Charisma or control?


A very insightful Times piece by Roger Mavity of Conran holdings observes that a successful business needs two types of person. There is the charismatic CEO, and the number-crunching Finance Officer. They have different roles, and are different personality types. The guy (or gal) with the imagination and drive that can fire people up is what drives creativity and innovation, whereas the more sober accounting type is there to cut the cloth and control costs.

"One of the classic mistakes in business," says Mavity, "is to promote the finance director to chief executive — leadership by charisma is exchanged for leadership by control." This is, he thinks, what has happened to the Labour government. The imaginative inspiring CEO (Tony Bair) has been replaced by the control-obsessed Finance Director (Gordon Brown), and the result is stagnation and lack of leadership.

On a wider scale, Mavity identifies a more general problem for Britain. We have become obsessed with numbers. Teachers waste their time filling in forms about targets, instead of inspiring children with a love of learning. Everywhere from hospitals to business offices we are driven by targets and numbers, the stuff of control. All too lacking, he says, are the imagination and flair which can lead to innovation and achievement.

"But all too often," he says, "our ingenuity and our sense of adventure gets slowed down by the box tickers, the people who can’t have an opinion until a focus group has had it for them, the people who won’t ever take a risk they don’t have to." He cites Charles Saatchi, James Dyson, Terence Conran and iPod designer Jonathan Ive as people who broke the mould and dared to take risks and let their imagination run. There are all too few of them, he says, and as the box-tickers take over, our world is the poorer for it.

Check out Dr Madsen Pirie's new book, "101 Great Philosophers."