Archive for the ‘Management’ Category

The substance of leadership lies in behaviour not in style

October 16, 2020

I was recently invited by our local college (gymnasium) to give a lecture about my views on leadership. I was a little surprised that some of the questions were focused on the style of leadership rather than on substance. For example, styles are sometimes classified as being:

  1. empathic or
  2. visionary or
  3. coaching or
  4. commanding or
  5. driving or
  6. democratic.

Without the need for cooperation, the word “leader” is undefined. Without a leader the word “leadership” is undefined. For me, leadership is entirely about behaviour. This classification of styles is not, in fact, about what constitutes leadership or even about different kinds of leadership. It is merely a list of styles which is entirely superficial. It places  an undue emphasis on form rather than on substance; on the cosmetics of what leadership looks like rather than the fundamental behaviour involved. The use of “democratic” as a qualifier for a leadership style merely panders to a fashionable sense of political correctness and is inherently self-contradictory. The behaviour needed for leadership is no different whether in a monarchy or a democracy or a dictatorship.  The behaviour is no different whether in the military or in government or in the corporate world or in sport. 

I prefer my own definition of what a leader is.

“A leader is a person who behaves in such a manner as to induce the necessary behaviour from others, individually and collectively, towards a goal”

With this definition, the various behavioural styles above only describe particular facets of behavioural interactions between a leader and others. A leader has just two functions, which are necessary and sufficient:

  1. To create and establish goals, and
  2. to induce the behaviour necessary from others, individually and collectively, towards those goals.

Behavioural styles of a leader are then, and must be, as varied as may be necessary to induce the required behaviour from others. Depending upon the size of the group involved and their competence, a leader will need to use different styles to motivate and encourage different members. He is the conductor of an orchestra of behaviours. He may have to be a tyrant occasionally, a commander with some, show empathy with others, or be consultative with a few. The style in play may well vary with different leaders and different members. Behavioural style may vary over time or depending upon the prevailing external conditions. The so-called “democratic” style is really a very particular style of behaviour. It is useful, at times, in getting consensus – if consensus is what is needed – when dealing, for example, with an expert group where all members have very high levels of specialized competence. Group members have different roles and can vary widely in competence. A consensus of the incompetent is of no great value. Any leader who generally subordinates his behaviour to the consensus, or to a majority view to determine decisions, effectively abdicates leadership. A “democratic” leadership is inherently contradictory. You can have leadership in a democracy but not democracy within leadership. Any “style” of leadership behaviour must always be subordinated to the primary function of inducing the behaviour necessary from others to achieve a goal.

By considering the two components separately, it becomes much easier not only to assess people for leadership roles but also to tailor education and training to suit particular individuals.

  1. Can the individual envision, create and establish goals? 
  2. Can the individual get the necessary behaviour from others?

It then naturally follows that being visionary and having skills for strategy or planning or forecasting or communication will be beneficial for goal-setting. Similarly, it becomes obvious that people-skills, motivation, communication, inspiration and persuasion are beneficial for getting the required behaviour from others. It is, I have found, counter-productive to over-think and unnecessarily complicate the basic principles. 

Leadership is about the effectiveness of the leader’s behaviour. The empirical evidence of 200,000 years as modern humans is that a group with leadership is more effective than one without. Leadership is a vector quantity with both magnitude and direction. The direction comes from the creation and setting of goals and the magnitude is a measure of the “goodness” of the leadership which, in turn, is a measure of the competence of the leader to induce the required behaviour of others.

I do not claim that leadership is easy. But I do claim that the principles of leadership are simple and straightforward.  A leader must be able to create and establish goals and must then be able to induce the behaviour of others towards those goals. It is complex but it is not more complicated than that.

WHO delayed Ebola emergency declaration by 2 months – for political expedience

March 20, 2015

In October last year it was revealed that the complacency of the WHO African country heads (mainly political appointees) and who “seem to have been unwilling to even acknowledge that there was a problem on their turfs” had caused avoidable delays.

Now the Associated Press reports (NY Times) that the WHO leadership delayed declaring an emergency by 2 months for reasons of political expediency; to avoid upsetting some African countries, to avoid economic damage and to avoid any interruption to the annual Haj pilgrimage to Mecca. The emergency was declared on August 8th 2014 but from emails obtained by AP, it should have been declared 2 months earlier. That probably means that about 1000 deaths might have been prevented. The death toll from the outbreak is now estimated to have reached over 10,000.

