Saturday, April 27, 2024

The Great Hall - where now with AI? It is not 'Human Connection V Innovative Technology' but 'Human Connection + Innovative Technology'

Interesting talk to those who train Lawyers in ‘The Great Hall’ of the Headquarters to The Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales (ICAEW). The hall was packed and I have to say, although my talk was challenging, it was a great crowd, open to the idea that they really do have to change in the face of AI. Then again, I would say that… but let me explain.

The theme of the day was Human Connection V Innovative Technology. I see this a lot at conferences, setting up the human connection (social) against the machine (AI). I think this is ALL wrong. It is, and has always been a dialectic, human connection (social) PLUS the machine. Everyone had a smartphone, most use it for work, comms and social media. The binary between human and tech has long disappeared. 

We need more human connection in the workplace was the cry, yet, when I asked how many worked at least part of the week at home, the entire hall put their hands up. My point was that when it comes to action, people vote with their feet and use tech at home to do their work. For the last 38 years taking the train from Brighton to London, absolutely no one talked to me. This is the culture of London and the SE. The train passengers were all on their phones talking, messaging, posting, reading and listening to music and podcasts! AI is no different, as in speaking to ChatGPT you are speaking to ‘US '– it has been trained on data we created over generations, the hive mind.

After showing the astounding case study of Moderna, perhaps the most successful case study in the application of AI in the workplace, with 400 expert Chatbots performing a vast range of assistive, performance support functions within the organisation, led by the C-Suite and the CIO, not L&D, I explained that their greatest take up was in their ‘legal’ department at 100%. Why? It is largely documentation and process informed by expertise.

We tend to sanctify the idea of human connection but when I travel I love the automatic Customs' Gates at Gatwick and Heathrow. I have been dealing with lawyers all of my life and love ‘Docusign’ as it means fewer meetings with… lawyers. 

After explaining the naivety of the position that AI will just ‘augment roles and jobs’ by showing actual case studies and job losses, my appeal was to L&D to step up to the plate and get on with helping organisations to use AI to scale their people. Not by carpet bombing them with yet more AI produced courses but helping implement ‘performance support’, just as Moderna has. They are not using AI to create yet more courses but encourage agency to learn and perform among their staff.

Flannel on the panel

After my Keynote, we had an interesting panel. Chris Papworth was excellent. He’s doing real stuff in the legal profession and it was clear that many in the room had engaged with the AI issues. But the conversation took an odd turn when the main topic swung into ‘creativity’. These were all nice people, including the panel chair, but it seemed like an odd thing to focus on, as the legal profession is hardly known as a hotbed of creativity. When I hear this word, I get uneasy, and I was honest in saying; 1) I was doubtful that it was a skill at all, 2) that even if it were, I had doubts that it could be taught in a training course, 3) that you should not be running creativity courses as that is not what the business asks for or needs. I relayed my disastrous experience at one I attended in the NHS years ago – tell me as many uses for a brick… you know the game…

It confirmed my more general view, and I said as much, that L&D has wrongly adopted a ‘supply’ model, when we should be reponsding to ‘demand’. We’re dreaming up courses on abstract nouns that no one asked for and fewer still actually like or see as relevant. The danger is that AI bypasses L&D, as we still see our role as carpet bombing people with courses, when we know there needs to be a balance with performance support, which is what 999/10000 people are using Generative AI for. When you get inside an organisation and align L&D with business objectives, as Moderna has done, AI is a wunderkind. 


This new world is about ‘agency’, giving control to employees through agents that support them. We talked about the agents that Moderna and other are using, and the new agentic workflow, the real productivity gains, real examples, real data. This is the new world, one where we can scale people to help the organisation grow and flourish. The first step, and we’ve done this regularly, is to truly realign the business to future business objectives, find the sweet spots for AI adoption, support that adoption (a change management process) and prove it quickly through quick wins that show ROI productivity gains in learning and the business. It takes two days to really get the ball rolling, using the tools, doing things that you can use for the business case. Don’t worry about creating a sense of urgency – AI has done that already – it is urgent. What you need is buy in from the senior team and they need to be convinced by solid examples and numbers.


Don’t get me wrong, I spoke to lots of people at this event who really liked being challenged. They had made the mind shift, wanted to use the tools. These were good, smart people who want to do good things. It was fun, a real buzz, well organised. I love these sector-specific events as you feel you can really effect change by being specific to their sector needs. Coming back in the train, no one spoke to me!


Friday, April 19, 2024

Is L&D being flipped?

