Leaders Should Act Like Monarchs Not Servants?

Business Services

During the last year I have been thinking about how the very different the management styles of our clients reflect in their DNA, organsiational effectiveness and, ultimately, on their value.  I was reminded of Charles Handy’s highly influential 1978 book called Gods of Management, which I read back in 1989. In it, he argues that organisations and their managers are under the sway of four archetypal Greek gods: Zeus, Apollo, Athena and Dionysus.

  1. The Power Culture: Based on Zeus, this culture is one of centralised, or top-down, power and influence.
  2. The Role Culture: Based on Apollo, this culture is a bureaucratic one, run by strict procedures, narrowly defined roles and precisely delineated powers.
  3. The Task Culture: Based on Athena, this culture is small-team-based, results- and solutions-oriented, and marked by flexibility, adaptability and empowerment.
  4. The Person Culture: Based on Dionysius, this culture focuses on the individual. Such an organisation is value-oriented, people-focused and geared toward meeting individual employees’ self-actualisation needs.


Of course, not all organisations are influenced by only one of these gods. In fact, says Handy, it is important to realise that the most effective organisations are the ones that create a balance of power between each of the gods and place a particular god in ascendancy depending on what needs to get done.  A number of our deals have had Zeus as the founders, assisted by Apollo or Athena the FD or COO, all supported by a Dionysius.  Too much of one can result in a highly disenchanted workforce through to headless chickens spending an eternity not meeting the team’s needs!

I recall McGregor’s Theory X and Theory Y and Maslow’s hierarchy of needs leading into the traditional management styles I was taught 35 years ago.  It was all to do with motivations, which are of course universal.

Given the world has moved on since the late 1980s when I completing a module in management theory, I thought I would have gander at more modern leadership styles.  Modern leadership styles have evolved to meet the demands of a rapidly changing and increasingly diverse workplace.  It starts with aiming to address what employees are actually looking from in a leader.

The list covers the five key attributes people want from their leaders:

  1. Employees want a leader’s respect
  2. Employees want to feel heard
  3. Employees want honesty
  4. Employees want you to follow through
  5. Employees want to feel valued



So how does all of the above feed into modern leadership styles?  I summarise below some of the most popular modern leadership styles (all with the help of GPT-4):

Transformational Leadership: Inspire and motivate employees to reach their full potential by focusing on personal growth, development, and innovation. They foster a culture of continuous improvement and encourage employees to think critically and creatively.

Servant Leadership: Prioritise the needs of their team members and work to empower and support them. They focus on collaboration, empathy, and listening to employees’ concerns and ideas. This style promotes a sense of shared responsibility and ownership.

Authentic Leadership: Genuine, transparent, and self-aware. They embrace their strengths and weaknesses, and prioritise open communication and trust. This leadership style fosters a supportive and inclusive environment where team members feel valued and heard.

Inclusive Leadership: Create a culture of diversity and inclusion, valuing and leveraging the unique perspectives and experiences of all team members. They actively work to ensure everyone has equal opportunities to contribute, learn and grow.

Situational Leadership: Adapt their style to the specific needs and circumstances of their team members. They recognise that different individuals and situations require different approaches, and they adjust their leadership strategies accordingly.

Agile Leadership: Agile leaders thrive in fast-paced, constantly changing environments. They are flexible, adaptable, and able to make quick decisions. Agile leaders promote collaboration, experimentation, and continuous learning to keep their teams agile and responsive.

Coaching Leadership: Coaching leaders focus on developing the skills and abilities of their team members. They provide guidance, feedback, and support, fostering a learning environment where employees can grow and reach their full potential.

Collaborative Leadership: Collaborative leaders emphasize teamwork, cooperation, and open communication. They work closely with team members, involving them in decision-making processes and encouraging a sense of shared responsibility and ownership.

Laissez-faire Leadership: A hands-off approach, allowing team members the freedom to work independently and make their own decisions. This style can be effective when employees are highly skilled and self-motivated but may be less effective when closer guidance is needed.

Technocratic Leadership: Technocratic leaders prioritise technical expertise and data-driven decision making. They rely on specialised knowledge and evidence-based practices to guide their teams and drive innovation.

What struck me about this long list is that there is a lot of listening, serving, co-operation, freedom, inclusion and self-awareness in here and not a great deal about actually being the point person whom everyone looks to at given moment.

At the end of the day, every orchestra needs a conductor and a score to follow!  Yes, whilst the orchestra is playing it is sometimes the turn of the violin to lead and at others the piano, but at all times they follow the music and keep the conductor’s time (we can discuss Jazz later!).  So, what better than to see what a highly experienced leader may think on the blend of traditional and modern leadership.


Photo Credit: WPP


A veteran’s perspective

A trip to Management Today’s website drew my attention to Jeremy Bullmore – Jeremy was a titan in the advertising and marketing world.  In 2002, Campaign magazine described him as “adland’s greatest philosopher”.  He joined J Walker Thompson as a copywrite trainee in 1954 and retired as its chairman in 1987 before serving on the board of WPP, and then in other roles with the company for another 30+ years as well as being an author and agony uncle! His near 70-year career ended when he retired aged 93, shortly after which he passed away in January 2023

In December 2022 when asked what he thought about servant leaders (remember, this guy had seen it all – from the post-war austerity to the snowflake-filled sunny uplands of post-Brexit Britain) he had the following to say:

“I’ve been reading about the ‘servant leader’ theory of leadership for some time now; and with growing ambivalence.

