Feature Article: Shades of Leadership: A Case Study in Leading for the Followers

Keith Rice

Keith Rice

A few years ago, I was invited to work with Hodgson Sealants Ltd, a Yorkshire-based family firm. They were a leading manufacturer of sealants and Europe’s single biggest supplier of putty. They were beginning to penetrate North Africa and other markets beyond the European continent. For the previous 30-plus years, the company had been run as the personal fiefdom of founder Peter Hodgson. His word was law and he could change the law, even on a day to day basis, as he saw fit. But the majority of his workforce, who had been with him, more or less since the company’s inception, were unwaveringly loyal. They loved him; and he looked after them in the manner of a beneficent feudal lord.

The company had been a phenomenally successful for a smaller business and, at the time I became involved, had a turnover of over £10M and employed around 110 people. Things hadn’t changed much at Hodgsons over the years; but the world around them was changing – as Peter’s two sons, Charles and Max, realised soon after they entered the business. As they would agree with me later, the company was headed for what Ichak Adizes calls, in terms of his Organisation LifeCycle model, ‘Pathological Go-Go’. (See panel for a brief resumé of Adizes LifeCycle).

Adizes LifeCycle

Adizes Life Cycle

Graphic: Keith E. Rice

Adizes LifeCycle provides arguably the most complete description of how organisations grow, peak and all too often decline. In very basic terms, the Courtship stage is the pre-existence selling of the idea to backers and other people affected by the dream of the “Founder,” after which the organisation is born – Infancy. The Go-Go stage finds the organisation being successful under the Founder’s control. Inevitably success makes the organisation too much for one man or woman to control and the Founder is required to cede control to ‘Professional Management” –Adolescence– for the organisation to reach Prime. Thereafter, “he struggle is against increasing complacency and bureaucratisation dragging the organisation down to its potential demise.

“Pathological Go-Go” is the malaise brought on by the Founder’s inability to let go and facilitate the transfer of authority to others. In this condition, the organisation will founder quite simply because there is too much happening for any one man or woman can control every facet of its existence.

It’s a truism that bringing family into a family business often leads to the company eventually going into decline. This is due to the key decision-makers being appointed for their genes rather than their competence. However, in this case, the sons proved to be the salvation of the business. Charles and Max saw the potential for the business to lose out to competitors who could adapt better and faster to changing markets. They had the foresight to initiate change before there was any damage to their business.

To their credit, the brothers recognised their own limitations (at that point in time) as business people and brought in “professionals” to run key areas (sales, production). In so doing, though they wouldn’t have used the terminology at the time, they laid the way for Hodgsons to mutate through Adizes’ Adolescence and into Prime. Yet the new professionals had great difficulty in being accepted by the workforce – especially those who worked on the low-skill lines on which the putty was made. If Charles or Max asked for something to be done, they tended to be obeyed more or less instantly. If one of the new professionals asked, there were grumblings and often only slow and grudging compliance. Sometimes it took an intervention by Charles or Max to get things done. Although he had more or less semi-retired into a chairman role, if Peter Hodgson asked for anything, obedience was almost always immediate and with real deference.

The situation at Hodgsons posed interesting questions for me about leadership.

  • Why was Peter so successful at leading his company – even into potential commercial decline?
  • Why were the new professionals – seasoned, experienced and committed – struggling to bring about changes which would benefit the very people who were resisting them?
  • Why could Charles and Max have the confidence of the workforce when the professionals didn’t?

In working with Charles, Max and the professionals to understand these issues, in addition to Adizes LifeCycle, we used the Spiral Dynamics model developed by Don Beck & Chris Cowan from the work of Clare W Graves.

A Way of Thinking to Lead a Way of Thinking

Spiral Dynamics embodies the most advanced of all the stages of development of motivation models, building on or complementing the work of such renowned psychologists and philosophers as William Moulton Marston, Abraham Maslow, Gerald Heard, Lawrence Kohlberg and Jane Loevinger. In his research, Graves identified that the brain develops a hierarchy of 8 motivating systems – vMEMES in the vernacular of Spiral Dynamics. More systems may emerge in mankind’s unwritten future theoretically. (See Figure 1 for basic description of each vMEME – colour-coded by Beck & Cowan for ease of use.)


Figure 1: Spiral balloon’ graphic copyright © 1996 National Values Center Inc, Denton, TX – USA;
all rights reserved

vMEMES can work co-operatively both culturally and within the psyche of individuals. They can also be at war! Each vMEME thinks in a more complex way than the one that emerged before it. Although the concept of a differentiated 2nd Tier of vMEMES has proved highly controversial in some quarters, Graves found the jump in complexity between the 6th and 7th systems so great that he hypothesised that YELLOW – which he equated with Maslow’s Self-Actualisation – began a 2nd Tier. He thought of the 1st Tier as being about subsistence and the 2nd as about being. In this, he also reflected Maslow who termed levels below Self-Actualisation as’deficiency needs’.