Learning Technologies 2024. Great to see some people, have a hot and sweaty browse round the exhibition and chew the cud over a few bottles of beer in The Fox, that’s always fun. But the best time to ask questions about the future is not during the euphoria of the party, but after. What is actually happening? Where are we going?

AI headlines

It is the Learning TECHNOLOGIES Conference. We are in the most important technology transition since the invention of writing, an existential technology that is literally changing what we are as a species, therefore what we learn, why we learn and how we learn. AI was headlining at our Glastonbury. But as Ben Betts said, and I agree, it was all content production and add ons. The real AI in learning was like the Sex Pistols battering it out down the Thames, completely ignoring the Establishment in the Exel. It is so disruptive a force that no one knows how to deal with it, so they try to package it, contain it, get it to create courses, use it as a signal – look we’re down with this new tech! But no one is buying it - metaphorically or literally. It is bypassing L&D.

L&D folk playing little role when Copilot is introduced and may play a diminishing role in these choices. This is now an enterprise level decision as it leads to increases in productivity. Training may not be the best lever here - productivity tools and performance support seem more powerful and the evidence suggests they're working. I have a whole rack of research papers and data on this. As productivity rises through performance support, the need for courses will diminish. AI is being adopted by everyone and organisations are seeing hte benefits but like water it is a rising tide, with no ebb that may be dissolving old methods of training See my analysis here.

This very point was well made by Egle Vinauskaite and her recent report. This should be turned on its head, as the business is seeing massive uplift through productivity and performance support using AI outside of L&D, yet still thinks AI is about course production.

I suspect that footfall and stand space were down this year. I know one large company who spent half what they spent last year. Others, who I know are not making money, were still spending large. But there was just this general commentary and feeling that it was same old, same old.

Freelancers certainly finding it tough. This was confirmed in this fascinating study where dramatic falls in freelance jobs in hte very sweet spots where instructional designers sit - writing, coding, image generation. This is marked after the introduction of GenAI.

What was on show were old, not new, technologies. Where was the real meat around agentic workflow, the real impact that Sora and other tools will have on video in learning, how sophisticated RAG, large context windows and open-source models are in AI, it's real power in performance support. How often did you see those two words 'Performance support'? 

Loss of direction

There were good people saying the same thing we’ve heard for decades about our lack of business alignment and our failure to look outside of our bubble to what is happening in the real world. Donald Taylor always teases this out nicely and Heather Stefanski and Chara Balasubramaniam said what had to be said. But our failure on this front has been gargantuan. We are now a supply, not demand-led industry . We decide what people want – yes it’s DEI and Leadership and resilience – and hose it out. There is no attention paid to evaluation and we wilfully ignore the evidence showing that all of this spend could be a waste of time and money. The evidence is frightening – so we turn our head away. All of those people in those horrible Fred Perry type tops, with their embroidered logos, selling you renewal licences on their LMS, more content and compliance training. All of those little companies on the fringes, spending money they don't have but desperate to be noticed. We are not at the forefront of organisations leading the charge. This is a ship that has lost direction.

Flipped L&D

We may even have a flipped L&D, where we are serving some abstract notion of what we want organisations to be rather than supporting hte development of individuals within organisations. Our focus on Leadership has left the rest somewhat abandoned. Our focus on compliance is all about protecting the organisation from its own employees, the focus on DEI is about splitting organisations into groups and often setting them against each other. In all of this personal agency has been lost. We are being told what to do.

Speaking to investors they’re struggling to identify anything other than old-school companies, flat on ideas, low on revenues. In general, I spoke to business owners who are seeing revenues falter. They see what Microsoft, Google, and OpenAI are doing and want to see how this will make companies grow. In truth we have failed to tie learning to productivity and growth. We have tied it to the mast of old solutions and old technology. I genuinely don't see how we are now contributing to increasing productivity, bringing employees with us and generally improving organisations.

More courses

Few love what we do. They tend to roll their eyes at the mention of yet another several hours of e-learning from your LMS. They really don’t like that cartoony, page turning stuff, peppered with multiple choice questions and speech bubbles. We carpet bomb employees with compliance, DEI and other courses they don’t see a real need for – there’s always another abstract noun to cover – ‘resilience’ whatever…. We know that most learning takes place informally and that performance support really matters and that AI does this wonderfully – yet what do we see – wall to wall LMS and course content vendors. Even there, note that Skillsoft had a tiny stand - sign of the times!

