Here in the UK we have a saying “He doesn’t know his arse from his elbow”. This idiom is most usually applied when referring to someone who is so clueless that they can’t be trusted with even the most mundane and simple of tasks. We’ve probably all had a manager or co-worker who fits that mould from time to time (or all of the time), someone promoted above their ability or with a breathtaking lack of awareness. At an individual level, businesses need to deal with people in all their messy, contrary, complicated, complex forms. Leading people well requires a great deal more than writing a mission or values statement.

Perry Timms kindly shared this diagram on Leadership types this morning, posing a question from the Benchmark Visionaries conference, “What type of Leader are you?”.
Leadership types
The truth is that you need to be all of these things at various times depending on timing, the context in which you are operating and the audience you wish to reach. There is no singular, simple, elegant style for all scenarios. You simply cannot take complexity out of human behaviour (AI and biotechnology notwithstanding). However, you can take real, practical steps towards addressing complexity in the way we structure and think about businesses.

Organisationally, we really do so often set ourselves up in a way that is almost guaranteed to ensure we don’t know our arses from our elbows. The way we talk about our organisations reinforces this scenario. Departments refer to “the Business” as if in some way detached from a fearsome, recalcitrant, multi-headed Hydra that cannot be tamed. HR blames IT; IT blames Compliance; Marketing blames Operations, and so on ad infinitum. Technology allows for further detachment. Almost without exception, every business I’ve worked in and talked with has spoken of the need to get out of a silo mentality or of the need to break down silos. These silos are our organisational arses and elbows. But they are ones of our own making and we need to take a holistic view of our businesses if we are to recognise them properly.

If divergent thinking is so important for creativity, innovation and collaboration, then convergent action, behaviours and frameworks are equally important in allowing it to flourish. It requires us to start to view organisations in a more joined up way, to build networks instead of throwing up walls. It means a conversation rather than an email. It means getting off your arse and applying some elbow grease to building relationships across functions. You don’t have to reach agreement on everything and consensus building requires an investment of time as much as it needs effort but there are no obstacles to you getting out into your organisation and knocking silos over. Make a friend of Finance. Hug an auditor. Have a coffee with Facilities. Invite people in. Become a single coordinated entity rather than a bag of disparate body parts.

And if they don’t or won’t invite you in, elbow your way to the bar. And if you don’t want to join us in our new joined up organisations, don’t let the door hit you on the arse on your way out.


  1. […] Simon Heath shares a sober reminder in the most delightful way. In fact, his message is so enjoyable we might miss its impact, and folks, this is the real deal. Here Simon takes on organizational silos, mental models and old habits and says get out of of your own way to learn how to collaborate in the new world order. Otherwise, don't let the door hit you in the ass on the way out. See @SimonHeath1 for more delightful and insightful work. […]

  2. schadenfreude · · Reply

    What a great piece of writing this is.
    Well done Sir.

  3. […] fantastic post by Simon Heath on his Work Musing blog this week struck a real chord with me. It was about leaders […]

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