How To Enhance Leadership For Business Success With Organisational Anthropology

Oct 23, 2017 1 Min Read

We previously introduced the need to have a holistic view of developing talent to give us a more complete, wholesome and balanced approach to optimising talent encompassing 5Q anthrophillic P.E.A.C.E. Quotient.

Talent and leadership always go hand in hand. Great leaders are great talents and good talent is the building block for good leadership. A common question one always asks is this: “Is leadership nurtured or by nature?” For the most part, anthropologically speaking – it is nurtured. Sometimes nature helps – but that’s more of an exception.

Where does leadership fit in the anthropological puzzle then?


Leadership lessons from the past

Leaders are one of the most important resources within an organisation. Where would Apple be as a company without Steve Jobs, or General Electric without Jack Welch? History provides many examples of strong leaders who left their marks, for better or for worse, be it Napoleon Bonaparte, Empress Wu, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Genghis Khan, Mahatma Gandhi, etc.

This might interest you: Leadership Lessons From Former First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt

For all it is worth – leadership is still the most talked about and defined subject, and yet the most misunderstood one, too.

What the past cannot provide is a magic formula of how to become an effective leader. But anthropology studies seek to see these parallels and permutations to set out patterns that would define and drive exemplary leadership.

They do so by raising questions and distilling them into a set of beliefs, values and behaviours that personify such leaders. This allows us to understand the dynamics and mechanics of the ‘why’, and the ‘how’ of what these leadership models are. From this, a formulation for leadership is then distilled through which we can understand leadership in a more realistic way for application into business and organisations.

Let’s introduce leadership from an anthropology perspective. History is the best backdrop for us to learn this so that we don’t repeat their past mistakes. Of the many baseline leadership competencies, the key differentiating traits that make all the difference are listed below:


  1. A desire to lead
    You must want to lead to make a difference.
    Leading can be gratifying and exhilarating, although it is also a sacrifice and is often a lonely experience.
  2. Building a core group
    When Otto von Bismarck unified the German states, he needed one man above all others: the Prussian King Wilhelm I. It was not an easy relationship as Wilhelm complained that it was hard to be king under Bismarck – but in the end, he supported his brilliant minister, who in turn made him Emperor of Germany.
  3. Communicating a cause
    Understand your audience and what moves them, and communicate emphatically at a level that is close to their heart.
    Martin Luther King’s I believe speech cut across generations, colour and creed to bring about the change that Abraham Lincoln initiated.
  4. Listening in perspectives
    In the 13-day Cuban Missile Crisis, President John F. Kennedy insisted on getting his advisers’ different points of view before deciding how to deal with the Soviet challenge in Cuba.
    Kennedy also demonstrated that choosing good and independent subordinates is a safeguard against making bad decisions.
  5. Intuitive sensing
    A knowledge of history is helpful, as it shows patterns amidst all the noise of current events and propaganda that brings to the table new possibilities and combinations that otherwise would be overlooked. Anthrophillic leaders bring out these resources for optimal value creation.


Navigating the leadership paradox in the age of disruption

Paradox of continuum

Figure 1: Paradox of Continuum

Does leadership equate with power? Power is essentially the base for leadership, but how do you define power? Is it influence? Is it money? Is it authority?

Yes, it is all of these, but at its core, it is divided into two forms – soft power and hard power. Power is not static; it shifts with innovations, disruptions, technologies, relationships, etc.

Hard power is driven by coercion while soft power is driven by cooperation. Which do we choose? We need smart power which is a right dynamic balance between soft and hard power – an intelligent integration of ‘hard’ and ‘soft’ power which requires us to understand the paradox principle of leadership.

Is leadership then an art or a science? Good leaders have somehow developed the ability to manage and lead within the context of a continuum. Below is a list of some paradoxes an anthrophonic leader may need to integrate for optimal power utilisation.

Anthrophillic leaders can sense, size up and synthesise the right response at the right time, right place and in the right degree to bring about a desired change, while integrating hard and soft power.