Inward looking

Joan Keevill, Niall Gavin and a few others did a good job on reporting but notice how L&D do so little reporting now on social media. What there was often just puffery – who was speaking, how great they were, silly pics, not what they said, when what we needed was discussion and debate. I think that’s a sign of this inward -looking culture. We no longer share as much substance as we did. However, it was good to see John Helmer and Rob Clarke there doing their thing and hopefully we’ll get more from those great sources when its all over.


These shows have to happen but they tend to become rituals. A chance to meet your mates, have some fun, get out of the office. But how many are actually counting the cost, wondering where all the leads are? Facing tough financial times? Did we challenge or backslap ourselves? I see little evidence, apart from Daniel Susskind, of real, honest challenge. To be fair I have found it at other conferences – the smaller events, OEB with its Big Debate, on social media, live podcasts on contentious subjects at the conference. Exel is such a soulless place. At least Olympia had some soul and you could pop out to the real London.


Wednesday, April 17, 2024

Learning Technologies Conference 2024: If you want to move a graveyard you will get no help from the incumbents!

As you wander around the exhibition at Learning Technologies 2024 exhibition or attend the conference, remember that all is not as it seems. Forget the demand for ‘more training’ on AI, more ‘skills training’ from L&D on AI. That’s not how this is playing out. I spoke alongside the main keynote Daniel Susskind at the CIPD Conference and he said then what he said now – train people on how to use AI. To be fair he’s an economist and doesn’t know much about workplace learning. But this is the misfire I’m talking about. It’s the hammer and nail problem. If you carry a (course mindset) around like a hammer, everything will look like a nail (course)

As L&D try to get to grips with AI, they misfire for one simple reason. AI, like water, is a rising tide that never ebbs. It seeps and soaks into the workplace, and workplace learning, like an invisible force. It has bypassed L&D, and it is everywhere. 

The best technology is invisible

Outside of work, it is what search is, mediates social media, catches harmful content, is the interfaces to your streaming services, your passport at border gates, scanners in supermarkets, sensors in cars, ANPR on our roads. You are rarely out of sight or the mind of intelligent AI but you rarely see it as AI. The world is now awash with invisible AI.

The same is now true in learning. At work if you use Microsoft, Google or most other services, AI has saturated into almost everything. Not just Copilot but predictive text, spellchecking, keeping spam out of your email. Behind the scenes things are becoming more automated through AI – they just happen. Learning is now happening all the time with technology that is almost invisible. 

The mistake, of course, is to see AI as a course content tool. I don’t mind this as it will and is happening, disrupting the whole e-learning content market. But that it is not what we used to call the ‘killer app’. There’s lots of this at Learning Technologies, as it is how L&D thinks and the vendors sell to what people think they want, not necessarily to waht people are doing.

The real killer app is something we’ve known works for many years, with a long history back to the 70s and 80s but substantiated by great work done by Marsick, Watkins, Gery, Rossett, Cross, Wallce and others for many years. It hasn’t happened on scale, as it has been something that has been very hard to implement – until now. 


Almost all current use of AI in learning is actually ‘performance support’. The hundreds of millions using ChatGPT and similar services use it for task and performance support. No one is typing – ‘Give me a short course on X’ into ChatGPT or Claude. Everyone is saying ‘Can you tell me, help me, show me… what, when where or how to do things, get things done…’

We have it open as a tab as it is do damn useful. I use it as much as I use search. Once you learn how to move from single queries to real dialogue you start to use it in your workflow, the whole workflow learning thing suddenly makes sense, it becomes a reality. As you start to use it for more sophisticated tasks, data analysis, coding, critiquing work, creating text and other media, you feel the power of it as a performance assistant.

Perfect performance interface

You know what you want, you know what context you are in at that moment and, as Papert said, the perfect interface is not some clumsy menu system in a VLE, LMS or forward and back buttons on an e-learning course. Turns out to be a box into which you ask it something. Papert described this is a ‘low floor, high ceiling, wide walls’ interface. Low floor – amazingly simple to use. High ceiling – gives you back far more that you expected. Wide walls – seems to know everything. The most successful interfaces are becoming simple and as frictionless as possible.

Personal agency and engagement

What makes it work, unlike an LMS or e-learning course, is that it gives you personal agency.  You feel in control and the reward is feeling that you’re learning and getting things done. It so often exceeds your expectations. The excitement of using these tools is what made GenAI the fasted adopted technology ever. You don’t have to worry about ‘engagement’. The whole world has ‘engaged’ with this technology, with billions of uses per month – at home, in schools, Universities and, of course – the workplace.

