The other day I read an astonishing letter from Clementine Churchill to Winston, in which his darling Clemie advised him on his management style. She ends the letter like this:
"...you won't get the best results by irascibility and rudeness. They will breed either dislike or a slave mentality - (Rebellion in War time being out of the question!)."
Does this endure in business?
One would imagine instinctively that this style (if one can call it that) of management is destined to fail immediately but it can actually be very enduring. Those who rebel leave quickly but a large number of people get used to it - they become enslaved, they cease to question and they follow orders - underneath there is often dislike but you may see a kind of Stockholm Syndrome develop.
I am not talking about the pressures of war, or the oppression of a totalitarian country. I am talking about Western Europe, the developed world and multi-million pound businesses.
I remember years ago witnessing from a distance how destructive and limiting this kind of management can be and it amazes me how enslaved employees can become, by a senior manager who operates through fear and humiliation.
Divide & Rule
The typical Dictator - let’s call him or her Dictator - has an enormous amount of energy and spends a good deal of it in ensuring there is limited communication between employees. He plays one off against another by talking up the individual to whom he is speaking and denigrating others (he will do this to everyone - you are not special).
Dividing people kills communication and creates a dependency on the figure of the Dictator. He is immediately the employees only source of praise, knowledge and help.
He can now control everything, from strategy to operations and do everything the way he sees it. Given a decisive and brilliant Dictator this can work, for a time. But even with these abilities there is a ceiling to the success this Dictator can have. Growth is limited. Now this is not to say an organisation run like this cannot grow into a reasonably sized company but it will never get out of the SME bracket to join the big players.
Time is limited.
And here is why. The simple truth is that there is a limited amount of work one person can do. The Dictator is incapable of giving responsibility to others, although a particular trait is that he never takes any blame - preferring instead to use blame as a tool to divide his staff. If such a company does not adapt for growth (and this involves much more than installing a middle level of management, but also fundamentally changing the culture within the organisation) its time is limited and it is destined to do one of two things.
a) It will die.
b) It will plateau and when the Dictator runs out of energy... it will die.
So, you get the picture. It will die. Who cares? says the Dictator, he doesn't see this and has done everything right in his mind. He has given people work, which incidentally he often sees almost as an act of benevolence on his part. He has in his mind been a success.
Creating something of value requires other people.
Whether or not Winston Churchill took his wife’s advice we may not know* but he was operating in a global war, under the threat of invasion, bombardment, tyranny and he held the lives of millions of people in his hands. I will excuse him some "rudeness". He was both decisive and brilliant but even his time was limited.
To create something of great and lasting value does require individual vision and brilliance, but most of all it requires other people. Continued growth requires a healthy organisation not just a healthy balance sheet.
*A Churchill scholar may indeed know this.