Philip Green: Risk & Control

30 June, 2015

Sir Philip Green is rarely out of the news. A self-made business man, he has long been a dominant figure in the UK retail scene and a figure with much to admire and much to criticise. When a TV audience is split 50:50 in loving and loathing a programme, it usually becomes a hit. On those grounds, Philip Green is a business hit!

Sir Philip Green

Short Biography

Philip Green was born in the Surrey (now South London) town of Croydon in 1952, where his parents were both involved in property and retail businesses. At the age of twelve, while at boarding school, his father died, leaving his mother to continue to run the family businesses – something she carried on into her eighties. Green, who had been used to earning money from a young age on the forecourt of the family’s petrol (gas in the US) station, left school as soon as he could, to enter the world of work.

His endeavour allowed him to work his way up through all levels of a shoe importer, to discover a real talent for selling. When he left the company he travelled the world, learning practical lessons in business, which he brought back to the UK. Through the late 1970s and early 1980s, he became adept at deals involving buying stock nobody else wanted and selling it quickly. He operated primarily in the retail apparel market. He then turned this acumen towards buying and selling companies. His deals got larger and more profitable, his reputation for rapid deal-making grew, and so did his asset base.

In 2000, Green acquired BHS – the former British Home Stores – which he rapidly transferred to his wife, Tina Green. He followed this acquisition in 2002 with the purchase of the Arcadia Group of fashion retail companies, that included some of the big names on the UK high street: Topshop, Burton, Wallis, Evans, Miss Selfridge and Dorothy Perkins. This was also transferred to his wife’s name. As a Monaco resident, the tax implications of this ownership structure have attracted much criticism in the UK.

Already owning the second largest share of the UK clothes retail market, Green tried in 2004 to acquire Marks & Spencer – the largest clothes retailer. His bid failed with much vitriol between him and the then M&S boss Sir Stuart Rose. In 2006, Green was knighted for services to the retail industry. The 2010 general election saw him coming out strongly for the Conservative party – a move that was reciprocated by the new Conservative/Liberal coalition with his appointment to chair a review into Government procurement – of which he was highly critical.

Perhaps Green’s largest business was BHS, so his business story is not one of total success. By 2012, the company’s fortunes were waning and in March 2015, Green sold the now loss-making business – debt free but with substantial pensions liabilities – for £1.

As a multi-billionaire (with his wife), Green’s spending and tax affairs attract as much media attention as his business activities. He is famed for lavish parties (spending several million pounds at a time) and equally known for his charitable and philanthropic spending. Forbes rate the couple’s joint wealth in 2015 at US $5 billion.

Business Lessons from Sir Philip Green

Whatever your view of him, Sir Philip has a talent for making decisions and turning a profit. Here are some lessons I draw from his experiences and choices.

Pace and Decisiveness

Green built his business on fast deals: rapidly doing the deal (often making a multi-million pound acquisition in days) and quickly turning that deal into a profit. Yes, Green is adept at risk taking, but taking risks is not a secret to success. Quickly assessing the risk and understanding your own capacity to handle it is what matters, and Green was a master – particularly during the 1980s and 90s.

The Rich get Richer

Money begets money, and Green used a very simple ploy (conceptually) time and time again, to grow his wealth. He would convince banks to lend him money to make his acquisitions – of stock in the early days and of businesses later – and then turn a profit and repay his debt quickly. On one occasion in 1985, he bought a bankrupt business with a large loan, traded for a short while and sold it six months later for nearly twice as much as he’d borrowed.  He then went to his bank and asked ‘what do I owe you?’ They replied ‘3 million 430 thousand pounds’ and so Green wrote a cheque there and then, putting it on the counter and saying ‘Done.’

Discipline and Control

Green has a fiendish attention to every detail of his business, devoting much of his energy to driving efficiency into every last nook and cranny. Why did BHS fail, then? I wish I could ferret that one out, because his regal processes through his London Oxford Street empire of shops are well known within the business for ferreting out even tiny discrepancies in the selling process.

Customers first: Owners second

Perhaps Green’s most closely held business belief is that shareholders drive the wrong decisions. Everything should be about giving your customers what they want, rather than pandering to shareholders. This is why he turned both BHS and Arcadia from publicly listed to privately owned companies. Maybe it is also why BHS failed for him: he could no longer figure out how to give customers what they want in a general purpose multi product store. It will be interesting to see if and how its new owners can square the circle that Green could not.


