BoyGuru 00-12-131


The Best Ideas of the Top Management Thinkers


Joseph Boyett and Jimmie Boyett

John Wiley & Sons, 2000,, 379 pp., ISBN 0-471-38054-7


The best of the best.  Provides an introduction to the wisdom of the world’s top business advisors along with the authors’ evaluation and perspective.  The list of gurus and their best books head each chapter and are worth the price of the book (especially if you get it from the library like I did).  Each chapter ends with a list of the essential points.  Topics: leadership, managing change, the learning organization, high-performance through teams, market leadership, motivating people, and future organizational designs.



Lists of leadership ingredients. 

Warren Bennis’s list:  guiding vision, passion, integrity, trust, curiosity, daring (3). 


Burt Nanus’ list:  farsightedness, mastery of change, organization design, anticipatory learning, initiative, mastery of interdependence, integrity.  (4) 


James O’Toole’s list:  integrity, trust, listening, respect for followers.  (4) 


Covey’s list (see The Seven Habits…). 


Max Depree’s list:  Integrity, vulnerability, discernment, awareness of the human spirit, courage in relationships, sense of humor, intellectual energy and curiosity, respect for the future (plus regard for the present and understanding the past), predictability, breadth, comfort with ambiguity, presence. (7) 


John Gardner’s list:  physical vitality and stamina, intelligence and judgment-in-action, wiliness to accept responsibilities, task competence, understanding of followers/constituents and their needs, skill in dealing with people, need to achieve, capacity to motivate, courage and resolution and steadiness, capacity to win and hold trust, capacity to manage and decide and set priorities, confidence, ascendance and dominance and assertiveness, adaptability and flexibility of approach.


“’Leadership personality,’ ‘leadership style,’ and ‘leadership traits’ do not exist.”  (Peter Drucker, 10)  The only thing that differentiates leaders from non-leaders is having willing followers. (12)  “…our gurus say things that most tradition-minded managers find strange, to say the least.  ‘Leadership requires love.’  ‘The best leaders are servants.’  ‘You lead by giving to others.’”  (16)


“In many ways the crisis in business today is a crisis of meaning.  People aren’t sure of themselves because they no longer understand the why behind the what.”  “Those who would aspire to leadership roles in this new environment must not underestimate the depth of this human need for meaning.  It is a most fundamental human craving, an appetite that will not go away. (Karl Albrecht, 18)


VISION touches the heart, not just the mind.  It is a “shared image of what we want the enterprise to be or become….”  The vision statement…implies an element of noble purpose and high values, of something considered especially worthwhile.”  (Karl Albrecht, 18)


A good vision: 

  • gives meaning to the changes expected of people;
  • evokes a clear and positive mental image of a future state;
  • creates pride and energy and a sense of accomplishment;
  • is memorable;
  • is motivating;
  • is idealistic;
  • offers a view of the future that is clearly and demonstrably better;
  • fits the organization’s history, culture, and values;
  • sets standards of excellence that reflect high ideals;
  • clarifies purpose and direction;
  • inspires enthusiasm;
  • encourages commitment;
  • reflects the uniqueness of the organization;
  • is ambitious;
  • grabs attention;
  • focuses attention;
  • guides day-to-day activities;
  • screens out the unessential;
  • energizes people to transcend the bottom line;
  • provides meaning and significance to daily activities;
  • bridges the present and the future; moves people to action. 


Visions are compelling and forceful.  They have a gulp factor. (22)  The visioning process is long, difficult, uncertain, messy, introspective, and difficult to explain.  (22)


The role of the leader is ‘one of creation and destruction – supporting individual initiative while breaking down bureaucracy and cynicism…”  (Livio DeSimone, 35)  “The leader works for the followers, not the other way around.”  (36)  “Servant leaders view the organization as a garden and themselves as gardeners.”  (Robert K. Greenleaf, 38)


Summary statements.

“Leadership is largely about a relationship between leaders and followers; therefore, a central task for all leaders is to build and maintain solid relationship with others.  Leadership occurs as a series of discontinuous events.  Therefore, a person who succeeds as a leader today may not excel in leadership tomorrow or with a different group of followers.  The new leader must be more of a visionary than a strategist, storyteller than commander, change agent and servant than systems architect. Learning to lead is a lengthy process that stretches back to childhood.  Training, seminars, short courses, and consulting can only polish the leadership qualities a person already possesses.”  (44)




Reasons for and tips for overcoming employee resistance.


Throughout the 80s and 90s, gurus touted major, strategic, organizational change but “by most estimates, 50-70% of all corporate change initiatives launched in the 1980s and 1990s failed to achieve their objectives.”  (49)


Resistance to change is so common and destructive that the quest to understand it forms the bedrock of most of our gurus’ approaches to managing change.  (50)


In short, people don’t resist change as much as they resist being changed.  Most current approaches combine teaching with coercion.  (56)



  1. Establish a need to change.  (Waking up the organization is wrenching and terrifying.) 
  2. Create a clear, compelling vision of how their lives will be better.  (The one thing worse than no vision is a vision that becomes merely sloganeering or a campaign of platitudes.) 
  3. Go for true performance results and create early wins. 
  4. Communicate, communicate, communicate.  (See Kotter’s principles to communicate vision on pp. 62-3.) 
  5. Build a strong, committed, guiding coalition that includes top management.  (This is more difficult than it sounds.) 
  6. Make it complex!  (Large-scale change may be easier to accomplish than incremental change!)  (56-66)


Shut down the plant.  Close the offices.  Rent an auditorium.  Take everyone from the board to the janitors away for 3 days and involve everyone in revolutionary change.  (72)




Current thinking on how individuals and organizations learn and three competing approaches for improving organizational learning.


