himself with what managers actually do in their hectically interrupted professional lives (in contrast to the seemingly cool and cerebral world that Fayol envisions).

And his formulations of these hard-won insights have also developed and been revisited by him over the years.

I will contrast two of his iconic representations of the host of activities that form an integral part of a manager’s life (whether they are enumerated in the manager’s Job Description or not!).

The first “synthesis” is from his 1975 HBR article (which won him the prestigious annual McKinsey Award!) in which he muses that:

A synthesis of these findings paints an interesting picture, one as different from Fayol’s classical view as a cubist abstract is from a Renaissance painting. In a sense, this picture will be obvious to anyone who has ever spent a day in a manager’s office, either in front of the desk or behind it.

“The Manager’s Job:
Folklore and Fact” (HBR, Jul-Aug 1975)

His description of the roles a Manager plays contains a mix of the expected ones (Monitor, Disseminator and Resource Allocator).

But it also contains a number that are not implied by the Fayol P/O/L/D model, like Figurehead, Disturbance Handler and Negotiator.

He observed that “every manager must perform some ceremonial duties” (the Figurehead).  Job descriptions are usually silent on this one!  But more modern writings on “Leadership” dwell significantly on the symbolic aspects of a manager’s workplace contribution.

Furthermore he also saw that the unforeseen also does intrude: “the disturbance handler role depicts the manager involuntarily responding to pressures. Here change is beyond the manager’s control. The pressures of a situation are too severe to be ignored—a strike looms, a major customer has gone bankrupt, or a supplier reneges on a contract—so the manager must act.”

The second depiction is from page 48 of his 2009 book simply titled “Managing” (interestingly, for me, not titled Management or Managers, but named so as to keep the dynamic verb-iness of Manage):


Mintzberg is showing us the practice of managing occurs on three planes and moves from the conceptual (centre) to the concrete (edges): with information, through people and then directly to action.

Because of the multiple stakeholders a manager has, there is more than one role performed on each of the planes:

  • On the information plane => communicating (all around) & controlling (inside)
  • On the people plane => leading (inside) and linking (to the outside)
  • On the action plane => doing (inside) and dealing (outside)

And it also passes through the manager’s mind (the valuable cerebral activities of framing & scheduling)…!

The last perspective of Mintzberg’s I want to enthuse about is his take on the various Styles of Management.

Art-Science-Craft triangle
Art-Science-Craft Style triangle of Mintzberg and Patwell

Using a simple assessment a manager can determine her style.  Mintzberg does not say there is one-best style.  He does warn however that being too much in the Science –calculating (cold?) – or Art corners – narcissistic – could present a problem.

Also a style devoid of any Science sentiment will be experienced as “disorganised”; no Art and you have “dispirited managing”; no Craft and it will come across as “disconnected”.

Mintzberg’s intellectual non-gregariousness

I love the fact that Henry does not follow the herd.  He is a path-finder, if not a path-maker.  I will give one example germane to this post.

He has not written one book on Leadership.  Only on Management.  Yet he speaks a lot about leading.

Mintzberg argues that leadership and management need to both exist in the managerial role.  Here he is joined by another of my heroes Elliott Jaques (sadly deceased).  Jaques (also a contrarian) denied the specious dichotomies created between so-called leaders and managers.  He referred only to “managerial leadership” which is a role.

So since two of my heroes are united on this touchy issue (on the non-popular side) I readily feel a frisson of delight.

But Elliott deserves his own series of posts.  More anon.