Of course there are other things too, but most of them are what any manager would tell you are obvious ‘no-brainer’ habits; like: know your business inside out, respect and trust your people, keep working hard, stay alert for opportunities, and protect your supply chain. But the fact that Green does all of these does not make him different from many other successful business leaders. It’s the fact that he does them well and consistently, on top of the differentiators that make him exceptional.

Kim Cameron: Positive Deviance

23 June, 2015

Positive Psychology is an important component of modern workplace thinking and has become a powerful force in organisational thinking with its off-shoot, ‘Positive Organisational Scholarship’. At the forefront of this rapidly developing field is Kim Cameron.

Kim Cameron


Short Biography

Kim S Cameron was born in 1946 and earned his bachelors and masters degrees in sociology and social psychology at Brigham Young University in 1970 and 71. He went on to take higher degrees in Administrative Sciences at Yale, gaining an MA in 1976 and his PhD in 1978.

From there he held a number of academic posts, at the Universities of Wisconsin, Colorado, Brigham Young, and Case Western, before taking his current dual post as Professor in both the School of Education and the Ross School of Business at the University of Michigan in 2001.

There, he co-founded the Center for Positive Organizational Scholarship; now the Center for Positive Organizations. This is the hub of Cameron’s research on Positive Organizational Scholarship, with a mission to help design high-performing organisations that bring out the best in people.

There was clearly a sea-change in Cameron’s thinking in the run-up to this. Between 1980 and 1988, he co-wrote five books on management and organisations, followed by a gap of 15 years, before ‘Positive Organizational Scholarship: Foundations of a New Discipline‘ came out, co-edited with Jane Dutton and Robert Quinn. This is a collation of 23 scholarly papers that set about defining the discipline. This is brought up to date by the mammoth Oxford Handbook of Positive Organizational Scholarship, which Cameron co-edited for publication in 2012.

What is Positive Organizational Scholarship?

Positive Organizational Scholarship (or POS) is a synthesis of many strands of research and thinking:

  • the organisational process that produces extraordinary outcomes (‘Positive Deviance’)
  • Organisational Design (OD)
  • Leadership
  • Positive Psychology
  • Creativity
  • Appreciative Inquiry (AI)
  • Citizenship behaviours and community psychology
  • Ethics and prosocial behaviour

Together, these things examine how to harness and develop human strengths in an organisational setting. At the core is the idea of ‘positive deviance’ and it advocates a focus on noticing, celebrating, and institutionalising behaviours, attitudes and processes that lead to extra-ordinary positive results. This is in contrast to a lot of organisational behaviours that currently focus around under-performance and finding corrective procedures.

This more familiar approach can certainly bring a poor organisation up to a baseline adequate standard of performance. POS suggests that to achieve excellence, organisations and their leaders and managers need to switch to an ‘affirmative bias’ and start to endorse the best, rather than critique the poor performances.

Culture Change

Back in 1988, Cameron co-authored Paradox and Transformation: Toward a Theory of Change in Organization and Management with Robert Quinn, but it was Making the Impossible Possible: Leading Extraordinary Performance – the Rocky Flats Story that caught my attention (having been recommended it by project management blogger Positive Deviance.

This book searches out lessons to learn from the spectacular transformation of the project to clean up a highly contaminated nuclear site at Rocky Flats, Colorado. In the book, the authors, Cameron and his PhD student, Marc Levine, assert that a huge transformation in performance was generated by simultaneously pursuing four conflicting strategies.

They use the ‘Competing Values Framework’ developed by Cameron’s long-time collaborator, Robert Quinn. This suggests that organisations have a prevailing culture dictated by their values, along two dimensions of:

  1. Either: efficient internal processes or competitive external positioning
  2. Either: flexibility and adaptability or stability and incrementalism

The four cultures that result are oriented towards prevailing behaviours:

  • Clan Culture – internal/flexible – oriented towards collaboration
  • Adhocracy – external/flexible – oriented towards creation
  • Market culture – external/stable – oriented towards competing
  • Hierarchy – internal/stable – oriented towards control

The positive deviance that led to the phenomenal objective success* of the project was ascribed by Cameron and Levine to building an environment that equally valued all four elements of culture, and therefore demonstrated collaboration, creativity, competition, and control at the same time.


* Closure and decontamination of the facility was forecast to take 70 years and cost $36 billion. Out-turn cost was $6 billion, and the project was complete in 10 years

Barbara Kellerman: Leadership Triangle

16 June, 2015

From the 1970s to the present day, the study of leadership has mushroomed. And one of the foremost academic researchers is Barbara Kellerman, who first became interested in dominance and power at a young age, but discovered a dearth of literature on the subject. Since the mid-1970s, she has been a prolific contributor to that literature.

Barbara Kellerman

Short Biography

Barbara Kellerman took her BA at Sarah Lawrence College, graduating in 1969 and moved to Yale for postgraduate studies, first for an MA in Russian and East European studies, and then for an MPhil and PhD in Political Science, which she earned in 1975.

She stayed in the academic, taking up the study of leadership, with posts at Fordham, Tufts, Fairleigh Dickinson, George Washington, Maryland, and Uppsala Universities. In 1998, she was one of the founders of The International Leadership Association, a membership organisation that brings together people with practical and academic interests in leadership.

In 2000, Kellerman founded the Harvard Kennedy School’s Centre for Public Leadership, which she led until 2003, before stepping down to become its Research Director. Since 2006, she has been the James MacGregor Burns Lecturer in Public Leadership at the John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University, and is also a a visiting scholar and professor at several other institutions, including The Tuck School of Business, and New York University.

Barbara Kellerman on Leadership

Kellerman has researched and written extensively on leadership, putting forward many challenging and compelling ideas. Her 2012 book, The End of Leadership, takes on the ‘leadership industry’, challenging it to really critique the results it achieves.

Kellerman takes a very ‘liberal arts’ view of leadership and is a strong advocate of a great books approach of reading widely and eclectically about leadership from leaders and commentators. Her book Leadership: Essential Selections on Power, Authority, and Influence provides her selection of readings and commentaries.

Her eclectic and innovative approach is nicely illustrated by her book Bad Leadership: What It Is, How It Happens, Why It Matters. It is an unusual approach to study the characteristics and problems of poor leadership – but instructive. Kellerman is foremost a teacher about leadership, rather than a teacher of leadership.

… and Followership

Another narrative in The End of Leadership picks up from her earlier work and emphasises the role of followership and how the balance of power between leaders and the people they would lead has shifted. Her work on followers is every bit as important as that on leaders, and in many ways far more innovative: compare the volume of literature on each!

In Followership: How Followers Are Creating Change and Changing Leaders, Kellerman discusses the essential role of followers and classifies them into five types, depending upon their level of engagement:

  1. Isolates
    These followers blend into the background and fail (or refuse) to engage. They do nothing to support changes and so entrench the status quo.
  2. Bystanders
    Like Isolates, Bystanders refuse to participate, but unlike them, they do, at least, maintain an awareness of events. They are often the silent majority who also contribute to maintaining the status quo.
  3. Participants
    These followers get involved in either supporting or opposing their leaders, and so are important stakeholders to further engage. This is particularly so, because their motivations are led by their own agenda, rather than those of their leader.
  4. Activists
    These followers do not just get involved; they take a lead in pursuing their agenda. They are often highly motivated and energetic, with strong convictions and a desire to lead for themselves. Where they support a leader, they become powerful allies, able to lead parts of a change autonomously.
  5. Diehards
    The strongest emotions lie with diehards, who are prepared to do whatever it takes to support or overthrow their leader. They are rare, but can be fanatical, giving them a significant importance.

The Leadership Triangle

In The End of Leadership, Kellerman describes leadership as an equilateral triangle, with three equal sides:

  1. the Leader
  2. the Followers
  3. the Context

The context represents all of the other stakeholders, the culture, the environment, the technological and process resources and constraints and anything else the leader and followers must interact with. Vitally, Kellerman argues that context changes and therefore leadership and followership must necessarily change too, in response. The impact of changes in technology and shifts in world politics are causing ideas of leadership to evolve continuously.

