WHAT COULD THE GREEK GODS HAVE DONE IN MANAGEMENT ROLES TODAY

“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.”
American spiritual teacher, author and lecturer Marianne Williamson

I have long had a fascination with the Greek Gods and particularly in the way that they were so good at allocating responsibilities across their team members, ensuring that every element of mankind’s needs was well covered.

I have also recently been swamped on Facebook with seductive questionnaires that have established for me that, amongst other things, I would have been a tailor in medieval times, that my animal is a wolf, that my bird is an eagle, that my city is Paris, that my colour is purple and that my true psychological age is 32.

It made me wonder, along similar hypothetical lines, about where the Greek gods could have slotted, had they come down to earth, and rather than coupling with some hapless humans to create demi-gods as they normally did when visiting, they had instead spent their time more wisely and completed some personal management development, such as an MBA, and then entered the business world.

Would their individual skills, together with their newly found business knowledge have equipped them well for a corporate career in management ?

Here are 10 of my favourite Greek gods, and my recommendations for their business career options:

– Aphrodite … Goddess of Love, Beauty, Desire and Pleasure would have definitely been ready-made for a role in Marketing, whose practitioners generally see themselves as being creators of beauty and pleasure in everything that comes out of their creative temple, whether it is TV advertising, sales literature, web-site design or T-shirts, coffee mugs and sweat band giveaways.

By Lepota; CC BY-SA 2.0 license; via Wikimedia Commons

By Lepota; CC BY-SA 2.0 license; via Wikimedia Commons


– Apollo … God of Music, Arts, Knowledge, Healing, Plague and Poetry would have been perfect for a role in Human Resources as no other part of any organisation would see poetry or healing as being part of the job description. I have also many times heard managers from different parts of the organisation make statements such as “a plague on the house of HR for saddling me with yet another employee satisfaction survey.”

By Saw1998; CC BY-SA 3.0 license; via Wikimedia Commons

By Saw1998; CC BY-SA 3.0 license; via Wikimedia Commons


– Ares … God of War, Bloodshed, and Violence would have been ready for a career as a VP of Sales, as many sales organisations (at least according to the customers) are known for leaving a trail of destruction behind them, and most sales managers tend to see Sun Tzu’s “Art of War” as their bible for human interaction, (see “Sun Tzu would go broke today” posted October 3, 2011).

By Phe; via Wikimedia Commons

By Phe; via Wikimedia Commons


– Artemis … Goddess of Hunt, Wilderness and Animals seems destined to be the Head of Corporate Overlay in a matrix organisation, as these acolytes seem to spend most of their time hunting for time-killing reports and activities to foist on those parts of the organisation that actually do something to benefit the business, just to justify their own existence and to save being banished to the wilderness of oblivion, where they truly belong (see “Stupid management ideas” posted August 29, 2011).

– Athena … Goddess of Intelligence, Skill, Battle Strategy and Wisdom would seem most suited to a career in one of the large Consulting Organisations such as McKinsey or Accenture, who tend to be peopled with highly intelligent, skilled people who can sell the same strategy document multiple times to large numbers of different organisations in diverse industries, and have the wisdom to do this in a way that enables them to deliver this service at massively inflated costs by convincing clients of the uniqueness of their battle formation.

– Dionysus … God of Wine, Parties, Madness, Chaos, Drunkenness and Drugs and was obviously built for a career in Partnerships and Alliances, who generally seem to believe that the way to build long term business relationships and loyalty is based on providing large amounts of alcohol, entrance to corporate boxes at sporting events, mid-week golf tournaments and the possession of photographs of executives in the partner organisations in compromising situations.

By © Marie-Lan Nguyen / Wikimedia Commons / CC-BY 2.5

By © Marie-Lan Nguyen / Wikimedia Commons / CC-BY 2.5


– Hades … God of the Underworld and The Dead would be perfectly placed for a career in any Public Sector Tax Authority, who seem to have an uncanny ability to regularly bring down new near-death forms of taxation thus ensuring that as few people as possible have any chance of financial longevity. Unlike taxation authorities, other blood-sucking leeches will actually drop off when there is no more blood left in their victims.

Author: Prevezamuseum; via Wikimedia Commons

Author: Prevezamuseum; via Wikimedia Commons


– Hermes … God of Boundaries, Travel, Communications, Language and Writing would have been perfect for a management role in Corporate Communications, particularly with having some increasingly rare skills in the use of language both written and oral, which are two areas under considerable threat with our love of abbreviations, texting, twitter boundaries, and blogging brevity (see “Abbreviation is gr8tly changing our world” posted April 16, 2012).

– Poseidon … God of Seas, Rivers, Floods and Droughts seems to have all the characteristics needed for a senior role in Corporate Finance, who are generally in charge of controlling the “feast or famine” approach to budgeting. They also have an ability to generate a sea of indecipherable data, flood management with queries about their travel and entertainment expenses and dry up any joy in a room simply by entering.

By Arman musikyan (own work); CC BY-SA 3.0 license; via Wikimedia Commons

By Arman musikyan (own work); CC BY-SA 3.0 license; via Wikimedia Commons


– Zeus … King of the Gods, Sky, Weather, Thunder, Lightning, Law, Order and Justice is definitely in line for the role of a Global CEO, although a very autocratic one, as he was known to eat his children, or at the least banish them from Olympus when they displeased him or when they didn’t do what he asked or expected of them.

In the words of French philosopher Voltaire (1694-1778) “If there were no God, it would have been necessary to invent him.”

THE MANAGEMENT ART OF COOKING

“Cooking is like love. It should be entered into with abandon or not at all.”
Newspaper columnist and writer Harriet Van Horne (1920-1998).

I love to cook (even though I am at best an enthusiastic beginner), ever since my wife once gave me, as a Xmas present, my first ever formal cooking course of one full week in London at the “Leiths School of food and wine” (see “Cooking tips for men” posted November 25, 2010). I loved the course, my only disappointment being that there was nothing about wine on the course, despite its inclusion in their name. I have, since that time, been back to Leiths on a number of different courses and have realised that there are a lot of similarities between being a chef (even if only occasionally) and being in a management role.

By Sir James; CC BY-SA 3.0 license, GFDL; via Wikimedia Commons

By Sir James; CC BY-SA 3.0 license, GFDL; via Wikimedia Commons


Here is how I see this:

– Do it with total commitment … Cooking takes commitment and time, and trying to prepare a great meal without focussing on what needs to be done, and when to do it and with what, will generally not result in a successful set of taste sensations. Similarly, management takes real commitment, and just “dabbling” at management while you continue with your vocational activities as your main priority will not bring success, and is the equivalent of believing you are a cook because you fry an egg occasionally, while heating up pre-prepared supermarket food the rest of the time. Management is a serious art and a vocation, and must be given your full attention.

Author: David Benbennick; via Wikimedia Commons

Author: David Benbennick; via Wikimedia Commons


– Learn from those who know how … I have been cooking since I was about 16, as my father’s severe ulcer limited him to mainly bland foods, and as my mother refused to cook a separate meal for me, it was a question of start to cook or live on boiled chicken for dinner every evening. I thought that I was OK in the kitchen until I went on my first course 45 years later, and realised that there were many things that I did badly, as basic as how to chop an onion. In the same way, you can choose to grow your management skills through trial and error over a long period of time, thus having a negative impact on those who have been entrusted to your care. A far better approach is to learn from others, as you can accelerate your management skills dramatically by some formal training, and more importantly by having some role models and mentors to learn from along the road to management proficiency.

– Learn to mix complex ingredients … Not all ingredients mix well, and do not suit all tastes. Quite a few French cooks use “mixed-spice” with meat in the hope that it will give it an exotic taste, but as it is really meant to be used with baking cakes, all it does is to confuse the palate. In the same vein, it is easy to curdle eggs if you do not treat them with respect or if heat is applied too quickly. The same is true with people. Not all personalities or professions mix easily, and it takes management skill and patience to bring together disparate parts of an organisation into a well-functioning business unit. It is also easy to “curdle” people if you do not treat them with respect or “heat” them inappropriately.

Author: David Reber; CC BY-SA 2.0 license; via Wikimedia Commons

Author: David Reber; CC BY-SA 2.0 license; via Wikimedia Commons


– Know your limitations … I came back from my first formal cooking course flushed with my newly acquired skills, and immediately organised a dinner party for 8 with no thought as to whether I would be capable of executing the menu I had chosen. Choux pastry filled with smoked trout mousse with a dill cream sauce as starter, racks of lamb with potato en-papillote and beans wrapped in bacon for the main course, store bought cheeses but served with home-made soda bread, and segmented oranges in a caramel sauce to finish. Not a beginner’s menu, which I didn’t realise until I actually started preparations and cooking, and which frazzled, frustrated and nearly ended my cooking career at the start, and which took me nearly 2 full days to prepare (and another 2 to recover) rather than the hours that a skilled cook would have taken. In the same way, it is important in management to “know what you don’t know”. Throwing yourself into elements of management such as recruitment, induction, goal setting and performance reviews without some reading, training and serious learning beforehand, so that you at least know what will be needed, will be unlikely to give you decent results.