True leadership challenges

Anthophillic leaders leverage the 3Ts of anthrophillic leadership, i.e:

  • Truthfulness
  • Trust
  • Thrust


1. Truthfulness

At the baseline, anthrophillic leaders must have honesty and integrity as their bedrock values founded on openness, authenticity and love.

They believe in being more of a person of value than becoming successful. For them, success is usually a by-product of creating or doing something valuable. They value human beings, not just their ‘doing’ – since the age of robots will take over the age of human doing. They become valuable individuals who build valuable teams and organisations – that, at its heart, it is about creating value and meaningful work.


2. Trust

Trust is the fabric that brings people together to create value and solve problems. Without trust, it is almost impossible to work together. Trust enables belief and confidence that one is safe and secure in an environment. And, if an organisational culture makes people feel safe and empathic, they can share, collaborate, experiment and explore new possibilities to make things better. So, a good leader must build and bridge people while they also break walls to increase trust.

Earned trust is an investment allowing us to focus our attention and resources away from protectionism, and focus on creating value instead. See Figure 2.

Pillars of trust

Figure 2: Pillars of Trust


3. Thrust

An airplane flies because of the aerodynamic thrust that is greater than the gravitational resistance experienced by the plane.

Leaders provide clarity and direction that thrust an organisation beyond its petty issues to focus on the excitement of forward motion. Its motion must be coupled with direction.

While trust is the true currency of an organisation, when it is reinforced with thrust, the extraordinary happens. People move from covering their backs to growing ideas and ideals to find resolve to pressing problems and new solutions that make life anthropologically and experientially better.

In short, organisations need truthfulness and trust to thrust forward. Trust binds organisations together through times of difficulty, uncertainty and change. Innovation thrusts them forward to move ahead, thrive and grow – founded on true north principles and innovation to delivering true value.


Putting it together – where to leverage on the paradox continuum

Successful organisations have anthropologically tuned leaders who understand anthropology and ethnography, and can manage the paradox (see Figure 1) so that there is a dynamic balance of these opposites.

In this dynamic balance, we can have a balance between compliance and creativity, danger and opportunity, being fixed or flexible, controlling or empowering, etc.

Successful leaders strive on creating these dynamic balances to build strong trusting relationships where their people are innovative to engage in productive conflicts and debate about ideas, and have fun working together, while finding the balance between prioritising innovation and maintaining the old.

“People don’t want to follow a leader to the future; they want to co-create it.” – Linda A. Hill, Professor of Business Administration, Harvard Business School

“A critical skill for responsible leaders is to say ‘I might be wrong’ – and mean it.” – Adam Grant, Professor of Management and Psychology, Wharton School

Leaders also carry the burden of responsibility with the need to demonstrate the qualities of:

  1. Compassion
    Leaders must be able to put themselves in their people’s shoes.
  2. Integrity
    Leaders must be beyond suspicion before, during and after the exercise of power.
  3. Fairness
    Responsible leaders should level the playing field by making their decisions only after listening to and understanding all affected interests.
  4. Respect for evidence
    Responsible leadership must be objective, evidence-based, competent and transparent.
  5. Consistency
    Leaders must lead by example by being authentic.



If leadership is about adding value and delivering results responsibly, plus inculcating great culture through creating a balance between driving innovation and building trust, what would become of an organisation with CEOs who make such comments:

  1. “… even a monkey can manage that place …”
    … highly likely that such an organisation lacks top-down “trust”, so “innovation” may not be welcome …
  2. “… fire that manager or your job is on the line …”
    … may drive for high “innovation” and achieve success but “trust” will be low, fragmented and fragile …
  3. “… I am the greatest risk for the company ‘cos I have no successors …”
    … probably “trust” level will be low or limited to only a small “inner” circle, with more self-interest dominating, and more mistrust than trust with many misdeeds and cover-ups, hence marginalising “innovation” and people …


The writers are passionate about creating better workplace. They are deeply curious in developing new ways to enhance organisational culture and effectiveness. To share your thoughts, email us at For more consulting corner articles, click here. To engage Leaderonomics Good Monday for your organisation’s culture needs, email

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