This is what fascinates Kellerman, and her books and writing are always thoughtful. Her latest book, Hard Times, examines the challenging context of today’s United States, looking at how that context is shifting to create new norms and expectations.

Barbara Kellerman describing her work

From the Leadership Industry

The Leadership Pocketbook



C K Prahalad: Strategy Reinvented

9 June, 2015

C K Prahalad was one of the giants among academics thinking about corporate strategy at the end of the twentieth century and into the twenty-first. It may be that his revolutionary ideas form a core of real global transformation in the years to come. Prahalad was instrumental in transforming our understanding of corporate strategy twice, during a sadly short academic career of only 35 years.

C K Prahalad


Short Biography

Coimbatore Krishnarao Prahalad was born in 1941 and grew up in Coimbatore, in the Southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu. He was an exceptional academic student, graduating high school three years early and gaining a BSc in Physics from Chenai’s Loyola College in 1960, at the age of 19. He joined Union Carbide, first as an intern and later was promoted to be its youngest manager. But he left in 1964, to join the first MBA class at the Indian Institute of Management (IIM), earning his MBA in 1966.

From there, he joined a manufacturing firm, Indian Pistons, which offered the stability to marry and start his family. But the call of the academy continued and in 1973, with his family, he went to the US and started his DBA research at Harvard – while his wife, Gayatri, started her master’s degree in education.

After Harvard, he took up a teaching post at IIM, and gradually acquired others, coming to base himself at the University of Michigan. There, he was recognised as the outstanding teacher in the business school. There too, he met doctoral student Gary Hamel. Together they built a combative rapport that generated the highly influential 1990 Harvard Business Review paper, ‘The Core Competence of the Corporation’.

They then developed these ideas into the best-selling book, ‘Competing for the Future‘. They continued to work together, and Prahalad also worked with other collaborators, perhaps most notably with marketing academic Venkat Ramaswami to produce ‘The Future of Competition: Co-Creating Unique Value With Customers‘, which looked at how some of the emerging big players on the internet were co-opting their customers to generate value for themselves and their peers.

Prahalad’s biggest idea was one that he worked on alone and only time will tell how successful it really is. Wondering how so many billions of people remain in poverty despite the apparent success of our best management and technological developments, he argued that the bottom 5 billion people by wealth still account for a potential market of over $10 trillion. He figured that addressing that market could equally benefit those people and the corporations that do so. His ideas and research were published in 2004, in ‘The Fortune at the Bottom of the Pyramid: Eradicating Poverty Through Profits‘.

Competitive Advantage

In throwing out existing data and process led theories of strategy formation, Prahalad and Hamel developed a simple model of how corporations can achieve competitive advantage. This simplification of their ideas is mine and any errors of interpretation I have introduced are mine too.

Step 1: Corporate Imagination

This is where corporate leaders visualise new markets and how to exploit them ahead of their competitors. They argued that to do this effectively, executives have to:

  1. get away from their natural focus on existing markets
  2. look for new product concepts
  3. be prepared to challenge radically their old assumptions about pricing (this idea would recur in Prahalad’s thinking about how to create markets at the Bottom of the Pyramid)
  4. lead customers by creating expectations, rather than follow them by meeting expectations

Hamel and Prahalad had little time for small scale intrapreneurial innovation. They advocated big, revolutionary changes in markets that would allow a corporation to dominate, such as:

  • adding wholly new functionality to your existing products
  • delivering your proven functionality through new products
  • using existing products to deliver functionality in new ways

To do this, they argue that an organisation must understand its ‘core competencies’ – the abilities it has to create and innovate by bringing together its skills, technologies, assets, and relationships in ways that dominate multiple markets by offering big benefits to customers in a way that competitors find hard to duplicate.

The threat of relying on core competencies, however, is two-fold. Firstly, it may cause market and product diversification into arenas where the corporation has insufficient depth of understanding or presence to be effective. This can lead to large failures. Alternatively, over-focus on core competency leads to a rigidity of thinking that is reinforced by a sense of comfortableness, and leads to a sense of complacency. Such circumstances lead to being replaced in your core markets by insurgent competitors.

Step 2: Implementation

Hamel and Prahalad’s focus on core competencies leads them to focus what they say about implementation on building up core competencies and their supporting infrastructures of assets, resources and technologies.