This discipline is neither easy nor fun and it’s a big catcall filled with “almost impenetrable jargon.”  “The crucial factor is not just what and how much individuals in organizations learn, but how effectively they transfer what they know to the organization as a whole.”  (84) 


Best learning occurs on the job (not classroom), is social and active (not individual or passive) is the rich, nourishing soup of intuition, judgment, expertise, and common sense imbedded in day-to-day activities (not rules and procedures).  (86)


The cycle of learning works like this:  We have experiences in the workplace.  We reflect on the experiences, understanding what happened and why.  We form concepts based on those experiences.  We test those concepts through new experiences.  We repeat the cycle. (86)


What’s in people’s heads is invariably more important than what’s written down and it is exchanged in a community atmosphere, in the community of practice.  Here is where real learning occurs.  People become effective through their “versatile web of informal networks, exchanging questions, meeting in hallways, telling stories, negotiating the meaning of events, inventing and sharing new ways of doing things, conspiring, debating and recalling the past, they complement each other’s information and together construct a shared understanding or their environment and work.  [Their] ability to learn and perform their jobs depends on their community – its shared memories, routines, improvisations, innovations and connections to the world.”  (91-3)


“… the necessary conditions for learning don’t exist in most organizations because their culture is unsuitable, at least for long-term learning.”  (120)


A culture that enhances learning balances the interests of all stakeholders; focusing on people rather than systems; makes people believe they can change their environment; makes time for learning; takes a holistic approach to problems; encourages open communication; believes in teamwork; has approachable leaders.  (122-3)


“True learning requires the acquisition of both know-why and know-how.”  (126)


“learning occurs when people within an organization share, examine, and challenge each others’ mental models.”  (127)




Teamwork is the foundation for nearly all the gurus’ means of building high performance companies but it is little understood and rarely applied.  (130)


High performance organizations support innovation and risk taking; emphasize learning; design jobs which require many skills, teamwork, variety, thinking, decision making, and interdependence.  They expect managers to serve as facilitators, provide feedback, be evaluated by their employees, encourage open communication, and have excellent people skills.  The organization structure is very flat; the basic units are teams; boundaries are fuzzy; problem solving is cross-functional; everyone works like being in a small business; line and staff are integrated.  Everyone strives to serve customers, internal and external.  The organization is flexible.  Teamwork is real.  Rewards are based upon team and company performance as well as individual.  Information is considered as a valuable resource and is shared broadly and freely.  Technology serves people; users help select it; it supports teamwork and is easy to change; and people are trained broadly in its use.  (133-8)


“Few such organizations exist.”  There is much irrational resistance and no one is quite sure why.  (140)


“Teams are the foundation of high-performance organizations.”  Some critical design questions: 

  1. What types of teams will be used and how will technical coordination and decision making across teams be accomplished? 
  2. What will be the roles and responsibilities of managers, supervisors, team leaders, and team members? 
  3. What new skills will managers, supervisors, team leaders, and employees need to function effectively?  (141)


Three types of teams: 

1.                Work teams design, manufacture, and deliver a product or service. 

2.                Improvement teams make recommendations for changes in the organization, process, or technology. 

3.                Integrating teams coordinate work across the organization.  (142) 

4.                Cross-functional teams are more dominant than within-function teams in true high-performance organizations. (144)


In a true high-performance organization the traditional hierarchy is dismantled and work teams take over may supervisory responsibilities. (145)  Usually team responsibilities are phased in in stages over several months or years. (147)  For example:

  1. Start-up Team.  Formal supervisors are retained while cross-functional work teams are created. 
  2. The Transitional Team takes on more responsibility for day-to-day management. 
  3. Experienced Team.  The team leader is removed from the group and team members become responsible for day-to-day decision.
  4. The Mature Team has full accountability for its own work. (151-4)


How much time is required for training in technical, administrative, interpersonal, decision-making, and problem-solving skills?  A lot.  (159)  And things usually get worse for as long as a year before they get better.  Development of teams goes through four stages: forming, storming, norming, and performing.  (160)


Tips:  (163-173)

  1. Redesign work (don’t just create teams).  Focus on a few strategic issues rather than everything.  Organize around whole processes.  Expand job responsibilities.  Design for immediate feedback.  Make sure the teams have access to support.  Don’t over design. 
  2. Redesign the compensation system. 
  3. Redesign the information system. 
  4. Change individual performance appraisals.  “Annual employee performance evaluations, as they are traditionally done, destroy teamwork.” 
  5. Set specific and demanding team performance goals. 
  6. Keep the team small. 
  7. Create a good work environment. 
  8. Intervene when the team gets stuck.