Author: Two Helmets Cooking; CC BY 2.0 license; via Wikimedia Commons

Author: Two Helmets Cooking; CC BY 2.0 license; via Wikimedia Commons


– Preparation is key … You need to plan everything beforehand to have any chance of success. This includes analyses of the recipes of the dishes that you will prepare, making sure that you have the necessary kitchen equipment and all the ingredients and spices needed. A key element is planning the timing backwards, from when you plan to actually serve the food to your guests to when you will need to start the initial preparations. My first ever attempt at cooking for a dinner party was when I was just 22, and I hadn’t properly planned the cooking timing, so I wasn’t actually in a position to serve the starter (stuffed cabbage leaves in chicken broth) till about 11.00pm by which time we were all under a serious alcoholic haze. The dessert (chocolate mousse) wasn’t served till around midnight. This need for planning came home to me the next day when I was cleaning up and found the whole main course (roasted lamb and vegetables) still sitting untouched, if somewhat dry, in the oven. This need for close planning is also true for any business endeavours. You need to make sure that you have the right people, that they have all the resources that are needed to do the job, and plan back from when you will need to deliver an end result through all the stages back to the actual start time. You also must have regular checkpoints to ensure that you are tracking well, and that nothing and no-one is left behind.

Cooking, like management, is only worthwhile if you do it for the benefit of others and not just for yourself. The French use “Chef d’entreprise” to describe a senior executive … I can understand why it is an accurate term.

ARE WE READY FOR WORKPLACE DEMOCRACY ?

“It has been said that democracy is the worst form of government, except all the others that have been tried.” Sir Winston Churchill (1874-1965).

Author: Hanhil at nl.wikipedia; PD-AUTEUR; Released into the public domain; via Wikimedia Commons

Author: Hanhil at nl.wikipedia; PD-AUTEUR; Released into the public domain; via Wikimedia Commons


I am seeing an increasing amount of discussion about the concept of workplace democracy, and have even most recently come across a company where all staff members were invited to vote “yea or nay” on the appointment of a new CEO, when the current founder and CEO felt that it was time for him to step aside. The outgoing CEO chose his successor, and then asked all staff to vote on whether they agreed with his choice. Luckily they did (although it was not unanimous) which was fortunate, as I feel that this particular partial attempt at the democratic process may have been somewhat short-lived had it been a resounding “nay” vote.

I have also had the privilege in the last year to meet, and hear talks from Heiko Fischer of Resourceful Humans, who believes that the greater the level of democracy and the less management that exists in a company, then the more will people drive themselves and therefore the more they will drive the success of the company. Heiko likes to compare traditional hierarchical management structures to a hamburger where the patty (employees) needs a large bun (management) to hold it together, rather than to what he feels is needed today being more like a burrito which has a thin unobtrusive layer (management) holding all the ingredients (employees) together. As well, a hamburger needs considerable structure within the bun, whereas structure is less important in a burrito. Not a bad analogy if you are a supporter of his premise.

Author: Tebu.an; via Wikimedia Commons

Author: Tebu.an; via Wikimedia Commons


I feel that that one of the drivers of this flirtation with workplace democracy is the current belief by some that this is exactly what the new generation wants … that young people today have a significantly different set of work expectations than did my generation, and particularly in terms of company loyalty (now more to a role), flexibility of working times (less based on 4 weeks annual leave and more on long breaks as needed), and significantly less management control (less direction from above and a greater say in what they do and how they do it).

But, are they really demanding democratic-style freedoms, and just how much structure is too much structure ? Are we really ready to do away with traditional management structures and build more democratically based organisations ?

I have long been against over-management (see “Sixth rule of management” posted November 19, 2012) and in particular matrix management, which despite its potential benefits for vocational career development, is mainly the creation of people who know that change is needed, and who have decided that added complexity is the answer. I have always believed that complexity is never the answer, and that when it is, then it must have been a pretty stupid question to start with. Albert Einstein (1879-1955) nailed it when he said “If you can’t explain it to a 6 year old, you don’t understand it yourself. Everything should be as simple as possible, but not simpler.”

via WIkimedia Commons

via WIkimedia Commons


I have no question that the traditional “command and control” management style is totally passé, but I am of the belief that some structure is still needed, not just for the sake of management control, but also more importantly for the benefit of the employees.

