Machiavelli – or another way

5 Machiavellian lessons for King-of-the-World

The self-serving leader. Low in morals, toxic, taking all down with them as they go. Well, Silvio Berlusconi is warming new fires today. That downward journey is a one person show.

💭😈 Such a wicked thought: naughty me. It brought Machiavelli’s “The Prince” to mind (written in 1532 CE). This blog is aimed at more fitting, self declared, “King-of-the-World” archetypes: Boris Johnson and Donald Trump. Both now finding rule of law not to their taste. As to other judgement: a just world is but one belief. I believe that around five hundred years ago , Machiavelli had both of them pegged. [Perhaps he pegged we Europeans one and all. 1532 CE is also the year Henry VIII defied Rome. And the year Francisco Pizarro killed a living God and stole all of Inca’s gold]. Here are five Machiavellian lessons that circle back around.

#1 invite the conflict that reveals the better way

This Machiavellian reading begins with a tell-tale sign that the wrong people are in the tallest chairs. Namely, those that surround themselves with the less threatening and agreeable.

“There is no other way of guarding oneself from flatterers except letting men understand that to tell you the truth does not offend you”

Machiavelli (The Prince)

#2 live with dissonance

This is a futile bind that must eventually invite conflict

On the one hand, inviting that free opinion. And in doing so making friendly those that count

“It is necessary for a prince to have the people friendly”

But on the other hand retaining the steadfastness of leadership

“He ought to question them upon everything, and listen to their opinions, and afterwards form his own conclusions”

What is revealed by this conflict and dissonance is a constant weighing up. But weighing up based on the best of information, not the easiest. This is firstly, prudence of judgement

“Prudence consists in knowing how to distinguish the character of troubles, and for choice to take the lesser evil”

Such choices are not always picked from more fruitful, but the less sour. This is therefore secondly, the capability to making better choices as a result. Even if that choice is harder but more coherent to the bigger goal.

“He who does otherwise is either overthrown by flatterers, or is so often changed by varying opinions that he falls into contempt”

This balancing then leads to the more diligent Machiavellian Prince retaining more difficult felt angst. This remains that same notion of dissonance, but one that is held not passed on (as the defensive decision-maker would do). But with clarity, not deceit (to oneself)

This leads to a second double-edged impossible reality (#3 and #4).

#3 Tyranny

Firstly, when to dictate

“pursue the thing resolved on, and be steadfast in his resolutions”

… or liberty?

or when to give way, but not too far

“And there is nothing wastes so rapidly as liberality, for even whilst you exercise it you lose the power to do so”

Machiavelli (The Prince)

#4 tomorrow

Secondly, making room for what is important (not urgent). This is the impossible planning toward a vision but having access to means to adapt constantly. Covid-19 proved neither were in place. Nor would they be today.

… or today

Quentin Skinner offers access to other Machiavellian writing. This next citation originates from private letters – where an indignant dignitary (Pandolfo) is defending how he conducted his affairs of state – a remark that applies well to the need to situationally adapt

“wishing to make as few mistakes as possibile…I conduct my government day by day, and arrange my affairs hour by hour; because the times are more powerful than our brains”

Machiavelli (Legation L912)

If Pandolfo is right (that situational response is all), this begs the question who then is planning for the long-term? Perhaps we only think long-term when the short-term is not demanding our time:

. . . never in peaceful times stand idle, but increase his resources with industry in such a way that they may be available to him in adversity.”

Which is to bring us back to a final lesson that returns us about – back to surrounding ourselves with those capable of offering that more difficult truth. Or making the executive decisions in our stead. In the long-term the capability to build is building the capability to be replaced. Nonetheless, if we are capable enough then surely that is what we invite – if we are capable.

#5 Nurture capability

Related to the first therefore- i.e., #1 invite the conflict that reveals the better way – note the capability of those being rewarded. In other words the servant steward is a capable person; capable enough to both admire and enable capability in others. Honouring peers with peerage as a service to debt, does not count…

“A prince ought also to show himself a patron of ability, and to honour the proficient in every art”

Machiavelli (The Prince)

There is much to learn from the King-of-the-World dilettante – i.e., those with a care for the prize but not the serving in the role. Machiavelli saw plenty like that, and rated very few. We now see them, too. We know what they crave, and see how they behave. All too well, we know how they fail when real crisis demands leadership. Even the better Machiavellian fights to keep the better peace. The capable leader has power enough to empower more. Machiavelli, “The Prince”, the more principled diplomat.