Five views on business strategy from the 80s and 90s.


“Our assessment is that there is a lot of insight in what our strategy gurus have to say, and there is also a lot of junk.”  (175)


Porter’s theory.  Focus on market share.  Invest in the “stars.”  Milk the “cash cows.”  Dismiss the “dogs.”  “Crash goes Porter (192)  It’s just not that easy. 


Crash goes strategic planning.  Strategic planning is not the same as strategic thinking.  Planning is about analysis.  Strategic thinking is about synthesis and it involves intuition and creativity.  It results in an integrated perspective.  (193) 


“By the early 1990s, American CEOs had shelved strategy and become fascinated with downsizing, restructuring, and reenginering.  The sort-term, quick fix was in.”  “Most companies that downsized found they weren’t that much better off after their crash diet than before.  One round of downsizing just led to another and another.  Nothing really improved.  By mid-decade, downsizing and reengineering were also on the wane.”  (194)


Hamel and Prahalad go competing for the future.  The battle is over intellectual leadership and the trick is to develop foresight about the future.  (195)  Managers must develop their company’s unique core competencies.  (196)  Reach out to people at the periphery because “the capacity for strategic innovation increases proportionately with each mile you move away from headquarters.”  (199) 


It sounds good but being first to reach the future may not be the best.  Those who come along after the mistakes are made often make all the money and focusing on your competencies is not a cure-all.  (202)


Tracy and Wiersema presented three value disciplines – operational excellence, product leadership, and customer intimacy.  To dominate a market, master one.  (204)  But is this breakthrough strategy or just slick buttered popcorn for the mind?  (210) 


James Moore says innovation wins.  It requires customer and supplier participation.  Cooperation is key; competition is dead.  “Start thinking of yourself as a gardener or forester and the environment you do business in as an ecosystem.”  (210-11)


Brandenburger and Nalebuff apply game theory to business.  In the game you can change any of the five basic elements: the players, the added values, the rules, the tactics, or the boundaries of the game.  (217-18)  You can have both peace and war, win-win and win-lose. 


The authors suggest six concepts:

  1. Emphasize something.
  2. Be unique
  3. It’s not just a numbers game.  Think in terms of a coevolving, unpredictable organism.
  4. Consult many minds.
  5. Commit to the truth.
  6. Business is a team sport.  (229-30)





Thomas Gilbert’s late 70s model has endured.  It emphasizes flow of information, incentives and compensations systems.  “If managing and motivating people is about anything, it is about finding ways for people to be competent and perform at their full potential.”  (233)  Focus on the environment you create.  Provide sufficient and reliable information.  Examine the tools, techniques, methods, and technology people must use.  Check out the monetary and nonmonetary incentives.  Check to see if people lack skills and need training.  (243)  Direction and confirmation are powerful motivators but often lacking.  (246) 


A number of gurus promote “open book” management.  Among other things this includes training employees to understand the critical numbers of measuring the performance of the business and sharing the financial status and financial data of the business.  (251)


Kaplan and Norton say employees need to understand four key perspectives of the business:  financial, customer, internal process, and employee perspectives. (258-260)


“‘There is more nonsense, superstition, and plain self-deception about the subject of motivation (and incentives) than about any other topic.’ (per Gilbert).  We agree.  In fact, we would add that the amount of junk published annually about the topic would fill several of the largest landfills – and should do so.”  (263)


Most people try to manage performance by telling other people what to do or not to do.  An antecedent is anything that says, “Do this.”  But antecedents don’t work very well or for very long.  People may change their bbehavior temporarily, but when we aren’t around, they just go back to their old ways.”  Antecedents get behavior started but can’t sustain it.  Lasting changes are influenced much more by what happens after the behavior, the consequence.  Consequences keep behavior going or make it stop.  (264-5)


Four types of consequences:

  1. Positive reinforcement – the carrot
  2. Punishment – the stick
  3. Extinction – “Ignore it and maybe it will go away.”
  4. Negative reinforcement – “Do it or else.”


Positive reinforcement is most useful.  People will respond to negative reinforcement just to the extent necessary to avoid the negative consequence.  Extinction usually works eventually but takes a very long time with occasional outbursts or relapses.  Positive reinforcement teaches people what to do and not just what not to do and it helps them perform to their full potential.  The most powerful way to manage behavior is to build performance reinforcement into the job by reengineering the work.  (266-272)


Tips for positive reinforcement:

  • Match the reinforcer to the desires, needs, and preferences of the individual.
  • Make reinforcement contingent on performance.
  • Make reinforcement immediate.
  • Reinforce often
  • Don’t make people compete for reinforcement.
  • Don’t pair reinforcement with instruction
  • Don’t forget compensation.  (272-4)


“When it comes to pay, stick with knowledge and skill that you can observe and objectively measure.”  (284)




Future Organizational Designs.  This section provides an introduction to Peter Drucker’s thinking on post-capitalism and the knowledge society plus assessments by Handy and Peters on decentralization, networks, and the boundaryless (Federalist) organization.


Extensive bibliography and biographical sketch on the guru’s included.