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Michael Williams

A former military man serving the British Royal Navy and Royal Marines, Michael Williams started his own consultancy business in 1979. Following managerial experience in the paper, iron, steel, engineering and automotive industries, he specialises in leadership management, team and organisational development. He has worked extensively with major corporations in the USA and both western and eastern Europe, including IBM, ICI, British Alcan, AT&T/ISTEL, GUS, McCain's and Shroders. Other clients include leading Business Schools, e.g. IMD at Lausanne and the Theseus Institue, located in Nice. He is a member of the British Psychological Society and the Institute of Directors, the Institute of Directors and the Association of Management Education & Development.

The rich experiences gained serving in British Special Forces influenced both his perception and practice of leadership. The book aims at helping leaders who need to develop their own competencies but also need to develop and coach the people, who develop the business. Michael Williams also explains how leaders can untap the talent that lies in their organisations, and suggests methods of mobilising this potential for successful leadership today and tomorrow.

The book is based on research carried out over seven years with over 2,500 senior managers in ten different companies, in USA and Europe.

"Leadership for leaders" is a practical guide, full of advice which focuses on concepts and theories that work. The book gives people in leadership positions some food for thought, guiding the reader to the challenges of modern leadership.

Summary of chapters 2, 5 and 7

Chapter 2: Leadership theories, role models - and common sense

Following Professor B. Turner who suggests that "nothing is so practical as a theory that works", let's look at some of the ideas that four people brought forward as regards to leadership and management.

Professor John Adair, former soldier, lecturer, author and public speaker has developed the concept of "action-centred leadership", basing his leadership model on three key functions of leaders: achieving the task, maintaining the team and meeting the needs of the individual. The leader will constantly look for equilibrium between these three functions.

Paul Hersey and Kenneth Blanchard developed the concept of "situational leadership" whereby functional maturity of the team members is a major determinant of the style and focus that need to be adopted by leaders, in order to elicit the optimum productive responses from people. In other words, if people are not sufficiently competent to do what they are asked to do, confident that they are able to achieve it, committed and motivated to do it, they will fail. The higher the functional maturity the most delegating and even empowering is possible.

Noel Tichy evolved the concept of Leadership "engine" whereby the leader is essential as the energizing and driving force in collective activity. He leads by example; effective mobilization of people is central to his role and primary contribution to the organisation. The leadership "engine" has three distinct facets: a) leaders are responsible for ensuring that there are sufficient ideas and information flowing, that are relevant to the task on hand; b) in leading by example (walk to talk) leaders provide a continual living demonstration of the values which represent the core culture of the team or group; c) the E3 factor which is made up of emotion and drive to get the job done well, energy and ability to energize others and create energy and synergy where none existed previously, "edge" - which is the ability to take necessary tough decisions and remain resolute and resilient, in conditions of adversity or high pressure ("if live gives you lemons, then make lemonade!"). Edge represents the difference between those who win and those who lose in today's competitive world.

Jim Collins defines his leadership model as "Level 5 leadership"

Leaders first look at getting the right people onboard and in the right roles and then they set the right directions. This also means that level 5 leaders should get rid of the wrong people. These leaders are also consistent with a strong sense of accountability and high "say-do" credibility. They create ever-increasing momentum and transform their companies from good to great (also the title of one of his famous books). Leaders will question why things do not work and will tend to eliminate the reasons (or people) causing the failure to succeed. Collins illustrates his theory with the "Hedgehog Concept" whereas, in contrast to foxes that know a lot of small things and spread their efforts too widely, the hedgehogs recognises the critical factor and focuses on a single idea. Good-to-great leaders seem to be "Hedgehogs" rather than "Foxes". Level 5 leaders are disciplined people who lead through a combination of professional drive (focus on the business, not themselves) and personal humility.

Low-key "thinking" leadership

Leaders in that "category" are able to involve others in their actions. They focus on the ultimate goals of the business. However, there can be disadvantages for that type of leaders as they may be identified as "grey nonentity" and "accused" of lack of personality. Being a "quiet" leader can be difficult, especially when some of them are criticized for not projecting their personal profiles sufficiently, in the public interest of their companies. That said, some low-key leaders have been excellent in transforming their companies into leading businesses (ex. Terry Leahy of Tesco, Rose Marie Bravo of Burberry).

Experience and theory - a necessary synthesis

If experience is the most practical source of learning, theory can give context and perspective to experience by providing links and insights that will enhance focus and give direction to learning. Leadership is one of the most discussed, yet least understood phenomena. The theories, models and concepts provide insights into the function of leader. They can be used as a basis for further development of a leader's competencies and styles and provide a practical basis for both progressive coaching and managed self-development for leaders.

Chapter 5: Great leaders develop more great leaders


The word "talent" can be perceived and defined in many different ways. In most organisations there is the need to view talent as a series of reference points and define the mindsets and competencies required in specific behavioural terms.

What do we mean by "talent"?

According to Buckingham and Coffman in their research with the Gallup Organisation, beyond knowledge and skills, talents are seen in the form of naturally recurring patterns of thoughts, feelings and behaviours. There are striving talents which reflect the need to achieve, thinking talents that indicate structured and disciplined thinking or preference for last moment decision, and relating talents, which include the ability to stimulate and influence others.

Professor Ed Schein identified patterns of high energy - high engagement behaviour to form the basis of his "career orientations survey". His instrument seeks to confirm the needs and drives of a person's talents above and beyond "know-how". He identified a series of drivers called "career anchors" and associated them with their high levels of talent or "do-how" (ex. the "general management" career anchor is associated with the concern to influence and mobilize to achieve goals).

Schein's categories provide areas in which to confirm, explore and develop talent. However, psychometric instruments generate data that is relative and indicative. Talent, as such, is typically defined in pragmatic and functional terms, based upon situation, context or role demands.

Based on his studies, the word "talented" describes people who regularly demonstrate exceptional ability and achievement and/or consistently achieve high competence in situations where they have yet to be tested to be highly effective, i.e. potential.

Perspective, situation and context often are the most practical arbiters of people's performance. The readiness to accept personal responsibility and take accountability should be regarded as essential talents.

The appropriate interplay of mature courage, accountable "ownership" and competent self-sufficiency emerge as a cluster of core competencies and distinguish the leaders who get on and make things happen, from those who don't.

The critical talent that such people possess is that they succeed because they create the circumstances, opportunities and value, where none apparently existed before.

Talented people are those who consistently deliver outstanding performance in the key result areas of their roles. Studies found out that high-flyers appear to be in control of themselves, have clear personal/professional beliefs and understand and recognize who they are. These 3 "talents" lead to high self-confidence and self belief, no matter the gender, race or age.

Outstanding leaders possess high emotional intelligence. They are capable of speaking, reading and writing with great fluency and in ways which resonate with others. They not only teach, they are able to communicate learning to their people, including the potential leaders who report to them.

When leaders' strengths become weaknesses

Leader talents and strengths can, as a result of unforeseen or previously not experienced pressures, become weaknesses. That can happen when people move from middle management (where they were effective) to senior level; they lack the talents needed to inspire, mobilize and lead people.

Called "alphas", these people are good up to a certain level. The question then is how to help such people become more talented senior leaders.

The 360° assessment seems to be an effective tool for coaching them. The coach seeks to balance positive and critical feedback and maintain perspective and objectivity on crucial issues, by getting the coachee to confirm what are essentially recurring patterns of behaviours. Coachees would then recognise that they have responsibility for putting things right. Other studies have shown that strengths can become weaknesses when under pressure, for example, the careful become over-cautious, the confident become arrogant, the focused become passive-aggressive, etc.

Leaders developing leaders

Leaders developing leaders is one of the core issues in managing talent facing companies. They are the key to competitive advantage and corporate growth and most critical asset that an organisation can have. Managing talent is a continuous process, rather than an isolated action.

The process for developing leaders includes four major imperatives, which are the cornerstones of talent management:

  • Create a winning work environment (set the example, develop visions, create great jobs)
  • Make talent management a critical priority (use techniques of feedback, coaching and mentoring, empower and sponsor people)
  • Create the means to identify and select outstanding talent (ability to recognise ability)
  • Engage talent fully - manage it and continue to develop it (value and involve high performers).

The leader is responsible for identifying and developing the ones who will lead the business tomorrow.

Leadership potential

Outstanding performance is one of the most daunting challenges facing management. If the selection and further promotion of potential remain difficult, some practical "tips" exist that can help identify them: high potentials are for example constantly curious; they brake new grounds and improve competence through self-evaluation.

High potentials also seem to possess a "helicopter" vision, the ability to influence upwards, take command, operate competently, generate new solutions, adopt the right behaviour and deliver.

A leadership style driven by professional care and a concern to engage, use to the full and retain talented people will get the best out of the best. Talented high performers are an organisation's elite of competence and should be recognised as such.

Chapter 7: Leadership - a matter of mindset

Horsepower, horsepower, horsepower

Horsepower is the capability, confidence and mindset which, together, deliver outstanding results. It is also the disciplined, informed ability to cut through the "core of mediocrity".