Ebola deaths in West Africa (Data: WHO / Chart CC BY 4.0: JV Chamary / Source:

The Hindu:

Among the reasons the United Nations agency cited in internal deliberations – worries that declaring such an emergency akin to an international SOS could anger the African countries involved, hurt their economies or interfere with the Muslim pilgrimage to Makkah. ….. 

In public comments, WHO Director-General Margaret Chan has repeatedly said the epidemic caught the world by surprise. ……

But internal documents obtained by AP show that senior directors at the health agency’s headquarters in Geneva were informed of how dire the situation was early on and held off on declaring a global emergency. Such an alert is meant to trigger a surge in outside help, or, as a WHO document put it, “ramps up political pressure in the countries affected” and “mobilizes foreign aid and action”.

When WHO experts discussed the possibility of an emergency declaration in early June, one director viewed it as a “last resort”.

The delay in declaring an emergency was one of many critical problems that hobbled the agency’s ability to contain the epidemic. When aid agency Doctors Without Borders warned Ebola was spiralling out of control, WHO contradicted it, even as WHO’s own scientists called for backup. When WHO did send staffers to Africa, they were of mixed calibre. Fellow responders said many lacked Ebola experience; one WHO consultant who got infected with Ebola broke his own agency’s protocol, putting others at risk and getting WHO kicked out of a hotel, the AP found.

……..  The vacuum of leadership at WHO was so damaging the U.N. created the Mission for Ebola Emergency Response to take over the overall fight against the disease.

….. By the time WHO declared an international emergency, nearly 1,000 people were already dead. Overall, more than 10,000 are thought to have died in the year since the outbreak was announced.

NYT: 5 Key Findings

1. WHO officials privately floated the idea of declaring an international health emergency in early June, more than a month before the agency maintains it got its first sign the outbreak merited one — in late July — and two months before the declaration was finally made on August 8, 2014.

2. WHO blamed its slow response partly on a lack of real-time information and the surprising characteristics of the epidemic. In fact it had accurate field reports — including scientists asking for backup — and it identified the unprecedented features of the outbreak. The agency was also hobbled by a shortage of funds and a lack of clear leadership over its country and regional offices.

3. Politics appear to have clouded WHO’s willingness to declare an international emergency. Internal emails and documents suggest the U.N. health agency was afraid of provoking conflict with the Ebola-stricken countries and wary that a declaration could interfere with the economy and the Muslim pilgrimage to Mecca.

4. An Ebola-infected WHO consultant in Sierra Leone violated WHO health protocols, creating a rift with Doctors Without Borders that was only resolved when WHO was thrown out of a shared hotel.

5. Despite WHO’s pledges to reform, many of the proposed changes are recycled suggestions from previous outbreaks that have never taken hold. Any meaningful reform to the organization would likely require countries to rewrite the constitution, a prospect many find unpalatable.

Who do you write your CV for?

January 20, 2015

The Independent today carries an article pointing out that for entry level positions the screener/employer spends 8.8 seconds on average on the first assessment of a CV.

It is my experience that far too often CV’s are written to satisfy the ego of the author rather than to suit the employment process that is being entered into. If done properly the CV can even be a tool to first ensure selection for interview and then to steer the interview process towards the strengths of the aspirant. In fact the first page must be written primarily to get past a screener and be called for an interview. Thereafter the entire CV can help to steer the subsequent process.

Writing Your CV

How to use your CV to “control” the subsequent interview

…… The process must start not with the applicant’s credentials and his capabilities but with the capabilities and experience being sought. Every CV – before being written – must consider that it has to be directed at two classes of readers and has two principal objectives:

  1. First it must lead a “screener” to select the applicant for a subsequent interview.
  2. Second it must encourage the interviewer – either before the interview or even during the interview – to travel down preferred paths leading to a conclusion in favour of the applicant.

A screener who is selecting candidates to be called for interview may spend less than a minute on looking at a CV. He rarely gets past the first page.


Young people may spend hours preparing their CV for employers to pore over, but research shows that just 8.8 seconds is spent studying any one person’s curriculum vitae in a process that has become “Tinderised”.

According to the UK’s youth programme, National Citizen Service, the pressure on employers to get through hundreds of CVs for entry level jobs has doubled, leading to less time being spent on prospective employees’ initial applications.

The average number of applications to these roles over the past two years leaped from 46 in 2013 to 93 today, and out of the 500 employers surveyed, one in 10 larger businesses, who staff more than 250 people, say they are seeing more than 400 applications for entry level jobs advertised.

Paralysis by analysis as Obama is stuck “without a strategy” and behind the times

August 29, 2014

If I rate my expectations of Barack Obama when he was first elected at 90, he has now sunk to a negative rating because the world is a more dangerous place today than it was when his high rhetoric captured my imagination.

