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.

Cameron in Nuneaton. Photo: Getty
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Why fewer of us want a long-term relationship ... with a political party

In 2015, 38 per cent of voters backed a different party to the one they supported in 2010. So what does the rise of swing voters mean for British politics?

For decades political parties have competed furiously for one of the great prizes of British politics: the affections of the swing voter. It wasn’t that long ago that there were relatively few political swingers: until the 1990s, fewer than a quarter of voters would switch parties from one election to the next.

Yet that once relatively rare breed is becoming increasingly common, which means party campaigners are going to have to come up with new tactical thinking. The British Election Study survey panels, conducted episodically over the last fifty years, are unique in that they are able to track the same voters from one election to the next, unlike more conventional opinion polls that only look at a snapshot of voters at a given time. Using these studies, you can identify the percentage of voters who switch their vote from one party to another between each pair of elections since 1966 when such data was first collected.

In 1966 only around 13 per cent of voters had changed their minds since the previous election in 1964. Since then, the proportion of swingers has been steadily increasing, and by 2015, 38 per cent of voters backed a different party to the one they supported in 2010.

The increase in swing voters is pretty consistent. The only exceptions are between February and October 1974, when (understandably) fewer voters changed their minds in eight months than switched in the preceding four years, and between 1997 and 2001, when the electoral dominance of New Labour under Tony Blair held back the tide for a time. These two exceptions aside, the increase has been constant election-on-election.

A lot of vote shifting can go on even between elections where the overall result remains stable. In 2001, for example, more people switched votes than in any election before 1997, with a surprising level of turmoil beneath the surface stability. While these largely cancelled out on that occasion, it set the stage for more dramatic changes in the parties’ votes later on.

So British voters now seem more likely than ever to jump from party to party. But who exactly are these swingers? Are they disillusioned former party loyalists? Or have British voters simply stopped getting into a serious relationship with the parties in the first place? We can get some insight into this using data from the yearly British Social Attitudes Survey, looking at the number of respondents who say that they do not identify with any of the political parties (party identifiers tend to switch much less often) when they are asked ‘Generally speaking, do you think of yourself as a supporter of any one political party?’ and then ‘Do you think of yourself as a little closer to one political party than to the others?’ if they say no to the first question. The graph below combines data from 1984 to 2013. Each line represents people who were born in a different year. Higher lines mean that there are more people who do not identify with a political party. So, for instance, voters born in 1955 started with very low levels of non-identification (22 per cent), which have gradually risen to 44 per cent in the latest survey. Most of the lines on the graph go up over time, which shows that almost all generations are falling out of love with the parties.

However, an acquired taste in swinging among the older generations is dwarfed by the promiscuous younger generations – shown by the dashed lines – most of whom never form an attachment to a party at all. Each generation in the data has been less committed to the parties than the previous generation was at the same age, with around 60 per cent of the youngest generation – those born since 1985 – expressing no attachment to any political party.

Since most of this change has been a generational shift, it may be a long road back for the parties. Loyalty to parties is often handed down in families, with children inheriting their parents’ commitment to a party. Now that this process has broken down, and younger generations have lost their attachment to parties, they may in turn pass on this political detachment to their children.

The majority of younger voters have simply never grown up with the idea of getting into a long-term relationship with a political party, so they may never settle down. Many Labour MPs were outraged when it turned out that lots of the new members who joined up to vote for Jeremy Corbyn had voted for the Green Party just a few months before, but this may simply reflect the political approach of a generation who see parties as needing to earn their vote each time rather than commanding lasting, even unconditional loyalty.

If Britain’s newfound taste for swinging isn’t going to disappear any time soon, what does it mean for party competition? In the past most people had settled partisan views, which seldom changed. General elections could be won by attracting the relatively small group of voters who hadn’t made up their minds and could very easily vote for either of the two main parties, so political parties based their strategies around mobilising their core voters and targeting the few waverers. While they worried about traditional loyalists not turning up to the polls, the parties could be assured of their supporters’ votes as long as they got them to the voting booth.

Nowadays, swing voters are no longer a small section of the electorate who are being pulled back and forth by the parties, but a substantial chunk of all voters. This helps to explain why politicians have been so surprised by the sudden rise of new parties competing for groups previously thought to be reliable supporters. The new parties that have entered British politics have also allowed voters to express their views on issues that don’t fall neatly into traditional left– right politics such as immigration (UKIP) or Scottish independence (the SNP). This in turn has posed a dilemma for the traditional parties, who are pulled in multiple directions trying to stop their voters being tempted away.

This may just be the start. If the number of swing voters stays this high, the parties will have to get used to defending themselves on multiple fronts.

This is an extract from More Sex, Lies and the Ballot Box, edited by Philip Cowley and Robert Ford.