When I retired I had a final session with my boss, who asked me for some feedback (the first time that this had happened in nearly 15 years).
Amongst other things, I told him that “he had been a great boss because he had left me entirely alone to do the job in my own way, but that he was also an awful boss because he had left me entirely alone to do the job in my own way.”

It was not that I was a needy person that wanted continuous advice, feedback and recognition, but I disagreed with him that being left totally alone, all of the time, was something that senior people wanted. His belief was that as we had monthly board meetings, this should have been enough to set the context for all of us to act accordingly. The problem was that apart from the one annual 2-day session to discuss strategy, management meetings were nearly always about content rather than context. As a result, cross-divisional alignment tended to be difficult. For example, aligning the field with product development was somewhat hit and miss, and as a result sales incentives tended to suit sales rather than corporate direction; the service organisation, in isolation, hiked maintenance prices by about 30% at one stage and then had to back-pedal after a customer revolt; software development delays impacted the performance of the field organisation as customers delayed orders in anticipation of new products, but didn’t impact the development organisation who worked to their own timetable insulated from the real world, and who kept recruiting during hiring freezes based on their self-appointed immunity from restrictions.

I believe that we cannot expect people to have any ability to define what they will do and to know what is expected of them if we do not clearly articulate the reasons for “why we are here” in the first place, as a company, as a division, as a team, and we do not give then enough direction and understanding to help them to be an integral part of the strategy.

People should definitely be given the ability to define how they will handle the content of the role that has been assigned to them, within guidelines for quality and standards that apply, but I also have a strong belief that this can work only if the context has been well defined beforehand, and that this context must also include the appointment of those who have been asked to lead the organisation.

To leave these corporate decisions to the vagaries of “voters” is likely to lead to a similar situation as Switzerland finds itself in today, where its latest referendum result appears to have been based more on an emotional response to immigration rather than any real understanding of the implications of the referendum result for their country, its prosperity or the ultimate benefit of its citizenry.

Author: User:Marc Mongenet; via Wikimedia Commons

Author: User:Marc Mongenet; via Wikimedia Commons


WHEN DID EVERYONE BECOME A LEADER ?

“Life isn’t easy, and leadership is harder still.”
Bard College Professor Walter Russell Mead

Author: Chatham House; CC BY 2.0 license; via Wikimedia Commons

Author: Chatham House; CC BY 2.0 license; via Wikimedia Commons


I can remember a time when the term “leader” was used to describe the most senior person in any human run entity, such as the CEO of a large company, a President or Prime Minister of a country that actually had a seat at the United Nations, or even the head of any religious organisation that needed more than one minibus to take all its adherents to the annual sausage sizzle. (See “Management or Leadership” posted March 7, 2011).

This does not seem to be the case today, when we appear willing to accord a leadership title to all.

It is as though words like “specialist”, supervisor” and even “manager” have all been discarded from our business lexicon.

Project Managers have been replaced by Project Leads and Team Leaders, even if the entire team consists of 2-3 people, Senior Maths Teachers in schools are now The Maths Leader, and Shift Leader has replaced Shift Supervisor even in small factories.

My first promotion in 1968 was from the position of Computer Programmer to the role of being in charge of a 6-man programming team, which carried the exalted title of Senior Programmer. Today that title is more likely to be Leader Software Development, just as the person who is responsible for looking after the elevator staff at Harrods Department Store in London will no doubt be carrying the title of Leader Vertical Displacement Services.

Even my next promotion carried the title of Supervisor, and it took me another two years to actually get to a position that carried the word “Manager” in the title. We had a leader … he was the CEO.

via Wikimedia Commons; {{PD-US}}

via Wikimedia Commons; {{PD-US}}


I find that it is very rare these days that anyone even talks about management training, as people who are seen as being of management potential are now sent on Leadership Development Programmes rather than management training, despite the fact that statistics tell us that most will never get beyond a first level management position. Even Primary school teachers today go on leadership development courses even if most don’t/won’t/can’t become a school principal, and just want to be able to teach young children, and to do it well.

Is it just a question of time before we replace the increasingly more humbly titled MBA with the more importantly sounding MLA (Mater of Leadership Attainment), as business schools finally come to the realisation that this is a whole new gravy train?

via Wikimedia Commons; PD-TEXT license

via Wikimedia Commons; PD-TEXT license


I was recently asked to come and talk about leadership at an annual company event that brings together all staff that are in any “people responsible” roles (to be somewhat cautious in my use of language) for a 2-day talk fest to kick off the new business year. In discussing the remit with my host, I innocently asked whether, as my session would be on the topic of Leadership, I could assume that I would be addressing the senior executive team. It turned out that I would actually be presenting to everyone except their “Top-100” senior managers, being the 1000 or so first and middle level management.