Step 3: Consolidate your Control of Emerging Markets

You do this through what they call ‘Expeditionary Marketing’ to understand how the parameters of feature-sets, performance, and pricing need to be balanced to penetrate, consolidate and dominate your market.

The Bottom of the Pyramid

How do you build a market among people who are too poor to buy your products? By re-thinking entirely how you deliver your products and the pricing model you use. Prahalad was able to find and research numerous case studies that show how corporations can do this successfully, to create:

  • Affordability – creating offerings that dramatically change what people need to pay and how they can pay for it
  • Accessibility – thinking carefully about the local context, rather than applying first-world distribution models
  • Availability – getting products to where they are needed, when they are needed, in a form that makes it possible for people to buy.

Hear Prahalad speaking about this and more…

You may also like…

The Strategy Pocketbook

Taiichi Ohno: Lean Production

2 June, 2015

The engineer behind many aspects of the Toyota Production System (TPS) can justly be described as instrumental in creating one of the world’s great manufacturing businesses. But his influence goes far wider, with many of the management ideas that we take for granted originating as a part of the TPS. I promised you we’d look at him when we examined the lessons from his boss, Eiji Toyoda, so let’s see what we can learn from Taiichi Ohno.

Taiichi Ohno


Short Biography

Taiichi Ohno was born in China, where his father was working on the Manchuria Railway, in 1912, and grew up in the Aichi prefecture of Japan, attending the Nagoya technical High School. In 1932, he joined the Toyoda Automatic Loom Works, which had been established by Sakichi Toyoda, who was highly innovative in the looms he designed and built. When Toyoda sold off the loom business to a British company, he determined to invest the money in an automobile business, to be headed by his son, Kiichiro Toyoda.

Kiichiro Toyoda set out to learn from US motor manufacturers, and started manufacturing vehicles in 1936 and it was he who first introduced the idea of ‘Just in Time’. However, it was when Taiichi Ohno was tasked with increasing productivity that the company started to make the breakthroughs which would later form the groundwork for Toyota’s great commercial achievements of the 1960s onwards, under Eiji Toyoda.

In looking at Toyota’s productivity levels shortly after the war, Ohno realised that the gap in performance between Toyota and the top US manufacturers of a factor ten could not be due solely to a poor Japanese workforce. He considered that the significant factor was waste; ‘Muda’. As he experimented, and took on board Kiichiro Toyoda’s ideas of Just in Time production, he gradually, over the years from 1945 to the mid-1970s, built up a coherent set of principles and practices that has come to be known as the ‘Toyota Production System’.

Towards the end of his life, Ohno spoke and wrote extensively (most notably: ‘Toyota Production System: Beyond Large-Scale Production‘) about the TPS – perhaps more than his superiors really felt comfortable with. In doing so, he frequently used the metaphor of a supermarket to describe how Just in Time principles work. He had first seen, and been captivated by, supermarkets on a visit to the United States in 1956. Ohno died of heart failure in May 1990.

The Toyota Production System

The three principles at the heart of the the Toyota Production System are easy to state:

  1. Produce components just in time for their use (‘Just in Time’ production)
  2. Build quality in every part of the process (‘Jidoka’)
  3. Create one continuous process (the ‘Value Stream’)

Just in Time Production

As if the phrase Just in Time has not become well-enough known, it is supported by an idea and a practical tool that have each become central to manufacturing processes world-wide… and, indeed, to other business and organisational processes.

The first of these – and Ohno’s starting point for his reforms – is the idea of waste, or ‘Muda’. Ohno waged a systematic campaign to eliminate all possible forms of waste. In so doing, he identified the seven categories that are often known as the ‘Seven Wastes’.

  1. Defective Production – producing defective products
  2. Overproduction – producing more than is needed
  3. Waiting – idle, non-productive time
  4. Transporting – the wasted time and risks of damage or loss
  5. Inventory – holding unnecessary stock and therefore incurring capital costs
  6. Motion – the wear and tear and the accidents that arise in moving things around a plant
  7. Excessive Processing – over-specification of components, or unwanted functionality, for example

Some people add other wastes to Ohno’s original seven, most commonly placing Non-used employee talent (wasting skills) between number 3 and 4 in my ordering, so create the mnemonic acronym: DOWNTIME.

