Why are there so few team players at the top?

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I was intrigued by Paul Myners' demand that now that the Co-op has had the temerity to change his plan for its governance that they must 'now bring in a top-class chairman and chief executive from outside'. Rumour had it that this is not the plan: insiders are tipped for these posts. I am not surprised; the evidence seems very clear that outsiders, Myners included, have great difficulty understanding the Co-op's mind set. That to me makes an insider as as an obvious a choice for this job as an insider is to head John Lewis, where the current incumbent as CEO proves just how successful such appointments can be.

This, however, hadme thinking very slightly more than usual about the structure of UK board management and the conventions surrounding it, which it can fairly be said Myners represents.

Think about how so many boards are now structured. They focus on the cult of the CEO. One person (usually a man) is believed to have all the wisdom to drive an organisation. If it's not one person ( as at Tesco recently) then it's presumed to be at most a few executives who can achieve this goal, and obsequiousness of the others to the CEO appears to be a necessary condition for taking part.

This is no team playing. This is about individuality and autocracy. The entire ethos that the organisation usually seeks to follow in the rest of its structure - where team play is supposedly vital - is abandoned at the top. Why is that? And what sort of message does it deliver? Is it surprising that incoherence results?

Then there is the cult of the guru. This presumes the outsider knows more. They might. But it's a wholly inappropriate assumption to presume so. They might just as easily know nothing of relevance.

Add to this the belief that these gurus, whilst autocratic within the organisation must be made to cohere to a group norm of behaviour when it comes to behaviour as an executive, for which purpose a board of enforcers is appointed. So they must, for example, be personally greedy. And they must assume a particular business model is appropriate for general application. And if they don't, the enforcers will let the world know and make sure matters are put right. Again, the incoherence is obvious.

And what happens if these rather absurd so p-called qualities combining apparent autocratic self belief with obsequious conformity in a paradoxical, self interested, two faced dichotomy aren't the qualities the business wants?

What if it does want a team player?

What if it does not want an autocrat but an enabler?

What if the company does not promote a culture of greed?

What if it thinks there can be more than one business model (it was, after all, the Co-op trying to adopt the standard business model that caused its problems)?

And what if it thinks the enforcers should not be from one tiny interest group?

I am not saying the alternative is easier than the norm. It may not be, and things can go wrong (but then they do, spectacularly in the standard model too).

I am saying business can be different and very definitely work.

And I am saying Myners is wrong.

And that's because the necessary spark to lead a business can sometimes rest with the person who will do what Daniel Barenboim did at the Proms on Friday night, and just stand back and admire his team at work knowing that they know what to do, and that he or she needonly interfere if strictly necessary (watch it; it was brilliant). This is leadership. This is belief. This is empowerment. And this is appropriate risk taking of a sort few CEOs could ever imagine.

Set this in context. The Co-op succeeded. It cannot do so as any other business. It can only do so as a Co-op. Myners did not understand that. I hope its nominations committee does.


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