Now in situation after situation he appears to be caught in the trap of “paralysis by analysis”. With regard to the quality of managers I wrote:

The Proper Exercise of Power

At one extreme in the exercise of power is paralysis of action. Such paralysis occurs when the manager in spite of having power and in spite of having made the appropriate analyses finds he is unable to make the final judgement and to make the required choices. To take no action is always a valid option but needs to be a conscious decision, in which case it is not paralysis. At the other extreme we have the manager who rushes to judgement. This can result in a surfeit of actions where all options are addressed simultaneously in the hope that some of the actions will be beneficial. In between these extremes lies the proper exercise of power, wholly dependent upon the manager’s judgements and the quality of his judgements.

Obama, it seems by his own admissions is suffering from “paralysis by analysis”. He certainly cannot be accused of rushing to judgement. (In fact he cannot be accused of rushing to anywhere except perhaps the golf course). He was talking about ISIS in this report, but it could apply to almost every domestic or international issue he is faced with.

The Hill:

  1. “I don’t want to put the cart before the horse. We don’t have a strategy yet,” Obama said.
  2. Obama said “folks are getting a little further ahead of where we’re at than we currently are.”
  3. “We need to make sure that we’ve got clear plans, that we’re developing them. At that point, I will consult with Congress and make sure that their voices are heard,” Obama said.

Edmund Burke: “Do the thing and you will have the power. But they that do not the thing – had not the power”.

He is still talking about making sure that they are making plans!

Up s**t creek, behind the times, planning to plan, without a strategy and without a paddle. 

It has nothing to do with his intelligence but it is about his courage to take actions. He makes a poor manager. And it is not exactly the stuff of leadership. He does not the thing.

Between debilitation and satiation: The behavioural space

July 28, 2014

This is the second part of series of posts describing what I call the Engagement Theory of Motivation and which I have found useful during my working career.

The first part was posted on 23rd July 2014: Manipulation, motivation and behaviour


2: Between debilitation and satiation: The behavioural space

The space within which rational behavior can be expected and elicited is constrained by the debilitations of intolerable deficiencies on the one hand and needs which are satiated and incapable of providing further satisfaction on the other.

Eliciting desired behaviour lies at the core of all human social interaction. I take “manipulation” and therefore motivation merely to be tools for eliciting behaviour from our fellows. As tools they are neutral and neither good nor bad.

Since Maslov (1954) first came up with his hierarchy of needs there have been many theories and hypotheses of motivation proposed. I find his hierarchy is fundamentally sound. His approach is still the simplest, most practically applicable approach. It remains I think the most useful – if qualitative – way of addressing motivation and behaviour in the work place.

Hierarchy a la Maslow

Hierarchy a la Maslow

Fig 1. Maslov’s hierarchy of needs

I take Maslow’s lower-order needs (physiological and safety needs) to be mainly – but not exclusively – physical and his higher-order needs (social, esteem and self-actualisation desires) to be mainly – but not exclusively – cognitive.

The space for eliciting rational human behaviour lies in the planes of his satisfactions and dissatisfactions. I postulate that all conscious, rational human behaviour is aimed at decreasing  internally perceived deficiencies giving dissatisfactions or increasing internally perceived desires (needs) giving satisfactions. I take these planes to be that on which the “state of human condition”, at any given time, can be plotted as a representation of the individual’s satisfactions and dissatisfactions at a particular time. The axis of time is not explicit but it is implied since only one “state of human condition” exists at any given time. For an individual to go from state 1 to state 2 on the behavioural therefore implies – and requires – the passage of time.


A theory of motivation (as a subset of manipulation): Part 1

July 23, 2014

This is the first part of series of posts describing what I call The Engagement Theory of Motivation and which I have found useful during my working career.

1: Manipulation, motivation and behaviour

In common usage, “manipulation” has a negative connotation but “motivation” is generally regarded as being something positive. A “manipulated” person is considered a dummy, or someone being exploited. A ” manipulator” is considered “bad” even if not always “evil”. A “motivated” person  is usually seen as being diligent and performing to the best of his ability. To be “motivated” is usually considered a “good” thing – but not always. A “motivated” witness or a “motivated” observer is biased and therefore “bad”! To “manipulate” someone has a connotation of being unethical whereas to “motivate” someone is usually seen  as something to be admired.

This usage reflects the mixing up of what elicits human behaviour on the one hand, with value judgements about the objectives or purpose of causing such behaviour on the other. I try to keep these separate. The means of eliciting behaviour is merely a tool.