When I asked whether, based on the audience, discussing “management rather than leadership” would not be more appropriate, I was told that the company had decided to run a programme that was planned to make everyone “a leader in their role”, and that this was all part of the key messaging of this year’s kick-off meeting. My suggestion that what he was describing was surely more about “empowerment, engagement, taking responsibility, initiative, autonomy and showing the way” rather than being about “leadership” almost lost me the assignment.

However, as it was an existing client, and it was a good fee, I titled my session, as they had suggested, “We are all leaders” and spoke about “empowerment, engagement, taking responsibility, initiative, autonomy and showing the way”.

I do wonder however, whether we have come to a point where the word “leadership” has become so overused that it is losing its true meaning, just like the word “cloud” is today in the tech industry where everything is now labelled as being cloud, when much of it is really just smoke.

Are we trying to give everyone the title of leader as this then removes the need for senior management to actually do something about “empowerment, engagement, taking responsibility, initiative, autonomy and showing the way” ? By making everyone a leader does that just conveniently shift this responsibility from the top of the pyramid down to the individual ? Despite the changes in titles I have not seen the commensurate increases in authority and levels of freedom that one would normally associate with someone in a leadership role.

I salute the whole idea of giving people more freedom, fewer barriers, more responsibility, the right to manage themselves and how they do their job, as I have long believed that when we remove the shackles from people, many will take the opportunity to soar rather than just make do.

I am also not questioning that people can take up a temporary leadership role dependant on the situation being faced at the time, like one team member being quiet during a team discussion on technology, but leading the discussion when the topic switches to sales and marketing.

But I don’t think that this makes them a leader. It can, however, make them a liberated employee who is committed to making a serious contribution to the company in areas where they have subject matter expertise, and as such we should treat them with respect, hear what they have to say, and make sure that we nurture them as one day, in the right environment, they may actually become a true leader.

If we really want to build leaders, we need to give people the culture and the freedom to act, to learn and to grow, rather than to just give them a title with the word “leader” embedded in it.

Author: Arquivo/ABr; CC BY 3.0 BR license; via Wikimedia Commons

Author: Arquivo/ABr; CC BY 3.0 BR license; via Wikimedia Commons


“Leaders aren’t born, they are made. And they are made just like anything else, through hard work and time. And that’s the price we’ll have to pay to achieve that goal.” American Football Coach Vince Lombardi (1913-1970).

THE ART OF MANAGEMENT

“Art is the proper task of life”.
German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900)

I have in the past written about where management skill should sit in the palette of business acumen (see “Management … is it an art or a science” posted September 9, 2013), and come to the conclusion that it is a bit of both art and science. However, there are some elements of management that I do consider to be an art form. Here are 5 of them.

Small steps … I believe that good management is based on steady and structured small steps over a period of time, rather than happening in giant leaps. A manager who is a great speaker can whip up a frenzy in his team almost at will, but generally the effect will be short-lived if not supported beyond the rhetoric. A “the world belongs to us if we just have the courage to reach out and take it” type speech may be great for a Monday morning sales meeting, but will need to be backed up with the right leadership, behaviours, support, team culture and collaterals to result in any true business benefit. It takes time to build a set of values that your people will live by (beyond just having them posted in your vision statement), and with them the culture and acceptable behaviours that are necessary to support these. This is one of the reasons that I have never been a big fan of the Tony Robbins style one day “rah-rah” sessions that people flock to around the world, as I am sure that the “I can do whatever I put my mind to” resultant belief has disappeared in most attendees after just a few days. Managing behaviour takes sustained time, effort and energy.

Author: Steve Jurvetson; CC BY 2.0 license; via Wikimedia Commons

Author: Steve Jurvetson; CC BY 2.0 license; via Wikimedia Commons


Passion more than skills … Skills are important but passion and attitude are even more so. I know that it is critical that managers ensure that their people have the skills that are needed to be able to do their job well. However, I believe that as a manager, you must put serious focus on ensuring that your people are also passionate about doing it at all. I have long told young management people (only a little tongue in cheek) that the ultimate test of a manager is that his people are prepared to get up at 6.00am on a cold, wet Monday morning and say “Thank goodness the weekend is over, and I can now go back to work”. SAP in the 1990s just exploded onto the business world, with annual growth rates of well over 100%. I have always put this down to the fact that it was mostly due to being driven by people who were “passionate, creative anarchists”. Yes, we had great technology, but this alone would not have been enough to achieve that level of success without the driving passion to change the world.

