Leadership and Management are a real-world activity-with a bright side and a darker side. A very dark side.

The way that people lead and manage is a function of the economic system in which they serve. Years ago (1961), David Granick illustrated this ever so skilfully in his book the Red Executive.

Of course, the present “capitalism-on-steroids ” develops a certain brand of leaders as well. Leaders and managers do some pretty awful things to get to the top, and  to stay there. As consultant Robin Cook points out in his comments to this post, this is due in part to the instant gratification’ culture (served by)management…most decision making has been short term (and is) based on tomorrow’s stock price &/or next quarter’s earnings statement”.

First, I shall provide a few examples of managerial behaviours which serve the system -after which we will have a look at what all this means for OD practitioners in our practical consulting work.

  • They say contradictory things to different audiences. Not just different emphasis! Different things altogether. 
  • They promise things that cannot be done, and then, slowly decommit, or recommit to yet another unachievable set of goals.
  • They allocate blame ensuring that very little “sticks” to them.
  • They please certain powerful stakeholders to the detriment of others. 
  • They set deadlines and apply pressure that endanger people’s mental health.
  • They pay as little as possible to get as much as possible, especially in labour intensive industries.
  • They scheme to crush organized labour. 

These activities are practised not only by poisonous and “loser”  managers, but also by very good and effective managers. Yes, management is a real-world activity-with a bright side and a darker side. A very dark side.

So what does this mean for OD and the people who train managers? Well, I’ll tell you what it has meant for me in my 45 years of practice with some pretty senior people. I always talk about things as they are-discussing all the possibilities and the trade offs.

  • “Yes, you can fire the present R&D manager to take the blame for the delay-but let’s examine what that means for your positioning  with the team, who knows you force fed these crazy deadlines.”
  • “The re-org you are proposing will buy time, but the shit will hit the fan anyway. If you take appropriate corrective action now, you know what you are facing. If you delay action by a bogus re-org, you will deal with the devil you don’t know.”
  • I avoid discussing the role of the leader as do most OD people, ie as a super hero and passionate visionary who walks on water, inspiring people by dint of his (or hers, or its) personality, charisma or  whatever. Leadership and management just do not work like that. Sugar-coating the art of management ruins your credibility.


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How aware are you about others’ perception of your own culture?

Bob Small (Iowa) , who has been running the Integration Team for two years, informed his staff that he has accepted a new role with a competitor and is leaving in a month. Bob is unaware that his move is seen as self-serving whoring by several of his staff-because he puts his individual needs before those of his team.

Manfred (Munich) has just learned that his direct report Emma (Italy) invited Selene from presales agreed to attend a design review meeting. Manfred sent Emma an angry text message; Emma spoke to HR to get a transfer away from “Manfred’s control obsessiveness”. Manfred cannot understand why Emma did not run this decision by him first.

Shauli (Israel) asked Sanjay (Hyderabad) to suspend a certain safety routine for 5 minutes to allow him to fix a bug on site at a customer. Sanjay told Shauli that he will do so “after I tell my boss”. Sanjay thinks Shauli is overly pushy.

Sanjay (Hyderabad) told the same Shauli  that he has indeed taken care of the purchase order for new CAD tools. Shauli has got the same answer for six months and he thinks Sanjay is a liar. The truth is that Sanjay has asked for budget, but has not “yet” received an answer. 

True, Sanjay, Shauli, Manfred, Emma, Bob and Selene should learn about the cultural values of those people with whom they work. However, my belief is that the precursor to any cultural awareness learning is a thorough knowledge of how others’ see your very own culture.

This self awareness is often hardest for those who believe that other cultures are “less developed” than their own, i.e.- commonly Anglo cultures and Japan. Dutch, Scandinavians, Germans, Israeli and Russians have an easier time learning about themselves because they tend to be less defensive about how “right” they are. 









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What can happen when the work place does not factor in the input of employee’s spouse?

Before you start reading this post, please note that I am not politically correct, nor do I use gender pronouns as is currently popular. And while all comments are welcome, I ignore comments that relate to my PC compatibility . Now let’s get down to a case study.

Fred, aged 48, has worked as Deputy CFO at large and well known international law firm, for whom he has been working 20 years. Fred’s boss, Harold, is 58 years old and has been with the firm since day one. Harold focuses on relations with tax lobbyists, PR in the financial community, and ensuring that he is involved in large new contracts to ensure profitability. Fred, on the other hand, does all the grunt work, at which he is very very good: thorough and meticulous.

Fred’s wife, Joselin, thinks it’s time that Fred take a crack at a CFO job and leave the law firm where “you will never get promoted till Harold kicks the bucket”. Joselin feels that the law firm takes Fred for granted, although he is very well paid. But, the company doesn’t allow Fred to travel first class to Japan (5 times a year) whilst Harold does have that privilege. And Harold has purchased a flat for his 4 kids, while Fred and Joselin can be generous, but not that generous.

Joselin also thinks that her husband needs to start to play “major leagues”, and not “plod on like a run-of-the mill ‘comptable’ (accountant in French)”.

It’s November now and the firm is planning its review process. Joselin has been pouring it on very thick lately, and Fred has even acquiesced to meeting a few young entrepreneurs who want a CFO to build the company, raise money, keep the firm on track, and join all negotiations. And the start ups are offering huge options and fat salaries.

No one on Fred’s firm knows too much about Joselin except that she is French (Canadian), the Head of The Physics Department at a local (very well known) university, dresses well and appears to be an excellent supportive partner to Fred as well as a devoted mother.

Fred is about to get the regular feedback -“huge asset to company; what would we do without you; 15% salary raise; one day the CFO job is yours; you need to trust your people more”. Joselin, in the meantime, is turning the screws, and Fred is torn.

It’s easy to claim that there is a separation between family life and work. But this is not always true. In many cultures, it is never true, especially in Middle eastern cultures and family businesses. In Western cultures, there is separation barrier, but a weak one.

But one thing is sure-the impact of the spouse on decisions that an employee makes are critical-and those who take the separation barrier to be very rigid, do so at their peril.









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