Digital agents

GenAI has already expanded into performance support through agents. I have my Digital-Don. A good test for any expert at the conference is to ask if they have a persona GPT or agent. If they don’t ask why not. It takes about 30 minutes to build one with zero coding skills.

I really like those who are doing things with digital coaches and assistants and there are a few of these around. They get it. Agents are the next evolution in using AI for learning. We had hints with early LLM use that specific types of prompts improved performance, things like, telling it that the results really mattered or expressing emotions. This direction of travel is now being built in GenAI.

Why is this big news? It gives teaching and learning potency to an LLM. Imagine the agent as a human, that does not just prompt and wait on an answer, but engages in dialogue about what is wanted, initiates an actual learning experience or actual task as a workflow.GPT3.5 with an agentic workflow already outperforms GPT4 and prmise3s to amplify the effectiveness of LLM services,

Agentic workflows reflect on the output you give it, improves it and tells you what you’ve need to know or do. An agent can look at output 1, critique it, find errors and improve the next output. You can have specific types of agents, such as a critic agent, teaching agent, domain specific task agent.

Agentic tools can be used such as a lookup tool, such a solve a complex maths problem or do some data analysis, things the LLM cannot do. Examples of tools would be Wolfram Alpha for mathematical analysis, searching the web, searching Wikipedia, email and calendar productivity tools, image generation, image captioning or object detection. We have seen all of these incorporated into AI services. They are there now and resuable.

Planning is another capability. Agentic approach allow the tech to plan and explain things step by step to improve performance. Agents can break things down into steps, as well as iterate within those steps. Send to a job support agent or research agent and this will be executed.

Multi-agent collaboration is hugely promising. You prompt an LLM, saying you are a CEO, supervisor, state a job role, then generate complex outputs. The difference is that different agents can debate each other to improve performance. This is a bit like creating a team suited to the task, with different characteristics and capabilities.

Agentic reasoning will matter this year. Agentic workflows (all of the above) where agents do things with the output from other agents.


If I were an investor or someone buying at LT – I’d start with ‘performance support’. Learning pool’s last acquisition was a Performance Support company, others are looking for such companies. The revolution should be around performance in workplace learning. This is real paradigm shift but you won’t see it much on the exhibition floor or conference talks. I say it again - If you want to move a graveyard you will get no help from the incumbents.


Monday, April 15, 2024

Pfeffer - Leadership BS!

Jeffrey Pfeffer is the Thomas D. Dee II Professor of Organisational Behavior at the Stanford University Graduate School of Business. His interest in human resources, organisational theory and behaviour has led him to reflect on the nature of leadership and leadership training. He has written about evidence-based management in Hard Facts, Dangerous Half-Truths, and Total Nonsense: Profiting from Evidence-based Management (2006) where he dismisses popular business wisdom in; leadership, strategy, change, talent, financial incentives, and work-life balance, often touted by consultants and training companies in favour of hard decision making based on data and facts.


In Leadership BS (2015), Pfeffer eschews what he sees as the usual platitudes in Leadership theory and training, for a more realistic view of the world as messy and complex. He exposes what he sees as the nostrums, stories, fictions, anecdotes, promises, glib simplicities, bromides, romanticism and myth-making feel-good nonsense that passes for Leadership training, his solution being realism. The aim is to reject the normative wishes with evidence and the realities of the workplace.

Unequivocally, he claims that the Leadership industry has not only empirically failed, with study after study showing workplace discontent, but also that it contributes to that failure. As the cult of leadership has risen, its perceived effectiveness has fallen. Bullying, stress, discontent are the norm and he presents a huge amount of evidence to show repeated failures in so called ‘leadership’. What he uncovers is an almost wilful avoidance of evidence, measurement and data. Despite the $20-$40 billion spend, the results are depressingly disappointing. He goes as far as suggesting that the very construct of leadership, as presented in much leadership consultancy and training, was invented as a simplification to deliberately obfuscate the real complexity of the workplace. 

Leadership training

His arguments against ‘Leadership training’ are pretty damning. Many who offer leadership consultancy and courses have never led anything and if they have their track record is rarely one of substantial success. In fact, he sees too many compensation consultants and linked to the leadership industry and many with a woeful lack of actual expertise & knowledge. This leads to glib advice and recommendations that peddle inspiration not the realities of management. They often rely largely on storytelling and anecdote, and rarely include evaluation as part of the process (apart from primitive happy-sheet course data and self-evaluation). The leadership industry is therefore wholly unaccountable.

