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From Transactional Leadership to Reflective Leadership

October 14, 2017

Coaching 1


“Hi Dan,” Sheila called as she poked her head into the office of one of her managers. “Are you interested in taking a two day coaching course next week? It’s aimed at helping managers become better coaches.”

“Sure, why not. Sounds good,” Dan replied. “I could learn a few tips to make myself a better coach. But to be honest, Sheila, everyone’s talking about coaching and mentoring. Just look at the shelves in the bookstores and the business sections of newspapers. Coaching’s hot stuff. Some of us were talking about this in the coffee room last week, and we basically agreed that this is probably another fad. Next year they’ll be on to something else.”

“Maybe so,” Sheila responded. “But try to go into the workshop with an open mind.”
“Okay,” Dan sighed. “What about you? Do you plan to take it sometime?”
“Nah. I’ve been in management long enough,” Sheila said. “I’ve read some books on coaching and mentoring and have plenty of experience managing people. Besides, I’m too busy to give up even two days. Gotta run to a meeting. See you later, Dan.”
“Right…oh, and thanks,” Dan muttered, scratching his head in puzzlement at his boss’s reply.

Coaching 2

This fictional conversation serves as a segue to delve into the inner side of leadership. Leadership development has traditionally been based on an externalized approach: People take training courses that instruct them on the desirable characteristics, or qualities, of leaders and how they should act. Moreover, training has relied to some extent on old assumptions about leadership. In particular, the “heroic” approach to leadership (i.e., the strong individual leader) still prevails in many areas of leadership development.

It’s only in recent years that a growing portion of the literature is concentrating on leadership development from the inside out. That’s to say, getting people in formal or informal leadership positions to take a hard look at themselves: “Who am I as a leader? Why do I behave as I do?” are questions that we need to periodically ask ourselves. When we pose these questions, it takes us to a deeper level of inquiry and reflection.
In the conversation between Dan and Sheila, each holds a different mental model (set of assumptions) about leadership. During their interaction, Dan and Sheila are each having unspoken conversations–what’s going on in their heads, which reflects their unconscious assumptions and beliefs.

Dan’s unspoken conversation:
“I’m still pretty new to my job as manager and feel kind of inadequate. This coaching stuff sounds good but people issues make me feel uncomfortable. I’d rather just focus on the technical parts of my job. But Sheila sure could use some training. She micro-manages all of her managers. No wonder she puts in ten hour days.”

Sheila’s unspoken conversation:
“This coaching stuff’s B.S. I know how to get people to do things, and I know the work inside-out. My managers do what I tell them to do. None of this warm and fuzzy stuff for me. I’ve worked my way up the hard way, and I didn’t need a fancy degree to get where I am.”

Coaching 3.jpg

Sheila perceives herself as a competent director, who doesn’t need to learn a new skill. Her self-image is one of “I’m already there. Been there, done that.” But yet she is insecure with the changes underway in the organization, in particular the growing emphasis on the “soft” people skills. Her unconscious fear is leaving what’s secure and comfortable for something that requires personal insight and discovery.

Dan, on the other hand, is ambivalent. He knows down deep that to be an effective managerial leader that he has a lot of work to do. Yet he is apprehensive of the commitment he must make to go into this unknown territory. He’s not yet comfortable with having to develop a deeper understanding of himself.

One of the most difficult realizations we have as human beings is that we are never there. Even the manager who has been in her job for 15 years and knows the issues, processes and technical aspects inside out still has more to learn. What does she really know about herself?

The assumptions we carry with us*call it our personal baggage*affect how we interact with others, whether it’s at work, home or in the community. These assumptions, developed and cemented from our life experiences (good and bad), form our mental models. These in turn distort our leadership lenses through which we see the world. How we lead people is affected profoundly by our lenses. If a manager’s lens is skewed by the debris of hardened assumptions, this makes it that much harder for him to be open to other views and possibilities.

