Leadership you can wear

June, 2004


Year 2, issue # 4 

Alfredo Behrens

This is a space for quick conversations on management and society. 

Our interests gravitate around issues of leadership, management of workteams, technology, creativity, emotional intelligence and most issues which should be shared to shape a better world. 

Our approach brings thorough  perspectives into real-life situations and seeks awareness rather than complience

Your comments will be most welcome.


This issue's Feature Article calls your attention to coercion and  motivation of the workforce. 

Corporations in Brazil draw their workforce from a pool whose work relationships range between the extremes of 21st century slavery instances and the freedom of informal work arrangements.

In a society where slaves operate the farms of some congressmen, a corporate leader is likely to be able to get away with a lot of coercion at the workplace. The relative impunity and the consequent pervasiveness of coercion may induce leaders - and led - to believe that modern labor arrangements are a thing of the future. Yet, at the other end of the labor spectrum, the freedom of informality can inspire corporate leadership to elicit long-lasting motivational resources within the corporation.

This is why I bring to light the case of Sao Paulo’s paper garbage collectors; who lend a new meaning to Chairman Mao’s “paper tigers” depiction of advanced corporate capitalism.

 Now all issues of NewsLeader can be found at http://newsleader.blogs.com, by simply clicking on this link and, at that site, on the issue of your choice. 

This experimental distribution alternative allows us to distribute emails that are lighter in your email box, despite of the new illustrated style. The Feature Article is illustrated with fragments of the works of some of the World’s best artists. By order of appearance we bring you de Kooning’s composition of 1955; Diebenkorn’s Ocean Park series, # 54; Rauschemberg’s untitled (Red Painting) of ca.1953; and Appel’s also untitled piece of 1960.

I gratefully acknowledge words of praise and support received, regarding the May issue of NewsLeader, from Esther A. Onto, Washington, D.C. who finds NewsLeader "a breath of fresh air;" Carlos Langoni, Acting Dean, FSU, Panama; who finds NewsLeader "Otima;" and Theodore Zeldin - of Oxford University's Business School and The Oxford Muse - who also generously claimed to find NewsLeader "Excellent" and wrote an inspiring letter, published in section "From our Reader's".

Many thanks to all our readers.

The Editor











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A room with a loo


Alfredo Behrens

[email protected]




On May last, Brazil celebrated having abolished slavery 116 years ago. Also in May, Brazilian labour authorities freed 386 workers from a sugar mill out of Rio de Janeiro. Mill owners allegedly held the workers under conditions resembling those of former slaves. Close to ten thousand slaves have been so liberated from similar working conditions in the last decade.


I would think one slave is one too many; rather than discussing the figures, let us reflect on the meaning of this indignity: what the existence of slaves in the XXIst century means for labour relations and business leadership.


No less than the vice-president of the federal legislature, was accused of holding slaves in some of his farms. The lack of public outcry regarding the slave factor suggests a cultural stance that probably permeates attitudes towards waged labor and its relationship to business leadership.


These attitudes are not to be reduced to the responsibility of a beastly foreman, a psychopath corporate president or farm owner, nor reduced to a frustrated housewife when dealing with her live-in maid. Rather, the evidence should be taken as the reflection of an ideology that tolerates coercive forms of management. It is in the nature of ideological expressions that we may fail to notice them, despite our allegedly natural inclination to justice.


If the above were the background cultural attitude to labor; short of slavery, what would the prevailing managerial paradigm be, for aligning employees with shareholders’ interest? I actually put this question to a Brazilian MBA class and, sure enough, being trained as most American MBAs are, they reckoned that the human resources management paradigm was the “carrot and stick approach.” They also agreed that the paradigm could be depicted as a donkey dutifully going about his work under the doubly aligning stimulus: to avoid being hit with a stick from behind while attracted to move forward by a carrot dangling over its eyes.


The extrinsic two-pronged motivational paradigm reduces the employee to an indolent donkey uninterested in earning his pay. Most employees, let alone MBA students in their role as employees, would object being characterized as donkeys; even when an object of manipulation through fat bonuses or the threat of being fired. Yet this is the prevailing motivational paradigm, which, though now shyly contested in America, may gain unexpectedly rude overtones in societies much closer to slavery, less responsive to pecuniary incentives and high on Hofstede’s power distance scores; i.e. prone to authoritarian forms of rule.


By putting too much emphasis on managing people like their forefathers would have managed a donkey; today’s executives in Brazil may be missing the learning to be drawn from Mr. Itamar. This gentleman handles 110 self-made men to deliver him, every month, 400 tons of paper later to be recycled. The paper providers have invested in their two-wheeled carts which they collect paper-rich garbage in downtown São Paulo with. Collectors sort the garbage from the paper and cash the latter with Mr. Itamar, who in turn sells the paper on credit to the Brazilian paper industry. This one relies on used paper for about 40% of its final product.