That was a little fun, written in a moment between my research write-ups and reading. My PhD relates conflict to governance, and both to wider notions of shared intentions (collaboration, cooperation, competition). Machiavelli “The Prince” formed part of reading that did not make it to my philosophical worldview (i.e., the support to my methodology). Quentin Skinner introduces Niccolò Machiavelli exceptionally well. Both are well worth a read.

About Me

In psychology we are required to look beneath the mask. This blog series is attempting to unmask some hidden parts of projects to engender a more collaborative way.

Find my professional mask here:


💩 Cancel culture or a dirty protest 🪧

I suspect my decision to deactivate my Twitter account will be almost universally unnoticed. But occasionally it feels good to just severe ties. To see enacted sociopathic attitude, malevolent intentions, and belief so opposed to my own that it was time to pull the plug.

Bye bye Twitter. You were my least liked platform of misinformation, anyway. Bye bye to the baiters, the denigrators, and the hateful propagators. And thank you Ego Must for making such an overt effort to confirm the lack of humanity and humility by such an exemplary disregard for care. I understand the reasoning but deplore whole heartedly the callousness – the classlessness – in how the deed was done.

Those were human beings waiting for those emails. How ridiculous that redundancy pantomime was.

Get yourself to Mars, Elon. You’ll be happier alone…

Coaching more…

“…are your people empowered to spot quality issues, and the conditions that breed them, and speak up…?”

Dave Stitt (2022) “Coach for results”

A blog to briefly congratulate Dave Stitt on a book worth a place on the desk of any construction manager (and people managers everywhere).

Coach for Results : Empower your people to achieve the extraordinary. Dave Stitt (2022)

Dave and I connected instantly when we first spoke last year, completely unrelated to this or any other book. Our discussions have been varied since, always with shared enthusiasm, and unabashed confidence of where we have been, or going. His energy is infectious, his perspectives easy to align to, with pithy anecdote never far behind.

It was therefore no surprise at all to read his 2022 book in similarly attuned frame of mind. His passion comes through on every page; and the anecdotes help keep a steady pace, fixing each new point firmly into the construction paradigm.

Coaching Leadership

Here is Dave explaining what is different in engaging with your people in a coaching style

“…you stop seeing them as a problem to be fixed and you start seeing them as a treasure to be discovered…you say, ‘what do you think?’, and then you listen…you the coach and them the thinker…”

Stitt (2022) Coach for Results pp9-10

and Dave of the wider cultural transition possible

“…courtesy, respect, and esteem are universal…it is the antidote to exclusionary micro-cultures…”

Stitt (2022) Coach for Results pp25

The premise of the book is not new. The coaching leadership style is well documented and has probably not passed by any MBA or well-read manager or consultant. But Dave’s writing is to the point, backed up with pertinent example, and just enough academic reference to be assured the bridge between the two is secure. Crucially, everything is directed back to what counts most: the day to day of management and leadership, as it connects to the construction project world; and the care and growth of those coming through that are its future, and it’s today. Chapter 4 of this second edition offers confirmation of this appreciation, from at least a dozen cohorts from his accompanying training course.

Self-Determination Theory

As part of my psychology MSc this year, one module focused upon classical and contemporary social psychology. I have concluded that much of the management jargon I have been fed over the years, at least the decent concepts, have been influenced from here. Dave has a chapter outlining one of the most significant revelations (in my opinion). He does not name the series of connected theories per se, but he cites Dan Pink who is well respected in this psychological field, and Dave describes this and related theories perfectly.

It is called Self-Determination Theory, one I have written about before {here}. It helps explain why our obsession with motivation by cash incentive, as employer of internal teams or of external contracts and work packages, ultimately causes organisational or project harm. As Dave states “…external enticements…extrinsic motivations…are not very effective…” pp11, to which he then makes the comparison to command-and-control style management which is very much the abrasive construction norm most can relate (be that employee or supply chain relationship carrot and stick, comply or die culture we all know).

In Dave’s words:

“…command and control…sucks initiative, confidence and accountability out of a team…”

Stitt (2022) pp26

“…risky when…commercial agendas are indifferent to the success of the project as a whole…. Are your people empowered to spot quality issues, and the conditions that breed them, and speak up…?”

Stitt (2022) pp27

Understanding these implications of externalising motivations are lessons we should all have close to hand.

