Spotlight on Andrew Kakabadse, Professor of International Management Development at Cranfield University

Journal of Managerial Psychology

ISSN: 0268-3946

Article publication date: 1 March 2000




by Maggie McCourt-Mooney, E. (2000), "Spotlight on Andrew Kakabadse, Professor of International Management Development at Cranfield University", Journal of Managerial Psychology, Vol. 15 No. 2.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2000, MCB UP Limited

Spotlight on Andrew Kakabadse, Professor of International Management Development at Cranfield University

Spotlight on Andrew Kakabadse, Professor of International Management Development at Cranfield University, Cranfield, UK

Keywords Leadership, Strategic management, Demographics

Andrew Kakabadse is Professor of International Management Development, Chairman of the Human Resources Network, and Deputy-Director at Cranfield School of Management. He is also Director of the Cranfield Centre for International Management Development, and Vice-Chancellor of the International Academy of Management. He initially worked in the field of health and social services. He has had substantial international consultancy experience of local government re-organization in the UK and large capital projects in developing countries. He is currently consultant to numerous organizations ranging from banks, motor manufacturers, high-tech companies and oil companies, to the police and other public sector organizations, and numerous multinational corporations. His current areas of interest focus on improving the performance of top executives and top executive teams, excellence in consultancy practice and the politics of decision-making. Here, he offers Sarah Powell, editor for the HR Global Network, his views on effective leadership and the major challenges for leaders.

Powell: Your current areas of interest focus on, among others, improving the performance of top executives and top executive teams. What do you see as the key skills for effective leadership?

Kakabadse: Here I should add my interest in the negotiation or gaining of corporate advantage, which is an aspect of top executive teams. Currently, I am looking at the issue of corporate strategic leadership and the meaning of leadership today. What has emerged is not an individual phenomenon but a team phenomenon. The key issue is how to get the team to think in terms of corporate advantage.

Today's world is basically one in which we must compete for consumer attention. Our life is fundamentally driven by supply-side, as opposed to demand-led economics. There are just too many goods in the marketplace and we face a situation where we must differentiate through brand rather than need, through perceptions rather than product quality, because product quality is mostly good. Product quality, service quality, customer care - all the delivery concepts as such - are now no more than "commodities". All companies focus on these and there is no differentiation between them. The only differentiation now is to be found at a corporate level, the key issues being: how does the top team really decide what sort of corporate differentiation/corporate advantage they have? How can they brand it? How can they sell it to the shareholders? And how can they then sell it to the marketplace as a distinct concept?

In that sense, what you must have is a distinct corporate philosophy - a corporation standing for something in which shareholders want to invest. Hence I am concentrating as much on corporate philosophy as on leadership.

At the same time, you need to know when leadership is required and when it is not and the only way you can know this is by looking at where you, as a corporation, have positioned yourself in the marketplace, where you actually stand in the economic life-cycle, and what you want to do next.

Take the example of the Granada Group. I would say that the corporate philosophy of Granada Group is cost discipline. It is a slim organization, targets are set at the centre, the businesses are there to achieve the targets - there is no need for anything else. It is a very basic business, run on economic lines, and competing on price. Do you need leadership in that type of organization? No, what you need is good managerial performance measures.

Meanwhile, in the case of Glaxo Wellcome, one of the key capabilities is R&D. Here, not only do you need leadership at the executive level, you also need it at the professional scientific level. I am surmising here but I would suggest that at Glaxo Wellcome you may find many hundreds of leader roles in contrast to perhaps a dozen or so at Granada where there are just those at the centre and then the heads of the businesses. Nobody else needs to be a leader because you are being run by managerial control systems.

So a key question today is: what do you need as a business? Do you need better management or do you need better leadership? The poor business is one that doesn't know how to answer that question.

Powell: From your experience, to what degree are effective leadership qualities intuitive and how much can be learned?

Kakabadse: From a survey in which I have been involved, covering 8,000 organizations across 14 countries[1] the overall finding is that leadership qualities are all learned. If you look at history, one of the first texts discovered on leadership came from the Mesopotamians. It was written, or supposedly written, by a king called Gilgamesh. What he basically says is: if you want to take charge, take charge. That was the idea through the ages, from the ancient Greeks, Socrates, Plato, Aristotle ... who were the greatest proponents of the self-development school, until the nineteenth century when Friedrich Nietzsche talked about Ûbermenschen, i.e. supermen, and the idea of being born with "something", you could call it intuition, you could call it superhuman qualities as Nietzsche did. Fundamentally then, the concept that people are born with "something", or that they have an extra intuitive capacity, is only about 100 years old.

What's been interesting since then, is that two elements of society have taken that theme and exaggerated it out of all proportion. The first is the military, and their adoption of this theme is particularly true in respect of those perceived as great military heroes, e.g. Wellington, Napoleon, Montgomery, and so on, i.e. those considered heroes because they won... here the view from the military has fitted in very much with that of Nietzsche, i.e. that certain people are born to command.

