How to get fired from Merill Lynch. Show some dangerous leadership qualities?

October 28, 2007

oneal-thumb.jpgMerill Lynch directors, some hand-picked by their CEO, Stanley O’Neal, were stung into action when he held exploratory talks with a potential business partner, prior to consulting them. When a firm is in trouble, a leader may be on dangerous ground in showing what might be seen as leadership qualities

Update

With a week of the original posting, CEO O’Neal had left his post with a controversially substantial golden goodbye. The original posting referred to his discussions with Wachovia, which in the same period also was the subject of news stories about its vulnerability to a funding crisis through its own sub-prime position.

Original Post

As 2007 drew to a close, Financial Institutions around the world had become increasing anxious about their vulnerabilities during the turbulence of the sub-prime lending frenzy. Inevitably, leaders came under scrutiny. It was a good time for a corporate board to signal its competence, by taking action to deal with its short-term and longer-term problems. This seems to have been the case at Merill Lynch.

While strategic actions might be more direct than disposing of a leader? As the New York Times reported it

The board of Merrill Lynch, its frustration mounting over the brokerage’s credit losses and the decision making of its embattled chief executive E. Stanley O’Neal, has begun to actively consider whether to replace him and with whom… The board’s deliberations underscore O’Neal’s precarious position. Once credited with turning Merrill Lynch around, he is struggling to retain his job after a third-quarter loss of $2.24 billion and an $8.4 billion charge for failed credit and mortgage-related investments. He has also clashed with directors over an approach he made to rival Wachovia for a possible merger.

Journalists Landon Thomas Jr. and Jenny Anderson pointed out

On the face of it a brief conversation about a possible merger with a fellow chief executive at a rival bank is by no means a firing offense. But in O’Neal’s case, the proposal, even though he presented it as one of several options, elicited a sharply negative reaction from directors, the majority of whom were handpicked by him.

We may well conclude that that the lack of consultation was the trigger that set off the animal instinct to react to danger. The directors responded with a surge of adrenaline, and were into the fight or flight routine.

Leadership questions

It is easy to understand how the board may have reacted on learning that Mr. O’Neal had been holding discussions with potential strategic implications prior to consulting with them. It could also be argued that ‘that’s what leaders have to do, sometimes’.

Don’t know what you might have done in the circumstances if you found yourself in O’Neal’s shoes. Perhaps find a way of anticipating and protecting yourself against the accusation? My students might have come up with this idea, or more subtle ones. I suspect they might have been rather scornful of the leader’s actions. If so, would they have been too harsh in their judgments? What cannot be denied is O’ Neal’s impeccable educational achievements at Harvard, and his business ones thereafter. It’s much easier to propose well-thought-out leadership actions in the classroom, than under conditions of extreme business crisis.

Stop Press Sunday October 28th 2007

Reuters report that O’ Neal is to leave Merill Lynch. And that a consensus to that effect has been reached by the Board.


Northern Rock taken over by Manchester United: Official

October 27, 2007

michael-owen-northern-rock.jpg

Update:

The post was intended as a light-hearted comment on the bizarre worlds of football and high-finance. Later, during the European Championships, [June 2008] the traffic attracted to the post suggested the news may have taken on the authority of a football rumour. The original post follows…

What’s the difference between Manchester United and Newcastle United? Football supporters have their own answers to the question. What about this answer? Newcastle United Football Club are not (yet) financially connected with AIG

Leaders we deserve is not a site at which you might expect to find sensationalist stories. I am in awe of the creativity of headline writers. I could never compete with the genius who produced the all-time classic Freddie Starr ate my hampster.

Recently I have been inspired by the creative headlines and blogs of the BBC’s Robert Peston. He has outscooped, outwritten, and outheadlined all other financial journalists on the Northern Rock affair. Respect. In homage to such great headline makers and writers, here is my modest contribution to the Andy Warhol headline of the hour award:

Northern Rock taken over by Manchester United: Official

It’s such a liberating feeling to write something like that.

Creative headlines have the same relationship to literal accuracy as reality shows have to a Mills and Boon romance. So what am I getting at? Here’s the case as it was reported in more sober terms. And what could be more sober than parts of the BBC not yet inspired by the Peston putzvah?

Last week, Northern Rock said it was continuing to negotiate its position with a number of “potentially interested” suitors. They include the Virgin-led consortium, also featuring US insurance company AIG, which has offered to buy a majority stake in the bank and inject “hundreds of millions of pounds” of money in exchange for taking control and rebranding the business as Virgin Money.