Managing the coaching conversation

Thereafter Dave offers some excellent practical advice in managing the coaching conversations. As an empathetic manager myself, with training from several multinational organisations seeking to enable this style of communication and learning leadership, these chapters resonate. Learning the right way to prepare and start such discussions, how to direct them, and how to conclude them in empowering rather than directing ways. These are important things to give your people their means to find their why. I am reminded of my own why in reading his words here, but also improved by these practical chapters and how they can be applied.

How far can coaching go?

I do disagree with Dave on one thing. His pragmatic stance is one in which the fundamentals of construction are considered beyond absolute change – it is just how it has evolved to be. My opinion, is that this confrontational industry norm is a reflection of how we set projects up. And if this more engaging coaching style of leadership were present in senior political spaces – where expectation was on leaders to bring teams with them, not just drive them hard to the next staging post – the projects serving these masters would be less caustic from the start. A world better informed and more real in its possibility in consideration of this project management style. But that is my research challenge – and therein my bias.

There is more I could offer in review. Dave has given plenty more insight and well reasoned connection to contemporary thought, similarly linking other behavioural thinking to construction project application. But I will let you read the rest for yourself. At 126 pages this is an afternoon’s single sitting read. But one to keep close by as that next chance to try “…a tool for challenging and supporting your people…”, pp14, to which both you and all your leaders-in-waiting should be demanding and apply.

Stitt, D (2022) “Coach for Results : empower your people to achieve the extraordinary” 21CPL Productions

49 not out – what about you?

Generation X-it

Can we afford to retire … with the work half-done? A blog relating the prospect of retirement, possibility of resignation from role, and the need to carry-on

Boris is done – surely – the rogue that some love but who many more have come to hate. If there is one undeniable truth – two words not quickly associated with his testimony – it is that he never gives up on himself.

My first question tonight is just how different is he from the leaders we may each aspire to be? We of similar age, if not similar bravado and self-belief. Boris, 58 years old – born June 1964 – represents the last of the baby-boomers by category of age (baby-boomers born 1946-1964). I am firmly within generation X (born 1965-1980), and by age alone it is now we whose time of life sees us amassing towards those top-most roles. So are we going to be the first of better, or the worst that there has been? We who grew-up to the mantra of greed is good, into low inflation and cheap flights, distracted by new tech and toys, and the internet of disposable things, when millionaires were the wealthy, not anyone with a maxed out pension pot. Are we set to be the most self-serving, self-righteous, and guilty in possibility of being the keenest to call time of any generation before? Is Boris the last, or the first of more to come?

Control of narrative or action?

I took the time to watch Boris’ testimony at the liaison select committee today {here}. His excuses extended to suggesting a culture of alcohol abuse in government {here 1:47:01}. No indication that lessons learnt in this latest episode include the appropriate checks of or support to candidates for government roles. In response to being asked what system is in place to help people with behavioural problems or alcohol, there was no offer of explanation beyond “we all have a duty as colleagues to look out for each other and to try and help people” (ibid ~1:48:03). There was curiously little suggestion that serious allegations of sexual misconduct sit long in his memory. Nor much indication that the vague recollection of parties which required an independent enquiry to help him recall, were being supported by any more rigorous means of decision-making assurance via record keeping or data control. Related or unrelated, such facts seem to reflect outdated cultural norms. Truth engineering or political spin, what his tenure exposes is an infection or pandemic of woeful attitudes, actions, and beliefs that exist alongside a lack of interest in critical controls, scrutiny of people or process, or even the basic expectations of recall of what to most would be stand-out moments of concern.

Boris does not stand and fall alone in this, but his leadership does stand apart for its sheer audaciousness in its disregard. Whilst I do not seriously think baby-boomers or generation X are suitably tarred with that one brush, it is we, generation X, who have every chance to be equally complicit and be remembered with similar disgrace if our own interest in those we serve and the wider communities we are part are not held higher in our priority of care.

Rewiring or retiring?

This I now present in its wider context. The world stage of which we are each now citizen actors upon. Change is upon us, environmental and socio-economic. Whether we are to blame or not is now irrelevant. The world need has changed, or at least our awareness of it has become more complete. It is with the constructive criticism and reflection of the likes of Boris Johnson that I think it this generation of proxy leaders, generation X, that is most in need to respond to what comes next. Not because we took more, or gave less, but just because we must.

