Leaders everywhere: A conversation with Gary Hamel

21. May 2013

McKThe management writer and academic explains why he believes companies that empower and train people at all levels to lead can create competitive advantage.

May 2013

Hamel ccThe latest M-Prize challenge, cosponsored by Gary Hamel’s Management Innovation eXchange (MIX), Harvard Business Review, and McKinsey, asks managers to submit examples of how their organizations are empowering and training individuals to lead even when they lack formal authority. In this video, Professor Hamel discusses why he believes it is vital for companies to “syndicate the work of leadership” across the organization, to redistribute power, and to change the role of the top team. This interview was conducted by McKinsey Publishing’s Simon London. What follows is an edited transcript of Hamel’s remarks.

To learn more about the Leaders Everywhere challenge, please visit the Management Innovation eXchange Web site.

Interview transcript

Syndicating the work of leadership

The Management Innovation eXchange is the world’s first open-innovation platform, where we’re trying to elicit bleeding-edge practices in the world of management and organization and leadership. Every so often, we run a McKinsey–Harvard Business Review management prize (M-Prize) to pull those amazing new practices and those bleeding-edge ideas up to the surface.

This time around, the challenge is what we call Leaders Everywhere. And the thought underneath this is that we live in a world where never before has leadership been so necessary but where so often leaders seem to come up short. Our sense is that this is not really a problem of individuals; this is a problem of organizational structures—those traditional pyramidal structures that demand too much of too few and not enough of everyone else.

So here we are in a world of amazing complexity and complex organizations that just require too much from those few people up top. They don’t have the intellectual diversity, the bandwidth, the time to really make all these critical decisions. There’s a reason that, so often in organizations, change is belated, it is infrequent, it is convulsive. Read the rest of this entry »

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The Purpose of Power

24. May 2011
  • Need a Real Sponsor here
  • May 11, 2011, 3:54 PM ET, Gary Hamel Blog

Power has long been regarded as morally corrosive, and we often suspect the intentions of those who seek it. Indeed, the lust for dominion is so unseemly that few of us would openly admit to a craving for clout.

Hence, it might surprise you to learn that one of the world’s most distinguished management thinkers has recently produced a detailed manual for the power-hungry.

It often seems that the mendacious and egotistical have a particular talent for accumulating (and abusing) power—and at some point, most of us have probably been out-maneuvered by a more adept political infighter. But in Power: Why Some People Have it and Others Don’t, Jeffrey Pfeffer, a professor at Stanford University’s Graduate School of Business, gives nice guys and gals the tools they need to even the odds, by summarizing more than 30 years of research and teaching on how to get ahead.

Recently I talked with Pfeffer about why he’s written a book on power at a time when most management gurus are talking about collaboration, community and “open leadership.” Pfeffer’s argument is disarmingly simple: It takes power to get things done. Without power, you’re impotent—irrespective of your talents or the righteousness of your cause. Read the rest of this entry »


HCL’s CEO on its ‘Management Makeover’

26. August 2010
Gary Hamel’s Management 2.0

A look at new ways of managing, August 24, 2010, 5:14 PM ET

A couple of weeks back I provided you with a synopsis of Vineet Nayar’s new book, “Employees First, Customers Second,” which has been recently published by Harvard Business School Press. In it, Vineet, CEO of HCL Technologies, talks about the progress his company has made in making managers more accountable to those on the front lines. Having posted my summary, I invited you to submit your questions to Vineet, and many of you did, along with plenty of piquant comments. Herewith, Vineet’s reply. He begins by providing a bit of context, and then takes on a few of the most-asked queries.

Vineet Nayar on the challenges of leading a management makeover

Transforming an organization takes you on an interesting journey, without a map. There are wrong turns, surprising discoveries and moments of both exhilaration and discouragement. Not everyone agrees on the destination – at least in the beginning – much less on how to get there. When you reach an important milestone, you risk mistaking it for your goal. Instead of stopping at that point, you need to review what you’ve collectively learned – some of it the result of passionate debate – and continue on the quest to make your organization far better than ever seemed possible.

This is the journey we’re on with “Employees First, Customers Second,” or EFCS. It is based on the realization that value – for both customers and company – is created by employees working in the “value zone,” where employees and customers interact. One consequence of this realization: Managers need to be accountable to these customer-facing employees, just as employees are accountable to managers.