Manipulating the behaviour of others is central to being human. Most social interaction involves the influencing of the behaviour of others. Requesting, debating, arguing, persuading, coercing, threatening, ordering, begging, praying, rewarding, punishing are all methods we employ to elicit desired behaviour from others. I take all such influencing of behaviour to be “manipulation”. When I “request” a cup of coffee at a cafe in return for a “reward”, I successfully “manipulate” the behaviour of the server. An order in the army is to “manipulate” the actions of others. Politicians “manipulate” their voters – or try to. The cry of a baby “manipulates” the behaviour of its mother. We manipulate our children, our friends, our colleagues and our enemies. All man made laws manipulate. Manipulation is the very essence of social interaction.

Manipulation, as I use it here, is the eliciting of human behaviour. It is a tool of social interaction and is neither good nor bad.  It is only the objectives and purposes of manipulation which can be subject to value judgements about goodness or badness.

I take “motivation” – and particularly “motivation in the work place” – then to be just a particular subset of manipulation to elicit desired human behaviour. By empirical observation, I note that when a person is “motivated” he is not

  • more competent, or
  • more knowledgeable, or
  • more intelligent, or
  • more skillful, or
  • stronger or taller or smarter,

but he is

  • More effective
  • More focused
  • More cooperative
  • More “driven”
  • More dynamic
  • More result-oriented
  • More diligent …….

Thus I take the level of motivation to be a measure of the level of engagement of an individual in the actions he is performing (his behaviour). The more motivated he is the more “effective” his performance is, within the constraints set by his abilities. An unmotivated or demotivated person performs the actions in hand well below the limit of his capabilities. Motivation does not affect capability but it does affect performance.

Human behaviour and what causes it is part of the seemingly infinite universe of psychology in all its myriad forms (social psychology, cognitive psychology………). I can only approach behaviour and its causes in an empirical and pragmatic way.

My basic assumption in developing my “Engagement” theory of motivation invokes an analogy from the physical world. It is entirely qualitative and only very small parts are subject to quantification.

I assume that all human actions (which we call behaviour) are analagous to motion in physics. Further, I take a change to be only in response to a “force of behaviour”. The challenge lies in describing and defining this force. Building on Maslow (Motivation and Personality – 1954) I assume that any human, at any given time, exhibits a “state of human condition” which is a composite of

  1. the levels to which his various needs are satisfied, and
  2. the levels of his various dissatisfactions from deficiencies that are not met

I take “satisfaction of needs” and “dissatisfactions due to deficiencies” as two separate scales, neither of which can be negative and which are not diametrically opposed. Of course there are many needs and many deficiencies and there is a level of satisfaction or dissatisfaction with each of them,

state of human condition

state of human condition

It should be noted that there is a scale for each need and for each deficiency and that the scale itself is a composite of “health, wealth and happiness factors”. Nevertheless it should be possible by suitable weighting to combine all the levels of satisfaction of all the various needs into a single “level of satisfaction of needs”, and to combine all the various dissatisfactions due to deficiencies into a single “level of dissatisfaction due to deficiencies”. This then allows the positioning, at any given time, of an individual’s “state of human condition”.

state of human condition -2

state of human condition -2

For every deficiency – again following Maslow – there is a tolerable level of dissatisfaction. If this level is exceeded then rational behaviour is no longer possible and an individual can and will only act to reduce the dissatisfaction to the exclusion of everything else. It is the tolerable level of dissatisfactions which defines the behavioural space where manipulation and motivation can be brought into play to influence behaviour.

Next – 2: The Behavioural Space

Design the change — better still, invent it, but don’t forget to manage it

July 10, 2014

(Extracts from a recent lecture on change management).

Without change even time does not exist.

Without change life itself is impossible. Elementary particles could be here or may be there. Schrodinger’s cat may be alive or maybe not. Atoms vibrate. Chemistry happens. Molecules are built. Some reproduce. Life emerges. The earth rotates. The Sun radiates. Energy is transformed. Species appear. Species disappear.  Evolution results. Continents drift. Climate changes. Energy is transformed. Radiation dissipates. Entropy increases. The Universe expands.

Before the Big Bang and the existence of time, all was stasis and maybe there will be stasis again. One day the Sun will die.

But till then we live – and die – with change. “Change Management”  appeared as a new discipline in the 1980’s to try and manage our behaviour during such change. Mergers and acquisitions across borders and cultures has given impetus to the field.