Ohno also developed a system of signboards that track progress of goods through the manufacturing process, which are called ‘Kanbans’. The kanban board is now widely used to track progress in projects throughout commerce, especially in managing software projects under agile project management methodologies.


Ohno examined every part of the manufacturing process and looked for ways to reduce errors, increase safety, and improve reliability. When he found them, he instituted rigorous staff training. The principle of building quality into everything is ‘Jidoka’. And, although he did not originate the idea of continuous improvement, known as ‘Kaizen’, Ohno’s concept of Jidoka involved daily improvement in a cycle of detecting problems, stopping production, removing the cause of the problem, and then incorporating the improvements into the standard workflow.

Another of Ohno’s greatest innovations is his problem solving methodology, the Five Whys, a way of getting at the root cause of a problem. This intelligent approach to stopping a machine when a fault arises and injecting human problem solving is Ohno’s idea of intelligent automation, or ‘autonomation’; ‘ninben no tsuita jidoka’.

Value Stream

Instead of seeing a factory as a series of inter-connected processes as Henry Ford had done, Ohno saw it as one continuous connected process. And ensuring that its efficiency is optimised is the idea of work levelling; ‘Heijunka’. This is central to eliminating waste, or Muda and is about rearranging (dynamically) the allocation of work to ensure that every resource is fully utilised at all times.

Introducing Change

Many of Ohno’s ideas seem obvious to us now but they did not at the time. And, inevitably, he encountered much resistance from the Toyota workforce. He employed one principal strategy to deal with this, that had two simple components: patience and persistence. Evolving the Toyota Production System took thirty years and, no doubt, it is ongoing today.

Adoption outside of Japan

Outside of Japan, Ohno’s ideas have been widely adopted and modified. The TPS is now more generally known as ‘lean manufacturing’ and the principles of lean thinking are increasingly being applied throughout the economy in sectors like retailing, services, telecommunications and even government service.

There does seem to be a difference, however, between Ohno’s and the two Toyodas’ philosophy and that of modern western businesses with which I am familiar. Here, we see organisations seeking to use lean principles to ‘sweat their assets’ to cut staff numbers and compel them to work harder to achieve greater productivity with fewer resources. Toyota instead thought that by making its process more efficient, its workforce could produce more without significant increases in the cost base, and so exploit new markets to create more profit.

At the heart of this is a different approach to pricing. The Western approach is to lower your cost base as low as you can, to determine a profit level, and then to sell at the price that these dictate.

'Typical' Western approach to pricing

Toyota’s success was build on a different philosophy: that the market fixes the price it will pay, and you optimise your processes to set your unit costs. Your profit is the difference.

'Successful' Toyota approach to pricing

Learn More

Toyota describes the Toyota Production System on their website, at:



Ellen Langer: Cultivated Mindfulness

26 May, 2015

Ellen Langer was researching and promoting the idea of mindfulness long before the avalanche of books and articles about it started a few years ago. Her research into what it is and what benefits it offers provides real insights for business managers and leaders, especially in the domains of innovation, charisma, and reductions in stress.

Ellen Langer

Short Biography

Ellen Langer was born in the Bronx area of New York in 1947 and grew up in neighbouring Yonkers. She attended New York University, initially studying chemistry, but after attending a psychology course with Philip Zimbardo, she swapped courses. They remain friends. She earned her BA in 1970 and went on to gain her PhD in social and clinical psychology at Yale in 1974. Her research focused on ‘the illusion of control’ – our belief that we are able to influence certain events that are really outside of our control. After a period teaching at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York, she was appointed the first tenured professor in the Psychology Department of Harvard University, where she continues to teach and research. In parallel, she also runs the Langer Mindfulness Institute, a research and consulting venture.

Her research also included a notable experiment transporting older people to an immersive environment much like that of their young adulthood and observing physiological changes consistent with reduced age. This is documented in her popular book. ‘Counterclockwise: A Proven Way to Think Yourself Younger and Healthier‘. The bulk of her research has touched in one way or another on the topic of mindfulness and her original book on the subject, ‘Mindfulness‘ has recently been re-released in a 25th anniversary edition. She recently co-edited the massive academic tome, ‘The Wiley-Blackwell Handbook of Mindfulness‘.