AIG. Remember them? That vast American financial operation whose initials are now on our TV screens every time a Manchester United player runs on to a pitch, or stands in front of an advertizing hoarding in a post-match interview. AIG is as close to Manchester United Football Club as are its American bosses the Glazer family.

In some contrast, Northern Rock is culturally committed to the North East of England, to Newcastle, and Newcastle United sport. It is a key supporter of Newcastle United Football Club.

Or as The Guardian put it recently

The last decade has seen Northern Rock donate £175m to a range of charities and community ventures in the north east of England including youth football teams in Newcastle, opera in Leeds and local homeless projects … Northern Rock is also the main sponsor of Premier League football team Newcastle United in a deal that runs until 2010.

Fantasy Football

In the world of fantasy football I see the following scenario. Cast as the evil empire, Manchester United is bent on global domination. The unsuspecting Americans have been dragged into the plans of super-villain Sir Alec (Darth Vader) Ferguson. Jedi Knight Richard Branson is an innocent pawn in the game. Aided by his puppets AIG, Northern Rock will be captured.
At a crucial time, Michael (Luke Skywalker) Owen will be brought back to Manchester and forced into playing for Manchester United.

So when these events come to pass …Just remember where you heard about them first.


Leadership dreams, visions, and nightmares

October 23, 2007

mbeki-after-world-cup.jpgThe payoff from a vision dashed is a recurring nightmare. We examine recent sporting visions, dreams and nightmares during the Rugby Union world-cup

A glimpse of dashed dreams was transmitted around the world as the beaten English rugby team trudged up to receive their runners-up medals after defeat by South Africa. As if in a nightmare, the players trudged past the line of dignitaries, which included Presidents Sarcozy of France, the host nation, Brown of England (and Scotland and Wales), and Mbiki of South Africa. Weariness seemed to have damped-down despair and elation alike. The players just about managed perfunctory handshakes.

A few minutes later and joy overcame fatigue for the South Africans as they eventually got their hands on the trophy. The defining image was that of President Mbiki hald aloft not quite as securely as man of the match Victor Mayfield in the lineouts which he dominated throughout the game. Sorry, must make that clear: It was Mayfield who dominated the lineouts, Mbiki the political gestures, during the post-match celebrations.

The vision

The build-up to the final from had been a classical example of the way sport can tap into the deepest of group emotions. A popular upsurge in interest was captured and amplified through the obsessive reporting from Paris, where there seemed to be more former international players than members of the current squad.

The broad news story was that England would be a match for the Springboks. Most of the legion of elders suggested that England could win, if they played to their very best. Most reporters translated this as meaning that the match would be very close. Close? The South Africans had beaten England seriously in the earlier stages of the tournament.

The talisman

Yes, but that was before the team began its revival. Before its talisman Jonny Wilkinson returned to fitness. Before those nail-biting victories against Australia and then France.

The pre-match story began to make sense to me. There was something very important going in England culturally. This was one of those episodes which reveal how culture defines itself, and is itself defined. A vision is articulated.

We are the champions of the world in Rugby Union. We will remain champions for the next four years by beating South Africa.

How will it be achieved? Because we have the talisman. He who will not let us down. Jonny Wilkinson. He whose very presence will strike fear into our enemies. And so on.

Specifically there was a genuinely mimetic story to be heard. [Mimetics: The controversial of cultural transmission through ‘conceptual genes’ or memes.] It is consistent with a memetic approach that the story becomes become more consistent in its re-telling.

The replication process was helped by the intense appetite for ‘news’ from any-one. Celebrity Rugby has-beens were in demand. But so was the voice of the true supporter, the camp follower from the front-line. These were the voices from people close to the action. The real heroes were in silent preparation for the mighty battle ahead.

Someone articulated the achievement of the dream in a special way. It became the orthodoxy. It went something like this.

South Africa beat us, but that was when Jonny was injured.

They know Johnny is our match-winner and fear him.

Their fear will weaken their play and their resolve.

If we are only five or six behind with twenty minutes to go, their fear will play into our hands.

Although they will try to prevent it, the result is inevitable. Our mighty forwards will control the ball, battle forward, the ball will come out to Jonny.

Jonny will kick a drop goal.

That will confirm to the opponents that their fate is sealed.

And then we will score again and win.

The story has the power of all primitive atavistic expressions of fear and motivation. It is the verbal equivalent of the Hakas performed earlier in this and every tournament for over a hundred years by the New Zealand all-blacks. I have tried to report it accurately. Note how Wilkinson, undoubtedly the focal image within the story, changes the course of the game. But he doesn’t win it.