In her book Transformative Learning, Patricia Cranton states:
“Adults will resist contradictions to their beliefs and will deny discrepancies between new learning and previous knowledge. In response to a challenge to their assumptions, many learners will entrench themselves even more firmly in their belief system and become hostile or withdrawn in the learning environment.”

Reflect on these questions:
• How often have you seen this behaviour in your organization?
• How do we get beyond this type of response by people?
• What does this mean for leadership?
• If managers, as leaders and coaches, engage in this type of behaviour, how will organizations ever take the necessary leap of faith to become more inclusive about learning?
• What do managers fear?
• And what do staff fear in expressing their leadership abilities in their daily work?

Coaching 4

How, then, do managers transcend from a traditional, transactional approach to leadership, in which the manager negotiates with the subordinate: “Do this, and this is what I’ll give you.” Often, these are not explicit conversations, but rather implicit understandings. The employee knows that if he does ‘this and this,’ and not ‘that and that,’ he’ll receive something in return. Does this method of “leadership” build commitment from staff? Does it enroll the individual in a common purpose and vision?

Or is it oriented more towards compliance and implicit consent of not rocking the boat?

The leader who understands herself and who does not fear sharing her strengths, gifts, weaknesses and warts with her staff is on the path to becoming a reflective leader. This person understands*and values*the human dimension of leadership. It’s an inner journey, one that each of us struggles with for life. We’re never there, but continuously striving towards a personal vision of enhanced self-awareness and service to others.

This makes leadership a not-so-easy discipline to follow. The books, tapes, seminars, etc. promise great things to make us effective leaders. But leadership, the kind needed for learning organizations, cannot be sold over-the-counter. It’s not about techniques and gimmicks. When we understand that it’s about lifelong personal growth, filled with struggles and stumbles, we’ll have made one significant step forward.
Genuine inquiry starts when people ask questions to which they do not have an answer. -
- Peter Senge

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The Aspirational Class as Tomorrow’s Leaders

October 8, 2017




The human race is an odd species. Adaptive to immediate threats and catastrophes, we as humans have also time and again shown ourselves to be slow learners. Whether it’s the sickening loss of life from war (eg, Vietnam, Iraq-Afghanistan), hurricane disasters on America’s East and Gulf coasts (rebuilding in flood plains), or financial crises (eg, 2008-09), people keep repeating the same behaviours. We’re poor learners as a species.

One of Western society’s characteristics is the human propensity for material fulfillment. However, that quest to climb the aspirational ladder has proven to be an exercise loaded with conflicting results: material acquisition accompanied by growing consumer debt levels; a middle class with stagnant incomes; and a disenfranchised, low income stratum of people.

In his book The Affluent Society, Harvard economist John Kenneth Galbraith talked about how the economic growth model of the United States is flawed and no longer useful as the means to lift people out of poverty. Inequality prevails, and indeed the income gap is currently growing between rich and poor. Galbraith’s book was released in 1958. Fast forward to today and his core message is even more relevant.
Yet, the beat goes on as people strive to improve their material well-being and status in society.

Witness the steady increase in middle class people with modest family incomes buying huge, expensive houses (accessorized with quartz counter tops, hardwood floors and high-end cabinets); luxury cars (eg, BMWs, Audis and Porsches) on lengthy instalment plans; vacations to tropical resorts. The list goes on.

PrincessMeet the aspirational class.

Someone who has researched this subject is University of Southern California professor Elizabeth Currid-Halkett. Her new book The Sum of Small Things: A Theory of the Aspirational Class provides an intriguing tour from British economist Thorstein Veblen’s work on conspicuous consumption and what he called The Leisure Class in the late 1800s to today’s growing class divide, fuelled by the Aspirational Class and its efforts to reproduce wealth and upward mobility. She looks at what has changed in the intervening century in society. In particular, greater accessibility to material goods to reflect social status has improved, in turn weakening its power. The consequence is a shift towards more discrete spending that portrays status and knowledge.

