Monday, 4 November 2013

Microcosmographia of Leadership and Management

My friend and mentor Bruce Barraclough gave me a book many years ago (he must have decided I needed help) titled Leadership Secrets of Attila the Hun.(1)

It offers such gems as:

‘Never allow your Huns too many idle moments. These give rise to the beginnings of discontent’


A Hun who takes himself too seriously has lost his perspective’


‘A King with chieftains who always agree with him reaps the counsel of mediocrity’
And if one is looking for the perennial verita of leadership and management it is hard to go past Cornford’s 1908 booklet: Microcosmographia Academica. I still use it when invited to speak on leadership and management. How can you argue with:

You think you have only to state a reasonable case and people must listen to reason and act upon it at once. It is just this conviction that makes you so unpleasant’. ‘If you want to move (people) you must address your arguments to prejudice and political motive’.

And in a similar vein:

I like you better for your illusions; but it cannot be denied that they prevent you from being effective’
Then, by way of reminding us of the uselessness of endless prevarication and procrastination in committee Cornford asks us:

‘….has it ever occurred to you that nothing is ever done until everyone is convinced that it ought to be done (and by then)…it is …time to do something else’.


Published by Bowes & Bowes Publishers Ltd, Cambridge
First published 1908



If you are young, do not read this book; it is not fit for you;
If you are old, throw it away; you have nothing to learn from it;
If you are unambitious, light the fire with it; you do not need its guidance.
But, if you are neither less than twenty-five years old, nor more than thirty;
And if you are ambitious withal, and your spirit hankers after academic politics;
Read, and may your soul (if you have a soul) find mercy!

In management we talk a lot about principles and we talk about them as if they are good things. Cornford does not think so:

A principle is a rule of inaction, which states a valid general reason for not doing in any particular case what, to unprincipled instinct, would appear to be right’.

It may appear from what Wess Roberts and R M Cornford say in Attila and Mirocos that they do not have any time for leaders and managers and you might think that in choosing to quote them,- neither do I. This could not be further from the truth. Sarcasm and even, in the case of Cornford, occasional scorn invite us to consider what might be the opposite of what is in the writer’s sights. Read these books through and you find yourself understanding how to be effective in your organisational role – and whether we like it or not most of us have at least one organisational role.

People refer to ‘leadership qualities’ more than they talk about ‘management qualities’ and people refer to ‘management abilities’ more than they talk about ‘leadership abilities’. But each is used in both contexts. Many people believe that leadership cannot be taught and it is generally accepted that management can be. There are countless MBAs around but I have never seen a Master of Leadership….Master of Leadership?what?. and therein lies a clue. Master of Leadership Administration? I don’t think so…Master of Business Leadership..hmmmmm maybe.

In any case both quality leadership and quality management are essential if an organisation is to succeed and it is therefore imperative that we try to help people to become better at leading and managing. And we can. Even if in the more complicated case of leadership, if all we do (and there is doubtless more we can do) is to identify and understand the qualities and attributes of successful leaders and try and emulate them, improvement should follow.

The ISQua Fellowship is a professional development programme for professionals engaged in or interested in healthcare.

Effective leadership and quality management is essential to the delivery of high quality healthcare. We are about to introduce e modules into our Fellowship Programme in generic leadership and management and you might be interested in what we plan to offer. These will be available from 2014 so let us have your thoughts on what we might include.

There will not be too much of Attila or Microcosmographia – but there will be some – such as these, my favourites from Cornford:

The more rules you can invent the less need there will be to waste time puzzling about right and wrong’


There is only one argument for doing something; the rest are arguments for doing nothing’.

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