That’s one way in which the story has its power. History doesn’t repeat itself, but it has its powerful echoes. If the story just had the team winning by Jonny dropping a goal at the last minute, the story would lose power. ‘That’s just remembering what happened last time?’ someone might object, in the spirit of the lad shouting that the Emperor has no clothes. That was then. Here’s the new story of our destiny.

One moving, one clapping?

In the vision, fate decried only one outcome. But as someone pointed out, you may not be playing a game with one side moving and the other side clapping. Indeed, we might see all such battles as a contest between two stories, each of which has won over other stories in the run-up to battle. Eventually one vision triumphs, the other loses.

But the cultural loss is softened. There is always a way to find consolation. Victory denied, is also denial of defeat. We must have been robbed.

We was robbed

Yes. In those bitter and dark hours for English fans, there was the coda of being unfairly beaten. (How else?). In this case, it was the case of the disallowed try which would have brought the score into Jonney Wilkinson territory. The effort was disallowed by a fourth official. An Australian. Need I say more?

The other vision

There was another story developing. The South African dream went beyond winning a little golden cup. The symbolism was there for all to see. The nation had also had its earlier dream come true, as Nelson Mandela celebrated their earlier win. Then the President wore the gold and green shirt, which was previously a symbol associated with the earlier apartheid regime. This time the President wore a suit. But it was very convenient that the charismatic Mandela was ‘too ill to travel’.

The story, as was the one that England had dreamed of, was rooted in the past, but was also about the future. In South Africa, there is still a long road to travel, as Mandela would put it, to achieve the goals of one nation at peace with itself. The sporting win was recruited in the service of its cultural and political dream.

One clapping, one moving

I just remembered who used to talk about sport as a creative collaboration not a competition. It was Mark Izrailovich Dvoretsky, one of the greatest chess trainers of all time. I can’t find the reference, (yet) but he warned players against too much focus on one’s own strategy. Chess is not a game with ‘one player moving, and the other clapping’ he liked to say. That’s another quote in search of a definitive reference, as well as another example of chess as a source of strategic insights.


A Brief history of leadership

October 21, 2007

glass_spiral_staircase.jpgLeaders and leadership continue to capture the public imagination. But there have been few attempts to trace the history of leadership to its earliest manifestations. What can be learned from the hard-wired behaviors of insects, the territorialism of reptiles, the disciplinary schooling of horses, and the social capitalism of chimpanzees?

This post [under development] is based on a presentation to Manchester Business School Alumni in October 2007. You can access the presentation entitled A brief history of leadership here, [accessed via my slideshare powerpoints. Be patient. It does load, in about 15 seconds from my PC! ].

The lecture sets out the case for learning about today’s leadership dilemmas by reference to animal behaviors. This is in some ways a well-trodden path since Desmond Morris reminded us of our kinship with other animals as a naked ape.

The approach has to beware the pitfalls of anthropomorphism (attributing human behaviors to other animals). These challenges have been examined by John Stodart Kennedy as the new anthropomorphism.

These scholars have continued the debate on instinctive behaviors that followed the work of pioneering ethologists such as Nikolaas Tinbergen and Konrad Lorenz.

Drawing on these sources, the lecture argues that our modern concepts of leadership draw on residual ancient forms. Furthermore, our shared concepts and folk-memories contribute to universal archetypes.

It is suggested that as humans, through consciousness and learning, we become and create ‘the leaders we deserve’

Other points of interest: By re-evaluating the role of instinct in behaviors that are considered to exhibit leadership qualities, we approach the ancient question of whether leaders are born or made.

To go more deeply

In preparing the lecture, I drew heavily on the work of Richard Dawkins, and particularly The Ancestor’s Tale.

Anyone with strong creationist beliefs will probably have problems with the Darwinist treatment.


A Bad Week for Weakened Leaders: But how far is Paris from Agincourt?

October 19, 2007

agincourt.jpg
It’s been a bad week for British leaders. A spate of sackings and resignations has occurred. The battered leaders met their nemesis after humiliating performances in sport, business and politics. But hope persists at the prospects for a great victory in the Rugby World Cup

There are so many stories. Too many for me to cover all of them in detail.

Some were easier to predict than others. Sammy Lee acquired his job at the start of the season, as manager of Bolton Wanderers FC, when the much-admired Sam Allardyce was head-hunted for Newcastle United. He stepped up from Big Sam’s shadow. But from the start he was dubbed little Sam, a painful reminder of his erstwhile stature and status. Bolton has had a dreadful start to the season. In a little league table of Premiership managers facing the sack, I had him placed second (just below Martin Jols of Tottenham). Sorry Martin. Hang in there.