It’s important to note that her book is based strictly on U.S. data. However, there are lessons to learn from her analysis and observations. Two broad trends may be distilled from her work. First, conspicuous consumption is declining among the wealthy, now that most of American society is able to do it. Second, what she calls “inconspicuous consumption” is becoming the new conspicuous consumption. Take a moment to read 5 ways to tell if you belong among the new elites.

Currid-Halkett makes a number of astute observations in her book. Here are some samples:

…in the twenty-first century, social status emerges not simply from cards and watches but from inaccessible cues, information, and investments. For the aspirational class these signifiers are… more subtle, less materialistic forms of conveying status, particularly to others in-the-know.

…the lower gradient of the aspirational class [are] hipsters—those young, 20-something-year-old urban denizens working in film or screenwriting or publishing—who barely make enough money to pay the rent, let along attend the parties with the Queen of England or the head of Citibank.…information about what is cool or in the know is all they have and thus they too engage in non pecuniary means of inconspicuous consumption that allows them to define their social position.
Much of aspirational class shared experience is based on information that costs money, even if it is materially invisible.

America’s aspirational class has rejected many of the material means by which status has been historically revealed. They eschewed materialism, aspiring to what they believe is a higher social and cultural platform….this dominant cultural elite prefers to engage in conspicuous production, conspicuous leisure, and inconspicuous consumption, all of which produce much greater class stratification effects than the acquisition of material goods.

As we understand what motivates how and why we consume, we also learn more about humanity, how and where it organizes itself, the implications and limitations to these decisions, and, finally, what matters to us as individuals and society as a whole.


Along a somewhat similar path, Rachel Sherman conducted indepth interviews with 50 affluent ($250,000 plus annual incomes) Millennial parents in New York City on their perceptions of wealth. Uneasy Street: The Anxieties of Affluence is a compilation of these interviews. Of particular interest, the findings include these parents perceiving themselves as being hardworking and responsible, in contrast to the undeserving wealthy who are lazy. Indeed, the guilt these Millennials have concerning their purchases prompts some of them to remove the price tags of expensive items (from food to home furnishings) so that their nannies and housekeepers don’t see them. They see themselves as middle class, despite their being classified as part of the one percent, and being “comfortable” and not rich.

That’s the New York experience, and only a subset of a large country of some 330 million people. However, the findings of Sherman’s research are interesting.
When it comes to those outside of the one percent, Millennials (ages 20-36) face a number of issues. Their plight with job insecurity and absence of pension plans (whether defined benefit or defined contributions) have long-run implications for the economy. Their aspirations to own a home (even just a small garden, starter home) is being shattered by run-away real estate prices. Yet they strive to portray a “cool” factor by being seen in Starbucks and other trendy coffee shops working on their MacBooks.

Hipsters (typically in their twenties and thirties), the target of gentle gibes from social commentators, come in different shapes and sizes: some have the jobs and incomes to live an upscale life while wannabe Hipsters live a pretend affluent existence. At the heart of the aspirational class concept, or what some have called affluenza, is one word: Status. It’s all about people seeking—aspiring—to become something they are not, and perhaps never will be.

Millennials Coffee.png

The key point that many social commentators and journalists miss out on is the long-term consequences of North America’s infatuation with consumer excess, whether you have the necessary income or not. And that’s something called aggregate demand, of which consumer spending plays a key role. In Canada, consumer spending drives just over 60% of the country’s economy. In contrast, such spending is responsible for almost 70% of the U.S. economy.

For the past several decades, consumer indebtedness, fuelled by insane credit card growth, enticing automotive financing deals (ie, low interest rates and very long payment plans), and extremely low mortgage rates, has reached epic levels. Canadian consumers owed $1.69 of debt for each dollar of their disposable income as of March 31, 2017. A survey done by the Canadian Payroll Association during the summer of 2017 found that 47% of Canadians live paycheque to paycheque, with 35% feeling overwhelmed with their level of indebtedness. One third of the respondents stated that their mortgages are the most difficult to pay down, while one quarter said the same of credit card debt.

