JP Morgan reported that the failing companies with whom he worked shared a characteristic: they all overpaid their top people. He came from the perspective of financial acumen. (The overpaying / star-struck
habit illustrates a poor grip on identifying value creation).

A more contemporary perspective might also point out that such a habit illustrates a laughably out of date sense of what ‘leadership’ might mean.

Enough work and research into groups, identity, and behaviour change has been undertaken over the last few decades to cast the idea that a good leader is a superior or special person with all the answers as worryingly old fashioned.

Max Weber wrote about ‘charismatic leadership’ over a century ago, and it’s that romantic notion that just doesn’t seem to want to lie down or go away.

We are relational beings. Companies and organisations are groups, and groups of groups. And groups operate in fascinating ways as they develop, define, protect, and activate their social identity.

A successful leader is less someone special and apart and more someone involved and connected, someone who can represent of codify or strengthen that group identity.

A moment’s thought will suggest the sorts of skills that might be needed here.

A sense of ‘we’ rather than ‘me’. Together rather than apart.
A keen ear to listen, to understand what concerns and defines the group.
An ability to shift and project a range of personality traits, to reinforce the group’s feeling of distinctiveness.
An ability to help members of the group see their own interests coincide with the group’s interests.

The changing political landscape is giving us all a master class in leaders who understand social identity – and those who don’t.

Yet businesses cling fondly to a hero myth, a leader with charisma set apart by a series of separating and status-building signals. Such as pay.

What comes around goes around.
When the bank JPM founded was hit by a loss scandal a few years ago, it was
blamed on the CEO having become too imperial.

Too much charisma.

STRONG AND STABLE-DOORS – ‘Leadership’ lessons from June 8th

It was an exhilarating shock, wasn’t it?

The election was a moving Rubik’s Cube of influences and happenings that will take ages to understand, and be the subject of very erudite papers for years to come.

Yet one of the influences was very visible.

Leadership. Oh.

The derisive summary of decline ‘May-bot to May-hem’ was too good to resist.  Yet when thinking about Leadership, mayhem is usually better than robotic control.  The Tory campaign was about anxiety – or rather the defense against anxiety – that demanded a tight control over everything.  This anxiety, felt by many in high profile positions, is the unconsciously feared gap between the hero and the real human being.

You’ll only buy into the hero story if you believe that you are working with some sort of ‘system’, a system that needs to be re-engineered. And it takes a hero to see what needs doing to the system. (The system can’t be trusted). So bolt all the doors, batten down the hatches, and reinforce that solitary, heroic, hero-ness.

There is no system.

Organisations, companies, electorates are all messily organic, constantly changing, complicatedly interactive assemblies of human potential.  Leadership is much more effective if conceived as sort of corralling and re-purposing of a constant stream of the changing results of these interactions.

In a way, an organisation is the changing results of constant interaction.  So where does this leave the isolated hero-Leader?  In need of some double-quick help and tips.
5 emerge for me from Mrs May’s in-front-of-our-eyes implosion.

1) Visibility. The system model is attractive because you can stay outside- untouchable, aloof and all-knowing. But in the real world you must get stuck into that messy mass of human creativity. Be seen everywhere. Listen. Become ‘necessary’.

2) Stimulus not response. This is a melee of conversations, right? When we speak to each other we don’t parrot the response we expect. The old example is that of the comedian. The audience really won’t believe your repeated assertions that you are funny. Tell some stonking jokes however, and they will deduce that you are hilarious.

3) Variety. Diversity. Surround yourself with as many different personalities, styles, ages, stories and experiences as you can. Practice (playfully?) taking the opposite view yourself.

4) Experiment. Keep moving and keep trying, while not knowing what the result might be. Now that truly is heroic.

5) The present before the future. Ask ‘what are we doing now’ over ‘what should we do’. Without a real and honest read of what’s going on now, of current experience, then yesterday’s (unexamined) models and theories and thinking will just be re-applied endlessly and uselessly to new emerging challenges.

And you’ll keep missing the really important stuff.

Ah, the sound of a stable door banging shut.

It’s about time for a Rubik’s cube comeback, isn’t it?



I80pxtreemagine for a moment a member of the David Cameron’s cabinet earning the soubriquet #MinsterofAwesome.

It provoked howls of laughter in the café this morning.

Yet Yanis Varoufakis is a newly minted hero in the midst of a murky, dangerous, and possibly unsolvable situation who is so termed even as he resigns his position.

While a motorbike, or a clear and wittily expressed philosophy, may not be enough to make a hero – a binary situation almost certainly will.


Is this helpful?

I raise it because of a parallel with a real life ‘leadership’ situation with which I am working this week.  The situation in Greece stays one step ahead of dramatists, economists, politicians, journalists and participants, defying adequate description or understanding. But what can be grasped is an endless stream of – binary – options and divisions.

Old against young, rich against poor in the referendum.
For and against debt relief, in or out of the Euro.

In the ‘leadership’ situation, an organisation with an unclear sense of itself wrestles with a difficult transformation programme.  (It is difficult, and that should be acknowledged)

And a key player is a hero figure, a hero of those who wish to transform.
(Perhaps he’ll become #directorofawesome)

At first I thought that this would make the path easier.  Yet it hasn’t.

It’s as if the added burden of star status has made the resistors even more resolute.  I think there’s a really interesting and important factor to remember here.  Stars, and heroes, are so seductive. But in these high octane ‘ either / or’ situations, they can only represent one part (half) of the story.

Gestalt thinking encourages us to become aware of the here and now, of contradictions and resistances, and to face them. Not fix them, just be aware of them.

I think one of the many reasons why the hero thing is not as innocent as it might seem is that it blocks off awareness of other important data. Having a hero feels rather good. Yet it means we stop looking and flowing and enquiring.

Perhaps #ministerofawesomeawareness would be a new sort of heroic quality that could help us all.