Leadership is landing in the laps of many who may never have wanted it. For others it is reward for 30 years of work that has come before. Nest eggs, houses accruing value, or simply a realisation that the work can soon come to an end. We are now that generation that sets the culture in our workplace. And hearing Boris acknowledge an integrity vacuum under his watch, but to then present alcohol abuse as a cause not an effect, offers new insight into just how loose his hand upon the reins have been, and how undignified his grip now is. The flippant question may be where is his stewardship of those he serves beyond the garden G&Ts? The more serious observation is where is the control environment he should be the champion of, to aid his memory and not his sleaze?

Control environments can assist the management of actions, at least to a point. But what of attitude? And is our attitude, generation X, really so different in that respect? Whether we are a leader or labourer, this is our time. To first of all demand better from our peers. Second of all to take ownership of what mess we now preside over, even if not ours made. In my opinion there is plenty who need to rewire their thinking, their behaviour, and their beliefs. But most of all, we are now either the last generation to lead for ourselves, or the first to lead for the next. That’s the attitude rewiring we may be forced to make.

Next is the question of retirement. A rather recent societal expectation in historic terms, and one that seems rather 20th Century in a time of longer life and longer debt. Retirement seems to me the last thing we should be aiming for, despite it now being within our grasp. For some I fear that is perhaps already not a choice. But it seems to me what the world needs right now is all the help it can get. And if it’s help that is required, maybe we are the generation that now needs to show what leadership is in deed, not reward for making it to the lucrative top step. Many of us have lived our whole lives in debt, but what we are borrowing most of all, is the future planetary health for the next.

If Boris and his party bus is demonstrating anything to us – his real peers – it is that leadership is action, not title. And deed is assessed by those whom one is serving, not by those to who the perks are being served. If leadership feeds a machine that serves itself, the disorder and disrespect that spreads to all is absolute. Boris’ time in charge should stand for that. A caricature from which generation X should note, reflect upon, and seek to be opposed. But wider still is that me first attitude, the consume today pay tomorrow, the dispose and disregard, we have all become culturally attached. It is from this expectation that politics is permitted to be about the now, and therein the never never.

If there is money to retire, there is money to do more whilst needing to be paid less. Maybe that is a deed that sets the leadership example to the next. Aiming toward a sustainable platform (contribution), not sustenance towards gout (consumption). Generation X-it, becoming generation fix-it.


Visibility | behaviour | trust

Closing remarks using v|b|t. By such leadership failings it’s getting harder to find places to hide. Yet there seems a whole barracks of generals still strategising over shared greed. It’s a minority but seemingly unaccounted and unopposed. We must be an army of people at the top of their game – generation X now approaching those years that count double – doubling up or halving effort – that could be stepping out armed with the questions that cut deepest in repost. Or being the more selfless leader seeking less but wanting to contribute more.

Maybe it is we, generation X, who secretly eye up the retirement age escape, that should be first to redirect the aim. Seeking out those opportunities to do more. To bring more to the table than we take away. And in acting, so demand more of those in these roles to do the same. Maybe then we can watch our peers with pride. And not cringe in shame, as we see the self-serving lies they try to hide.

Visibility returning to the blindest eyes. Behaviours unbecoming both permitted and rewarded, lies told in defence, blame diverted and scape-goats made. Trust lost even from the closest aides, as the last knot of control by distraction is finally frayed.

Maybe such metric along such lines can indeed be found. Seeking to identify where projection and controls are so desperately unaligned. That one, in some small way in the research I have set out to undertake, I am putting down to me.

To be continued…

A Gray Day – can we Sue?

What SMART change to the control environment is being made?

I am sure we have all read the report. It does not take long. Once the blame game subsides, what has changed or will change now? That is my question.

Whilst SMART objectives are a little cliché these days, they do still serve purpose when seeking visibility of behavioural change, and thereby regaining trust in systemic failure.

SMART move to avoid committed change…

  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Achievable
  • Relevant
  • Time bound

Not that much of this report is intended to be anything more than presentation of facts. My concern here is that we have sixty pages that simply gift the tabloid tickertape and headlines a few more inches – but none of that will lead us anywhere meaningfully forward.

This report is a pretty disappointing an output by volume. By quality, the analysis and conclusions are so very weak and devoid on any tangible opportunity to act. And I see nothing coming to challenge that fact.

Painting over the cracks

In the end we are being offered a report that describes a clear dereliction of duty. The greater dereliction here is what is happening beyond this report. The failure to offer SMART actionable change should concern us all.

I present the key wording that foreshadows this coming apathy to change. In essence what this reads is “mistakes were made, but changes are afoot, and you just need to trust us not to do it again“.