What is Mindfulness?

Langer has offered a number of definitions of the term ‘mindfulness’, which are wholly consistent, but together build a rich picture of how we can understand the term. Fundamentally, we become mindful when we turn off our auto-pilot and start to pay attention to our situation. It is a conscious awareness of our context and of the content of our thoughts, in which we link context and thought patterns together.

A deeper understanding of the meaning of mindfulness can be gained from examining the dimensions of Langer’s psychometric measure, ‘the Langer Mindfulness Scale’. The four dimensions are:

Novelty Seeking
The extent to which we see every situation as a chance to learn something new.

Novelty Producing
The degree to which we tend to produce new information, to understand our situation.

The extent to which we notice details about our environment and how we relate to it.

The degree to which we embrace change, as opposed to resisting it.

Importantly, Langer’s definitions do not require meditation as a means of achieving mindfulness. Meditation, she says, is a tool. You can use it to become mindful, but you can also become mindful without meditation.

… and why does it matter to managers?

Langer asserts that most leadership problems are a result of inattention, and that organisations which create an environment that fosters mindfulness also become more effective and more innovative. This comes from her study of how people handle mistakes, which has found that a greater level of awareness of the potential for error leads to better and more flexible solutions to problems. Mindfulness reduces accidents and errors, and it also seems to reduce stress levels. Perhaps less surprising, mindfulness and attention to the people around us results in our being rated as more charismatic.

So how can you become more mindful?

Most important of all, start noticing things: be wholly present in the moment. When you find yourself worrying, examine the thoughts going through your head.If you need to make a decision, look ahead and consider how you will make it work. This way, you can notice events that are unexpected, rather than letting your cruise control run your life and therefore fail to notice small deviations. Become curious: when you do notice something, don’t just let it go past, but enquire into it. And finally, learn to savour experiences and small pleasures.

Ellen Langer speaking about ‘Mindfulness over Matter’

‘Most of us are mindless virtually all the time’

 Why we are ‘frequently in error, but rarely in doubt’

Colin Powell: Leader

19 May, 2015

By many measures, General Colin Powell is one of the most accomplished military leaders of the twentieth century, holding a slew of ‘first’s and ‘youngest’s. What makes him interesting to the Management Pocketblog is the depth and breadth of his ideas on leadership, that have been widely publicised, most notably by the late Oren Harari, who was a business professor at the University of San Francisco. His credibility as a ‘leadership guru’ is immense, and much of his philosophy of leadership applies well to managers who lead within civilian organisations.

General Colin Powell


Short Biography

Colin Powell was born in 1937 to Jamaican immigrant parents, and grew up in the Bronx in New York. He attended the City College of New York, earning a BS in geology in 1958. But during his time there, he made his most important choice of all. As an averagely academic student at the time, he found his greatest fulfilment attending the Reserve Officer Training Corps. He was good at it too, so on graduation, he joined the US Army, attended basic training, and was commissioned as a second Lieutenant.

Powell’s early military career was dominated by distinguished tours of duty in Vietnam, rising to Lieutenant Colonel in 1970. He was wounded, and also decorated for bravery. He returned the US and to a series of political roles with the Nixon and Reagan administrations, rising up through the ranks of general staff, until President George HW Bush appointed him the youngest (and first African American) Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff in 1989.

He served in that role until 1993, and then retired from the military. He was courted by both Republican and Democratic parties as a potential Presidential or Vice-Presidential candidate and, after declaring himself a Republican, declined to stand, saying he did not have the fire in the belly he would need for such a role. However, in the 2000 Presidential election, Republican Party candidate George W Bush declared that, if he won, he would appoint Powell as Secretary of State – which he did.

Powell was a good Secretary of State – widely liked and respected by staff and international politicians. He served during the 11 September attacks and presented the US case for invasion of Iraq to the UN, putting forward evidence of weapons of mass destruction. When he later learned that the evidence he had been given by the CIA was bogus, he apologised and it is likely that this, along with long-running disagreements with Vice President Dick Cheney caused him to resign and not serve in Bush’s second term.

