Paul R. Lawrence: Driven To Lead - Author interview

Wallace Brett Donham Professor of Organizational Behavior, Emeritus at Harvard Business School Paul R. Lawrence, was kind enough to take the time to answer a few questions about his brilliant and provocative book Driven to Lead: Good, Bad, and Misguided Leadership.

Paul R. Lawrence turns that question around and describes what he considers good leadership, and that there is indeed the potential for bad leadership, but that condition is not a necessity that people must endure.

Thanks to Paul R. Lawrence for his time, and for his thoughtful and fascinating responses the questions. They are greatly appreciated.

What was the background to writing this book Driven to Lead: Good, Bad, and Misguided Leadership?

Paul R. Lawrence: During my entire career I have been disturbed by our lack of a more adequate theory of human behavior that could serve as a foundation for a better theory of leadership. When I hit mandatory retirement from the classroom, I decided to focus my energies on this issue.

You apply what you describe as the four basic drives to the concept of leadership. What are those four drives, and how do they affect leadership?

Paul R. Lawrence: According to my research, the four drives that influence leadership decision making (each one serving as an equal component of good leadership) are:

• The drive to acquire—to get what we need or value, ranging from food, shelter, and offspring to knowledge and pleasure.
• The drive to defend—to protect what we need or value, including our company’s market share and reputation.
• The drive to bond—to form long-term, trusting, and caring relationships that may provide but are not limited to mutual benefit. These include relationships with coworkers, customers, suppliers, and investors.
• The drive to comprehend—to make sense of the world and ourselves via the likes of forecasting, inventing, and problem-solving.

Individuals accomplish as much as they do while getting along as well as they do by constantly juggling these four drives, balancing a need to get what they want with a need to get the support and cooperation of their fellow human beings.

Paul R. Lawrence (photo left)

You write that leadership is not external to the person but rather takes place right inside the brain. What is the implication on leadership of that discovery?

Paul R. Lawrence: Leadership is both internal and external. It starts with an external event that calls for a leadership response. It then moves internally to our ‘leadership brain’ that engages in a complex analysis and choice process. It then moves external, as leaders act on their decision.

You point out that if the drives are out of balance that leadership will fail. What do you mean by that?

Paul R. Lawrence: I argue that, when leaders emphasize just one or two drives, the results, over time, will fall far short of optimal. Research done in 300 of the Fortune 500 firms strongly supports this hypothesis.

How have the different forms of leadership had an impact on the history of corporations and business?

Paul R. Lawrence: As the book subtitle indicates, the book addresses good, bad and misguided leadership as important forms, defines them, and provides numerous historical examples of each form. The historical costs of bad and misguided leadership have been enormous.

With your study of leadership as a basis, how can business leadership in America be changed for the better?

Paul R. Lawrence: A good place to start is in the way we train business leaders. Current training practices are by no means all off-track, but they can be more systematic and consistent in training for good leadership while largely eliminating the practices contributing to bad and misguided leadership.

You make the controversial statement that the current worldwide recession was created deliberately by a few Wall Street bankers. What do you mean by that?

Paul R. Lawrence: I mean exactly what you cite in your question. All of Chapter 9 is devoted to answering your question and the Chapter’s title provides a strong clue to the explanation, “A Worldwide Swindle: By Banking Leaders-w/o-Conscience?”

How can structures of trust that benefit all be put into place in companies?

Paul R. Lawrence: Structures of trust can be created throughout an organization when its leaders exemplify and enforce trust building norms and avoid trust-busting behavior. Darwin stated that the innate human moral sense or conscience is, by far, the most important difference between humans and all lesser animals. Practicing the specific behavioral norms (discussed in Chapter 3), that follow from our innate conscience and the four drives, provides the road toward structures of trust.

How can modern business leadership be improved through a more complete understanding of how the brain itself affects leadership?

Paul R. Lawrence: Education has to be the answer. This education will, of course, be on-the-job as well as in-the- classroom. All of us not only need to understand how our brains are designed to provide good leadership, to ourselve3s first and then to others, but we also need to practice this leadership process, over and over, in different contexts, to hone our leadership skills. We have inherited, through a long evolutionary process, a brain with excellent leadership potential, but we can all learn to use it better—for better leadership results.

What is next for Paul Lawrence?

Paul R. Lawrence: I am, finally, looking forward to retirement.


My book review of Driven to Lead: Good, Bad, and Misguided Leadership by Paul R. Lawrence.

Tags: Driven to Lead: Good, Bad, and Misguided Leadership, Paul R. Lawrence, leadership studies, business author interviews.

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