All of these quotes are from pages 36 and 37 of the Sue Gray report.

Mistakes were made:

“…attitudes and behaviours inconsistent with the guidance…”

“…failures of leadership and judgement in No. 10 and the Cabinet Office…senior leadership at the centre, both political and official, must bear the responsibility for this culture…”

“…lack of respect and poor treatment of security and clearing staff. This was unacceptable…”

unquantifiable actions taken, thus enabling leadership to once again escape:

“…fragmented and complicated leadership structures in No. 10. I am reassured to see that steps have since been taken to introduce more easily accessible means by which to raise concerns…embed a culture that welcomes…challenge and speaking up…”

“…changes to the organisation and management of Downing Street and the Cabinet Office with the aim of creating clearer lines of leadership and accountability…”

More time being gifted to avoid measurable improvement:

“…I am pleased progress is being made in addressing issues I have raised…”

“…since then guidance has been issued to all Government Departments…”

“…now these need the time and chance to bed in…”

visibility | behaviour | trust

If this is the direction of change, then we will be no closer to increasing visibility and addressing inadequate behaviours (as intent, belief, action). There can be no expectation of increased trust.

In any other context, this would not stand. Yet here, we all seem powerless to intervene. Let’s at least start with asking the better questions. What SMART change to the control environment is being made, to which you (PM) stand personally accountable for?

Mistakes were made…

…scapegoats will be blamed

Is it possible to see through the manoeuvring that is intended to pass on blame? Particularly when distraction is involved. The origin of the scapegoat suggests we have been societally accepting of this idea throughout history. Accountability must be retained in high office. Prime Ministers and NHS Trusts showing us why we need more transparency and power to intervene.

The original “scapegoat”

This quotation is from Karen Armstrong 2014, “Fields of Blood : Religion and the history of violence”

“Every year in ancient Israel the high priest brought two goats into the Jerusalem temple on the Day of Atonement. He sacrificed one to expiate the sins of the community and then laid his hands on the other, transferring all the misdeeds on to its head, and sent the sin-laden animal out of the city, literally placing the blame elsewhere.

In this way, Moses explained “the goat will bear all their faults away with it into the desert place”. In his classic study René Girard argued that the scape goat ritual defused rivalries among groups with the community. In similar way, I believe, modern society has made a scape goat of faith”

Leadership scapegoats

I give leadership a hard time. Occasionally I step back and ask myself if I am in-fact just projecting my own failings onto others. But not today. Today I am in full rant.

I think we have seen several protracted attempts at such deflection in the headlines today. Leaders who may claim to be victim. Political scapegoats. Alternatively, the case can be made that they themselves have been found to be creating distance to invite a future scapegoat in.

Example one, who is preparing whom for the blame here in party-gate, part IX?

Mr Raab said the PM had updated Parliament “to the best of his knowledge and his understanding

BBC article here

Is that really the party line? Surely, there is at no point opportunity for leadership to claim this final defence for withholding information – “I didn’t know” – that is not an excuse when you are in charge.

I have argued before that accountability is immovable from the highest office. In this instance, failure to check equals failure to act. That is failure as the servant of the people you represent. Accountability of the senior decision-maker is really that simple. With rightful blame attached.

But what concerns me here is the potential impact if Boris is seen to be a scapegoated leader, because it offers permission to leave all else unchanged. Boris is a scoundrel, and he must go – but what is stopping the next being just the same? We need change – but the system is as much to blame.

visibility | behaviour | trust

First, another example of the ease with which this can be flagged (if we are so inclined). Back to some basic heuristics to check the situation against.

visibility | b | t

A leader who is unable to present clarity because of a failure to look, is acting with neglect by turning the blind eye, or conveniently choosing not ask. We can see this, so should the governance that keeps their decision-making abilities defined.

v | behaviour | t

This persistent behaviour is self-serving. It enables the personal defence of a child. Except this is not a playground. “I didn’t know”, is responded to simply with, “Well you were expected to. It is your job to know.” We can back this up with clarity of permitted and expected processes in senior role.

v | b | trust

Once a failure to perform is highlighted, so inherent trust is eroded. A little lost trust, or perhaps in totality. Either way, this prompts a change.

Any manager will know this. If you have people responsibilities you will know this. The underperformer is now necessarily more closely managed. In 2022 may be in performance reviews, or perhaps the introduction of a performance improvement plan, disciplinary action, or in extreme situations in termination. This may be necessary for the good of the wider team. It may only be fair to them if lesser performance is managed this way. But we culpable too, at least in part, if the right training, the right resourcing, adequate empowerment and oversight offered, and clarity of internal processes that are regularly checked to ensure they reflect what is needed as critical controls.

