25 April 2021

Krishantha Cooray asks: 'Are you Annesley, Lesley, Kingsley or Bruce Lee?'


This is a story related to me by my friend and founder CEO of Rivira Newspapers (Pvt) Ltd, Krishantha Cooray. Apparently he had, a long time ago, figured out that employees or subordinates are of four types, each associated with or rather amenable to description by the above names.

First. Annesley. This, according to Krishantha, is the type of subordinate who will accept with enthusiasm tasks and responsibilities, and end up messing everything. Perhaps out of over-enthusiasm. Perhaps on account of over-estimating capacities. Perhaps out of sheer ignorance and incompetence. So why ‘Annesley’? Well, it’s derived from the Sinhala colloquial term for messing things up: aana gannava.

Then we have Lesley. ‘Lesley’ from lessala-yanava….slinking away or (deftly) sidestepping responsibility or nudging it in someone else’s direction. [A] Lesley won’t say ‘no’ or ‘cannot.’ Lesley might even show the same enthusiasm as [an] Annesley. Lesley won’t do the job. Indeed he won’t even try to do the job. Someone else will take on the responsibility. If that person succeeds, Lesley would probably not be averse to accepting the credit (Krishantha didn’t elaborate on this) but rest assured, if there’s failure, Lesley will not be blamed.

The third character, according to Krishantha is Kingsley. [A] Kingsley will take orders and carry them out as though they’ve been given by a king.  Fear of punishment or absolute loyalty and commitment to affirming the notion of raajakaariya would do the trick. Such individuals attend to the task at hand diligently. They get the job done.

The final character is Bruce Lee. Yes, the martial artist Bruce Lee. [A] Bruce Lee would fight his/her way through to get the job done. There could be some bruises, black-eyes and maybe even a broken nose at the end of the story but he/she would deliver.

Krishantha has an elaboration of this thesis as well. You would have no doubt asked the obvious question: doesn’t it depend (also) on who the king/queen is? Yes, the character or personality of the person giving the order needs to be factored in as well.

There are all kinds of leaders. Sometimes, if the system has been tested and refined over time, it doesn’t really matter who is at the top. There are rules, there are expectations and there’s a culture of work. In such situations, a Lesley or an Annesley won’t survive. He/she would be hoofed out. There won’t be a Bruce Lee either; a half-way decent system will not require noses to be broken. That’s when we find that everyone is a Kingley. In fact the real king would be the system. All that’s left is rajakariya.

That’s rare, though. So we have to talk about leaders.

Obviously any system that has all four types cannot be efficient. Bruce Lee will get things done, but could create other issues. Kingsley can be counted on. Ii might still work if together they outweigh Annesley and Lesley. No guarantees though. Ideally, Annesley and Lesley have to be shown the door and Bruce Lee reined in a bit.

Sometimes, say in a state institution, it’s not easy to get rid of Annesley and Lesley. Annesley has to be closely supervised and even nurtured into being a Kingsley. You can’t take chances with Lesley.

Unlike Annesley, whose intentions might be praiseworthy, Lesley by definition so to speak is constructed to ensure failure. Lesley thrives when there’s no one watching. Lesley in fact can go out of the way to ensure that eyes are looking elsewhere, for that is an objective precondition for Lesley’s success and of course not the success of the organization. However, when one considers the fact that Lesley simply does not want to get caught, some surveillance could change matters. Continuous supervision could even turn Lesley into Kingsley.

Bruce Lee is a hero. In movies. In an office, he is a sword that could and often does cut both ways. Good man to have around in an emergency, but certainly not a man for all seasons. In a sense it is harder to turn Bruce Lee into Kingsley than to effect a transformation of Lesley. The former is an end-justifies-the-means kind of individual; the latter operates as though believing that doing nothing is the only end that’s of any worth. Bruce Lee has to be re-moulded and that’s really tough. Too little supervision or giving full rein could end with delivery but delivery leaving behind a wreckage-trail. Too much supervision could immobilize. That would translate into idle human resources. Not good.

The task of the leader is unenviable, then. The objective, ultimately, is to transform self into system. Ego can get in the way. Human frailty can stump. However, there’s little to lose by trying. An institution made of Kingsleys and Kingsleys in the making would probably be better than one made of a Kingsley, a Bruce Lee, an Annesley and a Lesley.

Perhaps Krishantha Cooray, if and when he writes his memoirs, could shed more light on this fascinating aspect of human resource management!


[Malinda Seneviratne is the Director/CEO of the Hector Kobbekaduwa Agrarian Research and Training Institute. These are his personal views]