Outside of North America, other countries are in on the aspiration-indebtedness game. For example, households in Great Britain owe on average 150% of their incomes, with three quarters of this in the form of mortgages. The financing of motor vehicles has more than doubled in the past four years, and borrowing on credit cards rose 10% in the first half of 2017. Consumers are lured into electronics shops and other retail stores with signs proclaiming 0% free credit with £500 minimum spending.

Couple in Car.jpg

So where does this situation leave us as a society, where the paucity of political leadership—and indeed corporate leadership—is failing to provide the necessary shared vision to propel us forward to address such issues as climate change, socio-economic disparities, women’s rights, immigration, international aid and development, and indigenous people’s rights?

This is all occurring, to extrapolate from Currid-Halkett’s research findings, in a broader societal shift to a stagnant middle class (declining according to some) and an elite wealthy class that is increasingly disconnected from the rest of society. Witness Sherman’s research on trendy, well-off Millennials. What seems to get lost in this trend by politicians and business leaders is that it’s the middle class that is the source—and indeed engine—of a nation’s innovation capacity. The really rich don’t innovate. Nor do the poor. It’s the middle segment of society where creativity and ideas, based on education and knowledge, are applied to benefit a nation.

It’s a sad commentary that a segment of society, typically well educated, is innovating on ways to separate itself from the rest of society through how it consumes products and services, all in the pursuit of enhancing status and power. The implications for leadership are growing in importance as societal divisions grow and as the labour market begins a post-industrial transformation to increased automation and higher skill sets.

Is the aspirational class ready to lead?

In itself and in its consequences the life of leisure is beautiful and ennobling in all civilised men’s eyes.
—Thorstein Veblen

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Constructive Conflict: Advice from the Mother of Modern Management

October 3, 2017



Two angry business colleagues during an argument, isolated on white background

When we look back to the 20th Century and reflect on great leaders, whether leading nations, organizations or social movements, there’s a tendency to produce a list with mostly male names. However, when one attempts to create a list of who were the great management thinkers during this period, it becomes even more skewed towards males. Names like Peter Drucker, John Kotter, Peter Senge, John Garner, James MacGregor Burns, Robert Greenleaf, Henry Mintzberg and Warren Bennis typically come to mind. But so, too, do names like Rosebeth Moss Kanter, Sally Helgesen and Margaret Wheatley.

The irony behind this is that the individual who is recognized as what Peter Drucker called “The Prophet of Management” was a woman: Mary Parker-Follett, who was born in 1868 and died in 1933. Because of her foresight and innovative thinking, the effects of which are still being examined today, Follett may rightly be called the Mother of Modern Management.

Unfortunately, Follett’s writings and numerous lectures were set aside for several decades. It was not until the 1990s when her writings and concepts were reinvigorated. I was introduced to her work by my advisor for my Master’s leadership thesis in the late nineties. I was amazed that someone 60-70 years previously was urging such concepts as shared (participative) leadership, constructive conflict resolution through what was called “integration,” and “power-with” opposed to “power-over.” Indeed, my Master’s thesis was on the subject of shared leadership.

Let’s hear a few passages from some of Follett’s writings and lectures. Once you read them, reflect on their relevance to today, especially whether her concepts are being practiced.

1949: (Freedom & coordination: Lectures in Business Organization)
“Some writers tell us that the leader should represent the accumulation and knowledge and experience of his particular group, but I think he should go far beyond this. It is true that the executive learns from everyone around him, but it is also true that he is far more than the depository where the wisdom of the group collects.

When leadership rises to genius it has the power of transforming, of transforming experience into power. And that is what experience is for, to be made into power. The great leader creates as well as directs power. The essence of leadership is to create control, and that is what the world needs today, control of small situations or of our world situation.

I have said that the leader must understand the situation, must see it as a whole, must see the inter-relationships of all the parts. He must do more than this. He must see the evolving situation….His wisdom, his judgement, is used, not on a situation that is stationary, but on one that is changing all the time.”