However, he continued (and continues) to serve the US in a range of voluntary roles, most notable of which is the America’s Promise Alliance, which he founded with his wife Alma, and which she continues to chair. It sets out to help create the conditions for success for young people, especially those it identifies as being disadvantaged by lack of resources and opportunities.

In 2013, Powell’s Alma Mater, The City College of New York, transformed its Division of Social Science into the Colin L. Powell School for Civic and Global Leadership. It incorporates the Colin Powell Center, which Powell founded in Harlem (where he was born) to build a culture of service and to inspire young people with a sense of public purpose and responsibility.

Colin Powell on Leadership

Powell’s leadership philosophy started to become well-known when Oren Harari wrote an article in the American Management Association’s monthly magazine, Management Review, called Quotations from Chairman Powell: A Leadership Primer (1996). This was such a successful article (Powell himself praised it) that Harari followed it up with a book: ‘The Leadership Secrets of Colin Powell‘.

Since then, Powell has himself articulated his 13 Rules of Leadership, in his own book, ‘It Worked for Me: In Life and Leadership‘.

  • Rule 1: It Ain’t as Bad as You Think!  It Will Look Better in the Morning!
  • Rule 2: Get Mad Then Get Over It!
  • Rule 3: Avoid Having Your Ego so Close to your Position that When Your Position Falls, Your Ego Goes With It!
  • Rule 4: It Can be Done!
  • Rule 5: Be Careful What You Choose! You May Get It!
  • Rule 6: Don’t Let Adverse Facts Stand in the Way of a Good Decision.
  • Rule 7: You Can’t Make Someone Else’s Decisions!  You Shouldn’t Let Someone Else Make Yours!
  • Rule 8: Check Small Things!
  • Rule 9: Share Credit!
  • Rule 10: Remain calm!  Be kind!
  • Rule 11: Have a Vision! Be Demanding!
  • Rule 12: Don’t take counsel of your fears or naysayers!
  • Rule 13: Perpetual optimism is a force multiplier!

Three of the Best for Managers

Combining Powell’s own 13 rules, with the 18 lessons that Harari drew from quotations by Powell in his 1996 article, I would like to extract three that I find most relevant and resonant for business managers.

Powell’s Rule 3:
Avoid Having Your Ego so Close to your Position that When Your Position Falls, Your Ego Goes With It!

I like this a lot, because it is about resilience and also about recognising that you can be wrong, you will be wrong and, indeed, this is sometimes part of your job description. Being wrong is a sign of innovating and taking risks and the measure of a leader is not just in how often you are right, but how you make a decision that turns out to be wrong, and how you respond when the facts reveal themselves.

Harari’s Lesson 8:
‘Organization doesn’t really accomplish anything. Plans don’t accomplish anything, either. Theories of management don’t much matter. Endeavors succeed or fail because of the people involved. Only by attracting the best people will you accomplish great deeds.’

As someone who likes to plan and is enchanted by theories, all I can say is ‘ouch!’ But I also know from my experience as a manager, leader and active project manager that Powell is spot on – plans, processes and models are nothing more than enablers that create a framework to make life easier for the people – and the best will succeed even in their absence. That is, of course, not an argument for abandoning good practices!

Harari’s Lesson 15:
Part I: ‘Use the formula P=40 to 70, in which P stands for the probability of success and the numbers indicate the percentage of information acquired.’
Part II: ‘Once the information is in the 40 to 70 range, go with your gut.’

I hate the way he expresses this, but I love Powell’s sentiment that we need to act on partial knowledge or face being paralysed and acting too late. But on the other hand, acting on too little information is reckless. As in everything, finding the right balance is the key to success.

One more thing…

Harari also quoted Powell (Lesson 11) as saying:

‘Fit no stereotypes.
Don’t chase the latest management fads.
The situation dictates which approach best accomplishes the team’s mission.’

The last year or so of Pocketblog (and the next to come, I hope) has taught me that the best of the latest fads are rooted in deep wisdom, and that there is so much of it around that our job is to integrate it into our thinking so we are equipped with the flexibility to respond to whatever circumstances throw at us.

That kind of adaptability – coupled with a deep sense of public purpose – is what makes Powell an inspirational figure.

You might enjoy…

The Leadership Pocketbook

Powell on his 13 Rules (2 mins)

Powell on the most important thing in Leadership (3 mins)


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