Author: Roger Wo; CC BY 2.0 license; Wikimedia Commons

Author: Roger Wo; CC BY 2.0 license; Wikimedia Commons


People need structure but not rigid boundaries … I believe that if you give people the freedom to do great things, then there is a greater chance that they will. I do believe that people need some structure in their working life, as it is important that they understand where they fit in, what is expected of them, what is in it for them and how they slot into the team. I also believe that good managers will give their people the freedom to perform their role in their own way, the right to question the status quo, to test the traditional boundaries and to regularly make mistakes. I see fear of failure as being one of the most important shackles that a manager needs to remove from his people. What we did to succeed yesterday will not necessarily work today, and what we do today will most likely not work tomorrow. Continued success needs continuous experimentation and change, which by definition presupposes that not all experiments will work, but experiment we must.

Author: Urban; via Wikimedia Commons

Author: Urban; via Wikimedia Commons


Being yourself works best … there is no one management style that fits all, so you should stick with who you really are. Some managers are more controlling than others (see “Are you an autocratic or permissive manager” posted June 4, 2012), and whilst I am a strong advocate of giving your people the space to spread their wings, I also believe that people are at their best when they are true to themselves. If you are by nature a control freak, it will not be easy for you to become a laissez-faire or consultative manager no matter how hard you try. Whilst you should work hard to temper your need to try and make all decisions and be in total control all the time, you may as well accept that this is your natural style and let your people learn to work with you in a way that works both for you and for them. It does mean that you may not be able to keep some of the more creative people nor those that need more freedom, so you should let them go elsewhere and you should look for people that can survive and prosper under your specific leadership style.

Author: Vassil; CC0 1.0 license; via Wikimedia Commons

Author: Vassil; CC0 1.0 license; via Wikimedia Commons


You can’t win them all … no matter how good you are, you will make mistakes. This is as true when it comes to recruiting the right people as it is for management and team decision making. Some people will not succumb to your charms, no matter how well-honed they are, and not all decisions you take will work all the time, particularly in the fast changing business environment we all face today. You need to accept responsibility when things don’t work out as planned, learn from the mistake and move on. I believe that you should publicly celebrate failures in the same way that you do successes by sharing them with your team, and discussing the lessons that you have learned, and that they can also learn from them, and the steps that you can all take to try and minimise their occurrence in the future.

Author: MesserWoland; GFDL, CC BY-SA 3.0 license; via Wikimedia Commons

Author: MesserWoland; GFDL, CC BY-SA 3.0 license; via Wikimedia Commons


It is also critical that as a manager you remember well the words of American artist James Whistler (1804-1903) “An artist is not paid for his labour but for his vision”.

THE LESSONS THAT MANAGERS CAN LEARN FROM SINGAPORE

I have been a big fan of Singapore, and in particular of its founder Dr. Lee Kwan Yew, since I first visited the island in 1977. I had the privilege of living and working there for over 6 years, before being transferred to Europe, and after an absence of more than 10 years, I recently revisited this vibrant, exciting city state for a week for a family reunion, and also for some of the best food in the world.

Author: Jxcacsi; via Wikimedia Commons

Author: Jxcacsi; via Wikimedia Commons


I loved the energy and the sense of purpose, and I also realised that there are many things that people in management positions can learn from Singapore and from Dr. Lee.

Author: R. D. Ward; via Wikimedia Commons

Author: R. D. Ward; via Wikimedia Commons


Build a vision … I am not talking about the importance of a “vision statement”, which most companies have proudly posted on their web sites, and which usually only state what companies tend to believe their markets want to see (see “The 3 great business lies” posted August 2, 2010), but a true roadmap of where to go, and of what has to be done to get there. When Singapore was expelled from the Malaysian Federation in 1965, and became an independent republic, it was a tiny, impoverished island port with a population of under 2 million. In the following 50 years it built its population to a well-educated 5.5 million, built a world class reputation for transparency and integrity, and become one of the wealthiest nations in the world on a per capita basis. Just like Dr. Lee, as a business leader you need to have a clear plan of what it is you wish to achieve, how you plan to do this, and how you will enlist the wholehearted support and commitment of your people, making sure to take them with you on the journey.