Then there were the casualties from the World Cup of Rugby Football. I didn’t have a list of these. But I certainly would not have placed Graham Henry of the New Zealand All Blacks anywhere near the top. My list of managers most likely to take an early bath would have been headed by England’s Brian Ashton, about whom more later. Henry’s team had been confirming their status as the tournament favourites until the quarter finals. Until then they had outstripped opponents so thoroughly that they had hardly become match tight. They lost a tight game, playing below their potential. Exit New Zealand. Exit Henry.

Wales, Ireland and Scotland failed to make it through the first stage of the tournaments. Out went Gareth Jenkins of Wales, and Eddie O’ Sullivan, of Ireland. Only Scotland’s much-rated Frank Hadden survived.

England’s football coach Steve McClaren also seems to be surviving on borrowed time, after defeat to Russia leaves England’s qualification from the European Cup in doubt. In his case, there is a mathematical probability that England will reach the knockout stage of the European competition. This, as much as somewhat improved performances by the team, is staying the hand of the English Football Association. They had already botched the appointment of McClaren after a hasty effort and failed effort to secure Big Sam (sorry, Big Phil) Scolari during last year’s World Cup.

[Will Big Steve survive in his present coaching job longer than Big Martin Jols of Tottenham?].

In Politics

In Politics the increasingly nasty tussles between Gordon Brown and David Cameron continue in Parliamentary exchanges. Ironically, the more immediate victim of that contest was Ming Campbell of the Liberal Democrats. In a decision that caught the press unawares, Ming has his retirement announced for him by two leading Lib Dem king-makers and king -unmakers. (‘Did you wield the knife’ one reporter shouted audibly during the televised announcement. No, he resigned. Ming spoke the next day, saying he had decided that he would not be able to deflect the media from obsessing about his age, thus hindering all attempts to get across the political messages he wanted to convey.

These petty-paced political moves are arguably no more than the uncomfortable outcroppings of democracy. As I write, I learn of the real carnage within presumably an assassination attempt on Benazir Bhutto as she re-entered Pakistan after a decade of exile.

In Business

In the aftermath of the celebrated Northern Rock affair, the bank’s leaders appeared before the commons select committee that had already interviewed the leaders of the Bank of England, The treasury, and The Financial Services Authority.

Under typically robust questioning, Adam Applegarth and Matt Ridley denied that they had ‘done anything wrong’ but indicated that they would accept the judgement of their shareholders, if they were eventually forced to resign.

In the course of the questioning, it was also revealed that all the bank’s senior directors had offered to resign in the immediate aftermath of the run, but had been asked to stay on to sort out its problems.

I think they are safe for the moment, on the same grounds as Big Steve McClaren has a temporary stay of execution. [Stop press, a few hours after I posted this, Dr Ridley accepted the inevitable and resigned].

In a somewhat different story, ITV faces calls for the dismissal of various culprits in their money-making scheme based on rigged phone-in contests. The enormity of this story can be seen when it emerges that Mr Ant and Mr Dec are under threat. That’s like Santa up for shop-lifting in the Christmas Sales.

England Rugby, The World Cup and Brian Ashton

King-makers popped up to endorse Steve McClaren, and to praise and bury Ming Campbell. They even popped up to endorse coach Brian Ashton, after England’s heart-stopping Rugby Union victory over France. It could be seen as one of those endorsements which increasingly indicate that the coach is in big trouble. The denial serves to signal the presence of trouble, not its absence. This was a slightly different kind of announcement, I think. It was made on the wave of national support for the England team.

Here we have an example of the rapid swings for and against a leader. Less than a month ago, Mr Ashton was seen as credible a leader as Sir Menzies Campbell. The performances of his teams had been bitterly criticized. Now, on the eve of the 2007 final, he now stands one game short of receiving the kind of accolades showered on his predecessor Clive Woodward after his team became World Champions, four years ago. Outside of England, the suspicion is that England are serious underdogs to a South African team that beat them comprehensively in the run up to the finals. This is not a time for logic. How far is from Paris to Agincourt?


Royal Mail: In praise of wild cats

October 19, 2007

wild-cat.jpg

The very term wildcat strike implies a dangerous untamed force is stalking the land.. How different from our own cherished and domesticated pussy cats. But wildcat strikes may be a necessary force for inevitable change

The vocabulary of conflict

The vocabulary of conflict can be revealing of our deeply held beliefs and fears. In the Royal Mail dispute, reports differentiated between official and unofficial action. Official action is granted some legitimacy. The unofficial actions quickly led to the language of wildcat strikes.