Anyone with client responsibilities will know this. Any client relationship can reflect this building or loss of trust. A supply chain partner may have contractual remedy or legal ramification ( particularly if there was no trust but contracts enabled trade). Better trust however is built when closer relationships are being fostered. Better trust that goes both ways.

In all cases increased visibility, or corrective behaviour, are required now that we have less trust.

What should support the assumed trust, is the checking. The processes of assurance that may be line manager, peer review, stage gate approval, which is then further supported by spot checking or audit that is expected is actually coming through. How often do we see a lack of governance, procedure, or level of independent challenge meaning things are missed?

I speak at length about this in construction. This is more than dealing with assumed error, this is also adding value as that extra pair of eyes. “I didn’t know” as a leader is to reflect the failure to be aware. Why trust the leader who clearly does not care? This is the leader who is not serving you.

More scandalous dereliction of leadership

Another headline grabber today. This one a National disgrace that has been known of for years. This is the conclusions of catastrophic failures of management detailed in Ockenden report. Also see here, the BBC summary outlining the Shrewsbury and Telford NHS Trust. This is twenty years of negligent leadership, no doubt set against a backdrop of chronic underfunding. Funding however can be no excuse. I am tempted to see this as a twenty year reign of outrageous intimidation and deceit. Worrying in of itself, but it is not standalone to this one Trust – or should we say the antithesis of the word trust.

“The reasons for these failures are clear,” she said. “There were not enough staff, there was a lack of ongoing training, there was a lack of effective investigation and governance at the trust and a culture of not listening to the families involved.”

BBC report dated today {here} quoting the enquiry leader, the remarkable midwife come archetypal bastion of wisdom, Julie Ockenden

This behaviour by this Trust, is absolute failure of the stewardship we demand. Whether they see it coming or not, this must prompt wider change. No leaders gets to say “I didn’t know”, or “I was badly advised”. Not when babies were needlessly dying, and senior people still refused to look, listen, or believe the findings of 8 separate expert opinions, or the bravery and tenacity of the bereaved.

No to delegated accountability

In my opinion, these two very different leadership failures bring us to the same place. Accountability stays at the top, irrespective of whether each and every leader who came and went from this Board of Trustees chose to look. Regardless of whether a PM chose to ask the most basic of questions, and opt to rely upon the defence of “I didn’t know”. And let me be clear, I think Boris did know and does know – but that needs not be debated if we can simply call out the failure in his claims that he at no stage asked.

It is the same with the Board of Trustee. Theirs is the final decision, based upon visibility of any information gap they are prepared to accept. Theirs is the behaviour permitted to turn a blind-eye or to scapegoat staff. Theirs was the opportunity to act and ensure risk, internal control and assurance were functioning as they should. This is the trust we put in them.

I have offered a detailed argument as to why accountability as a concept is best understood if it is deemed only ever upwardly visible {here}. If seniority is permitted to deflect accountability this is when behaviours are free to become distanced from risk, trust can be abused, and visibility intentionally obfuscated. Focus can be distracted toward secrecy, decision parameters hidden, poor leadership rewarded as if good. The solutions are already available, these answers are not new. Existing management theory exists to enable this, with just a modest tweak in making accountability anchored, whilst responsibility moves.

These are the fundamentals of our leaders being our chief-administrators, and being responsible for the control environments that we all rely upon. I sometimes wonder if the administrative realities of leadership are somehow forgotten by some, or perhaps never learnt. There is a reason that the MBA qualification in management has administration attached to the name. There is reason that high office is called the Administrative function. Accountability lives here, whether understood or not.

Let’s get back to managing our leaders – accountability is to blame

We may well have made faith our modern scapegoat, and Armstrong’s arguments in her 2014 book is compelling. I would venture further still. 21st Century political leadership, and indeed invisible and unaccountable leadership in all forms, must be reframed. They are not scapegoats, they are rightly to blame. Failing to acknowledge this is making a scapegoat of us all.