Change makes us uncomfortable but some deny it, some run away from it and some embrace it, but we all have to cope with it. The key lies in how pro-active we can be. We can classify increasing levels of being pro-active:

  1. Deny the change
  2. Observe the change
  3. React to the change
  4. Manage the change
  5. Design the change
  6. Invent the change

In the commercial world I would claim that the greatest benefit lies in being as high up among these levels as possible. I suspect that this applies to all fields of human endeavour and not just to commercial enterprises.

Denying that change has happened generally leads to isolation and eventually to extinction. That applies as well to a species as to a commercial enterprise or to an individual. Change can be gradual along existing trends or it could be a change in the trend or it can be a discontinuity and the start of a new paradigm. Observing and forecasting the changes to come is where change management begins. But there has to be a caveat here. Denying or failing to observe a change is very dangerous but so is assuming that a change is happening when it isn’t. Merely reacting to change is the norm and this passive approach means that the level of control is generally low. What will be will be. If change has happened, passive reaction must be replaced by active decisions. Even a “do nothing” option should be an active choice.

Predicting market trends is the stuff of life for market analysts and commercial enterprises. It is an attempt to observe change before it happens and to try and manage it. Even a defensive strategy should be an active decision. Establishing new products or penetrating new markets are attempts to design and manage a change. While designing a change gives a very strong position, it is no guarantee of success. Subsequent management of the change created will not happen automatically. Inventing change is the most powerful way of handling change but carries inordinate risks. A new paradigm – if created – may be quite unpredictable.

Sony invented Betamax but didn’t properly foresee the changing market they helped create.  But when they created the Walkman they shifted a paradigm. Nokia helped design the mobile telephony market but missed the switch to smart phones. Facebook and Myspace invented something new and a new paradigm of social connections ensued. But Myspace has not managed the subsequent change very well. The US invented the new Iraq but forgot to foresee or manage the change that they set in motion. The Indian electorate has invented Modi and it remains to be seen if he can manage the change and reinvent the country.

My message for all commercial enterprises becomes:

  1. Observe the changes around you (and try to forecast what they will be)
  2. Never forget to react to change
  3. Actively manage the changes which have already happened
  4. Aim to design or invent future changes but don’t forget to manage the change you create.


The proper exercise of power

March 5, 2014

While Obama and Kerry and Putin all have “power”, I am not sure how expert they are at “the proper exercise of power”. The examples of Syria and now the Ukraine convince me that they – by virtue of their positions – wield power but they are a long way from being practitioners of the “proper” exercise of power. For Managers in the work-place I described “the proper exercise of power” as below and it applies also I think to politicians and leaders and heads of state.

Edmund Burke: “Do the thing and you will have the power. But they that do not the thing – had not the power”.

Consider our appointed manager …….. 

“He does the thing”.

No missing players. No missed actions.

No extra players. No wasted actions.

No misdirection. No collateral damage.

No dissipation of energy.

No cheers. No jeers. No fuss, no “muss”.

No turbulence. No noise! 

Just the music of the proper exercise of power!

(Extracted from Essence of a Manager)

That’s how to start a CV!

July 14, 2013

A CV needs to capture the interest of the reader within the first one or two paragraphs. ( Writing Your CV )

My congratulations to Professor Joachim Heberle of the Freie Universität Berlin who has this refreshing, compelling and exemplary start to his CV on his University web-page.

Heberle CV

Hi, my name is Joachim Heberle. My research interest is in the structure and function of membrane proteins and in the methodologies to investigate those … when I have time. Mostly, I am an adminstrative slave. The remainder of my time, I try hard to feed (i.e. raise funds) and comfort my coworkers (i.e. discuss science and give advice). I am not supposed to be a professor in Physics because I received my University education in Chemistry. However, my colleagues and students are so generous to tolerate my ignorance. If you are still interested in my professional CV, please click here.

Others in academia could do very well to follow his example.

Chapter downloads and book marketing

June 14, 2013

My book “Essence of a Manager”  is about the behaviour of managers. It was published by Springer in April 2011 and I now begin to understand why my editor strongly suggested that I make my Chapters “self-sufficient and free-standing”.

Springer just informed me that:

The chapter downloads on SpringerLink means your book was one of the top 50% most downloaded eBooks in the relevant Springer eBook Collection in 2012. To further widen the distribution of your book, it has also been made available as an Amazon Kindle eBook version.  As you can see, in addition to the print book, the electronic version reaches a broad readership and provides increased visibility for your work. This is especially noticeable in the long run: statistical data shows that the usage of electronic publications remains stable for years after publication, so this is what you can expect for your book for the years to come.

The book has its own homepage and those interested can  request a free online review copy of the book from here. Each individual Chapter can also be separately downloaded. The Table of Contents is here: EOAM ToC

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