The terminology an unauthorized work stoppage while a labour contract is still in effect. In practice, the strikers often insist that the labour contract conditions have been broken by ‘management’, or ‘The government’ , (Or even, sometimes, by their own Union leaders) leaving them with no other redress for the injustice. but to strike Each side claims the legal high-ground

The interventionist view

The Guardian reported the interventionist view:
Gregor Gall, a professor of industrial relations at Hertfordshire University, said there was a “pressing need” for government intervention because of the entrenched positions of both sides in the dispute. He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “If the service is to be resumed to its normal state, then I think the government, as the single shareholder, does need to step in, and not just call for an end to the strike but actually work towards resolving the issues.” Professor Gall said the prime minister should instruct Royal Mail managers to give some ground in an attempt to find a compromise.

According to The Daily Telegraph [12th October 2007]

An unlikely coalition of Left-wing Labour MPs, Conservatives, unions and academics is now urging John Hutton, the Business and Enterprise Secretary, to intervene

However, the Prime Minister made the Government’s position clear.

He was reported as saying there was

“No justification [for the unofficial actions, and that the dispute] … should be brought to an end on the terms that have been offered as soon as possible”.

Wildcattery

OK. I am not an instinctive admirer of wildcat actions. I have tended to express frustration at the laborious mechanisms of conflict resolution which seem often to lumber towards lose-lose outcomes. I have already expressed these sorts of views in earlier posts.

So why the headline in praise of them? Has something rekindled in me an armchair faith in the revolutionary power of action direct, which I had misplaced somewhere since the days of 1968?

No. Not so much that. Nor even interest in a chance to test events against theories of emergent leadership, or leaderless groups.

It is more a suspicion that when the Government, The Parliamentary Opposition, the Trade Union Council (TUC), and commentators of all political hues apparently share the same broad disapproval, there may just be something worth thinking more deeply about.

In this country there is usually some independent spirit around to state the opposing case, often from what is seen as an off-centre position. However, until some more authentic eccentric speaketh, I will attempt to make the case.

Unofficial action is rather double-edged for Union leaders. It serves to illustrate the determination and commitment of their members. But it is never totally under their control.

If leadership is defined as the exercise of influence towards goals, wildcattery raises uncomfortable questions about whose goals.

In this instance, the unofficial actions seem to have had a galvanizing effect on the negotiators. If this is the case, however unappealing it may be, the threat of wildcat action may have served its purpose, and may have moved things on, giving additional momentum within the negotiations.

It may also offer an indication of hidden dimensions that bring closure to a dispute. Postal Workers were described in as engaging in Spanish practices, by Royal Mail leader Adam Crozier. What might he have meant?

And how intentionally provocative were the actions from management which were alleged to have triggered the wildcat actions on Merseyside and in parts of Greater London? The issue seems to be a reaction against ‘imposed changes’. In the past such ‘they started it’ arguments are rarely clear-cut. The substantive issue is the wish of the posties to start work at 5.30 am, and their managers seeking to implement a 6 am start, with more flexible work allocation to ‘fill-in’ towards the end of a shift.

In any event, today [17 October, 2007] talks are continuing.

The websites of the Royal Mail and the CWU make no mention of unofficial actions, although the BBC reports that there was still some wildcattery persisting around Liverpool and Yorkshire.


Ralph Stogdill at Ohio State

October 16, 2007

ghana-learning-examination-services-school-exams-gce-image-2.jpg

Sic Transit Gloria Theoria

Ralph Stogdill at Ohio State
helped weaken the status of ‘trait’
But then we grew weary
of State sponsored theory
which suffered a similar fate

Proposed examination question on Leadership 101

Discuss the role of Stogdill in the decline of interest in trait theories of leadership.

Image acknowledgement

British Council


What can be learned from the ending of the Brown honeymoon?

October 14, 2007

thieving-magpie-tin-tin.jpg

The Gordon Brown honeymoon is over. He has seen his party’s lead in the opinion polls whither away. His handling of the non-election has been branded cowardly and inept. His rival David Cameron scores overwhelmingly in parliamentary debate. What leadership lessons can be learned from the unfolding story?

This is the current situation. Gordon Brown is widely reported as having lost the initiative he held since his appointment as Prime Minister. The fall from grace can be located in time easily.

Prior to the labour party conference, the honeymoon period was continuing, and the main question was whether a snap election could destroy not just David Cameron, by maybe the Conservative party itself.

During the Labour conference, Mr Brown’s speech at worse did not seem to damage his or his party’s prospects. Yet the snap-election story continued to build momentum. At the start of the month [October 2007] it seemed to have been settled. There would be an election within a month or so.

Then the Conservative party conference, a well-received speech by David Cameron, and the news stories piled up full of bad news for Brown. The week following the election added to his woes in and out of Westminster.

You learn a lot from what surprises you

Over the last few months I have been frequently surprised by the ebb and flow of political events. So what were the surprises? What was the learning?

Remember the passing of Tony Blair from office? I was surprised at the time by suggestions that portrayed Gordon Brown as a person psychologically unfit to lead his party, or the country. The contrast with business leaders is quite stark. The literature of the dark side of leadership is mounting, and it is easier to find examples of leaders who do not manifest symptoms of narcissism, with a dash of other fancily-termed psychotic tendencies, than to find examples of well-balanced (‘abnormally normal’?) individuals.

Then I was surprised over aspects of the so-called Brown Bounce. That nice theory was made almost impossible to evaluate, because Gordon’s arrival coincided with a particularly turbulent time, during which the New Prime Minister acted in a competent and reassuring manner. [Remember the joke that had been told about him during his personal campaign to consolidate his election campaign? The trouble with Gordon, the ironic joke went, is that he is all substance. Ho, ho. ].

The honeymoon period is now over. One surprise is that no-one pointed to the curious contrast between the bounce, and the herd-mentality that had dubbed Brown a pathologically-flawed no-hoper for Labour, prior to election. The bounce transcended all those concerns expressed in the media?

Over the last two weeks, I have also been surprised by the speed at which opinions about Brown and Cameron have swung back. The ratings are now [14.10.2007] roughly where they were before Mr Cameron hit policy problems a few months ago. Now, Cameron is as a hot a favourite for destroying Brown politically, as Brown was for destroying Cameron, a few weaks ago.

I was further surprised at the damage politically the Gordon Brown has sustained over his assertion that his decision not to call an election had been nothing to do with opinion-polls in marginal seats. The statement has become taken as evidence that the Prime Minister is irretrievably untrustworthy.

The second event, the afore-mentioned pre-Budget speech by Darling, is similarly taken as a sign of Government duplicity, specifically over Magpie politics. Specifically, like thieving Magpies, the Government has stolen the shiny baubles plucked from the Conservative lips, including inheritance tax from non-doms.

There’s enough mud for everyone to play in

The speech from Alistair Darling infuriated the conservatives, and particularly the shadow Chancellor, George Osborne. Alistair is in the Brown mould (measured and a bit, how can I put it, non-dom Scottish). Osborne is more of the smooth but menacing inclination, unafraid to take the fight to the muckier side of the farmyard. His immediate response to Darling’s pre-budget statement was a well-mounted piece of aggression at the calumny of his immediate opponent and the forces behind him, all the way up to King Gordon.

The next morning he had simmered down enough to articulate the view that the public would now be able to choose between the party of principled and honourable statesmanlike politicians, (the conservatives) and the cynical duplicitous lot on the other side (labour).

Overall he had had a good twenty-four hours, and is evidently on the way of becoming a dangerous opponent for the new Chancellor. Nice one George. Nice, in the sense of dangerously nasty.

The various outbusts of anger left me conscious of the farmyard metaphor, that there’s a lot of mud out there, likely to spread itself liberally on to all concerned. Voters may find it confirms their suspicions if they are repeatedly told that there are a lot of cynical duplicitous politicians (CDPs) out there.

On the other hand, drawing attention to this will not mean they will buy the proposition that all CDPs are to be found among the ranks of Gordon’s followers, thus enabling the conservatives convincingly to claim the high moral ground as The Principled Party.

Leadership lessons?

Some are immediately apparent. Gordon Brown contributed to the way in which this story developed. I rather think he moved back towards damage limitation in claiming responsibility for the election frenzy. (However tempting it might have been to bang on about the media).

There was another misjudgment when he insisted that he would not have been influenced by opinion polls in his decision, even if they indicated a majority of hundred after an immediate election.

The leadership principle is to retain some of that valuable commodity, wriggle room, whenever possible. Put another way, practice the art of the Delphic Oracle.

Find a creative way of dealing with the question at two levels.
Avoid yes or no answers when these are over-simplifications (which they almost always are).

No-one will get it right every time, but the frequency of poor moves, and the damage sustained, is likely to be reduced. At least, that’s if you believe leaders are made not born, and are strengthened through learning from their mistakes.


Sarcozy accepts need for EADS probe

October 12, 2007

hors-de-combat.jpg

The long-running tale of malpractice enveloping EADS continues. Nicholas Sarcozy distances himself from any involvement, and calls for punishment of the guilty

Earlier posts to this blog have followed the various dismissals, resignations, restructurings, and political interventions, at EADS and its Airbus subsidiary.

