Brain Food: Why business is like ... Mrs Beeton and the army

The British army is trained in the art of warfare; Mrs Beeton's recruits are trained in the art of household management, equipped to prepare 200 or more sauces and to pick the grit out of a child's eye. Yet they share a common leadership philosophy, and it's a style that many a modern manager would do well to heed.

by Jenny Harris, Young Businesswoman of the Year and director ofJRBH Strategy & Management,
Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

According to Colonel Paul Brook, the armed forces instil into their officers the belief that 'loyalty must be offered before it can be reciprocated', summed up by the Sandhurst motto 'Serve to lead'. And how does an officer display loyalty to the troops? 'By showing he or she cares about them.'

In her Book of Household Management, unlikely business guru Mrs Beeton asserts that 'if a benevolent desire is shown by the mistress to promote the comfort of servants, at the same time that a steady performance of their duty is exacted, then their respect will not be unmingled with affection and they will be still more solicitous to continue to deserve her favour'.

A survey published last year in the Academy of Management Perspectives entitled 'Business Behaving Badly' reveals that bullying and incivility are rife in the modern workplace. A common excuse cited by the perpetrators is that there is 'no time to be nice'. In the military, maximising productivity and performance is a matter of life and death, so it would seem sensible for the modern manager to bow to the army's better judgment on this one.

Both the supposed battle-axe at the head of the household and the commanding officer preparing for battle have learnt that for expediency's sake, it pays to be nice. So when are modern managers going to catch on?


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