“What I like about it is the laudable attempt to see leadership not through the eyes of The Leader but through the eyes of Those Who Are to Be Led. And that’s unusual.

“For many decades, now, it’s been an unchallenged precept of good marketing that you should start by attempting to understand as much about your potential customer as you possibly can. And the key word is ‘understand’. Yes, of course, you need hard facts: age, disposable income and so on. But for a real understanding of an individual, you need much softer information.

“You need to know – or if not know, then have an informed feel for – that individual’s prejudices, preferences and predispositions. Successful leadership is at least as much about marketing as marketing; and it was high time that the consumers of leadership attracted the same level of respect and attention as the consumers of household cleaners. This much I applaud.

“Where I hesitate is over the use of the word ‘servant’. I suppose it’s there to mirror marketing mantra such as ‘the consumer is king’ – but they’re not analogous. A servant who’s a leader isn’t a servant.

“Entirely by chance, I stumbled on an insight that I found much more helpful.

“With the death of Queen Elizabeth II and the ascension of Prince Charles, massive attention has inevitably been focused on the legitimacy of hereditary monarchies and the case for republicanism. In virtually every such article – and there have been dozens – there was at least one reference to Walter Bagehot’s The English Constitution, first published in 1867. The quotes were quite short and necessarily selective; but they were all perceptive. So I thought it was time that I went directly to their source. I bought a copy.”


Leadership, understood

“Despite being over 150 years old, it’s full of both disciplined analysis and intuitive insights into human emotions that are just as pertinent today. The work is divided into nine sections, the third of which is entitled The Monarchy. This is its opening paragraph:

“The use of the Queen, in a dignified capacity, is incalculable. Without her in England, the present English Government would fail and pass away.  Most people when they read that the Queen walked on the slopes of Windsor – that the Prince of Wales went to the Derby – have imagined that too much thought and prominence were given to little things. But they have been in error, and it is nice to trace how the actions of a retired widow and an unemployed youth become of such importance.”

“It goes on: “The reason why Monarchy is a strong government is that it is an intelligible government. The mass of mankind understand it… The nature of a constitution, the action of an assembly, the play of parties, the unseen formation of a guiding opinion, are complex facts, difficult to know and easy to mistake. But the action of a single will, the fiat of a single mind, are easy ideas: anybody can make them out… When you put before the mass of mankind the question, ‘Will you be governed by a king or will you be governed by a constitution?’ the inquiry comes out thus – ‘Will you be governed in a way you understand or will you be governed in a way you do not understand?’”

“Bagehot, of course, is not dismissing the need for a constitution; for a complex set of laws and regulations that underpin a government’s ability to deliver prosperity and justice on behalf of its citizens. Constitutions are vital. He just makes the critical distinction between that for which citizens can feel an immediate emotional attachment – an individual human being; and that which requires citizens at a rational level to absorb and understand complicated laws and structures.

“Effective government employs both. And so, unsurprisingly, does effective leadership.”


An ‘easy’ idea

“The bigger the size of a leader’s audience – a nation’s population, a multinational’s workforce –  the more remote its leadership will seem too[sic] be. However diligent a commercial organisation may be in its programme of internal communications, no workforce of many thousands – or even a few hundred – is going to instinctively understand, remember and warm to a management system best expressed in a 20-slide PowerPoint presentation. Such organisations need the equivalent of a constitutional monarch: a human being, whose face is familiar and to whom people can easily relate. But that’s not all they need.

“Bagehot writes: “A constitutional monarchy has an easy idea; it has a comprehensible element for the many as well as complex laws and notions for the inquiring few.” Effective corporate leadership needs to borrow this ‘easy idea’.

“The appointed ‘monarch’ should ideally epitomise the best of what the company is in business to provide (i.e not be an all-purpose management school graduate). And he or she and should not only accept that the position is emphatically not an executive one but should whole-heartedly embrace its constitutional implications.

“It is the job of the chief executive to instal and maintain the standards and procedures of training, recruitment, compensation policy and everything else that an organisation can’t be successful without. ‘The complex laws and notions for the inquiring few.’”


Concluding thoughts

Jeremy Bullmore in his office at the J Walter Thompson agency at 40 Berkeley Square, London, in the 1970s. Photograph: Keith McMillan/Campaign Archive at History of Advertising Trust


So, where does this leave me in my canter through leadership?

Undoubtedly, we need different leadership at different times, when we have time we can be more inclusive, seek a broad range of ideas and spread the load.  At other times, we need a single point of focus, akin to Hardy’s Zeus.  The danger is that the shareholders of a business that relies on Zeus will struggle to get full value as buyers will perceive that, without Zeus, the business is far weaker.  The modern approach will enable the leadership of the business to be spread and reduce risk, but the business can lack direction and focus; it may end up drifting.

I think Bullmore has nailed it when says that we need monarchs leading. Yes, you have a leader but, as we have seen with passing of the Queen, the leader was not all about the individual, it is about the role and the structures that should be in place to enable any suitably qualified person to fulfil that role.  This will give a balanced organisation, which will meet the needs of all its stakeholders and deliver the highest value to its shareholders.

By Charles Whelan on 21/03/2023