Such a view has now also been taken on board by search consultants, the prime idea being to "get the right person for the right job" and finding the personal qualities that "fit". But we have ascertained that what really counts is learning, development and willingness to adapt. Our survey found no evidence for inherent leadership traits. It all came down to development. That is contrary to much of the thinking of this century, but then the thinking of this century is quite new. For centuries, for three millennia, the opposite view prevailed and our findings bear out this earlier view.

Powell: In Essence of Leadership, your most recent book, you explore the impact on leadership of factors such as culture, power politics, personality, vision and ethics. Given your substantial international experience and research, would you conclude that some cultural characteristics contribute to, while others hinder, leadership effectiveness?

Kakabadse: Yes, I would, although the cultural characteristics that we have discerned in our surveys are organizational, and not related to country or ethnicity. Inevitably we did find some differences between, say, the Greeks and the British, or the Australians and Chinese. But the relevance of these in business, or even in government organizations, only came to the surface in a poorly run company. In a well run company, there would be a very clear philosophy, a very clear organizational culture, and it didn't matter where it was located in the world, people knew where value lay in that organization and what was needed in terms of providing value added. The only differentiating factors were good and bad leadership.

Powell: You have also investigated differences in leadership style deriving from gender. Would you conclude that there are significant differences at top management level, or does the process of successful career development tend to dilute perceived feminine qualities such as empathy or supportiveness?

Kakabadse: I have to tell you that I have found no such difference at any level of management. As far as I am concerned, the gender difference, like the national culture difference, is a nonsense. Of course, obviously there are differences between males and females, but the question is, as in the case of national cultures, what is the relevance within a structured corporate organization, be it private or public sector? We found no discernible gender differences. In ways of working, we found as many women who were hard drivers as there were men, as many supportive men as there were women, as many ineffective as effective women and men. Meanwhile emphasizing gender differences is a prime source of prejudice.

What we did find was a very wide range of abilities, particularly so in some of the more senior roles, where you need individuals who have a versatility, a range of qualities, to handle all sorts of different contingencies. It made no difference whether leaders were men or women, or whether they were Chinese, British or French. The differentiator was tenure and one of the prime differentiators was how long they had been in the job and how long they had been in the organization, i.e. age and experience did play a role. A second differentiator was whether their attitude was predominantly inward-looking or outward-looking.

Using the measures of leadership performance we created, we found that those individuals who had a markedly outward-looking attitude, in effect, a market-oriented attitude, and who had been in their job and in the organization for a long time, and were mature in the sense that they really accepted the responsibilities of their own actions and developed their people, were by far the best leaders. Those who had been in senior management positions for between five to nine years, and had been in the organization for 15 years plus, made the best managers. Basically, what that means is that, with those factors in mind, i.e. outward-looking, energetic, etc. an older manager is far better than a young manager.

The worst aspects of leadership came from younger managers, especially those who were well educated, and intellectually very bright. They tended to make the worst decisions because they turned strategic concerns into operational concerns. They want to make an impact within 18-24 months before they move on - the business, the profitability looks good, but have they actually invested in the long-term effectiveness of the brand? The answer is no. What we noted is that middle, i.e. younger, managers tended to look at operational costs and operational gains, i.e. short-term costs and gains, rather than opportunity gains or costs, the impact of which takes longer to realize.

Powell: Professor Cary Cooper has stated that, compared with men, women are good at managing people but extremely bad at organizational politics and managing their careers. From your research in the area of female leaders would you agree?

Kakabadse: I would completely disagree. I know Cary well and I know why he has come to that conclusion. He has basically taken what I would call a more traditional line in terms of methodology. Cary basically said, "I am looking for differences between men and women", and consequently he treated men and women as a sexual difference. But male/female is just one differentiation of a whole list of demographic differences including age, education, background, income, social class, and so on which need to be measured to see which are relevant to a particular situation.

The American tradition, when looking at gender differences, is to highlight differences between males and females and then assume that there is going to be an impact in the workplace. Doing the research the other way round, you would ask: What makes a difference in terms of impact in the workplace? Let's take all of those demographic factors and research them and see which of them really stands out. I think you would find that the men/women difference does not. Age, meanwhile, does but only when combined with attitude and particular qualities, the attitude being outward-looking and the qualities being maturity and development.

Taking age alone, older managers and younger managers are equally bad at organizational politics, but if you combine age with the attitudes outward-looking/inward-looking and then the qualities of mature/immature, you could then find a younger manager who is outward-looking and very mature and who is good at handling organizational politics. The conclusion is that we need a whole list of demographics to see what really works.