In the content he finds stories and anecdotes (as opposed to evidence) that are exaggerated, even fabricated. They also conveniently ignore actual successful leaders that don’t fit their neat model. These myths are counter-productive as they produce cynicism in employees. The rhetoric is not matched by actual action and behaviour. Worse, those who don’t conform to the out-dated leadership model don’t get promoted and may even get fired. Others, such as women and certain cultural minorities, that value modesty and collaboration, can also suffer. 

Leadership traits

A further critique centres around precise leadership qualities or traits. They are, he thinks, wrong-headed, as they focus on attributes not action and decision making. Given that the book was published in 2015, he was prescient in identifying Trump as a typical product of the charismatic leader cult. He played the leadership game and won. Pfeffer therefore punctures the idea that ‘modesty’ is an admired and effective leadership trait. He draws on Maccoby’s book The Productive Narcissist (2003), and his own evidence, to show that modesty, far from being a virtue, stops managers from thinking for themselves and being resilient in the face of adversity. It is energy, confidence and dominance that gets them where they are, not modesty. The Leadership industry may be holding back women and other potential managers by promoting false promises, such as modesty. He also accuses HR and talent management companies of being dishonest here in training for these qualities then recruiting the very opposite.

He also questioned that staple of leadership courses - authenticity - as a quality for leadership. He flips this to show that good managers need to do what people need them to do, not what they as managers simply want to do, not pander to their own views of themselves. Flight attendants, shop assistants, sales people and many others don’t operate by being totally ‘authentic’, neither do managers and leaders. He describes the “delicious irony” of leadership trainers who “train” people to be “authentic”, as if it is a trait that can be acquired in a classroom. Being authentic is for Pfeffer pretty much the opposite of what leaders need to be.

Much as trust would seem to be desirable in leadership, it may not be that simple. Bernie Madoff inspired ‘trust’. Trust, like faith, can lead one into real trouble. It may be desirable not to trust lawyers, competitors and politicking managers. True objectivity and realism may only be the result of not trusting everyone to tell the truth within an organisation, as you will be misled, even duped. You need to be on the mark, alert to deception, moves, protecting the organisation and that means distrusting some people.


Rich in real examples of leaders who were less than ideal, he shows how leadership training misses the mark most of the time – especially with the titans of tech; Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, Jeff Bezos and Larry Ellison. Political, sports and other leaders get a similar treatment. Most of the positive examples turn out to have serious flaws. So, when we look at what are called successful leaders, they turn out to be very different from what the leadership industry tells us. His recommendation is to get serious on the research, mainly what is effective, then hold so-called 'leaders' to account - not with happy-sheet nostrums but real accountability. It is not that he promotes immodesty, being inauthentic and telling lies, only to recognise that leaders and employees are people and that human nature always wins out. The remedy is to identify what you need from proposed leaders and then to make sure that they perform to those measures. This is where HR and remuneration committees fail. They pretend to be doing this when what they actually do is pander to an outdated cult of leadership, based on outdated concepts of the nature and value of leadership.


Pfeffer’s challenge is to recognise reality and accept that the workplace and people are much more complex than the feel-good training courses suggest. In reality, leaders’ behaviours are often at odds with those of the organisation. Their interests in terms of rewards, promotion and progress are often at odds with those they manage and even the organisations they lead. There is a lack of definition, theory and practice around the concept and it often distracts from the real needs in workplace learning.

He recommends that you:

   Build your power base relentlessly (and sometimes shamelessly)

   Embrace ambiguity 

   When the situation demands change—adapt

   Master the science of influence

It is not that leadership training is wrong, just that getting things done requires trade-offs and tough decisions. The danger is that organisations handicap themselves by training leaders to embrace utopian behaviours and avoid bold decisions, innovation and the realities of organisational growth.


Pfeffer has been criticised for being too forceful in blaming learning and development for the ills of Leadership theory and training. They argue that complexity does not negate efforts to instill good practice in leadership.g 


The fundamental problem outlined in Getting beyond the BS of leadership literature (2016) is to confuse ‘ought’ with ‘is’. Just because you think something ought to be the case doesn’t mean it is. In fact, confirmation bias tends to produce the wrong solutions in this area, driven by moral and not organisational imperatives. The division of leadership into good and bad traits is a mistake, as it uses a problematic approach to human nature and ignores context. Quoting Machiavelli’s The Prince (1532), he says it is sometimes necessary to do bad things to achieve good results. Leaders need to be pragmatists.