Nobody in Mr. Itamar’s crowd  has come within an arm’s length of an MBA graduate. Few, even among the managing team, have seen a complete secondary education. Further, I would go as far as saying that the collecting crowd would show little socio-economic difference from the inmate population. Yet all show an uncanny inclination to entrepreneurial attitudes, and take care of their children and dogs, which frequently keep them company in their paper searching forays.


What is the reward for collecting paper? Receiving cash payment per weighed deliveries is. If Mr. Itamar were perceived as cheating at the weighing scale, collectors would respond by wetting the paper, and wet paper delays paper industry payments to Mr. Itamar. Trust between leaders and led is crucial to business. Is there an intrinsic motivation at work? There appears to be, for it would not be difficult for the collectors to wet the paper a little and get away with it. But it does not seem to happen, that would be cheating.


Does Mr. Itamar take care of his lot? Indeed he does. It is a very competitive market and if he did not take care of his lot his free birds would flock away to nest elsewhere. Itamar’s crowd are notoriously difficult to reach because of the itinerant nature of their work.  Yet Mr. Itamar has secured arrangements with the municipality to provide health care at the weighing point. The youngest off-spring are now in day care centers.


Is this enough? Probably not, but it seems close to what is fair in a society where live-in maids which, though treated as members of the family, are not fit to use the family toilet and are provided a room with a loo. Waged employees at your corporation may be receiving the same discriminatory treatment as live-in maids do. Consider, for example, the managerial effectiveness of separate elevators for corporate Directors; a practice only recently ruled unlawful in Brazil.


Operating in a class-ridden society, your corporation may have recruited many entrepreneurial people whose potential is not being fully developed because they are treated as donkeys. Seeing this requires refusing to give in to ideology. The next time you see a man pulling his cart laden with cardboard and other paper products, try not to see him like a donkey and you will see he has no carrot dangling over his eyes nor a stick behind telling him how fast to go. He may be intrinsically motivated. He actually is a successful entrepreneur; like Mr. Itamar, who is on his way to become a paper industry owner, like many of his predecessors did. How many corporate leaders would dare being benchmarked against Mr. Itamar?






E-mailing for results


Alfredo Behrens  



Foreign Direct Investment in Brazil accelerated enormously during the last decade or so. There is a impact which has not yet made the headlines but which begs attention: the implications for cross-cultural communications.


This is a heady subject from which here I wish to carve out only a slice: internal e-mail communication between subsidiaries, Brazilian on noe side and foreign ones on the other. This communication does not seem to be working properly. Some of the trouble can be traced back to using English as a language of communication between, say, Finns and Brazilians. That, per se, is bound to lead to trouble. If to this difficulty we add the more direct down-to-earth style of communication of most foreigners, frustration  is likely to be instilled into the interaction.


Can this be corrected? Some of it can, faster than you can teach English to the hoards of Brazilian mid-level managers. You could, for example, find out what are the most frequent questions these managers are asked from abroad and supply answers in templates that would require little fiddling about to be used as pret-a-porter answers.


Why would this be a solution at all? Because it would seem to help cut out what abroad is perceived as rambling replies. Decision makers abroad expect direct answers to direct questions, something that Brazilian middle managers do not seem adroit at supplying in English. It is not only a question relating to a poor command of English.


Brazilian managers deal with issues subject to greater degree of uncertainty than foreign ones; and they imbibe their email replies with endless conditionalities which abroad are perceived as covering-up for ineptitude.

Hot Tip

Churn out templates for as much of your routine international communications as you can; and provide adequate coaching of mid-level management. This may make them sound more intelligible in e-mailed English.



For instance, if a foreign manager needs to know by when he can expect a container-load of Brazilian products, the Brazilian mid-level manager may attempt to factor into his reply all the caveats to which the delivery may be subject to. This may include independent strikes of the Revenue Service, the sanitary inspectors or the  dockworkers; or all three of them. To these uncertainties the Brazilian clerk will want to add the difficulties thrown in by the eventual sick-leaves of critical agents, which may delay getting the papers in time to make it to the next ship’s departure.


While all this may be true, Brazilian managers surely know better than the foreign ones how likely are all these fatalities to happen. But, still, the Brazilian mid-level managers frequently  fails to commit to a delivery date. While that may be cultural, it nonetheless prevents the foreign manager from committing to a sale.


Besides, conditionalities, natural or perceived, invite the use of the Subjunctive mode and subordinate clauses; culturally more acceptable in Portuguese than in business English, adding insult to injury in the communication.