What we have found is that organizational politics is, in reality, simply a form of communication, but a covert form of communication. It is a way of handling difficulties. The difficulties could arise for "good" reasons, e.g. we have a very complex business, or for "bad" reasons, e.g. we have some very poor leaders and it is very difficult to talk to them. So politics is the covert way of communicating when there are sensitivities.

Accepting this interpretation, we discovered that it was the particular qualities that people had that helped them through these circumstances. Whether they were male or female wasn't the issue. The issues were: How long have you been in the business? How well do you know the people in the company? Can you cope with pressure and strain? and so on ... i.e. emphasizing the qualities of the people, both male and female, who cope with politics.

Powell: In terms, then, of performance effectiveness in international teams where managers are operating abroad, even if gender, culture etc. have little impact, is there nevertheless not a period of adaptation?

Kakabadse: When you look at performance effectiveness, what is important is not the fact that it's international; it's what the transition is all about. You are absolutely right, there is a period of adaptation, of trying to understand what the transition is all about, the significance of what you are trying to do in that market wherever it may be. Every location you go to will have a different transition period, a different adaptation period, for very different reasons. Managers should be trained in handling this, but they are not. Their training suggests that the location itself is the most important issue but it is not; it is the significance of location that is the most important issue, i.e. the significance of what you are trying to do in that market.

Powell: Finally, with an increasingly international, if not global, operating environment, what do you see as the major challenges of the future for top leaders?

Kakabadse: The major challenge will be shifting mindsets from delivery effectiveness to corporate philosophy. The fact that you have a good product, good systems, good consultants etc. is not going to be the differentiator. It is where you stand as a corporation, and having that clarity of philosophy which you can then present to the shareholders to ensure they keep their investment in the organization is going to be crucial.

The leadership challenge is going to shift from delivery to the marketplace as its prime emphasis, to greater attention to the shareholders, which will mean greater attention to mergers, acquisitions, positioning in the marketplace, corporate branding, as opposed to product branding. As mentioned, there will basically be two kinds of leadership: corporate leadership which looks at shareholders and where an organization sits in the economic life-cycle, and manager leaders who look at products, service quality, customer care. The greatest mistake will be to start to apply the principles of manager leader to corporate leaders.

Powell: Where corporate leaders need to focus on the requirements of shareholders and return on investment, does this not bring us back to arguments about the risk of short-termism?

Kakabadse: I don't think so. Admittedly that has been the experience in the past and there is a danger, based on that experience, that we could fall back into that. But I don't think that's the case any more because what shareholders want to know is whether a company is worth investing in over a longer term.

Take a company like Glaxo Wellcome - a very expensive company because it has duplication of costs in human resources and IT, largely because the whole company is structured around particular drug "families". But if you can persuade your shareholders that such duplication is the investment required to come up with a new generation of drugs for the next 25 years which will influence the global market and prove very profitable, your share price will only fluctuate slightly depending on your operational results year in, year out - as Glaxo Wellcome has seen. So, yes, shareholders can take a very long-term view and I find that they constitute a reasonably good "barometer" in assessing whether the company has really "got its act together".

My perception is that whether shareholders take the short- or long-term view is really driven by the quality of presentation of the top leaders ofthe corporation. That's why addressing corporate structures, corporate philosophies, corporate capability as opposed to just product and service capability will, I believe, be the leadership challenge of the top leaders.

Meanwhile, as said, there will be another group of leaders, the managerial leaders, who have to decide how to position their products, and how to position the product brand in the marketplace. So, in a strange sense, you will see two types of leaders in corporations. The relationship between them will not be an easy one because they will have different priorities and there can be tensions which are difficult to resolve. Ideally, the two groups of leaders should be able to see one another's viewpoint. However, what we have discovered, and this is explored in the Essence of Leadership, is considerable tension.

Approximately one-third of companies we surveyed had directors sitting together who could not share viewpoints, and this led to continuous tension - they just could not share the vision. In two-thirds of the companies there were also certain issues that were so sensitive they were difficult to discuss, i.e. there were dialogue problems as well as vision problems. In fact only one-third of the surveyed companies were really being led well, while two-thirds were being led poorly or not so well.

Among the one-third that were being led well, success was no accident. Key leadership capabilities were required from the top leaders; there were key disciplines that had to be introduced into the corporation; and there was a very clear philosophy about what that corporation was trying to do. This was not achieved overnight. It was extremely hard work and involved a clear policy to make it work.


  1. 1.

    The survey was carried out by experts at Cranfield's International Management Development Centre, exploring every aspect of leadership technique and philosophy, and examining best practice as exhibited by international business leaders. It has been published in several books including Japanese Business Leaders, published in 1996, and The Wealth Creators: Top People, Top Teams and Executive Best Practice, published in 1991, which focused on the initial British and Irish survey. The full survey was published in 1999 under the title Essence of Leadership, by Andrew Kakabadse and Nada Korac-Kakabadse (published by International Thomson).

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