For its first 30 years or so, Peter Hodgson’s RED way of thinking ran his company, underpinned by PURPLE tribalism. Hodgsons’ workers effectively thought of the company and its premises as their place of work – where they belonged. And Peter was their ‘king’. He made all the decisions and ran the place by force of personality. But the loyalty and sense of belonging was 2-way. They were his workers.

The kind of low skill, labour intensive production of putty Hodgsons began their existence making attracted the kind of people the politicians and sociologists of the day termed manual, unskilled, lower working class: people who didn’t think too much about life but liked things to stay pretty much as they had been traditionally. Tribal and territorial, reliable and methodical, they were perfect for the dull, monotonous grind of putty production day in and day out. Peter’s control of virtually all responsibility and his firm but fair treatment of his workers suited them equally perfectly. He had power and kept them safe (with a job and without challenge) – and they did as he told them.

With good products and a near-perfect management-workforce/leader-followers relationship, Hodgsons were well-poised to make a major mark on the sealants markets. Of course, there were all kinds of other factors that contributed to Hodgsons’ success – and there were occasional troubles in the relationship with the workforce. There were people who came to work for the company but never really fit in and there were people who outgrew Peter’s highly patriarchal style of management. Nonetheless, Peter’s kingly rule of his loyal tribe was a major factor in the Hodgson success story.

In Spiral Dynamics terms, the match was RED/PURPLE leading PURPLE. In their 1996 book, Beck & Cowan write: “The optimum leadership style is close to but just slightly ahead of the follower’s thinking. Leaders are rejected or ignored if their thinking lags. But they are equally in trouble if their thinking is too far ahead.” By design or default, Peter Hodgson pitched his leadership style close enough to the thinking of the people who worked for him to feel he understood them and their needs.

The Trouble with Change…

As part of writing my 2005 book, ‘ Knowing Me, Knowing You‘, I mapped the work of conflict management pioneers Robert Blake & Jane Mouton and Ken Thomas & Ralph Kilmann – the latter pair creators of the Thomas-Kilmann Conflict Instrument – to Spiral Dynamics. Thomas & Kilmann make the point that someone who uses a (RED) Competitive (Controlling, in the Blake & Mouton version) approach to dealing with others will tend to trap people who favour the Avoidant (PURPLE) approach in that way of thinking.

And, this I believe, is what happened at Hodgsons. After all, why did the PURPLE-thinking workers need to learn to think in the workplace when Peter made all the decisions for them? So, on the one hand, the RED/PURPLE-leading-PURPLE relationship worked fabulously while the circumstances favoured making putty that way. However, when circumstances required something different, the conservative nature of the PURPLE thinkers worked against change.

Charles and Max taking command the workers could accept. After all, they were the sons of ‘King Peter’ who was still lurking in the background bestowing grace and favour on his heirs. However, the new professionals Charles and Max brought in were something different. The professionals –outlanders!– were ‘not of our tribe’, in the view of the PURPLE tribalism and, therefore, not to be trusted. Worse still, the outlanders thought in markedly different ways – BLUE and ORANGE – and the outlanders required some major changes. Hodgsons had gone from being ruled by vMEMES co-operating to vMEMES being at war with each other!

In fact, BLUE thinking had been permeating the Hodgson production processes for some considerable time. The company had moved forcefully into the world of sealant tapes and been automating its production for years. They had also achieved the ISO 9000 quality standard. The PURPLE of the low skill workers had struggled with these changes; but, since they came initially from Peter and then Charles and Max, loyalty tended to produce acceptance. However, to complete what was the drive through Adizes’Adolescence and reach Prime, the professionals were now talking about production operatives making autonomous decisions – thinking for themselves – at their machines. Their ORANGE talk was way beyond the understanding of the PURPLE tribalism.

It’s instructive here to view the Hodgsons scenario through the 4Q/8L framework created by Don Beck running the vMEMES of Spiral Dynamicsthrough the 4 Quadrants perspectives of Ken Wilber. (See Figure 2.)

4Q/8L All Quadrants/All Levels

For our purposes here, the Upper Right can be said to represent the brain and body as an organism, which produces the mindsets (vMEMES) of the Upper Left in that individual. That person then interacts with others and the way they behave (Lower Left) in the environmental structure (Lower Right) in which they all operate.

Figure 2: Spiral Dynamics and the Four Quadrants

Thanks in part to ISO 9000, Hodgsons had an environment (Lower Left) that was fairly BLUE-tinged. There were policies and procedures and good, if relatively low-level, manufacturing practices. However, the thinking of many of the workers (Lower Right) on the production lines was still in PURPLE.