Plato – The Republic

Still reflecting in Plato’s cave

Essays not withstanding, I managed a revisit to Plato’s “The Republic” this weekend. This passage caught my eye:

“the object of our legislation…is not the special welfare of any particular class in our society, but of the society as a whole; and it uses persuasion or compulsion to unite all citizens and make them share together the benefits which each individual can confer on the community; and its purpose in fostering this attitude is not to leave everyone to please himself, but to make each man a link in the unity of the whole”

Plato – The Republic – Book VII pp242

Watching the news, and ignoring political overtones, these words seem to reflect yet to be learned truths…

Let the seller beware

caveat venditor – let the seller beware

There have been some notable u-turns this week and last. U-Turns by institutions normally too big to be easily persuaded to redirect based upon public opinion. We have Mars joining Coco-Cola and McDonalds in creating distance from Russia. We had an apology from Shell for buying cheap Russian oil. We had FIFA and the Olympic committee bending to challenge to their neutrality. At Westminster we have a government in constant repositioning as lack-lustre responses expose inability to sense the mood or recover lost faith.

There is new uncertainty causing false moves and ill-judged decisions by boards, executive function and high political office. In the next few months I think we are going to see many more.

The real power of the consumer is at work here. Namely the ability to make a choice. It is a cause of fear and indecision as old power priorities become incompatible with precious corporate reputation that is hard won and easily lost. When reputation is at risk, this threat brings new priorities to decision-making. Old priorities relegated and recategorised as acceptable collateral damage. Particularly when precious share value (or electoral support) is rushing to the door.

I predict more pressure on institutions is on the way. Based upon the change of attitudes of us, the general public, in face of increased uncertainty. We are becoming more attentive and suspicious of motives. This is infectious. Institutions should expect the seeds of doubt to grow.

v | b | t explaining this increased variance to change

Here are some brief reflections of what I think is going on.

v | b | trust

Reputation is the preservation of trust we the consumer/user have in the seller/provider. Do we trust their values and ethics to align with our own? As individuals we are able to revisit our values and expectations quickly. We are fickle. We are sometimes irrational. Unlike the institution however, we as individuals are each capable of reframing. We may change group affiliations, or sit in more than one camp. Each one of us resetting towards higher norms of human decency when distracted from our more selfish localised cause. This fragile belief or perception (i.e., that others share these higher values) can be quickly eroded. This reassessment can be applied equally to a single entity within an industry, an entire industry, a group, a government, a nation, a whole corner of the globe.

visibility | b | t

In moments of increased uncertainty, it is natural to seek more information. The more profoundly different the circumstances, the more motivated we are to take more time to look. We may have seen leaders turning a blind-eye. Secretly we may have turned a blind-eye to that too. But when those justifications for our disinterest are inconsistent with new threat, we are blind no more.

v | behaviour | t

This is a change to our behaviour. Redirecting peripheral interests towards central attention. Assessing others behaviour with more critical interest. Seeking to know better the attributes and bias of another. This is an increased openness to revisit and change our modelled understanding of how we relate to the other entity. This is reappraisal of action as indications of, or arising from, factors such as attitudes, motivations, beliefs. Ultimately this is the prompt to readjust and make choices anew.

v | b | t – Boristas beware

Dare I dream that in these moments of heightened uncertainty we may all begin asking more probing questions? Trusting less and demanding more?

This is what I see with Shell’s nervous apology this week. We are watching their purchase decisions of cheap Russian oil, and the excuses on Friday did not hold. It would normally not have caught our attention. This is McDonalds and Coca-Cola taking positions on Russia that a week ago would simply not have been entertained. Again, we are now watching and potentially making significant life choices, if another’s actions reflect values we do not hold.

This is also the spin of politics at Westminster. Wavering and spluttering as more pertinent questions are posed. In my house this is now a standing joke of the self-serving. The Boristas in high-office serving us Johnsonian truths daily, now finding life increasingly hard. Their servings shown to be insipid and cold.

Form follows function

Dare I dream this increased uncertainty of what is otherwise taken for granted is going to provoke necessary change in response. The critical controls of decision-efficacy challenged anew, structures of wider governance required to change too. If we all ask more searching questions, we eventually look at the forms serving the functions we expect, and ask if maybe they have to change too.

The bigger question now approaching is what new primary function is now emerging? The functional forms to better reflect these changing wants and needs of the global village. And what forms can retain their use as this unfolds?

The 2020s have not finished with us yet…

Appraisals of leadership

Weaponised words

I found myself living angrily this week. Angry at the realities of leadership that is evidently serving itself.

I try hard to maintain a network diverse enough not to be an echo chamber. I now find myself doubting whether my LinkedIn commentary this week has been constructive. Particularly that aimed directly at leadership. However, there were plenty others doing the same. Those voicing concern at direction – not the personal attacks that some feel free to share.

