Saturday, October 20, 2012

Success is harder to handle than failure.

Holding organisations together when all is going well is not an easy task.  When all is going well you can inadvertently wander away from core business. Success bring a certain amount of freedom to explore, and can lead to complacency and slowness to respond to circumstances. Success is not often something for which we prepare. 

It is in that context that we can ask:

Why have so many seemingly successful companies failed in recent years?  Why is there widespread anxiety over company/organisational leadership?  Why are so many countries questioning the quality and effectiveness of their political leadership?

Is it a lack of preparedness?  Is it an inability to cope with success?  Have we even thought about what success is?

The following examines some issues relating to responsibility, ethics and power in leadership.  I have drawn on some older material to help my reflection, and suggest that we seldom consider how we should prepare for success as a precursor to good performance.  None of this is new, but has it been forgotten?

Leadership has been described as a serious meddling in the lives of others (De Pree, 1991:7).  This implies that leadership embodies a responsibility of leaders for, or toward, those who are led. 

Yet a common scenario in modern business (since the late 1980s) is:

... good, respected and successful leaders, men and women of intelligence, talent, and vision who suddenly self-destruct as they reach the apex of their careers.  (Ludwig and Longenecker, 1993:266).

An Australian newspaper article from that time (Barker, 1995:14) reported that a concern for ethics in business is:

... a response to what is now called “ the excesses of the eighties” - the economic damage done to the nation and individuals by greedy, irresponsible and often corrupt business people who were feted as national heroes.

Ethics in management is a significant theme in the recent.  But why is it that leaders get caught up in a downward spiral of unethical decisions?

Ludwig and Longenecker (1993:266-267) seek to:

... debunk the notion that ethical failure of our leaders is largely due to lack of principle and/or the tough competitive climate of the 80s and 90s. (Equally, we could say the same for the more recent past)  Rather, we would like to suggest that many of the violations we have witnessed in recent years are the result of success and lack of preparedness in dealing with personal and organisational success.

Other evidence (Barker, 1995; LaBier ,1986) supports this contention that little attention is placed on preparing people to deal with the trials and dilemmas associated with success in modern society.  As success is the goal of every leader (Ludwig and Longenecker, 1993:270) it is surprising that it does not rate more significance in management and leadership literature.

The biblical story of David and Bathsheba is used to outline four potential by-products of success:
·      lose of strategic focus;
·      privileged access;
·      control of resources;
·      inflated belief in personal ability to control outcomes.

Ludwig and Longenecker (1993:267-269) write that “... the good and successful King David of Israel, believing he could cover up his impropriety, took Bathsheba to his bed while her husband was off in battle.” 

David is not where he is supposed to be (loss of strategic focus), he “delegated, then ignored what was happening”.  David had time on his hands, and a viewing position atop the palace roof to view Bathsheba at bath (privileged access).  David then manipulates the situations (controls resources, and tries to control outcomes) sleeps with Bathsheba who falls pregnant, brings her husband in from battle in the hope he will sleep with his wife and cover-up David’s impropriety, and eventually causes the husband to be killed.  The manipulation is exposed.  “David, in short, chose to do something he knew was clearly wrong in the firm belief that through his personal power, and control over power, he could cover up”.

When kept within reason, privileged access and control of resources are positive and justified requisites for success.  Privileged access is “essential for comprehensive strategic vision” and control of resources is “necessary for the execution of strategy” (Ludwig and Longenecker, 1993:269).  Loss of strategic focus and inflated belief in personal ability are essentially negative (see Table 3)

Table 3:  Possible outcome experienced by successful leaders



Privileged Access


Inflated Belief in Personal Ability

Emotionally Expansive
Unbalanced Personal Life
Inflated Ego
Fear of Failure

Control of Resources

No Direct Supervision
Ability to Influence
Ability to set Agenda
Control over Decision Making

Loss of Strategic Focus

Organisation on Autopilot
Delegation without Supervision
Strategic Complacency
Neglect of Strategy

                                                                                (Source: Ludwig and Longenecker, 1993: 270)

The benefits of success to the leader and the organisation are obvious.  Less readily apparent is the personal “dark side” of success which revolves largely around three psychological issues outlined by Ludwig and Longenecker (1993:270-271).  These are:

·      Climbing the success ladder exposes leaders to negative attitudes and behaviours.  There may not be apparent, but nonetheless come with the territory of successful leadership.  Negatives that could be reinforced include unbalanced personal lives, a loss of touch with reality and an inflated sense of personal ability.

·      Leaders may become emotionally expansive - “their appetite for success, thrills, gratification, and control becomes insatiable”.  They can lose the ability to be satisfied.  They can become personally isolated and lack intimacy with family and friends, losing a valuable source of personal balance.  They “literally lose touch with reality”.

·      Other factors include stress, fear of failure and the “emptiness syndrome” (“Is this all there is to success?”)  An inflated sense of ego can lead to abrasiveness, close-mindedness and disrespect.

Success does not necessarily lead to undesired behaviour as Ludwig and Longenecker (1991:271) are careful to record:

We are not suggesting that all successful leaders fall prey to these negatives that are frequently associated with success, but rather want to make the case that success can bring with it some very negative emotional baggage.