Machiavelli, N., 2008. Machiavelli's the Prince: Bold-Faced Principles on Tactics, Power, and Politics. Sterling Publishing Company, Inc..

Maccoby, M., 2003. The productive narcissist: The promise and peril of visionary leadership. Broadway.

Pfeffer, J. and Sutton, R.I., 2006. Hard facts, dangerous half-truths, and total nonsense: Profiting from evidence-based management. Harvard Business Press.

Pfeffer, J., 2016. Getting beyond the BS of leadership literature. McKinsey Quarterly, 1, pp.90-95

Pfeffer, J., 2015. Leadership BS. HarperCollins.

Kellerman on followership

Barbara Kellerman is a Professor at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government. Long a critic of most approaches to leadership theory and training, she focuses more on what leadership is not, with more of a focus on what she calls ‘followership’. She has written many books on the topic, from
Bad Leadership (2004) to The End of Leadership (2012), won many awards, and is an accomplished international speaker.

History of leadership

Critical of the recent 40 year focus on leadership, she is critical of those who ignore the longer history of leadership, from Plato onwards. She points to his view that someone should only become a leader at 50 or above, as lived experience is often critical. Calling on Machiavelli, Locke, Hobbes, Montesquieu, Marx and others, she is surprised that this rich set of reflective views from history are ignored in modern leadership scholarship. In particular, she is critical of the ideas that leaders in themselves are critical for success, the ‘Great Man (usually)’ theories of leadership that focus on qualities and traits, as if there was an essence of leadership that can be distilled and used as a potion or remedy. Hitler, she claims, did not kill 6 million Jews in the Holocaust. In fact, he killed not a single Jew, so reading history just in terms of biographical causality is a mistake.

Power, Authority and Influence

For Kellerman, the Pollyanna world of leadership literature and training is unreal. What is real, are; Power, Authority and Influence. Never have we had so much attention, books, money spent and training on leadership – and so little of it. We must therefore look, like good historians, at context.

Leaders pay themselves more and more, are glad to reduce costs and numbers of employees, shift to cheaper manufacturing and services abroad. Often referring to Putin, Xi Jinping, Erdogan and Trump as examples of leadership as the exercise of power. Leadership industry

Leadership industry

She sees the ‘Leadership industry’ as a 40 year aberration, an industry that has dominated management training, to its detriment. In general, she is dissatisfied with the fixation on leadership and the focus on traits of leaders and leadership. Look around, she asks, and see if leadership has improved after 40 years of this focus on leadership and leadership training? The scholarly evidence for success is scant. Leadership, she thinks, needs to be seen as a system not a person, which is why she is sceptical about the leadership industry and its often trite recommendations. It has become a money making proposition, a leadership-industrial complex but, she claims, it is complex in another sense, in that it cannot be taught easily and quickly.

Leadership ‘attribution error’

Critical of the leadership industry; the countless courses, workshops, books and rhetoric devoted to Leadership, she puts most of it down to an ‘attribution error’ - the tendency to attribute all success and failures to leaders and leadership. This, she regards as a basic and na├»ve mistake but one that drives untold amounts of unnecessary spend in organisations on consultancy and training.

In fact, most of the sophisticated political developments have been about the devolution of power away from leaders to others. From the end of the 20th C into the 21st C this has continued with the devolution of power. Cultural change and therefore context, have rendered leaders less important.

Most of the books and research focus onon traits for leaders and fail to focus on bad leadership, so she proposed seven types of bad leader in Bad Leadership (2004):

1. Ineffective

2. Rigid

3. Intemperate

4. Insular

5. Corrupt

6. Callous

7. Evil

What we have to recognise is that things are often volatile, uncertain, complex, ambiguous, globalised and driven by technological change. These contexts are complex, so rather than focus on traits, look at the complexity of context as it is plural, proximate, distal and temporal. This is not about you, it is about change.


We have become fixated and obsessed by leaders at the expense of followers and the common good. As we overestimate the power of the leader, which we think where power, authority and influence lies, we correspondingly underestimate the power and influence of followers. Yet there is no leader without a follower, leaders do not exist without followers. The focus is therefore on the wrong end of the problem. We have too many leaders, which is the cult of individualism not community, when what really matters is to be realistic about followers, again a complex concept, which she classifies into:






Leadership and followership are intertwined. In understanding the idea and varieties of followership, one therefore understands leadership. The idea that everyone is a leader is, for her, ridiculous, as they are in practice, mostly various types of follower. The Western trajectory, since the Enlightenment, has seen power and influence wane and become increasingly devolved, so we have a very different context, one where followership is dominant.


