How to navigate the management rapids

Everybody seems to agree that the business world is more uncertain than ever before, and management writers certainly enjoy using metaphors. But the idea that modern management is akin to a white-water ride is perhaps pushing it a little.

True, executives are having to grapple with all manner of problems, to imagine the unimaginable and generally be fleet of mind. But that sounds more like life in a chemistry lab than in an inflatable raft. And then, of course, it is possible to argue that these managers are amply rewarded for putting up with all this excitement.

Despite the hyperbolic subtitle, though, The Future of Leadership, A White Water Revolution (Pitman, pounds 18.99) does have a few things to offer current and would-be leaders. In keeping with the current fad, authors Randall P White, Philip Hodgson and Stuart Crainer insist that they are not out to peddle a fad or provide instant solutions. Their objective, they say, is to identify "the skills necessary to ride the corporate rapids". Moreover, far from claiming to be a book that solves managers' problems, they say their effort "creates more problems in a corporate world already beset with problems".

After that not-so-helpful start, the authors set out the key skills - composed of three enablers and two channels. In the first group are: difficult learning - because only difficult learning will help individuals and organisations; maximising energy - being effective rather than just busy; and resonant simplicity - a fancy name for straightforward beliefs that mean something to the workforce rather than instant sound bites. In the second are multiple focus - which is self-explanatory - and mastering inner sense, which is less obvious, but means that managers should look inwards at things like knowledge as well as concentrating on tangible matters, such as reports, budgets and the like. According to White, Hodgson and Crainer, these five skills will help the manager of today and tomorrow cope with the environment in which they find themselves. But they stress that they will not make it go away. "Uncertainty is here and here to stay. Industries once regarded as stable and slow moving are now beset by the bubbling white waters of change," they write before offering a glimmer of hope. "Amid the confusion and messiness," they add, "some corporations and some leaders are seizing the new uncertainties and are making them work".

Their examples come from retailing, where, for example, WalMart is faring much better than its similarly named rival K-Mart; from accountancy, where Arthur Andersen is increasing revenues at nearly twice the rate of some rivals; and from the highly complex and turbulent world of pharmaceuticals.

But, as they point out, the same things are happening everywhere. "There is no escape from the maelstrom of change, innovation and fear." And the successes will be those that abandon safety and confront uncertainty rather than seek to avoid it.

Take, for example, the two ''wars'' described close to the end of the book. The first involves cola - traditionally dominated by PepsiCo and Coca-Cola of the United States. Then along came Cott Corporation of Toronto, almost unheard of until 1994. Its sales have mushroomed largely as a result of selling to Sainsbury's and Safeway in Britain, Ito Yokado of Japan and the aforementioned WalMart, each of which puts its own name on the cans.

Whether Cott will continue to prosper is open to question, but its rise owes a lot to the growing power of the big retailers.

But this itself leads to uncertainty, argue White, Hodgson and Crainer.

If the success of private label products leads to retailers marketing their brands in a similar way to Coke and Pepsi they could become locked in a marketing rivalry that threatens their price competitiveness and - as they say - what happens then?

The other ''war'' is the one that broke out between the detergent giants Unilever and Procter & Gamble of the US. The marketing disaster of Unilever's Persil Power has been obvious: the discovery that in certain conditions the soap powder rotted clothes led to the company announcing a write-off of more than pounds 50m.

But the authors argue that this debacle should not put Unilever off. Indeed, they argue that, if the Anglo-Dutch company squeezes dry this source of "difficult learning" it could emerge stronger rather than weaker - and that it should be P&G that is worried.

In other words, today you can be riding along on the crest of a wave, but tomorrow you could be caught in the undertow.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
The two faces revealed by the ultraviolet light
newsScholars left shaken after shining ultraviolet light on 500-year-old Welsh manuscript
News
Rosamund Pike played Bond girld Miranda Frost, who died in Die Another Day (PA)
news
Arts and Entertainment
books
News
newsHow do you get your party leader to embrace a message and then stick to it? With people like this
Voices
Björt Ólafsdóttir is a member of Iceland's Bright Future party
voicesIceland's Björt Ólafsdóttir on her decision to take part in #FreeTheNipple
Life and Style
The Clove Club will charge customers when they book
food + drink
News
Lapping it up: a woman feeds felines at a cat café in Japan
newsThe vast majority of cat and dog 'wet foods' contain items not specified on the tin, study finds
Sport
Andros Townsend and Paul Merson
football
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Money & Business

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager - B2B, Corporate - City, London

£45000 - £50000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: A highly successful, glo...

Neil Pavier: Commercial Analyst

£50,000 - £55,000: Neil Pavier: Are you a professionally qualified commercial ...

Loren Hughes: Financial Accountant

£45,000 - £55,000: Loren Hughes: Are you looking for a new opportunity that wi...

Sheridan Maine: Finance Analyst

Circa £45,000-£50,000 + benefits: Sheridan Maine: Are you a newly qualified ac...

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: The masterminds behind the scenes

The masterminds behind the election

How do you get your party leader to embrace a message and then stick to it? By employing these people
Machine Gun America: The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons

Machine Gun America

The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons
The ethics of pet food: Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?

The ethics of pet food

Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?
How Tansy Davies turned 9/11 into her opera 'Between Worlds'

How a composer turned 9/11 into her opera 'Between Worlds'

Tansy Davies makes her operatic debut with a work about the attack on the Twin Towers. Despite the topic, she says it is a life-affirming piece
11 best bedside tables

11 best bedside tables

It could be the first thing you see in the morning, so make it work for you. We find night stands, tables and cabinets to wake up to
Italy vs England player ratings: Did Andros Townsend's goal see him beat Harry Kane and Wayne Rooney to top marks?

Italy vs England player ratings

Did Townsend's goal see him beat Kane and Rooney to top marks?
Danny Higginbotham: An underdog's tale of making the most of it

An underdog's tale of making the most of it

Danny Higginbotham on being let go by Manchester United, annoying Gordon Strachan, utilising his talents to the full at Stoke and plunging into the world of analysis
Audley Harrison's abusers forget the debt he's due, but Errol Christie will always remember what he owes the police

Steve Bunce: Inside Boxing

Audley Harrison's abusers forget the debt he's due, but Errol Christie will always remember what he owes the police
No postcode? No vote

Floating voters

How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

By Reason of Insanity

Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

Power dressing is back

But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

Caves were re-opened to the public
'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

Vince Cable interview

'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat