Gaucho Dialogues on Leadership and Management

Gaucho Dialogues on Leadership and Management

by Alfredo Behrens

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Most subsidiaries of multinational organizations in developing countries are managed like modern-day saladeros, beef-jerking companies where, in the process of salting beef, workers salted themselves out of life. In Gaucho Dialogues on Leadership and Management Alfredo Behrens illustrates the Latin American organizational how-to through a dialogue attributed to two iconic literary characters, Martín Fierro and Don Segundo Sombra. Fierro—passionate, nonpragmatic, xenophobic—and Sombra—with a more nuanced affection toward old ways—comment on the militia-led insurrections from Argentina and Uruguay through Brazil, Venezuela, Central America and Mexico, and draw lessons about leadership, strategy and people management in Latin America and the United States. While the book’s argument covers the ethos prevailing in the Americas, Behrens believes it may be relevant elsewhere among similar societies where people prefer to act as members of clans than as autonomous individuals. If so, the book’s argument may be relevant for the vast majority of humankind at work.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781783087129
Publisher: Anthem Press
Publication date: 12/15/2017
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 226
File size: 1 MB

About the Author

Alfredo Behrens holds a PhD from the University of Cambridge. He writes and speaks on leadership and management in cross-cultural settings. He also lectures at top business schools and has addressed large management meetings in four continents.

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Fierro and Sombra Head for Mexico

It was dusk and the gauchos had called it a day's work. They had herded cattle for a good thirty miles that day. Only another morning would be enough to complete the journey. Campfires were springing up here and there. The legendary Martín Fierro was sitting alone at one, sipping mate while some skewered pieces of beef were roasting nearby. Don Segundo Sombra approached Martín Fierro, "Good evening, Fierro!" Without raising his gaze Fierro invited Sombra to join him. "Come closer Don Segundo, you may come closer." Now at greater ease, Sombra walked more swiftly toward Fierro. "You know me, Fierro?" Drawling his words, Fierro would tease him, "I can tell a lazy one."

"Ah, Fierro! You will never quit your defiant style!" Sombra scoffed at Fierro's provocation and Fierro invited him further, "Come closer, Don Segundo, unless it is to ask something from me." Sitting down by Fierro's campfire, Sombra continued, "I am not here to ask, Fierro, but to invite you."

The differences in the behavioral styles of both gauchos were well known: Fierro was a provocateur, quick to draw his deadly facón at half-a-chance, while Sombra was more Kiplinesque, known to have mentored the young Fabio, whose cattle they were now herding to a Buenos Aires slaughterhouse to be salted to produce jerked beef mostly for export. "Why would Don Segundo Sombra invite a humble gaucho like me?" asked Fierro, "if through Fabio you are closer to the buyers of the cattle we herd?"

Sombra pulled the stem of Pampa grass and placed it into his mouth to feel it's reassuring sour, earthy taste, on which gauchos had long relied for orientation, and explained his visit, "I came to invite you to a chat. This gaucho business is coming to an end. We can already see the lights of Buenos Aires. Tomorrow we will hand over the cattle, and we will get paid. What shall we do afterwards, Fierro?"

Fierro took his time to reply, he took his last three strong sips from his mate gourd until it made its characteristic noise announcing it was empty. He filled the gourd again and offered it to Sombra, speaking in a lower tone, "You are wiser than I am, Sombra. You had that child Fabio to bring up. Mine were already grown when I saw them again, after being forcibly drafted; by then they were prone to listen to the advice of Vizcacha, the scoundrel." In a strident voice Fierro now imitates Vizcacha:

Whatever you do, keep in with the Judge,
"Tell me, Sombra, is that advice you should give a young man? The devious values of the city are taking over, Sombra!" Fierro went on, "It's the end, Sombra. The foreigners are setting up barbed wire all over. It's becoming impossible to be a gaucho."

In fact, Fierro was right; with the expansion of agriculture, the land was being fenced and cattle herding was quickly becoming a nuisance to the system. The free, nomadic lifestyle of the gaucho was coming to an end.

Sombra confirmed Fierro's conclusion that their lifestyle was over.

"It's the same everywhere. I taught Fabio a few things, but he cannot be altogether himself. He must sell his cattle to the saladero."

"Hideous work, Sombra!"

"Yes, Fierro, at saladeros cattle are slaughtered and the beef jerked, providing the mainstay to the population."

"Some life!"

"Yes, Fierro. The low-technology, routine work of salting meat is a metaphor for the workers at saladeros salting themselves out of life, leading to a style of production that would later evolve into the large industrial beef conglomerates and other business."

"What is life like in a saladero, Sombra?"

"More than a hundred people work there. For every five of them there is a boss."

"All telling you what is to be done, Sombra?"

"Yes, Fierro, at the saladero there are big bosses and small bosses. There is no freedom there! It's one stepping on another's tail! He who steps on more tails has a more privileged position."

"Nobody would step on my tail, Sombra!"

"I know that, Fierro. A century from now we will have Professor Gore warning the likes of us about thirty-one ways of pretending to collaborate in the saladeros without really doing so."

"Thirty-one ways? Holy God! That's worse than even Vizcacha ever mustered!"

"Yes, and it will only get worse; Vizcacha was only an apprentice, Fierro. There," pointing to the saladero, "the judge will be befriended by the saladero boss and his business will be guaranteed. The saladero's survival will be guaranteed. Little bosses will be complacent with their superiors and inconsiderate with their subordinates."

"Cowards!" yelled Fierro.

"And that is only one of Gore's thirty-one ways to behave like a coward, Fierro!"

"Tell me another one, Sombra!"

"Be a follower, because the responsibility will remain with the leader!"

"Good gracious me, Sombra! Nobody draws the facon to straighten matters there? Is everybody dead at the saladeros?"

"They are Fierro, but they do not know it yet. Vizcacha won, Fierro. The Devil won!" said Sombra as he crossed himself, and continued, "But let's go north, Fierro, we will have more room for ourselves there. They are still at war against each other over there, Fierro; they have no time for barbed wire fences."

Looking at the ground, Fierro replied, "I think I will join you and search for my father."

"Do you have a father?"

"Don't we all?"

"I mean; do you know your father?"

"Not me, my mother did though."

"And what became of him?"

"He returned to Mexico."


"Yes, to Comala. He left Mexico for Peru. Ended up in Tucuman, through Potosi. In Tucuman he met my mother."

"And what was his name?"

"Pedro Páramo."

"Are you related to Luciano Preciado, his son?"

"The same father!"

"Are you sure your mother knew him?"

In one swift gesture, Fierro left his mate gourd on the soil, placed his right hand on his facón, rolled his chiripá onto his left forearm, and shouted at Don Segundo Sombra:

"Are you suggesting my mother would lie to me, Sombra?"

"Take it easy, what's going on Fierro?"

"Are you suggesting my mother did not know my father?

That she was a whore? Do you believe that? Hold your ground if you dare!"

"That is not what I meant, Fierro!"

But Fierro would no longer listen. Defiantly he continued, "Repeat it if you are a macho!"

"Calm down, Fierro!"

"Calm down my foot! Repeat it if you are a macho! Repeat it!" yelled Fierro as he advanced onto Sombra, who would not reach for his own facón. Fierro corners Sombra against a carriage, took him by his neck, and held his facón onto Sombra's belly.

"Calm down, Fierro! We both are already dead! Are you forgetting that? You can't kill me again!"

Fierro relaxed his muscles, pulled back his facón from Sombra's belly, let Sombra's neck go, and took a step back.

Don Segundo continued, "I am a macho, Fierro, and you know it, though I never fought for anything I did not need to. I grew out of killing. And you?"

"I did not kill, Sombra! I only defended my space! Nobody ever set foot into it to bother me and left on his two legs. Who set foot and was not my friend ended up with a stab in his guts."

"What for, Fierro?"

"So that I would die in peace, Sombra."

"Killing, Fierro?"

"I already told you I did not kill. They were going to die in any case. They were only asking for a shove to put an end to their purposelessness. I only pushed them a little. That was it."

"For nothing, Fierro?"

"It is never for nothing, Sombra. I like to fight. It makes me feel good. I feel closer to God."

"When feeling closer to death, Fierro?"

"No, Sombra. When I fight I do not feel death. I feel the limit of the other's life." Fierro then mimicked a fighting stance, spread his feet apart, and threw his body forward with his armed right hand extended and shouted, defiant, "He made it up to here! To the point of my facón. When I penetrate into his belly button I feel closer to his mother, and to his mother's mother, mothers all the way back! This is how I feel closer to God, and I feel closer to God the more the other one defends himself. Killing the other is a sublime moment in one's life, Sombra!"

"It may be, Fierro, but why?"

"We are all doomed to die, Sombra! When one kills the other we have secretly triumphed, temporarily, but we have triumphed."

"Elias Canetti will one day say something along those lines, Fierro."

"He might have me in mind then, Sombra. I only want to win fast, to vindicate my mother's tears and all promises broken by men. But I also love the stench of the other's fright, the taste of his sweat, his desperate cries, the heat, the tensioned muscles; all inflames me as if even the wind would draw me against the other body to dig my facón into his guts, because it was God's will to be like that. Otherwise it would be his facón into my belly. God has his ways; this is why it has always been me, not them, so far."

"You will also fall like all have fallen in pursuit of vanity, Fierro; so said Shakespeare in his Macbeth. But did God want you to approach your opponents in that way?"