This week the International Herald Tribune picked up the news agency bulletin:

“If there are people who committed fraud at EADS, judicial officials must get to the bottom of it so that we know the truth and those who behaved dishonestly be punished in proportion to what they did,” Sarkozy said. “I’ll get to the bottom of the investigation to know what the responsibilities of the state were at the time.”

While a major shareholder, the French government does not sit on the EADS board. Its interests are represented by the French defense and media conglomerate Lagardere, which holds a 7.5 percent stake.

EADS shareholders Lagardere SCA of France and Germany’s DaimlerChrysler AG announced in March 2006 that they would reduce their stakes.

There are several inter-related strands to this story. Airbus is a European flagship company with a complex governance structure through its parent EADS which involves particularly French and German Governments. The business theme is centred around the fierce competition between Airbus and Boeing products. The political theme involves unresolved bickering about the ways in which the US and European governments subsidize their commercial interests. There are additional fascinating manufacturing, logistic, and technological issues to do with creating next-generation products across multiple international sites, and meet increasingly drifting deadlines. Oh, yes, and Airbus is struggling to achieve considerable cost-cuttings with industrial relations troubles. Add to all these issues a series of allegations of corruption.

At the start of the year I attempted to tease out the killer facts in the Airbus affair. At the time, it seemed that

[In 2006] A380 project executives, including Airbus CEO Gustav Humbert, were dismissed. Humbert was blamed for the failure to deal effectively with the project delays, but also was accused of concealing the seriousness of the problems.

In the same period, it was revealed that the joint CEO of EADS, Noel Forgeard had sold EADS stock weeks before its Airbus subsidiary announced the Airbus A380 would be delayed again. M. Forgeard resigned, and the stock plummeted.

In a short space of time, Humbert’s replacement, at Airbus, Christian Streiff resigned, which was when Louis Gallois stepped in. Streiff was believed to have failed to secure backing for a financial package he believed necessary to turn things around with the A380.

In a few months, the company had begun to unravel some of its knottier problems, and achieved a more convincing organizational structure.

However, the changes left some players with lesser roles.

Arnaud Lagardère (of the media group of the same name) was French Co-chairman of EADS and seems to have been airbrushed out of the wider game. It had been muttered (especially in the French press) that he escaped scrutiny over earlier share scandals, and is ‘protected’ by Sarcozy, who was given a rather soft ride from Lagardère’s media group in his election campaign. M. Largardère, claims that he had no inside knowledge of delays in deliveries of the A380, when his family group sold off 7.5 per cent of the Franco-German planemaker’s shares in April 2006. The possibility remains that he will be in line to return to EADS in the future, when the Chair rotates from German to French hands

According to The Independent, reports from the French press, that

[S]ince taking over the family empire after his father died in March 2003, M. Lagardère has cultivated a chatty and approachable style. He has, however, been plunged into controversies. His group is one of France’s biggest media players, owning a controlling stake in Hachette-Filipacci Media, the company that owns Paris-Match. He also has smaller stakes in Le Monde, Le Parisien and L’Equipe … M. Lagardère has been accused of interfering in editorial decisions to protect his friend M. Sarkozy and especially to prevent discussion of alleged problems in the President’s [private life]. Le Monde quoted a “close adviser” of M. Lagardère [as saying that] “whatever happens” he will be protected by M. Sarkozy.

It now seems, that “whatever happens” M. Sarcozy intends to place himself hors de combat.


Che Guevara was the ultimate charismatic leader

October 8, 2007

che-guevara-korda.jpg

Heroic military figures offer insights into the nature of charisma. Che Guevara stands alongside such earlier leaders as Alexander, Napoleon, Nelson, and more recently, Nelson Mandela. But what do we mean by the charismatic leader?

There will be world-wide acknowledgement this week of the impact of the life and death of Che Guevara, forty years after his execution in the hands of the Bolivian army [on October 9th 1967]. The term most widely used of the Argentine-born revolutionary leader is charismatic.

Guevara’s military efforts were intertwined with those of his close ally Fidel Castro, and it could be argued that in some ways Che ‘out-charismad’ the Cuban.

Fidel became a political leader, preoccupied with the governance of Cuba. That earned him mega-credibility (and to his enemies status as dictator) as the founder and leader of a Marxist state within a hundred miles of the mainland of The United States of America.

In terms of practical consequence, Fidel’s revolutionary efforts had far greater impact than those of Guevara. He led the successful revolution against the Batista regime. Cuba was to become the cockpit of the cold-war confrontation between America and Russia.

In crude military terms, Guevara was more an example of the romantic and tragic figure fighting for a cause against all odds. Military defeat can sometimes become cultural victory, and that happened in spades to Che’s reputation.