1925: (Paper first delivered to Bureau of Personnel Administration conference)
“There are three ways of dealing with conflict: domination, compromise and integration. Domination…is a victory of one side over the other. This is the easiest way of dealing with conflict, but not usually successful in the long run, as we can see what has happened since the War.

The second way… [is] compromise, we understand well, for it is the way we settle most of our controversies; each side gives up a little in order to have peace…or that the activity that has been interrupted by the conflict may go on. Compromise is the basis of trade union tactics….But I certainly ought not to imply that compromise is peculiarly a trade union method….

There is a way beginning now to be recognized: …when two desires are integrated, that means that a solution has been found in which both desires have found a place, that neither side has to sacrifice anything.”

Conflict 2.jpg

Follett gives several examples of how to find integrative solutions to problems. For example, she uses a personal problem she had one day at the library. Seated in the same room with a man who wanted the window open for fresh air, Follett objected because she didn’t want cold air blowing on her. The integrative solution? They opened a window in the adjacent room. The man got his fresh air while Follett didn’t get a draft.

So here are three examples for you to find integrative solutions:

Case #1: Mr. Tuna
You work in a typical cubicle farm. Your neighbour enjoys eating tuna fish sandwiches several days a week. You’ve mentioned on a few occasions that the smell is nauseating, but he’s not getting the message. What would be an integrative solution in this case?

Case #2: Ragtime Blues
You live in a condo high-rise. During the early evening, the person next door pounds out ragtime on her piano. She’s not breaking any bylaws or condo policy. What is the integrative solution?

Case #3: He Shoots, He Scores!
You like your neighborhood where you’ve lived for many years. But there’s a problem. Every fall, the kids set up their nets on your cul de sac and play ball hockey for the next five months. You love your BMW and fringe every time you hear the slap of a stick. What’s the integrative solution with these youngsters?

Be sure to post your solutions for others to see and comment on. And sure, include any humorous solutions. If we get enough, we’ll have a contest to vote for the best one.

There you have it, folks, a few illuminating bits from an amazing woman who was far ahead of her time. What’s unfortunate is that despite so much pain and suffering through the rest of the 20th Century after Follett’s death, and during the first two decades of the 21st Century, we don’t as a society seem to have learned much.

Conflict in the workplace and communities is worse, organized labor and management continue to grab for one another’s throat, and municipal politics is as nasty as ever.
When it comes to the practice of leadership, the heroic mindset still prevails: “Do as I say, not as I do!” Role modelling is in short supply. Exceptional leadership is, as the saying goes, scarce as hens teeth.

The most important thing in communication is hearing what isn’t said.
—Peter Drucker

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Jim BeachVisit Jim’s e-Books, Resources and Services pages.

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If I Empower You, You are Still Within my Power

September 24, 2017


I’ve been a long-time proponent of self-empowerment and have written about its role in effective leadership. It’s been something I struggled with myself during my career, having being locked into the subservient mindset and behaviour of which many of us have fallen.

Heroic Leadership–that those in positions of authority have all the answers and power–has unfortunately permeated society, and in some ways emasculated our collective ability to speak truth to power, whether it’s within organizations or how we assert our desires to elected politicians. Heroic Leadership is an anachronism in today’s society and economy, and will become a liability to organizations and governments as we proceed deeper into a very uncertain future.

We’ve become enraptured with charisma, misinterpreting it for leadership. We underestimate our own capacity for helping effect positive change within organizations, our communities and the world at large. One glimmer of hope is Generation Y (Millennials), which has been desperately trying to exert its mark in the labour market but which was creamed by the Great Recession of 2008-09 and dealing with its fallout since.

There is hope. The sun always rises.