Recruitment and placement of horsepower remains a critical issue in most companies (CVs very often do not reflect reality) and the leader's ultimate responsibility is to get a realistic picture of the candidates strengths and weaknesses.

Mismatches in selection and promotion can happen; typical reasons are a) the selector is not clear about which indicators of potential to use; b) parties are not clear about what is expected of the job-holder; c) mutual expectations may be unrealistically high. Another mismatch can occur when promoting a "specialist" to manager when the career move is not prepared, for example a highly talented specialist becomes an incompetent manager. Here again, the role of the leader and coach is essential in making sure the person has had enough training and preparation to jump into the new position.

Developing a new leadership mindset

Effective people are neither "born" nor "made". Highly effective people appear to be active continuous learners. They have the capability to get relevant information and transform into critical knowledge; they add value to increase potential; they stimulate openness; they transfer knowledge; they recognise that information converted to applied knowledge gives business its cutting edge. To internalise knowledge, understanding and learning, the coach and mentor will trigger personal reflection and self-awareness, promote exploration of personal work experience, stimulate learner initiatives and solutions, and awake the process of discovery. Knowledge is not to be confused with myth and fantasy (a waist of brainpower, energy and resources).

Explicit knowledge refers to official communication (ex. commercial, economic, technical literature). Tacit knowledge is the information and derived understanding that is acquired (ex. conclusions of personal reflections, reading,...). Tacit knowledge represents an enormous power. As the gap between what we know and what we do is growing, there is an increasing need to convert knowledge into behaviour. And this is a primary responsibility of every leader.

Crucial to knowledge acquisition and transfer is for the leader to identify where lack of critical knowledge lies; the organisation's learning and renewal is therefore totally relevant.

Essential to effective knowledge transfer and sharing is the leader mindsets which actively acknowledge project team-working, transparency quality of knowledge receptivity and willingness to pass on information.

Emotional intelligence: A cornerstone of the leadership mindset

Emotional intelligence (EQ) represents a critical cluster of competencies of successful leaders. How significant is EQ in the development of the leader mindset? Let's look at the structure of EQ. Emotional awareness refers to feelings and emotions; emotional integrity refers to being true to oneself first; emotional competence relates to self-control, emotional synergy is about mutual trust and respect.

As EQ includes competency clusters and behaviours such as motivation, personal resilience and conflict resolution, it is sensible to place it high on any leader's agenda for action. In particular, these competencies contribute to performance management, self-management, building working relationships, team-development, developing organisations and their cultures.

Leaders who can fully engage intellectually and emotionally with their people will be able to use their full potential. However, the fear of failing is the inhibitor which bottles up tacit knowledge, talent and potential. There is potential for fun, joy of excelling and satisfaction of exercising talent in worthwhile enterprise.

As businesses become more global the pressure to function effectively in multi-cultural environments becomes immediate and personal. Leaders must learn, adapt and take into account the infinite variety of values, customs and practices that can be very different from the ones they've been brought up to.

Leaders into the twenty-first century need to ask themselves what model of humankind they have, if it stands close examination by any objective criteria, if there is inappropriate "baggage" they should dump and where they position themselves in the worlds in which they operate.

The need for leaders to re-shape and renew their mindsets becomes a must if they want to operate successfully across diverse cultures.


The chapters of the book concentrate on leadership models which have become popular in the 80s, leaving out the transactional model which did not match people's considerations of working relationships any longer. Indeed, more and more people had access to higher education, communication tools were opening up new horizons, travel was getting easier, internationalisation was gaining ground every day. The "reward-punishment" principle was no longer suitable.

Leaders who, at the time, started to involve subordinates and shared information and asked for feedback were quite atypical but they had understood that it was the way to insure continuous improvement and increased performance.

I'd like to take my own experience to refer to the theories and leadership models presented both in the book and in the class.

When I was at Monroe, a 1 billion USD automotive shock absorbers manufacturer, there was a leader who, to me, combined different models, such as traits, transformational, invitational, participation, charismatic and visionary leadership.

John was tall, naturally imposing through self-confidence and determination. Having a clear vision of where he wanted to bring the company, charisma, integrity and sociability were the traits which employees would use to qualify him.