"God never told me how, Sombra. I think that if God wanted me in this world it was not to be injured or listen to insults. I believe God tests my worthiness of being here when I fight, on this grass, not lying under it. I know that when my time arrives it will be the other man's facón digging into my guts; he will be closer to my mother, and to hers, and to God in that way. But I will have died defending my dignity, which is all I have, and which is the last thing a man should loose. It is that simple, Sombra!"

"It may be so, Fierro. But it sounds like a waste of life! Or even a life told by a player fretting in his hour of glory. In any case, what is to be done between fights, Fierro?"

"I don't know, Sombra. I had no time to ask myself that question. It has been one long struggle for me. There are men who know about those things. They know how to fight and know how to do things. Rosas was one of them, Sombra. But you see what happened. City people teamed up with the Neapolitans who didn't even know how to mount on horseback. Together they fenced all the land with barbed wire, making our lives hell when we want to herd cattle. Argentina is no longer a land for gauchos, Sombra!"

"Argentina might no longer be, Fierro, this is why I invite you to move north. But let me warn you Fierro; nativism quickly spills into excess. Even in the cradles of liberalism we will see shallow, xenophobic, calls for nativism in the early twenty-first century."

"Let's go. Sombra. Fear not, we are both dead, remember?"

"I do not fear losing, Fierro. I want to learn and teach, that is all."

"Then let us leave tomorrow morning, Sombra! Let's leave and you can teach me whatever you want. I'm going to search for my father."

"Right, Fierro! Tomorrow morning, we depart for Mexico. The trip has begun!"


The Unquenchable Thirst for Honor: The Gladiator

Early in the morning, Fierro and Sombra decamped and leisurely led their horses to cross the River Uruguay; the ride will take a few days during which they will exchange views on several subjects. The first exchange is on dueling.

"Fierro, you enjoy dueling. You could have been a gladiator."

"Perhaps I was one, Sombra."

"Tell me, then, Fierro, because you sound as if you had been there. Why did a gladiator fight at all? For he, or she, in being originally a slave, would be seen as less than a follower, certainly not a leader, therefore fit only for dying, tomorrow if not today. Why, then, would they fight at all?"

"The gladiator was not wholly deprived of dignity, Sombra. Even more telling, his dignity was reckoned by the audience who had power of life and death over him."

"Would you say, Fierro, that more dignity was bestowed upon the gladiator then than today's societies are willing to bestow upon many of its workers at the saladeros?"

"I think so, Sombra. Think, if you wish, of the hordes of workers hauled into the saladeros every morning. What dignity is conceded to those people who toil, as they do in Rio de Janeiro, São Paulo or Mexico, three to four hours a day in transportation alone, and in such appalling conditions! Only to earn a pittance after a full day's work, and only to reignite the ritual the next day?"

"But Fierro, more frequently than not, the gladiator is today seen as a slave forced to fight for his life. We rightly wonder, why would he bother to fight at all if his life were so miserable? For if continued miseries were the only outcome, why would the gladiator not prefer to die sooner rather than later?"

"Sombra, are the people who work at the saladeros any freer than the gladiators were? What choice do they have? Furthermore, toward the beginning of that era, the majority of the gladiators were volunteers, like the workers at the saladeros today."

"Fierro, you are arguing that gladiators chose to be gladiators — perhaps a constrained choice, like that of today's boxers and bullfighters, but a choice nonetheless? But did the gladiators have any choice?"

"Sombra, the gladiators could have been attracted to the game for the game's rewards: the love of glory, the desire to test themselves in lifeand-death situations; perhaps they were even attracted to the game by more morbid compulsions."

"Now, Fierro, you are talking sense. Among the morbid compulsions should we list suicidal proclivities, the desire to taste the killing, perhaps sadism and masochism, too?"

"Sombra, you've read too much! And from an individualist cultural perspective in which the individual's character traits overly dictate his behavior."

"Is it not so, Fierro?"

"Sombra! Let us not forget that the gladiator tournaments were a social event that attracted nobility and gentry, men and women and children alike, and which raised substantial revenue, very much like bullfighting and boxing do today."


"Sombra, allow yourself to be more daring; what if the gladiator's leitmotif was to perform an act of defiance of hopelessness?"

"Could the gladiator hope to defeat hopelessness, Fierro? Remember the Roman slave Spartacus and the common maps of the lives of six thousand crucified slaves!"

"Perhaps Spartacus wondered how he could defeat hopelessness, but still he must have found compensation, even exultation, in defying the odds of his existence that entailed an inevitable degradation. Seen under this light, much of the unlawful behavior of our urban youth in drug trafficking is akin to the behavior of the gladiators!"

"But, Fierro, unlike in your facon duels, the gladiator was a slave in an arena where he, or even she, would fight for his or her life as though the audience were behind a one-way glass. He can't have found satisfaction in public recognition!"