Kellerman’s categories have been criticised for their potential to pigeonhole individuals into static categories. There's also a concern that by focusing primarily on follower types, the theory may overlook the relational aspects between leaders and followers and how these relationships impact organizational culture and effectiveness.


Interest in Kellerman’s ideas have grown in the light of recent political events, especially in the US. She saw a turning point with Nixon and Monica Lewinsky in 1998, which degraded attitudes towards leadership. Will we continue with these more recent political divides? Avoid the regression to autocracy? We are seeing serious cleavages in countries, as followers have had enough of their leaders, now seen as the elite and out of touch. We have seen this in the US, France, UK and many other countries. A big mistake in business schools is to see that leadership courses focus on the organisation not the common good. We need to move away from this fixation on leadership.


It is unfortunate that serious scholars, such as Kellerman and Pfeffer, are often ignored by scholars, consultants and trainers in leadership, as they offer a more sophisticated interpretation of the complexity of the issues, rather than the delivery of simple platitudes. Along with Pfeffer at Stanford, Kellerman provides a refreshing and more sophisticated theory of leadership and followership that escapes the normal focus on traits. Leaders are much more weakly positioned than they used to be. Influence matters more. Hierarchies are more horizontal.


Kellerman, B., 2012. The End of Leadership. New York, NY: Harper Business.

Kellerman, B., 2008. How followers are creating change and changing leaders. Boston, MA: Harvard Business School.

Kellerman, B., 2004. Bad leadership: What it is, how it happens, why it matters. Harvard Business Press.

Kellerman, B., 1999. Reinventing leadership: Making the connection between politics and business. SUNY Press.

Kellerman, B., 1984. The political presidency: Practice of leadership. Oxford University Press, USA.


Mintzberg crtiticisms of leadership theory

Henry Mintzberg is an academic at McGill University in Montreal, Canada. His work on management includes the study of managerial roles, strategy formation, and organisational structures. He is highly critical of contemporary theories around Management and Leadership.


In The Structuring of Organizations (1979) he presents a comprehensive framework for the complexities of organisational structure and categorises the structures of organisations into five main types:

1. Simple Structure

A low degree of departmentalisation, wide spans of control, centralised authority, and little formalisation. It is flexible and fast to respond to changes because it has a simple reporting structure and an informal way of operating. This could be a small startup with a few employees where the founder makes all the major decisions and management is handled informally.

2. Machine Bureaucracy

This structure is typified by a high degree of formalisation and centralisation, with tasks and roles clearly defined through a hierarchical structure. It is efficient for routine tasks and stable environments. For example, a large manufacturing company with assembly lines, such as the Ford Motor Company in the early 20th century, would be a classic example of a machine bureaucracy.

3.Professional Bureaucracy

This operates with a high degree of autonomy for professionals within the organisation. It relies on highly trained professionals who demand control over their own work. This could be a hospital, where doctors, nurses, and medical staff have specialised expertise and operate with a certain level of autonomy in their respective areas of professional practice.

4. Divisionalized Form

This type of structure occurs in large corporations that operate under multiple divisions. Each division acts as its own company, with its own set of operational functions like finance, marketing, R&D, etc. For example, General Electric, which had numerous divisions each focused on different product lines like aviation, power, healthcare, and renewable energy.

5. Adhocracy

A flexible, adaptable, and informal organisational structure that emphasises innovation and creativity. This structure is common in dynamic, complex environments where the ability to respond quickly to changes is crucial. Could be tech companies like Google, known for their innovative culture, where employees are encouraged to work on projects they are passionate about, and hierarchies are less pronounced. He discusses how these different structures correspond to different types of organisational structures that need different strategies.

Management v Leadership

Organisational complexity led him to write in Managers Not MBAs (2004) where he criticises traditional MBA programs for producing graduates with a misleading view of management and responsibilities. He criticised MBA Programs for overemphasising quantitative and abstract aspects of management, at the expense of experience and insight into organisational dynamics. As organisations are complex, with very different structures and problems, management training, he believed, should be rooted in real-world experience that develops managers who understand these complexities and the role of leadership within them.

He criticised the separation made between 'management' and 'leadership', as he thought they were intertwined. Managers need to be leaders, and effective leaders need to understand management. Neither did he agree with Leadership theories and courses that promote Leadership traits.

What was more important was a holistic and engaged form of management, where managers were wholly involved and immersed in the operations of their organisations, getting to grips with the detail and dynamics, especially of people.