Look after your people … After independence in 1965 a major emphasis was placed on building programmes to overcome serious housing shortages, coupled with financial incentives that enabled citizens to easily purchase their government provided housing, resulting in one of the highest home ownership numbers in the world, and propelling many ordinary people into high asset wealth. My PA in Singapore sold the family home inherited from her parents for over S$6 million, and moved to Australia for a life of comfort in her retirement. In the almost 50 years since its independence Singapore’s economy has grown by an average of 9% annually, improving the lot of its people from an economic, education, healthcare and all quality of life viewpoints, and continues to do so each year. It has now attained a life expectancy that has reached 4th position in the world for males and 2nd position for females. In business, achieving results is critical, but you must look after your people along the way. Rewards and success must be shared throughout the entire team, and not just a few individuals.

Build a solid working environment … Dr. Lee was once questioned about his view of what he considered to be the most important inventions of the 20th Century. He answered that for Singapore, a country with a daily temperature of 34C with 100% humidity, it had been “air conditioning”, as it finally enabled Singapore workers to compete with the west. Dr. Lee established English as the primary language of Singapore, reasoning that if Singapore was to take its place on the world business stage, it needed to be able to speak the business language. It now has 4 official languages being English, Mandarin, Malay and Tamil, but English remains the language of education, business and government. As a manager you must ensure that you build the conditions, and provide the resources that are needed to enable your team to achieve its goals and to be successful.

Author: Paul Robinson; CC BY-SA 3.0 license; via Wikimedia Commons

Author: Paul Robinson; CC BY-SA 3.0 license; via Wikimedia Commons


Build Talent … After independence, quality education for all was established immediately, and the government also began an accelerated programme of overseas assignments and learning for its best and brightest, ensuring that capable people were exposed to the latest business, scientific and technological thought and innovation which could be re-imported back into Singapore to help accelerate the development of the island state. In too many companies, managers limit training and development for their people based on the fact that if you spend time and money to educate them they may then leave. A significantly worse alternative is that you do not educate them, and they stay. Those managers who feel that education is expensive should consider the cost of ignorance.

Bring in missing skills … From day one, Singapore welcomed skilled, knowledgeable expatriates and mixed them into the local government and business communities to not only use their skills and experience, but also to help “infect” the locals. During my time in Singapore, I spent 2 years as a board member of IDA (Infocomm Development Authority), which had responsibility for helping to establish and develop Singapore’s competitive positioning in Telecoms and Technology. It was an eclectic blend of people from Public and private sector, both Singaporean and Foreign, and unlike some other Government boards that I have served on, was actually listened to, with its recommendations implemented at private sector speeds. In business you need to first look at developing the needed skills and capabilities in your own people, but there are times when you need to go outside for missing skills. It is a sign of strength for managers to know when they need to ask for help.

Author: Zeng Peng (own work); via Wikimedia Commons

Author: Zeng Peng (own work); via Wikimedia Commons


Use story telling … Some foreigners saw Singapore as a repressive and authoritarian environment, driven mainly by the amount of press, mosly in the US, that was accorded to the banning of chewing gum, and the high fines for littering, even for something as small as a cigarette butt, both being initiatives that I fully endorsed. However, I found few restrictions to my quality of life when I lived in a clean, green, beautifully maintained, low crime environment. The reality is that populace behaviour was controlled less by edict and more by fable and storytelling. For example, there was a thriving black market in Viagra in Singapore before the Food and Drug Authority had had a chance to validate its use. One day a story appeared in the Straits Times daily newspaper describing the plight of a man who had used a questionably acquired form of Viagra and as a result had been rendered impotent. The Viagra black market died overnight. Great business leaders can benefit from telling compelling stories and doing so frequently. Stories have a significant impact on our lives. Our memory consists of lots of stories. When we talk about things we remember they are usually in the form of a story. We primarily communicate through stories.

As Lee Kwan Yew said “Mine is a very matter-of-fact approach to the problem. If you can select a population and they’re educated and they’re properly brought up, then you don’t have to use too much of the stick because they would already have been trained.”

MANAGEMENT… IS IT AN ART OR A SCIENCE ?

Is good management more of an art or a science ? Or, is this even a valid question ?

From the dictionary, science is defined as “… a systematic enterprise that builds and organizes knowledge in the form of testable explanations and predictions”.

