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Five business leaders you should know

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

Malcolm Gladwell, Photograph: Getty Images

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