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ELDON: Taking your leadership skills to the next level



Ideas & Debate

Too many leaders believe in “management by fear”, despite knowing that such a style simply does not work. FILE PHOTO | NMG 

My friend Professor Michael Hopkins, a colleague in our Institute for Responsible Leadership, recently invited me to reflect on how my leadership style today differs from when I first entered the ranks of leadership in the 1970s. He posed the question as a theme around which to build a leadership session I was to facilitate for a programme on responsible leadership, and upon reflection it led me – rather quickly – to conclude that how I interact with those around me has remained quite consistent.

So had I failed to evolve over the intervening half century, during which time such transformative change has disrupted every aspect of society? Should I feel woefully inadequate, obsolete, a pitiful non-learner? At the other end of the spectrum, was I so ahead of my time as a young manager that I just needed to hold on to how I exerted my leadership without needing to adapt?

To answer these questions – and to avoid either unduly beating myself up or being perceived as unbearably smug and cocky – I looked back at which management gurus influenced me back in the last century to see how what they were advocating compared to the wisdom of their counterparts today.

I thought of Abraham Maslow’s “Hierarchy of Needs” that he constructed in the 1940s; McGregor’s Theory X and Theory Y, and Eric Berne’s Transactional Analysis, from the 1950s; Frederick Herzberg’s Motivation-Hygiene Theory and Michael Beldock’s Emotional Intelligence from the 1960s…

I could go on. But my point is that what these wonderful thought leaders taught those of my generation and before is as valid and relevant today as it was when they first articulated their ideas. For sure organisations and their structures have changed dramatically over the years, but our knowledge of organisational psychology is not newly discovered. The challenge is quite different: it is the extent to which the consequence of that knowledge is reflected in contemporary leadership behaviour.

For back up to this view I turn to Edgar Schein, Professor Emeritus at the MIT Sloan School of Management. Prof. Schein, now 90, is the father of organisational psychology and organisational culture, and in 2015, to mark the fiftieth anniversary of the publication of his groundbreaking book Organizational Psychology, he was asked in an interview about how he felt the field had evolved. (See

“That things work better when a boss involves subordinates was known in the fifties,” he confirmed. But, he lamented, the extent to which that knowledge is applied is much more limited. “We use twenty per cent of what we know,” said Schein, as “bosses prefer to stay autonomous”.

Many barriers intervene, including national, occupational and organisational cultures, all of which can mitigate against good teamwork. This even as we see that those organisations which do apply such knowledge (a mere one in every hundred, he estimates!) perform better. Schein has observed that too many leaders believe in “management by fear”, despite knowing that such a style simply does not work.

I will write more about Prof. Schein in a subsequent article, but before I close let me ask you some questions. Assuming you are in leadership, is the way you lead today different from how you led when you first assumed responsibility for others? What are the differences? How significant are they? What influenced the changes you have made – like courses you attended or literature you read, or because those around you operated and reacted differently? Which other factors were at play?

Then, have you ever gone back to past management and leadership gurus who so influenced and continue to influence me? To ones like those I mentioned above, and others like Dale Carnegie and Peter Drucker and Tom Peters?

Finally, how is your leadership style still evolving, maybe even transforming? What are you learning now that will take you to your next level of competence and influence?

How are you influencing those around you to be more inspirational and influential leaders? Please do send me a mail and let me know.