He also promoted the idea of Communityship over leadership. Leadership is exaggerated and puts people on a pedestal, when a healthier, less hierarchical and more communal attitude is necessary. 


His five category models is seen by some as too rigid and doesn't sufficiently account for the rapidly changing nature of contemporary organisations. The model can potentially oversimplify complex organisational dynamics and interactions. There vis also a sense of his work being rooted in the machine and manufacturing age.


Mintzberg, H., 2004. Managers not MBSs. Berrett-Koehler Publishers

Mintzberg, H. (1979). The structuring of organizations. Englewood Cliffs NJ: Prentice Hall. 

Kotter on leadership and the 8 steps

John Kotter is a professor at Harvard Business School, known for his work on change management and leadership. Best known for his 8-step change management process he also has related views on leadership and the management of change, asserting that management involves dealing with complexity, while leadership is about coping.


Throughout his career, Kotter has written extensively on the topics of leadership and change management. In his articles, What Leaders Really Do (Harvard Business Review (1990), also in Leading Change: Why Transformation Efforts Fail (Harvard Business Review, 1995), he explains the differences between leadership and management, arguing that both are necessary but fundamentally different in their functions and purposes within an organisation. Both laid the groundwork for his book Leading Change (1996), where he explains the most common mistakes organisations and leaders make during transformation efforts and provides solutions for overcoming these challenges.

His later book Our Iceberg is Melting (2006) presents his concept of change management in a fable format. Set in a colony of penguins facing a potentially devastating problem, the book simplifies the principles of his change theory, making them accessible and easy to apply. Then in  A Sense of Urgency (2008) he delves deeper into the first step of his 8-Step Process for Leading Change, arguing that establishing a true sense of urgency is crucial for the success of any change effort. He distinguishes between true urgency and complacency or false urgency, offering practical strategies to cultivate and maintain a genuine sense of urgency.

Kotter’s leadership theory primarily focuses on the distinctions between leadership and management. He argues that while both are essential, they serve different purposes. Management is about handling complexity, maintaining order, and delivering consistent results. Leadership, he claims, is about coping with change, setting a direction, and inspiring people to overcome obstacles.

Change Management Theory

In Leading Change (1996), Kotter's most influential book, introduces his famous 8-Step Process for Leading Change, providing a comprehensive approach to managing and leading organizational change. The book emphasizes the need for urgency and a powerful coalition to successfully drive transformations.

Kotter's change management theory is best encapsulated in his 8-Step Process for Leading 

1. Create a Sense of Urgency: Help others see the need for change and the importance of acting immediately.

2. Build a Guiding Coalition: Assemble a group with enough power to lead the change effort.

3. Form a Strategic Vision and Initiatives: Craft a vision to direct the change effort and develop strategic initiatives to achieve that vision.

4. Enlist a Volunteer Army: Encourage a large group of people to spend time and energy making the change happen.

5. Enable Action by Removing Barriers: Remove obstacles to change and empower individuals to execute the vision.

6. Generate Short-term Wins: Plan for visible improvements in performance, or "wins."

7. Sustain Acceleration: Press harder after achieving early changes.

8. Institute Change: Anchor the changes in corporate culture to ensure long-term success.

Views on Training

He emphasises the importance of continuous learning and adaptability in the modern business environment and is an advocate for training that not only develops individual skills but also fosters an organizational culture that is responsive to change and encourages innovation.


While Kotter's ideas are widely respected, some critics argue that his approach to change management may oversimplify complex organisational dynamics. Critics often point out that the ‘linear’ nature of his 8-step process doesn't fully account for the unpredictable and iterative nature of change in real-world scenarios. Additionally, Kotter's focus on top-down leadership in driving change can be seen as limiting in organisations that thrive on decentralized decision-making and employee empowerment. Asa theorist he also misses the considerable role that technology now plays in leadership and change management.


Kotter's legacy in the fields of leadership and change management is significant. His theories have shaped contemporary understanding of how effective leadership differs from management, and his 8-step process for change is a staple in business schools and organisations globally. Kotter’s work has not only influenced how leaders think about and manage change but has also provided a practical framework that many have used to guide successful transformations in various organisational contexts.


Kotter, John P. (2008) A Sense of Urgency. Harvard Business Press.

Kotter, J. P. , (1996) Leading Change. Boston: Harvard Business School Press.

Kotter, J. P. (1995) Leading Change: Why Transformation Efforts Fail. Harvard Business Review,

Kotter, J.P., (1990). What leaders really do. Harvard business review on leadership. Boston, MA: Harvard Business School.