When looked at through this framework, it is understandable how the processes and technology would be a rather large stretch for many workers. The dominance of PURPLE in the collective thinking of the workforce was reflected in the company first of all instigating and then abandoning an NVQ (vocational qualification) Level 3 in Supervisory Management. This was due to the trainer being unable to find any one on the low skill production lines assertive enough in personality to take command of others! I was brought into this scenario because the ORANGE-thinking professionals (Upper Left) couldn’t see how to produce autonomous thinking in the production workers (Lower Left) to manage the desired new processes (Lower Right).

Leadership for All Levels

Hodgsons had one of the most innovative and creative senior management teams I have ever found in a smaller business. As a collective, most, if not all, could Self-Actualise into YELLOW thinking to look beyond their own perspectives. Charles and Max were far-sighted enough not to stand on status; but, although ultimate authority rested with them and Peter as owners of the business, they treated the views of their professionals as being of equal worth to their own (GREEN and possibly 2nd Tier). I did some NLP-based values work with them and found the general ethos amongst the team to be solidly ORANGE. However, they also deliberately undertook social activities as a team to bond as people (PURPLE).

From an early stage, I was convinced this team was more than capable of dealing with the vMEMETIC divides they faced once they gained the understanding. Accordingly, an intensive in-house training programme was set up for the senior management team.

A key learning point for them occurred when they tried to introduce a merit-based pay system instead of the annual incremental increase to the flat salary the production workers took for granted. What would have incentivised ORANGE to take on board the process management changes, merely stripped away PURPLE’s security. The flat salary and its annual incremental increase were reinstated. The senior management team were learning to manage their workforce according to where the workers were at, rather than trying to impose things from their own vMEMETIC level.

By satisfying PURPLE’s need for security on the one hand and offering opportunities to get involved in low-level decision-making via an Investors in People project on the other, the senior management team found some workers starting to display flashes of RED thinking. Every opportunity was leveraged to encourage the confidence and self-esteem of these workers, with the result that they stayed involved in that level of decision-making when the Investors project reached fruition.

As for those workers whose thinking remained solidly in PURPLE, a credibility of sorts for the professionals was achieved when Hodgsons won the Business of the Year Award from the sub-region newspaper, the Hull Daily Mail. Clearly the direction they had been pushing the company in was the right one after all – the local paper said so!

The commitment of the senior management team to the new way of managing was reflected in the vMEMETIC profiling of each department. From this, they could determine the most productive means of leading and managing each group of people. They have even begun vMEMETIC profiling of customers and suppliers to improve relations with them and thus strengthen business ties. Certainly the professionals have had to scale back some of their more ambitious ideas; but the company is steadily becoming more balanced in terms of 4Q/8L. By becoming aware of how vMEMEs influence people’s thinking, the senior management team has become more appreciative of the PURPLE in their workplace, fed it and so enabled those are ready and able to upscale to more complex ways of thinking. As a result, Hodgsons is highly-regarded as a model employer in the sub-region.


In considering the Hodgsons case study, it’s revealing to bring together more explicitly the models we’ve used. Specifically, the Adizes’ stages of development fit into the Lower Right of 4Q/8L. They describe the developmental structure of an organisation.

Where the thinking of the workforce (Lower Left) matches the structural stage of the organisation (Lower Right) and the declared thinking of key leaders (Upper Left) is just marginally ahead, then an organisation has optimal internal conditions for growth.

The proviso on this, of course, is that the organisation has not already passed Prime and is descending into the abyss. Then the thinking in the Upper Left especially – but also the Lower Left – needs to mismatch with the Lower Right to reverse the drift towards Death.

For example, BLUE thinking in the Lower Left is very much what an organisation needs during the development of process systemisation in Adolescence (Lower Right). This is provided ORANGE is overseeing it from the Upper Left. (Without ORANGE oversight, an Adolescent organisation risks over-systemising and short-circuiting straight into Bureaucracy.)

In contrast, for an organisation stuck in Bureaucracy (Lower Right) and swamped with procedures, BLUE thinking is the last thing it needs in the Upper Left. It needs some ORANGE visioning to drag it back towards Prime.

By looking at the situation from all perspectives – what Don Beck calls a ‘MeshWORK approach’ – we can see what the best fit should be where and how much a match and how much a mismatch there should be. This All Quadrants/All Levels approach, as Ken Wilber terms it, enables decision-makers and advisers to develop the most appropriate interventions and target them with real precision.

Peter Hodgson died in 2004. Charles Hodgson is Managing Director; Max Hodgson is Chair. Visit the company’s web site at

A fuller version of the Hodgson Sealants story can be found in the Case Studies section of

Keith E Rice is a management consultant & trainer, personal therapist and part-time Psychology teacher, based in Harrogate, UK. His first book,‘Knowing Me, Knowing You: an Integrated SocioPsychology Guide to Personal Fulfilment & Better Relationships‘ was published by Trafford in March 2005.