It’s gratifying, and perhaps not surprising, that a concept as radical as this inspires often passionate discussion and debate within our company and without. Let me address five important questions that emerge from that dialogue: Read the rest of this entry »


HCL: Extreme Management Makeover

15. July 2010

Need a Real Sponsor here

  • July 6, 2010, 7:19 PM ET, Gary Hamel’s Blog

How’d you like to put a question to one of the world’s most inspired management innovators—a CEO who’s challenged a host of management orthodoxies? At the end of this post, I’ll explain how you can do just that.

As regular readers of this blog will know, I believe that many of the tools and methods we use to manage people at work are ill-suited to the challenges of succeeding in today’s “creative economy.” All too often, legacy management practices reflexively perpetuate the past—by over-weighting the views of long-tenured executives, by valuing conformance more highly than creativity and by turning tired industry nostrums into sacred truths.

Fair enough, you might say. Everybody knows there are downsides to management-as-usual, but are they any alternatives? We can dream about organizations where employees eagerly challenge their superiors, where honesty trumps deference and where the pyramid has been turned upside down—but then again, we can also dream about world peace and cold fusion. That doesn’t mean they’re achievable.

This sort of skepticism is understandable. After all, the technology of management varies little from firm to firm. Given that, it is easy, and rational, to assume that the management status quo is also the status optimus—that while there may be other ways of planning, coordinating and controlling, there aren’t any better ways—at least not for organizations that must contend with demanding investors and customers.

Nevertheless, before surrendering to this premise, we should remind ourselves that dogma often masquerades as truth, and that we are often comforted by the deception. There are many who would prefer a lazy ramble along the gentle contours of the tried-and-true then a hard scramble up the rocky incline of the untested and unproven.

Vineet Nayar, however, is a scrambler, and since taking on the top job at HCL Technologies (HCLT) in 2005, he’s been working to foment a genuine revolution in its management practices. (A note: HCL Technologies is also a founding sponsor of the Management Exchange, a new initiative which I’m helping to lead.) Read the rest of this entry »


The Passing of C.K. Prahalad

19. April 2010

4/17/2010 — University of Michigan Home Page. What sad news! (hfk)

Ross professor and world-renowned corporate strategist died April 16.

C. K. Prahalad

ANN ARBOR, Mich.—C.K. Prahalad, the Paul and Ruth McCracken Distinguished University Professor of Strategy at the University of Michigan’s Stephen M. Ross School of Business, passed away in San Diego on April 16 at the age of 68.

Prahalad was one of the most beloved teachers and influential thinkers at the University of Michigan. He also served as distinguished fellow at the University’s William Davidson Institute, where he played an important advisory role for the institute’s Base of the Pyramid research initiative. He was twice ranked as the world’s most influential business thinker, most recently in October 2009, by the “Thinkers 50” list of the top 50 management thought leaders in the world published by the leadership consulting firm CrainerDearlove. Read the rest of this entry »


Management’s Dirty Little Secret

10. January 2010

By Gary Hamel

How would you feel about a physician who killed more patients than he helped? What about a police detective who committed more murders than he solved? Or a teacher whose students were more likely to get dumber than smarter as the school year progressed? And what if you discovered that these perverse outcomes were more the rule than the exception—that they were characteristic of most doctors, policemen and professors? You’d be more than perplexed. You’d be incensed, outraged. You’d demand that something must be done!

Given this, why are we complacent when confronted with data that suggest most managers are more likely to douse the flames of employee enthusiasm than fan them, and are more likely to frustrate extraordinary accomplishment than to foster it?

Read the rest of this entry »


What Really Kills Great Companies: Inertia

1. November 2009
  • September 29, 2009, Gary Hamel, WSJ
  • In most  organizations, change comes in only two flavors:  trivial and traumatic.  Review the history of the average organization and you’ll discover long periods of incremental fiddling  punctuated by occasional bouts of frantic, crisis-driven change.  The dynamic is not unlike that of  arteriosclerosis:  after years of  relative inactivity, the slow accretion of arterial plaque is suddenly  revealed by the business equivalent of a myocardial infarction. The only  option at that juncture is a quadruple bypass:  excise the leadership team, slash head  count, dump “non-core” assets and overhaul the balance sheet.

    Why does  change have to happen this way?   Why does a company have to frustrate its shareholders, infuriate its  customers and squander much of its legacy before it can reinvent itself?   It’s easy to blame leaders  who’ve fallen prey to denial and nostalgia, but the problem goes deeper than  that.  Organizations by their very  nature are inertial.  Like a  fast-spinning gyroscope that can’t be easily unbalanced, successful  organizations spin around the axis of unshakeable beliefs and well-rehearsed  routines—and it typically takes a dramatic outside force to destabilize the  self-reinforcing system of policies and practices.

    Read the rest of this entry »