Long before TQM was introduced, John was concentrating on doing the right job - right - putting the right people in the right positions and focusing on what needed to done - and what didn't - to achieve best-in-class results. It might sound arrogant but the man knew exactly how to identify the issues and then fix them. I don't think he was relying on "science infuse", rather he spent time with employees, asking them question like "how do you feel about this?" or "what would you suggest?". He would never put himself forward but would invite employees to come up with ideas and share experiences - all for the sake of improving sales results or working conditions. He would then combine people's views and suggestions with what he was calling his own "stomach feeling", implying that he would be the one - as a responsible leader - to take the ultimate decisions. That said, he could be very tough if people whom he was giving latitude to conduct their business did not respect the rules they had - together - worked out and agreed upon. As I heard him once say: "there are no kings or queens walking down the corridors of this company". He was the living example of the model "walking the talk", so he would not tolerate behaviours that were not in-line with the principles and values of the company.

John also had the capability to energise and motivate his teams. He showed tremendous involvement and concern for every member, identifying with them key areas for improvement while focusing on the targets (sales targets). He gained trust from everyone and we knew that if the company succeeded it was thanks to each and everyone's contribution and determination in achieving excellent results. We all knew that we had our part of responsibility. We had taken ownership and were delighted to do so.

He pulled the right triggers to get a European sales and marketing force (150 people at the time) up to the highest standards in terms of margin, quality and... happiness.

You might wonder what happened next? John went back to his home country (Denmark). His leadership model - I would even say his philosophy - was integrated and anchored in our minds that it had become part of our lives. So when he left it was almost... business as usual. Definitely a great man and a great leader!

In the late 90s I joined Visteon, a 20 billion USD automotive supplier on the way to being spun-off from Ford Motor Company. There I saw many talented leaders who, after the excitement and glamorous days of independence, had to concentrate on transformation... Their tasks were huge considering that Visteon was "a baby with 100 years experience", as one of the leaders would define it. Achieving "profitable growth" was their leitmotiv and supposedly the action-centred principle to adhere to. The president at that time was clearly a visionary leader. I remember the day I was introduced to him during my first meeting in the US during which he explained to me not only his vision for the direction the company needed to take but also with reference to what he was expecting from me. He told me that in my role as European Director of Communications I was an integral part of the European leadership team; he expected me to be a strategic contributor to the business in Europe but also to the US and worldwide operations.

All I said was "you put the standard very high". He replied "yes, but we're here to give you the tools you need to do your job and don't be afraid if you make mistakes - we all do - the important thing is that you find ways to fix them and learn from them. And remember we're here to help you". As I got out of his office, I turned to my boss and said "waouw, I need a coffee and a cigarette". Wasn't this president combining situational leadership with participative management, transformational leadership and emotional intelligence, on top of his visionary thinking?

This president resigned a few months later and a new one came onboard. Coming from Ford - with his team of executives - he had a totally different management and leadership style, close to the transactional model. In this particular case "myth and fantasy" was immediate. People in the US but also in Europe started to pay more credit to "corporate mythology" than to official communication. That combined with the difficulty of turning a loss-making company into a profitable business was for most regional leaders "mission impossible". Programmes on a worldwide level -conducted by well-know consultancy firms - focused on change and transformation, were implemented one after the other with mere results. Employees had considered them as "just another programme", that would - again - not work. In their minds nothing was going to change anyway.

A European president was appointed in 2003. He was a highly regarded person in the automotive business and had a track record of success stories.

I would define him as a disciple of Jim Collins. Indeed, he urged us to read "Built to last" and "Good to great". In two years time he managed to turn European operations back to (small) profit. A great achievement, considering the context!

However, the whole organisation was still relying on a business model that was broken. To quote one senior executive, the company had become "fat and arrogant", making every decision of transformation virtually impossible to implement. No matter how much the European president changed things he could not change people who had been there forever and were not all ready to actually change their mindsets. I believe it had to do with the fact that, for them, the spin-off from Ford was not a good thing. Ford people were attached to the very strong culture of the company, linked to Henry Ford and transmitted from generation to generation. These people who had been used to work in an environment where every action follows a predefined process and decisions are taken at the highest level were suddenly asked to take initiative. Something inconceivable, even for senior managers! No wonder they felt as getting an electro-shock when the European president talked about being responsible and accountable for their results.

In this particular case I believe the context was too heavy for the leader to transpose his leadership views and principles. The president resigned in 2006 and today Visteon barely exists in Europe.

As to leadership in the twenty-first century I'm inclined to think that leaders will need, on top of leadership models and emotional intelligence, to be sensitive to different cultures. Having been exposed to different cultures from my early professional experience, I can only reinforce Michael Williams' reference to Fritz Perls' exhortation: "lose your mind - and find yourself".

If I need to conclude I'll say that my take away from the book and the classes have help me putting a theory behind the living models of leadership I have seen in my career. It's been an eye-opener on certain behaviours and it has helped me understand how good and talented leaders can "make it happen" and why sometimes they are faced with "mission impossible".