Author: Halfdan; CC BY-SA 3.0 license; via Wikimedia Commons

Author: Halfdan; CC BY-SA 3.0 license; via Wikimedia Commons


Art is defined as “… the expression or application of human creative skill and imagination …”

Author: Mlaoxve; via Wikimedia Commons

Author: Mlaoxve; via Wikimedia Commons


Most people tend to hedge their bets on this question by declaring that management is both an art and a science, and that they are just the two sides of the same coin. In this respect, one of the better attempts that I have seen that tries to support this belief is from Jesse Brogan, of The Management Engineering Newsletter.

“As a management engineer (technical support for managers), I do have a very specific view. First, we must separate management (gaining performance through those who are managed) from supervision (maintenance of resources).
Supervision has no result, nothing measurable to gain, and accordingly cannot be managed. By definition, management does have something to gain through the efforts of those who are managed; it has a measurable difference between success and failure.
Science is a gathering and organization of knowledge/observation for the purpose of prediction. Where we are addressing a result, there is definitely a science of performance. Industrial engineering provides the principles and approaches that guide managers to application.
Management, in its application, deals with a gathering of individuals for a productive purpose; and people are only predictive in a statistical sense. In all else, they are individuals and working with them to bring people to a common and interactive purpose is a high art form.
Those who work in the productive environment know the ability to apply the basic principles of industrial engineering, and that they do work to effect. There is a science of management.
Any who work in supervision know the art of management, and use it regularly in dealing with people to bring them to common purpose and productive unity, neither of which can be attained in any final level of perfection. The art is both intimate and reactive.
I say management is an artistic application that has a scientific foundation, even if that foundation has been largely ignored by many who work in management.”

However, the question we need to ask is that if management were really a science, why do we struggle with teaching it well ? (see “Why management training rarely works ?” posted July 1, 2013), and the follow-on question being that if management were really a science, why do we not have more success with the results that are achieved by Business Schools ? (see “Business Leadership is not changing quickly enough” posted October 10, 2011).

The issue is that whist I do believe that good management, being mostly about people, relies mainly on considerable artistry supported by some scientific application, I have long believed that for it to be really successful, management needs to be practised mostly as a profession.

I do understand that “management” as such does not meet some of the criteria that currently define a profession, as a profession tends to arise when any trade or occupation transforms itself through “the development of formal qualifications based upon education, apprenticeship, and examinations, the emergence of regulatory bodies with powers to admit and discipline members, and some degree of monopoly rights”.

via Wikimedia Commons

via Wikimedia Commons


However, I am talking about “management professionalism” as a vocation, as one of the problems that I see with many European managers is that they see themselves more as vocational specialists with some management responsibility add-on, rather than as professional managers who came from some vocational background.

I believe that management professionalism means that your first and only priority is to deliver the results for which you have been given responsibility, through the team of people that are in your care. At some early point in your management career you have to make the decision that you will let go of some of the need to become an ever more brilliant vocational specialist, and focus on becoming an ever more capable manager. This means that you will have to accept that your prime responsibility is to make your team more vocationally brilliant and capable, rather than yourself.

Being the best software engineer in a global company may get you noticed in the first place, but doesn’t add a lot if you believe that maintaining that position will add significant value to the company as you climb the management ladder. I am not suggesting that you do not stay current with your vocational skills, just that the emphasis needs to be changed to a new set of skills that fit the management responsibilities.

In my earlier years at SAP, when I was President/CEO of South Asia Pacific I reported to one of the SAP Global board members, who happened to be head of a large part of the SAP development organisation, and in 1997 we flew together to India for a regular subsidiary visit and review. When it came time to fill in the Indian government immigration forms, under “Profession” I wrote “Executive”, and my boss wrote “Software Engineer”. This bothered me, as if I saw myself as an executive, I felt that I should at least be reporting to an even more senior executive. Somehow “Software Engineer” didn’t quite get there for me.

Author: Viphotels; CC BY-SA 3.0 license; via Wikimedia Commons

Author: Viphotels; CC BY-SA 3.0 license; via Wikimedia Commons


I questioned him about this, and he suggested that I was mixing up his job and his profession. He felt that his job was being an SAP Board member, but professionally he was a software engineer.

Author: El lobo; CC BY-SA 3.0 license; via Wikimedia Commons

Author: El lobo; CC BY-SA 3.0 license; via Wikimedia Commons


He would not buy my argument that his role, seniority and responsibilities demanded that first and foremost he now had to be a professional manager rather than a software engineer, and we have carried this argument on into both our retirements from full time corporate life.

As so succinctly put by American businessman and president of ITT, Harold S. Geneen (1910-1997) “Management must manage”.