Two authors and consultants who have influenced my thinking in the past are Harrison Owen and the late Angeles Arrien. Both base their work on Native American spiritual teachings. Arrien’s excellent book The Fourfold Way: Walking the Paths of the Warrior, Teacher, Healer and Visionary serves as a guide to how we can live in greater harmony with the Earth, how we can develop better relations with one another, and how we can improve our personal leadership. Her words have helped guide me for the past two decades: Be open to outcome, not attached to it. In a world of chaotic change and turmoil, these simple yet wise words serve us well.
Check out her work and especially this book.

Sit Lead 2

Harrison Owen is the creator of Open Space Technology and author of several superb leadership books. Take a few minutes to watch his video Leadership in a Self-Organizing World, in which he talks about the complexity of change, closed versus open systems, and the delusion of those in power believing they understand change and have the solutions. This is a very insightful presentation; be sure to watch it.

In his work in Open Space Technology and through his writings Owen talks about Four Immutable Laws of the Spirit, which help us to understand acceptance of an experience and then how to be creative with it. This approach contrasts with how we, as a society, prefer to resist change or force it in a certain direction:

1) Whoever is present are the right people,

2) Whenever it begins is the right time,

3) Whatever happens is the only thing that could have happened,

4) When it’s over, it’s over.

Reflect for a moment on this statement that Owen makes in his book The Spirit of Leadership: If I empower you, to some extent you are still within my power.

How often do we hear the Heroic Leadership refrain about “empowering employees.” In reality, no one can empower you; you can only empower yourself. The role of senior corporate leadership is to set the context, to create the environment where collaboration is fostered, creativity nurtured, mutual respect ingrained, vision created, leadership shared, and innovation valued.

Juxtaposed against self-empowerment, Heroic Leadership doesn’t stand a chance against the forces of positive change.

Reject Heroic Leadership; embrace self-empowerment!

It is better to know less than to know so much that it ain’t so.
—Josh Billings (pen name of Henry Wheeler Shaw, 19th Century American humorist)

holisti-leadershipClick here to download a complimentary copy of Jim’s e-book Becoming a Holistic Leader, 3rd Edition.

Jim BeachVisit Jim’s e-Books, Resources and Services pages.

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Smart Leaders Play the Long Game

September 17, 2017



Glass Globe

We live in the age of instant gratification. We want it now as consumers—hence the exponential growth of credit since the 1960s, whether in credit cards, conditional sales contracts, automotive loans or mortgages. And when it comes to business, the mindset of short-term financial results is foremost in the minds of CEOs, board chairmen (hardly any are women, incidentally) and shareholders. Consideration for the longer term, whether consumers or big-shot CEOs, is almost non-existent.

The sheep-like behaviour of consumers—coveting their neighbours’ or friends’ new acquisitions—is understandable to a degree. After all, we’re human beings who’ve been carefully and strategically groomed by corporations to desire more in our quest of perceived self-fulfillment and status. However, what’s somewhat bizarre and indeed irresponsible is when those people leading organizations engage in short-term thinking to attain some form of financial or ego-centric goal.

It doesn’t have to be the head of a company seeking financial results to please shareholders or credit rating agencies. It could be the leader of a not-for-profit organization who’s attempting to please her board of directors. Or it could be a deputy minister (equivalent to a secretary in the U.S. government) who is earning brownie points to downsize his department.

Your correspondent worked three decades for the Government of Canada, and during this time those in top leadership positions could earn bonus pay for cutting employees from the payroll. The problem was that as soon as a certain government (administration in U.S. terminology) achieved its downsizing cuts, the public service would then grow again. The losers from this game? Taxpayers and citizens.

Female Leader.png

Whether you’re the head of a private company (large or small) or a not-for-profit agency or a public sector department, your primary job is to look to the long-term: the horizon where nothing is certain, where obstacles and whitewater will challenge the organization along the way, and where you’ll need to be adaptable and to show resilience.

Someone who offers special insights into thinking strategically, and unfortunately who died too soon, is Stephen Covey (from a cycling accident in July 2012). Covey’s pithy messages from his numerous leadership books included one vitally important one: Begin with the end in mind (one of his 7 Habits of Highly Effective People).