From my own filtered view, this social media showing of public mood seems to have been a persuasive factor in international diplomacy. A weight of sentiment, acting as a straw poll. Certainly the discourse rattled my own thoughts enough to draw some conclusions. And then call foul on leadership seemingly content to rattle sabres whilst quietly cashing in Russian cheques.

v | b | trust

This is low trust – the deceit of leadership. This is trustworthiness at its lowest ebb. Based upon remembered past bad experience of the individual. Or less helpfully, the bias and social stereotypes we each bestow upon out-groups, whilst we pretend we and our in-group stand tall.

visibility | b | t

This is increased visibility being sought. Increased uncertainty requiring closer examination. More regular checking. More questioning of response. Higher trust would curb some enquiry. But this is following discovery of falsehoods by our servants of government. Having been let down before and therefore wanting to see more. Seeing statements like “we will be decisive” meaning “we are being hesitant”. Still seeing the old characters in the spotlight. Smirks. Arrogance. Contrite. I’m alright.

v | behaviour | t

This is poor behaviour. This is Vladimir Putin receiving all manor of dignitaries in the last two weeks in order to reinforce a duplicity of assurance and intent. This too is the international responses that have since been slow to act – privately gauging public mood – whilst offering strong language to Ukrainian counterparts, in need of action not words.

On the other hand this is a speech from a comedy actor, turned premier. Speech amidst action. Leading by example. All capturing the attention of a wider world because it highlights the flaccid response from the rest. Words lead from the front in direct action, not cosy intentions or promises pretending to be more.

Other poor behaviour in leadership this week. This is Grant Shapps merrily posting on LinkedIn that he has set a TfL budget and that he now expects others to carry the blame. Delegation with no interest in ongoing influence or control. This is the Post Office scandal – a board and their lawyers allegedly attempting to hush up a litany of errors and concealing the collateral damage they knowingly caused. This is Carillion and it’s auditors now under investigation for what I can only assume to be – at the very least – contemptible apathy by all. In all cases this is leadership by proxy. A defensive decision-making attitude that exposes a willingness to see failure on their watch – conditional only upon ensuring failure is permitted to pass by with blame attached. Delegated blame, intended to ensure protection of a party, a corporation, or (more cynically) individual interests that can be thereafter restored.

A side note here is the caveat we all hold. The attempt to distinguish behaviour, by its intention. The white lie for good reason. Any parent or friend or mediator will know that – what is justified, half-said, or left out. In positions of influence or power, such intention inevitably becomes selective toward self-interest. The goodly compromise, that erodes morality; becoming the compromised, via self-declared moral cause. We are all human, after all.

visibility | behaviour | trust

What I conclude here is that I have been heuristically seeing these evolving situations with the tool improvisation anyone does when in a hurry. Returning to quick and peripheral judgements. I have sought more closely to assess what I think are hidden motivations and self-serving attitudes, based on a low level of trust in those I observe.

The sting in this tail

A final point is one I have had to ponder. Because I truly wish to reflect upon truth. This low trust in leadership I hold is recurring. It is sometimes one bordering on anti-establishment sentiment from within the establishment that keeps me safe. At some level it is a projection. If I am honest, one drawn from wondering if I would fair any better in face of such challenge of my own leadership. Or more squarely, my aversion to it’s sting.

In of itself, this is much the same assessment possible via a truth outlined via my own visibility | behaviour | trust. I am angry at leadership that does not serve, because the temptation is ever present to be just the same. We are all human, after all. But that’s the challenge, not the excuse.

Leading by example

Winning hearts and minds

We are about to turn a European country into a guerrilla buffer zone. That seems to be the (lack of) plan. Pretty despicable by all sides, and the worst-case outcome for Putin who I assume still favours that outcome to an overt NATO alliance war.

SWIFT may be a symbollic gesture. It is still a more meaningful gesture than the symbollic words and bluster offered so far. All nationalities weighing up economic priorities are sharing the shameful hesitation that Putin was counting on. And denying the early moral support “swift” action would have offered to the people of Ukraine.

This is the overt and globally supported economic action. Whatever is covert as forces and weapons on the ground is not what is putting hope into hearts and minds. SWIFT is the tangible actions that fearful Ukrainian people can see. Ironically slow is this response.

Enough of the powderpuff words that us armchair patriots desire. Time to test the hypobole of contingent planning, not just the rhetoric of resolve.

Original LinkedIn comment here