If People Are Like Cats They Can’t Be Managed

Herding Cats

At the outset I have never met anyone who has ever told me they longed to be managed. I have met countless people from myriad stages of development who longed to be led. First most people are over managed and under led. Secondly, Anyone can manage. Managing is manipulation. Leading is the relationship between a cat and a human who thinks they are the master. Why? Because in today’s world employees are actually free agents. “How do you manage creativity? If you think about the creative types, they are highly independent, self-motivated; they like to have a sense of space, so traditional management methods which might draw on systems and processes are definitely not going to work. What we are going to have to be is much more empowering: have some clarity of what the goal is. How you get there will be down to those individual workers.” Frankly, the role of management secures return on investment when people are viewed as innovation incubators whose human capital if led properly. Back to the cat analogy. Try thinking of walking a cat to Walgreen’s on a leash like a dog. You can’t. People are like cats. To develop their best you have to cajole, persuade, encourage, and listen. You can’t manage. Jim

“Today, the theme could be “What They CAN’T Teach You at Harvard Business School’ (or INSEAD or any other top-ranked business school). And that, according to years of research by two of INSEAD’s leading experts on leadership, is because much of what makes a good leader is not necessarily bred, but born. And leadership training capitalizes on that.

Leadership begins at home

“A lot of leadership skills you learn at home. There is no leadership without a context,” says Professor of Leadership Development and Organisational Change Manfred Kets de Vries, referring to his case study on British entrepreneurial businessman Richard Branson, whose parents were interviewed for the research.

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“I once asked Branson if there were any entrepreneurs in the family,” Kets de Vries recalls. “He said, ‘We don’t have any entrepreneurs in the family; we come from a family of barristers.’ Then he said, ‘My crazy mother –one mad scheme after another.’ And I met his mother. And I realized that’s where he got his entrepreneurial characteristics.”

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It doesn’t have to be a parent it can be a grandparent or uncle or aunt or even a teacher or friend who sees something in the child and supports it. But a good portion of what leadership is all about stems from childhood experiences and the environment in which we grew up.

There’s another type of childhood experience that can define a leader: discouragement. “They have another kind of inner theater,” says Kets de Vries. “They say ‘I’ll show the bastards. I’ll show them I can do it.’ But even so, there is usually someone somewhere who cares.”

INSEAD Professor of Organisational Behavior Michael Jarrett concurs. “Leadership success has to do with the way people think, the way they feel, the way they behave. This is more than charisma; this is our “default behavior”. The way we see ourselves, the way we act…personality is a good indicator of leadership success.”

Jarrett postulates a “bright side” and a “dark side” to every manager. The “bright side is captured by the five big personality factors: emotional stability, extroversion, openness to experiences, emotional sensitivity, and the degree to which we are conscientious or driven to achieve.” Successful leaders scored high on openness, emotional intelligence and drive. On the dark side, explains Jarrett, “There are psychological fault lines which I would describe as being withdrawn psychologically, having a sense of aggrandizement – everything is all about them – and also micromanagement: being obsessive. These are things that we also know lead to poor management.”

Personalities are infectious

Given the above, it should come as no surprise that a leader’s personality affects the workplace and consequently the company’s performance. “Research suggests that if we have a leader who is positive and outgoing and can see the world as a beautiful place, well this tends to infuse people around them. They become enthusiastic and that leads to high performance,” says Jarrett. “Whereas if leaders come in and say ‘Oh my gosh, I don’t want to be here today, isn’t the world awful?’ and they see the world as very dark…then, hey, guess what happens? This has a direct impact on the team members and on the performance of the organisation.”

Shifts in the global business environment strongly suggest today’s executive is more of a lonesome cowboy than his corporate predecessors. Jobs-for-life are virtually unheard of, as are staff jobs with benefits. Loyalty between employer and employee up and down the corporate ladder is eroding; technology means job skills need to be updated continually, while businesses can be eclipsed practically overnight (remember “My Space”?). You have to manage your own career, and that is changing leadership training.”

via Leadership today: An inward journey | INSEAD Knowledge.


Jim Woods is president of The Jim Woods Group. A management consulting firm. Go here to see his work www.jimwoodsgroup.com. He advises and speaks to organizations large and small on how to increase top line growth in times of uncertainty and complexity. Some of his speaking and consulting clients include: U.S. Army, MITRE Corporation, Pitney Bowes, Whirlpool, and 3M. See more at his website www.jimwoodsgroup.com.

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3 comments on “If People Are Like Cats They Can’t Be Managed
  1. cavegirlmba says:

    A dog thinks: My owner feeds me, he must be a god.
    A cat thinks: My owner feeds me, he must think I’m a god.

    No wonder companies prefer dogs…


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