"Precisely, Sombra! Public recognition cannot have been the leitmotif. That wisdom is insufficient to explain why the gladiator would fight at all, particularly as the majority were volunteers. The gladiators can no longer be seen as a cultural instance of utter degradation where his or her death was only mockery. There must have been an element of redemption in the game."

"Again, why did a gladiator fight at all, Fierro?"

"Because in Rome, the gladiator's significance was greater than his death; because to Romans, honor was the result of a complex web of self-sacrifice."

"Such as?"

"Devotion, Sombra! Devotion! Remember the ceremonial dedication epitomized by Roman General Publius Decius Mus who in the Samnite Wars (340 BC) offered his body to a violent death by the enemy. Fidel Castro would offer to do the same during the 1962 Missile Crisis, when all Cubans could have been scrapped. The Roman general's behavior was aimed at inspiring the gods to grant victory to his Roman warriors. Similar devotions to death, if less immediate, were seen to be the reason behind the fearlessness of several Roman generals."

"So, Fierro, you are arguing that it was this web of self-sacrifice the gladiators were drawn into, and this was the light under which their performance at fighting would be judged by the audiences?"

"Yes, Sombra. I will not deny that in the beginning the gladiatorial battles were fueled with the bodies of the defeated by Rome. Gladiators were mostly Gauls, Spaniards and Arabs, as well as Thracians and Germans and many more. However, toward the end of the Republic approximately half of the gladiators were volunteers, though the stigma of condemnation lived on in their quarters, food and general living conditions."

"But, Fierro, as you point out, volunteer gladiators came later."


Excerpted from "Gaucho Dialogues on Leadership and Management"
by .
Copyright © 2018 Alfredo Behrens.
Excerpted by permission of Wimbledon Publishing Company.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

Preface to the English Edition; Preface to the Portuguese Edition; Acknowledgments; Introduction; Chapter 1 Fierro and Sombra Head for Mexico; Chapter 2 The Unquenchable Thirst for Honor: The Gladiator; Chapter 3 Martin Fierro Inspires Perón’s Leadership Style; Chapter 4 The Siege of Montevideo; Chapter 5 Fierro and Sombra Discuss Leadership Theory; Chapter 6 Fierro and Sombra Follow the Federalist Revolt in Southern Brazil; Chapter 7 The Unquenchable Thirst for Honor: The Bullfight; Chapter 8 In Venezuela Fierro and Sombra Assess the Marcha Restauradora; Chapter 9 Panama Secedes from Colombia and Fierro Looks for Heroism in Costa Rica; Chapter 10 Fierro and Sombra Discuss the Leadership of the Mexican Revolution; Chapter 11 Contrasts with American Military Leadership: The Punitive Expedition; Chapter 12. Epilogue; Glossary; References; Index.

What People are Saying About This

From the Publisher

“Alfredo Behrens has written a most engaging book, applying an imaginative, literary approach to debunk the idea that there is a unique form of management suitable for all cultures. His focus is on Latin America but his provocative conclusions have relevance for other cultures and contexts.”

—Simon Commander, Altura Partners, London and IE Business School, Madrid

“In this book, Alfredo Baehrens offers us a stimulating and original reading of Latin American management styles based on the analysis of Latin American idiosyncrasies. By placing managerial phenomena in their historical, economic and social context, it shows in a fluid and attractive style how the social science approach is relevant to understanding organizational phenomena and management styles. Behrens reminds us that in the age of globalization, it is wise to approach managerial practices and phenomena by taking care of the specific contexts that determine them and in which they unfold.”

—Florence Pinot de Villechenon, ESCP Europe—CERALE, Paris

“Gaucho Dialogues on Leadership and Management […] is fascinating and innovative, a refreshing take on leadership that will be relevant across the globe.”

—Suzy Welch, Former Editor-in-Chief, Harvard Business Review; Coauthor, Winning

“Highly engaging, exciting and thought provoking […] The distilled wisdom derived from the study of great heroes of South America has many pertinent lessons for corporate leaders.”

—P. Singh, Professor of Eminence, MDI-Gurgaon, India

“Professor Behrens has collected a series of excellent lessons from Latin American leaders and presented them in an engaging dialogue style. The insights he develops will be applicable to those interested in leadership across the globe.”

—James Clawson, Johnson & Higgins Professor of Business Administration Emeritus, The Darden School, University of Virginia, USA

“Gaucho Dialogues on Leadership and Management is a remarkable book that shows the influence of culture in shaping peoplés attitudes to leadership and ethics in management.”

—Consuelo Adelaida García de la Torre, Professor, Department of Management, EGADE Business School Monterrey, Mexico

“Gaucho Dialogues on Leadership and Management offers leadership learning from two icons of Argentine culture: Martin Fierro and Don Segundo Sombra. […] Original and […] solidly grounded in leadership literature.”

—Federico Ast, Editor, MATERIABIZ

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