Five business leaders you should know

Fredrick Herzberg, Steven Covey, Malcolm Gladwell, Napoleon Hill and Charles Handy.

It is difficult to narrow the choice down to just 5 individuals, but I have chosen Fredrick Herzberg, Steven Covey, Malcolm Gladwell, Napoleon Hill and Charles Handy as the most significant mainly because of the influence they have had on others and because of their timeless relevance.

Herzberg I believe has had the most significant impact on organisations’ approach to motivating their staff and indeed his concepts are as relevant now as they were over 50 years ago. Nowadays we hear a lot about employee engagement and this is pure application of Herzberg’s principles and a recognition that those who feel more part of an enterprise and who have more control over their work are likely to perform better and make a bigger contribution.

Like Herzberg, Napoleon Hill is another business thinker who continues to have a great relevance to contemporary business life and it is easy to spot the influence he has had on others such as Covey  and Bandler and Grinder’s work on NLP.  The psychology of intention and outcome is fascinating and many successful entrepreneurs and business leaders have recognised their achievements have resulted through applying the right mixture of desire, hard work, visioning and tenacity. His principles are applicable to people at all levels and not just the aspiring Richard Branson’s of the world. Fundamentally they can help anyone to fulfil their potential if they know what drives them and what they want in life and if they are prepared to work hard for it.

As a journalist, Malcolm Gladwell’s is an observer rather than a theoretician but nonetheless, many of his observations especially in his books ‘Blink’ and ‘Tipping Point’ are having a significant influence on business thinking in the C21st. Tipping point provides a robust and practical guide to building brands and creating recognition in a world where there is exponential growth in the competition for attention. Blink highlights the importance of authenticity of leaders in business and the need for behaviour to be linked to beliefs and values.

Stephen Covey’s work ‘Seven Habits of Highly Effective people’ has created a universal framework for much of today’s senior management and leadership development. Although criticised by some as pure common sense, Covey’s work has provided millions of people with a roadmap which reminds us that excellence and success is not an act but a habit.

Charles Handy has been an important figure in how we view work and our relationship with employers and his publication the ‘Future of Work’ was prophetic. Employment no longer means joining a company for life and the relationship between employer and employee has become economic rather than paternalistic. People now need to manage their own careers and there are no jobs for life. Some feel this is a step backwards but Handy’s concept of Portfolio Careers argues that this creates opportunity for people to take more control of their destiny and fulfil more rewarding careers whilst organisations benefit through having a more flexible workforce which can adapt quicker to change.  

John Maxted, founder of international HR consultancy Digby Morgan (which he sold in 2011) is a consultant and non-executive director. He is a contributor to Business Gurus, published by Crimson Publishing, www.crimsonbooks.co.uk

Malcolm Gladwell, Photograph: Getty Images

John Maxted, founder of international HR consultancy Digby Morgan (which he sold in 2011) is a consultant and non-executive director. He is a contributor to Business Gurus, published by Crimson Publishing.

Photo: Getty
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The future of the left: The path ahead is full of challenges

Be in no doubt: the left faces a struggle for survival.

There are plenty of grounds for pessimism about the left’s prospects and they are well rehearsed.  Across Europe, social democrats are out of power and when they do manage to enter government, it is under the skirts of dominant centre-right parties or at the helm of fragile coalitions. Ageing western societies have become more conservative, immigration has driven a cultural wedge into the cross-class coalitions that once undergirded centre-left voting blocs, and austerity has ushered in a politics of security, not reform. Only those who have borne the brunt of the financial crisis and its aftermath, like the unemployed youth and evicted homeowners of Southern Europe, have swung decisively to the left, joined by relatively protected but angry older middle class liberals of Northern Europe. Even in Latin America, where the left swept the board at the turn of the century, politics is shifting to the right. Bright spots, such as municipal experimentalism in Spanish cities, or energetic liberalism in Canada and Italy, illuminate the gloom. But mostly, darkness is visible.

Is this condition terminal? Inequality, stagnant living standards and the turbulence of global capitalism generate profound political discontent. They give oxygen to progressive protest movements as well as populist reactionaries, as the convulsions in US politics show. But only a facile determinism reads off political progress from economic crisis. There is nothing to guarantee that revulsion at political and economic elites will give birth to a new egalitarianism. The left needs a clearer headed view of the political terrain that it will face in the 2020s.

Demographic change is a given. Advanced democracies like Britain will get older and the weight of older voters in elections will increase, not diminish. The gap in turnout rates between young and old is unlikely to close, tilting politics even further towards the cultural concerns and economic interests of the over fifties. Leadership credentials and economic competence matter for these voters more than abstract appeals to equality. But a generation of young people will also enter middle age in the 2020s having endured the worst of the age of austerity, with lower wages, stymied home ownership aspirations and stunted career progression to show for it. So just as 20th century catch-all parties built cross-class electoral alliances, successful political movements in the coming decades will need to secure inter-generational voting blocs. Stitching these together will foreground the politics of family and focus policy attention on transfers of wealth and opportunity across multiple generations. 

Ageing will also ratchet up fiscal pressures on the state, as costs mount for the NHS, care of the elderly and pensions. But Britain’s tax base has been weakened by low productivity, corporate tax avoidance and expensive personal allowance giveaways. In the 2020s, this crunch will loom large over fiscal policy and force hard choices over priorities. Just as in the 1990s, we can expect public disquiet at the run-down of investment in public services to mount, but this time there won’t be the same spending headroom to respond to it. The political debate currently underway in Scotland about raising income tax is therefore a harbinger of the future for the rest of the UK.

Fiscal constraints will also force the left to take seriously the agenda of economic reform opened up under the ungainly title of “pre-distribution”. Without an account of how to generate and share prosperity more equitably within the market economy, social democracy is purposeless. But it will need a far more robust and plausible political strategy for achieving these ambitions than anything that has been on offer hitherto. Technological change will not usher in a new economy of its own accord, and without the solid base of an organised working class to ground its politics, the left needs to be open to a wide set of alliances with businesses, big and small. Combining economic radicalism with credibility and popular appeal, particularly to voters who still blame it for the financial crisis, is the hardest challenge the left faces, but there is no getting away from it.

On a note of optimism, the left is currently strong in cities, from which it can build out. Diversity is a strength in major urban centres, not a weakness, and powerful city leaders endow progressive politics with governing authority. Cities are the places where new social movements are most active and much of the energy of contemporary politics can be found, even if elections are fought on wider terrain. The task is to combine a propensity to decentralise and devolve with clear national political direction. The same holds with party reform: the mass political parties of the 20th century are dead, but networks can’t fight elections, so combining openness and democratic engagement, with discipline and national purpose, is vital. 

Nick Pearce is the director of the Institute for Public Policy Research.