Myth-making trumps historical strong suits

The process of myth-making can be seen in the semi-biographical film account of the young man’s South American journey of exploration by motor-bike. In the movie, Che was portrayed, according to one critic, as a Christ-like figure moving among the masses awaiting his emancipatory intervention. The approach, it has to be conceeded, is no more than the customary Hollywood treatment (albeit by a Brazilian director) accorded to heroic figures.

Other critics of Che have highlighted events glossed over in the myth-making process, pointing out that after the successful Cuban revolution, Castro had appointed him a special prosecutor, a role he undertook energetically, at a time when hundreds of opponents of the new regime were executed.

Paul Berman, author of Terror and Liberalism offers one of the most vehement iconoclastic critiques:

The cult of Ernesto Che Guevara is an episode in the moral callousness of our time. Che was a totalitarian. He achieved nothing but disaster. Many of the early leaders of the Cuban Revolution favored a democratic or democratic-socialist direction for the new Cuba. But Che was a mainstay of the hardline pro-Soviet faction, and his faction won. Che presided over the Cuban Revolution’s first firing squads. He founded Cuba’s “labor camp” system—the system that was eventually employed to incarcerate gays, dissidents, and AIDS victims. To get himself killed, and to get a lot of other people killed, was central to Che’s imagination.

The comments following Berman’s analysis put to shame the standard of discussion prompted by almost any web-site I have caught up with. They go a long way to teasing out the ways in which cultural forces shape our icons, and give us the leaders we create.

Berman completely fails to understand the role of iconography in art, particularly in Catholic cultures. Che is a hero to many because he resisted a truly ugly system, remained true to his ideals, and conveniently died before the Revolution’s slow, pathetic demise became apparent to nearly everyone. He is therefore associated in the public mind with what was right about the Revolution, rather than what was very, very wrong about it … The humans underlying the icons are just stand-ins for the values they emphasize. Che has come to symbolize the values of resisting injustice and rejecting worldly excess.

The loneliest place on the left in the 1960s was reserved for those who opposed Fidel Castro and Che Guevara. …Why are people on the left so delusional about Castro and Guevara? …

One reason is Castro’s good fortune in his [American] enemies [such as ] Jesse Helms .. getting passed a law which commits the United States to side with the property claims of people who haven’t lived in Cuba in forty years.

…The second reason involves the cultural tendencies which arose in the 1960s .. …The third reason is that Fidel and Che were, in a sense, speaking to their social peers when they addressed the American left, and knew how to be heard by them.

The redress of charisma

Leadership scholars are now writing about an emerging post-charismatic view of leadership.

The dismissal of charisma as a late-twentieth century construct seems hardly likely to eliminate the idea from popular discourse, however sophisticated the objections. In practice, the term, not unlike creativity, retains some functional purpose in every-day terms. Nor can the term be defeated on the grounds that individuals labeled charismatic turn out to be narcissistic, or pathological.

The challenge seems to me to find more convincing theoretical characterizations of those behaviours that continue to be labeled as chararismatic.

We have come a long way from the idea proposed by Weber, of charisma as the revolutionary force of personality which ruptured traditional power-structures.

The term charismatic is now applied to many kinds of person. Tracing their antecedents is difficult. There seems to have been a Darwinian evolution of numerous kinds of charismatic leader to whom the term is applied.

What is overwehelmingly likely, is that no unique set of characterstics will be found that adequately captures a charismatic type. (I base this on the well-known failure of searches for univeral traits capturing the leadership construct).

It is not a coincicence, however, that the image of the charismatic is that of the idealised hero or heroine. But Don Juan was allegedly rather an ugly-looking person, and far from comely in appearance. Walt Disney, so often described as a charismatic, looks in photographs to be a quintessential salary-man. And Hitler, so easy to portray as an inadequate buffoon, nevertheless had a terrifying power over the collective that gathered to hear him.

All that being said, Che’s potency was augmented by the imposing impact of several famous images. Alexander the Great was breathtakingly handsome, and we all know the legend of Helen of Troy.

Taxonomizing charisma

This post deal with two revolutionary figures, Che Guevara and Fidel Castro. A wider examination of political and revolutionary charismatics would include advocates of non-violence: Ghandi, Mandela (well, let’s say the iconic Mandela), as well as some of the leaders classed as tyrants by Jeff Schubert.

Broadening the scope of the investigation, we would add the charismatic business leader, who at times seems associated with various power-grabbing common to alpha-males of other primate species. Then there is the more local recognition accorded to the charismatic sales manager, school teacher, tenor, civil servant, tennis coach, entrepreneur, cleric …

Maybe there is scope for a someone to develop a taxonomy of charismatic leaders, applying the methods of linguistic analysis.