Friday, July 20, 2012

Up the organisation

My views of leadership were strongly influenced by Robert Townsend in the late 1970’s when I worked in car hire management. (Robert was more successful than me.) My favourite observations from his book (Up the Organization: How to Stop the Corporation from Stifling People and Strangling Profits):

True leadership must be for the benefit of the followers, not the enrichment of the leaders. How do you spot a leader? They come in all ages, shapes, sizes and conditions. Some are poor administrators, some are not overly bright. One clue:  since most people are mediocre, the true leader cans be recognised because, somehow or other, his/her people consistently turn in superior performances.

Townsend then quotes Peter and Hull “As for the best leaders, the people do not notice their existence. The next best the people honour and praise. The next, the people fear; and the next the people hate….” (The Peter Principle) And in translation from Lao-tsu “When the best leaders work is done the people say, 'We did it ourselves!' "

My favourite Townsend quote is:

"No-No’s Reserved Parking Spaces: If you’re so bloody important you better be the first on in the office. Besides, you’ll meet a nice class of people in the employee’s parking lot"

This has got me into trouble more than once with senior managers!

Below is given a clue as to why Townsend might still be considered a great leader:

Robert Townsend (1920–1998) was an American business executive and author who transformed Avis into a rental car giant. After WW2, he was hired by American Express in 1948 where he became senior vice president for investment and international banking. Then in 1962, Lazard Freres bought Avis, a struggling rental company that had never made a profit in its existence. “One of the partners, André Meyer, convinced Townsend to leave American Express and become CEO of Avis. Under his direction as president and chairman, the firm became a credible force in the industry, fuelled by the “We Try Harder” advertising campaign (1962–65). Avis also began to have profits, which Townsend credited to Theory Y governance. In 1965, ITT acquired Avis, leading to his departure as president. After leaving Avis, he became a senior partner of Congressional Monitor (1969). He wrote the widely acclaimed essay on business management "Up the Organization", which spent 28 weeks on the New York Times bestseller list upon its publication in 1970.” (Wikipedia)

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