Saturday, September 17, 2005


JULY 2003

"Catherine II on How to Attract Good People"

As a CEO you know the secret is your people. Your vision’s worthless without people to implement it; your leadership skills moot without people to lead. Whatever your goals, you can’t do it alone. We could rewrite Carville’s mandate to Clinton, adding the respect you are due: “It’s the people, sir/madame.”

And of course you want the best people. Let’s take a look at a pro who had a serious need for more good people. Space limits here, so I’ll connect a few dots and leave the big picture assimilation to you.


In 1762, Catherine II became empress of Russia. Her reign featured imperial expansion (like your business) which brought its problems.

Catherine gained the throne by deposing her husband, Peter III. Although the grandson of Peter the Great, he was unpopular. Raised German, he was considered a “foreigner,” the moreso because he made it clear he hated things Russian, forcing Prussian drills on the army, opposing the Russians’ Church, and even wearing a ring with the image of the Prussian king.

(Don’t let this fly below radar -- you can’t show disdain for what people value and expect to remain their leader. There’s truth to Mascagni’s lament, “I was crowned before I was King.” It’s a rare thing ‘to be a king and also be 40’ because it takes staying power – the continuing consent of the ruled.)

When Catherine took the throne, the Seven Years War had just ended. Catherine, a German princess, had been christened Sophie August Friedeike of Anhalt-Zerbst, only taking the Russian Orthodox name Ekaterina, or Catherine, when she married Peter.

Without an ounce of Russian blood in her, she made herself “the Great,” winning the hearts of the Russian people when she learned their language and adopted their religion and customs.

According to one writer, “[Catherine] dominates the Russians, because she sees them from the perspective of an outsider. If she were Russian, she would be lost in the confusion of vague ideas, which animate Russian thinking. She is German, calm, clear-sighed, methodial. German in race and character, she became a great Russian Sovereign.”

Setting aside opinions about nationalities, let’s extrapolate the core message: How does an outsider do better than an insider? By using their EQ as well as IQ, assimilating with objectivity. This is why consultants can see the problems more clearly, but offer simplistic remedies because of their lack of theor “feel” for the internal emotional climate, the greater factor with which to contend. To lead, you must be part of it, yet above it. You must understand it emotionally and deal with it mentally.

Catherine, described as “charming” and “intelligent,” had the winning combination.

When she took the reins, the country’s financial and social situation was dire. In her first meeting with the Senate, she found no accounting of taxation and the army, still abroad, hadn’t been paid in months. No one knew how many towns there were. No one even had a map.

She gave someone money from her purse to go buy a map (one concrete, action), then decided to focus on building Russia’s wealth (the goal), which was based on agriculture (the strategy). There was lots of land and resource (opportunity), but not enough people (workers) to make it profitable (the problem).

Meanwhile, the Germans, recovering from years of war and chaos, suffered crop failure and economic disaster. The sensible Germans were fleeing the country. They were, as we say, “ripe for the picking.”


To invite the Germans to Russia, Catherine issued her Manifesto (1763). You can read it here:'s%20Manifesto.htm or google-it, but do read it.

Catherine’s Manifesto is as fine a piece of hortatory rhetoric as exists. It combines inviting and suggestive language with rational attention to detail. It is (1) the offer and (2) the reason to take the offer, deicions being ultimately emotional.


Let’s look at some of the high points from the point-of-view of the employee who is considering “re-location”:

1. Who says so?

It begins with “By the grace of God!” In case you were wondering.

2. Are you the decision-maker?

Next Catherine rolls our her credentials: “We, Catherine the second, Empress and Autocrat of all the Russians at Moscow, Kiev, Vladimir, Novgorod, Czarina of Kasan …” It goes on for a paragraph. (Nice business card. Not that you’re an autocrat, but winners attract winners.)

3. Would I want to work for you? Can I trust you?

Catherine uses phrases such as “announcement of Our pleasure” and “the extent of Our benevolence to [your] benefit and advantage.”

4. My culture!

Managing cultural diversity grows in importance daily. Culture is an appendage (learned), but we feel like its an internal organ (innate). We take seriously our beliefs around time, work, food, authority, religious matters, traditions, and the treatment of people.

Catherine’s first enticement is “the free and unrestricted practice of [your] religion according to the precepts and usage of [your] Church.” (“Here are you free to…”)

But … (There’s always a ‘but’. We’d just as soon hear it upfront, and you don’t want to leave yourself exposed.) Catherine proceeds to say who they can and cannot try and convert to their religion.

5. Relocation Expenses.

She offers immigrants land, supplies, relocation expenses, someone to go to with concerns, no taxes or military conscription, and self-government locally. (Do you?)

The closing sentence is a rhetorical gem: Ask for it if it’s not here, she say, and, “after examining the circumstance, We shall not hesitate to resolve the matter in such a way that the petitioner’s confidence in Our love of justice will not be disappointed.” (Notice she tells you she loves justice AND that you have confidence in this. Since we each have our own definition of “justice,” which generally bends in our own favor, wouldn’t you like to work there … I mean move there?)

6. And what’s expected of me?

Well even the best of jobs requires that you show up. When it comes to listing eventual obligations, she says: “the ordinary contributions and, like our other subjects, provide labor-service…” The taxation (working, getting along) is “moderate” and a “contribution” (no extortion here!) and the labor-service (deadlines, time clock, and no flip-flops), she “normalizes,” using the inclusive “like our other subjects.” (Yes, you’ll have to learn imanage, like everyone else. No big deal.)

7. What about the place I’m leaving?

Catherine, a leader with class, focused on the good at her place, not the bad at the place they would be leaving. Knocking the competition never makes you look good (or feel good), and we like to work for people with class.


Did the Manifesto work? In 1768 the Germans issued a counter manifesto forbidding their citizens to emigate “into regions which have no connection with the German Empire.” Around 27,000 had moved to the Volga region.

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