The importance of being boring
Why weren’t Canadian banks hit as badly by the credit crunch as American and British banks? One answer is given in ‘Other People’s Money’, Justin Cartwright’s exceptional novel about a Rothschild-style banking dynasty. In the final chapter, a spokesman explains a Canadian bank’s resilience by saying: “We are boring and we don’t go to the opera.”
In boom times, great business leaders are lauded for their eccentric, audacious genius. But in an era where every week reveals another business that doesn’t seem to fully understand its own business – the bank J.P. Morgan being merely the latest example – many pundits now feel there is a lot to be said for leadership that is quiet, shuns the limelight and doesn’t indulge in what ‘Time’ magazine columnist Joel Stein calls “a lot of alpha male yelling and inspirational speechmaking”.
In Stein’s book ‘Man Made: A Stupid Quest For Masculinity’, he interviews leaders from all walks of life and finds that the most effective – like the captain of a fire station in Hollywood – “weren’t particularly charismatic, or funny, weren’t the toughest guys in the pack, didn’t have a Clintonian need to be liked or a Patton-like intensity. They were, on the whole, a little boring.”
Yet the firefighter, Klein suggests, has learned that “inspiring people through your personality is a risky, exhausting endeavour. But if you make people feel like you’re going to help them accomplish something far bigger than you, you can let the belief do the work for you.”