Applying this lesson to a corporate setting means that those at the top must create a vision of the future that enrols all employees and that establishes a path with clear goals along the way. Where does your organization want to be in, say, five years? Or ten years?

Cost-cutting (people are the low-hanging fruit) is a tactical exercise that is sometimes necessary. However, it’s hardly a strategic approach to addressing competitive issues if you’re a for-profit company. If you’re part of a not-for-profit agency or government department, cost-cutting often serves to destroy morale and hasten the exit of talent.

The message here is to align short-term tactical decisions (the typical quarter-to-quarter business approach) with long-term strategy. Unfortunately, taking a long-term view is anathema to much of North American business. And hence the regular turbulence of sudden layoffs in companies as top executives strive to please shareholders and boards of directors.

Those who play the long game and make the effort to invest in building their organization’s resilience and adaptability to constant change are the strategic leaders of the 21st Century. Reactive 20th Century management approaches need to be deposited where they belong: in the dustbin of history.

Someone is sitting in the shade today because someone planted a tree a long time ago.
— Warren Buffett

holisti-leadershipClick here to download a complimentary copy of Jim’s e-book Becoming a Holistic Leader, 3rd Edition.

Jim BeachVisit Jim’s e-Books, Resources and Services pages.

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Meet FDR’s Backbone: Frances Perkins–An Extraordinary Woman Leader

September 10, 2017

PerkinsFranklin Delano Roosevelt rates as being one of America’s greatest presidents, probably in the top three. Yet he was despised by many during his ascendancy to president and during his four term tenure. And he is still reviled by right-wing conservatives and some Republicans.

FDR, of whom your corespondent is a great admirer, was an exceedingly complicated man. He most certainly had his warts, weaknesses and biases. However, he was also a visionary who understood what America needed to do during the Great Depression and as World War Two proceeded initially in the absence of the involvement of the United States.

Furthermore, FDR was probably the most effective president at initiating and sustaining action. He launched the Civilian Conservation Core, instituted the New Deal, and deftly handled a demanding Winston Churchill during the War. He also launched a massive infrastructure program during the Great Depression, the results of which are still critical to the country’s economy.

This all sounds great. And it is. But there’s one important omission: FDR didn’t accomplish his achievements alone. One person who served under him, and who was in effect his backbone in many ways, was a woman. Her name was Frances Perkins (April 10, 1880 – May 14, 1965).

As early as 1930 when Roosevelt was the Governor of New York, Perkins relentlessly prodded him to support social insurance. When he took office as president in 1933, Roosevelt stalled in proceeding with social insurance because he believed that the country was not yet ready for such change. During his first Hundred Days (a concept borrowed from Napoleon), FDR argued that Perkins, as Labor Secretary, should commence an education campaign on the subject to begin laying the foundation within government and the American public. In addition, he wanted a panel of experts to study what would be involved in introducing social insurance.

Perkins accepted this approach and began a focused effort during which she raised the subject over two dozen times in Cabinet meetings during 1933, and delivered 100 speeches across America in which she touted the benefits of social insurance.

Perkins and FDR

As the months proceeded through 1934 and as FDR continued to show ambivalent behaviour towards introducing social insurance, Perkins took drastic action in December of that year. At a Cabinet meeting at her home, during which the discussion became heated over whether social insurance should be run by the federal or state governments, she locked the doors to her house and disconnected the phone, stating that no one was going to leave until an agreement was reached. At 2 am a tentative agreement was finalized.

Of course, there were still many rough patches in the months afterwards. For example, it’s amazing that one of the issues that concerned Cabinet in 1935 was that an aging population would eventually contribute to a deficit in social insurance by 1980. Yes, that’s 1980, 45 years later! How often do we see politicians looking that far ahead nowadays?

Perkins was a pit bull when it came to grabbing onto an issue she believed was critical for America and then driving it forward. Hers is a fascinating story of how one woman was the impetus for a program that has served tens of millions of Americans, serving as an automatic economic stabilizer, as well as mitigating the effects of poverty among the elderly. Incidentally, it wasn’t until January 1940 that the first individual received a Social Security check, in the amount of $22.54, a Miss Ida Fuller of rural Vermont.
Frances Perkins may not be well known as an incredible leader, but she is in the ranks of other contemporaries, such as Eleanor Roosevelt and Mary Parker-Follett, seen as the Mother of Modern Management. We have a lot for which to thank Frances Perkins.

Leadership is not defined by the exercise of power but by the capacity to increase the sense of power among those led. The most essential work of the leader is to create more leaders.
—Mary Parker Follett

holisti-leadershipClick here to download a complimentary copy of Jim’s e-book Becoming a Holistic Leader, 3rd Edition.

Jim BeachVisit Jim’s e-Books, Resources and Services pages.

Take a moment to meet Jim.

The Best Manager, EVER! Tales from the Management Crypt

September 3, 2017


We’ve all had good bosses, and more likely bad bosses that outnumber the former. This post is a more provocative commentary on leadership; however, it has important lessons for those people wanting to become effective, well-rounded leaders.

Your contribution is therefore important. Share your experiences of managers you’ve had: the good, the bad and the ugly. And if anyone’s brave enough, share where you’ve messed up as a manager but how you learned from the experience. And yes, yours truly made his share of mistakes as a new manager – so the kimono’s open. My sins?

When I was in my early thirties, 30 years ago, I was appointed to a management position in the area where I had worked for eight years. Yes, I knew the work technically. However, leadership, as opposed to management, is not an appointment; it is earned. Due to my own insecurities and wanting to do a good job as a manager – especially in the absence of any formal management training – I was a micro-manager.

When I’ve given presentations in the past on leadership I share this experience. And when I ask the audience how many people like working for a micro-manager, surprisingly no one has yet to raise their hand. Hmmmm. So that tells you something.

A few of my team mates who were younger didn’t like my style of management and figuratively slapped me on the head. I still thank them to this day, because many micro-managers – and there are lots out there – never “get it.” The result is high staff turnover, weak productivity, and the absence of creativity and innovation.

Fortunately, I got the message really fast back then. I worked 35 years before retiring and always despised micro-management. However, once I got over it when I was about 33 I became a delegator and, as I evolved as a manager, someone who believed in sharing the leadership. That is my personal leadership philosophy, and which was the subject of my masters thesis on leadership in the late nineties.

Micro Manager
So let’s shift gears and turn to one of my heroes: Henry Mintzberg, a professor of management at McGill University in Montreal, Canada. If there’s one leadership book you should buy, make it Mintzberg’s book entitled Managing. It’s brilliant and builds on his empirical work over 35 years. He’s one of the few really grounded authors on management. Too much of the literature over the past three decades, unfortunately, has consisted of excessively fluffy, feel-good stuff. Mintzberg, who may be perceived as a bit of a curmudgeon, is a provocative thinker and writer.

One story he recounts in a footnote in his book is that of a British CEO who refused to allow employees to walk past his office door. The result was that they had to take a set of stairs to another floor. When employees met with this CEO in his office they had to sit on a chair that was at a lower level; that way the CEO could look down upon them.

Unfortunately, and unbelievably, this guy not only got promoted but received a knighthood from the Queen! Upon his departure from the company, his advice to his successor was: a) dress properly, b) don’t smoke and c) maintain control.

The end of the story? The CEO’s successor went into his first board meeting, took off his jacket, lit a cigar and asked: “What would you like to talk about?”

Now that’s my kind of leader (minus the cigar). This new CEO was about to demolish that company’s corporate culture and build a new one.

So now it’s your turn. Share your experiences.

Companies are communities. There’s a spirit of working together. Communities are not a place where a few people allow themselves to be singled out as solely responsible for success.
— Henry Mintzberg

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