Cupid-proof warrior hit by bombast

The Leadership Gene
March 26, 1999

Cyril Levicki likes to surprise. The Leadership Gene is not about genetics and never mentions DNA. He treats conventional management theory with admirable disdain, shooting down accepted business nostrums with the nonchalance of an officer taking pot-shots all about him as he strides through ill-secured terrain. In doing so, however, he shoots himself in both feet from time to time.

Consider - if you crave to be a business bigwig - some of his combative advice. He claims that true leaders are rarely "team players", and should never try to be; leaders do not work well in groups, so running teams should be the task of subordinate managers. He insists that being a head honcho would not be nearly so lonely if honchos were not nearly so secretive. He asserts that business leaders can never take too few decisions, that most only take - should only take - five or six substantive decisions during their entire career. He argues that clever people rarely make good leaders - clever people see too many complexities and fail to communicate their objectives. He inveighs against leaders who lose their rag. Bad temper, he fumes, is stupidly counter-productive.

Most iconoclastic of all, he has little love for "lurv" and other such soppy sentiments. Being a top dog is difficult enough, he insists, without having to suffer the additional worry of an inappropriate and demanding mate: leaders must choose spouses who will be their career partners. "When you are ready to begin the search for a perfect partner, enjoy" - does he mean "employ"? - "the best quality market research and select wiselyI you will put a lot of thought into the correct business decisions. Finding a suitable partner to share your life must be worth an equal amount of time and effort."

Nobody could agree with all his maverick views. Sometimes, one suspects, he is flying contentious kites for the hell of it. And some of his dicta are downright daffy. "Most entrepreneurs are not inventive, but are organisational", for instance, which seems to me to be just about the opposite of the truth. Or "focus on becoming emotionally mature as young as possible", which is akin to telling the poor that everything would be dandy if only they got themselves some cash. But in a book full of refreshing iconoclasm, the occasional over-the-top rubric is perhaps inevitable and acceptable. After all, the freedom to make mistakes is an essential element in successful risk-taking.

But outright self-contradiction is neither acceptable nor inevitable. It suggests a nonchalance that has descended into arrogant sloppiness. Take Levicki's curious view about entrepreneurs. The rubric above is shortly followed by: "The entrepreneur needs to be innovativeI They don't accept society's rules." Or, despite his dogma about the unacceptability of anger, Levicki says of Channel tunnel panjandrum Sir Alastair Morton: "Sir Alastair had to retain his fiercest qualities and aggression to complete his task. More gentle behaviour would have been inappropriate." Those who have worked with Sir Alastair would, I think, consider that a very mild description of his style. And having, correctly, hoisted Sir Winston Churchill on to the dais as one of the world's great leaders, Levicki goes on to rant against over-indulgence in drink.

Such inconsistencies - there are many more, plus much repetition -Jsuggest that Levicki has marched a mite mindlessly through terrain that is rougher and more exacting than he seems to recognise. Were he in a tank, his licence would be endorsed for driving without due care and attention. A pity, for it mars some assaults on conformist management wisdom that are welcome, worthwhile and well targeted.

Winston Fletcher is chairman, Royal Institution, and chairman, Bozell UK Group.

The Leadership Gene: The Genetic Code for a Lifelong Leadership Career

Author - Cyril Levicki
ISBN - 0 3 63557 3
Publisher - Pitman
Price - £21.99
Pages - 248

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