By now you may have realized that pro-active workers come at a price, the higher the more English they know. It should pay to churn out templates for as much of your routine international communications as you can, adequate coaching may take care of the rest.




 Where do NewsLeader’s illustrations fit?

Serenity and Expressionism do not mix well; neither does coercion and management.


This refers to mostly German and Austrian art from the first decades of the 20th century when artists expressed, through charged potent coloring, emotions only cursorily associated to figures. Kirchner epitomizes the movement, which, after the 2nd World War, gave place to the Abstract Expressionism - or New York School - in the USA.


Though Pollock is frequently depicted to be the American Kirchner of Abstract Expressionism, I prefer to represent the movement by de Kooning. Richard Diebenkorn may not be fully associated to the movement, particularly because of his middle-aged figurative interlude, and his Ocean Series, which offer an unparalleled serene beauty. Nonetheless, the beauty is there and he belongs to the period, if more by chronology than by style or geography. Disclosure, Diebenkorn is Californian.


Karel Appel, and his Cobra movement, can be safely said to lead the (Northern) European counterpart to American Expressionism, despite the identifiable, child-like, figures, not present in the selected illustration of Appel. Perhaps I should have chosen Apple’s Farmer with Donkey and Pail, both because it shows chjild-like figures and because of the “Carrot and Stick” motivational allegory of the article, but I would have had to rotate the fragment of the painting for you to see the figure.  


Incidentaly, if you visit Appel's donkey link also check their Art timeline at the bottom of the page. They offer an interesting way of representing art movements with samples of their representative authors with access to relevant information. You and also read and see more at www.guggenheim.org where by visiting The Collection you can associate artists to artistic movements, see their work, and choose what you like best.


And remember, Diebenkorn's work is beautiful, it happened in America and in the same period of Abstract Expressionism; but it cannot fairly be called part of the same artistic movement. Somehow it does not fit in. Similarly with coercion in management. People can frequently get away with it; but it looks odd in today's World; and because beeing deemend unfair it elicits all the negative responses, rendering coercion less effective than it once may have been. It simply does not fit in today's World.


Dear Alfredo,

A fact which is increasingly striking me: Business executives and leaders with a technical or scientific education have a lot of difficulty reading books outside their speciality, and reading is no pleasure for them. What do you know about efforts to help them overcome this obstacle to their intellectual expansion?

Best wishes

Theodore Zeldin


This letter of Theodore's gave place to a fruitful exchange which I will write-up for the next issue of NewsLeader. You may wish to contribute as well.


A trailer of the write-up would go more or less like this: 


Responding to Theodore; Alfredo feels that the burden is on both sides of the communication equation, i.e. engineers tend to be hard of hearing and humanists make little effort in making themselves understood; though Theodore, in his many book forms, is an exception. Also, for a glimpse to his conversational skills, visit in NewsLeader's first issue the link to Theodore's phenomenal Tate Gallery talk. 


Alfredo suggested opening libraries and film archives at corporations, which, sadly enough, understand all too well the benefits of subsidizing gyms; but not workers' libraries.  Theodore added that those libraries and archives would still need a muse to decode and inspire and change attitudes. Furthermore, Theodore believes that short sabbaticals, i.e. three to four days, perhaps blended into MBAs or separate from them, would play the trick.

Again, visit The Oxford Muse to understand Theodore's musing.

Provocative insights under 400 words long will receive our attention more rapidly. Larger pieces may be abridged without consultation with the author. Guest authors may wish to submit contributions in English, Spanish, Portuguese, French or Italian. Please use Arial 12 font and  with each submission and include a statement indicating the work submited is your own. Please also submit your affiliations, email address and CV or Oxford Muse-like self portrait.  Authors will only be notified when their contributions are selected for publication.

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Copyright 2004: Authors retain copyright of their work. Alfredo Behrens is entitled to all other rights concerning NewsLeader, except the template design. You are encouraged to make use of the views and information provided herein, as long as you appropriately give credit to the author and quote this Newsleader's issue number and date.

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Alfredo Behrens
[email protected] 
Phone +55 11 38713363
Sao Paulo, SP

Alfredo Behrens is an economist. He holds a PhD by the University of Cambridge, has lectured at Princeton’s Woodrow Wilson School, at FSU and at PUC-RJ. He has broad experience in advising high public officials, shareholders and board members of banks and other large corporations on issues such as: governance, corporate relations with governments, M&As and strategic planning focused on the internationalization of companies. He has worked in or with the private and public sector in the Americas, East and Western Europe and Southern Africa. He was awarded the MacNamara Fellowship by the World Bank, the Hewlett fellowship by Princeton University and the Jean Monet Fellowhship by the European University, Fiesole, Italy.

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