However, it is useful to recognise the seven lessons from David’s experience (Ludwig and Longenecker, 1991:271) provide a useful framework for reflection:

  •  Leaders are in their positions to focus on doing what is right for their organisation’s short-term and long-term success.  This can't happen if they aren't where they are supposed to be, doing what they are supposed to be doing.
  • There will always be temptations that come in a variety of shapes and forms that will tempt leaders to make decisions they know they shouldn't make.  With success will come additional ethical trials.  
  • Perpetrating an unethical act is a personal, conscious choice on the part of the leader that frequently places a greater emphasis on personal gratification rather than on the organisation’s needs.
  • It is difficult if not impossible to partake in unethical behaviour without implicating and/or involving others in the organisation
  • Attempts to cover-up unethical practices can have dire organisational consequences including innocent people getting hurt, power being abused, trust being violated, other individuals being corrupted, and the diversion of needed resources.
  • Not getting caught initially can produce self-delusion and increase the likelihood of future unethical behaviour.
  • Getting caught can destroy the leader, the organisation, innocent people, and everything the leader has spent his/her life working for.”

The important lessons for Ludwig and Longenecker (1992:272) is for leaders to recognise it could happen to them, and to be aware that:

Ethical leadership is simply part of good leadership and requires focus, the appropriate use of resources, trust, effective decision making, and provision of model behaviour that is worth following.  Once it is lost it is difficult if not impossible to regain.

Further Reading

Barker G (1995)  The glove that tempers the iron fist.  The Australian Financial Review Magazine. July. pp.14-21

Burdett  J O (1991)  What is empowerment anyway?  Journal of European Industrial Training. 15(6):23-30

De Pree M O (1989)  Leadership is an Art.   Melbourne: Australian Business Library, Information Australia.

De Pree M O (1991)  Leadership Jazz.  Melbourne: Australian Business Library, Information Australia.

Eisler R (1995)  From domination to partnership: The hidden subtext for organisation change.  Training & Development 49(2):32-39

LaBier D (1986)  Modern Madness: The Emotional Fallout of Success.  Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley

Ludwig D C and Longenecker C O (1993)  The Bathsheba syndrome: the ethical failure of successful leaders. Journal of Business Ethics 12(4):265-273

Peace W H (1991)  The hard work of being a soft manager.  Harvard Business Review. 69(6):40-42,46-47

Friday, October 19, 2012

Recruit "constructive" no-men

I recently reviewed an old note book (when I did this by pencil and paper pre-digital and social media!) and came across this great quote.  A wonderful reminder that 1. you should not surround yourself with "yes-men", but 2. a no-man who is just a no-man is a no-no!  (And a reminder that recruiting is perhaps the most important task you will undertake if your business is to be successful!)

"I do not wish to hire yes-men.  Yes-men come cheap . . .what we are looking for is what I call constructive no-men.  My own personal rule for very many years has been that anybody is free to criticise me, to criticise the company, to question or argue against anything that we are trying to do - provided they will satisfy the one criterion that they will tell us what I or the company should do differently."

Source: Harvey-Jones J (1988)  Making it happen.  Fontana, London.  P.89

(posted also to:

Places of Realised Potential

People with a commitment to potential see potential not merely as self-fulfillment but as expressing stewardship and servanthood. Is where you work a place where potential can be realised?

A place of realised potential:

  • Opens itself to change, to contrary opinion, to the mystery of potential, to involvement, to unsettling ideas.
  • Offers people the opportunity to learn and grow.
  • Offers the gift of challenging work. 
  •  Sheds its obsolete baggage.
  •  Encourages people to decide what needs to be measured and then helps them to do the work.
  • Heals people with trust and with caring and with forgiveness.
  • Is a social environment – people in places of realised potential know that organisations are social environments.
  •  Celebrates.

Source : Max De Pree (1997)  Leading without power. Finding hope in serving community.  Jossey-Bass  ISBN-13: 978-0787910631

Friday, October 05, 2012

UPDATE: The Green Revolution - get the Norman Borlaug biography for 99 US cents

The previous free offer has lapsed, but available on Kindle for 99 cents.

Today I received a notice from the Council of Agricultural Science and Technology that the Noel Vietmeyer, book Our Daily Bread: the Essential Norman Borlaug, is available free in digital form until midnight October 5th.  I can wholeheartedly endorse the book which tells the story of how a young farmer grew to change the world and save millions from starvation. He is known as a key contributor to the Green Revolution.

If you are interested in history, this is a great starting point.  If you are interested in a food secure world, it is also a good place to start thinking about solutions.  

And if you have children interested in farming or agriculture, or know of young people contemplating as career in agriculture, this is a story of an inspirational personal journey that they will find fascinating.

 Our Daily Bread; The Essential Norman Borlaug

You can access the book, for free download from this link to Amazon

This is a great offer and we should thank Noel Vietmeyer for his generousity.

A leader must break free of the wisdom of the herd, and strike out in bold new directions.

In 2002 Steve Sample, Tenth President of the University of Southern California penned the book, “The Contrarian’s Guide to Leadershi...