ONE THOUSAND LEADERSHIP POSTS: WATCH THIS SPACE

August 28, 2013

Leaders We Deserve will shortly reach its one thousandth leadership post. We review highlights since the blog started in 2006

Within the next week, Leaders We Deserve will publish its one thousandth post. In celebration we will be looking back and perhaps looking a little ahead at the leadership issues of our age.

The start

In 2006, as we started publishing, the Iraq war had ended, and Saddam Hussein was executed. Later, leaders Tony Blair in the UK and George Bush in the USA, were to be embroiled in controversies on the information that informed the decision to attack Iraq, particularly the Weapons of Mass Destruction that were never found there. At that time, there was a sense that political change was achievable by regime change, and the removal of a dictator. [Later, LWD reviewed Tony Blair’s biography]

Dashed hopes

Belief in aggressive regime change as a strategy continued into the period of the Arab Spring of 2012, although with increasingly evidence to the contrary. The sequence of revolutions and dashed hopes seemed to me to demonstrate the difficulties in the concept of a tipping point. The recent counter-revolutionary crises in The Middle East are the latest illustrations of how the evidence of history warns us against the complete acceptance of simple models of change.

The financial crisis

Economically, the financial crisis of 2008-9 was the dominant feature of the period. The world is still struggling today with the impact of the credit crunch, and the dilemmas of a system globally in which banks are said to be too big to fail, and their leaders who were found in hindsight too often wanting in judgement and ethics. [See Lehman Bros and the Limits of Leadership]

Some of the leaders were humiliated and stripped from office. There are increasingly calls for more criminal charges to be brought about. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the concept of a leader’s moral compass has attracted attention.

The most charismatic leader?

The most visited post in LWD has been the one examining the nature of Che Guevara’s leadership style. If popularity among subscribers is the criterion, the iconic poster-boy of a former revolutionary era could be nominated the most charismatic leader to be written about in the thousand posts.

Zimbabwe

Another in the top ten of all posts for visits was an account of the situation in Zimbabwe, and the increasingly dubious methods deployed by Robert Mugabe to retain power. [There are no winners in Zimbabwe] Mugabe has retained power through several elections since. Subsequent posts have been less frequented.

Sporting leadership

LWD concentrated on two sports, football and tennis, with less frequent forays into cycling, American Football and Rugby union. If you count chess as a sport, there were also quite a few attempts to present chess as a means of understanding strategic leadership.

Apple, Steve Jobs and Foxconn

Steve Jobs founder of Apple died leaving a hugely successful global company. A biography released shortly after his death gave a richer picture of the design genius as a difficult person to work for. The succession challenge was made more difficult by supply chain crises. A post written in 2012 documenting problems at its major supplier Foxconn, was another which continues to attract substantial numbers of visits to LWD.

Teaching from LWD cases

LWD posts have become increasingly used as teaching aids on executive programme.

The Apple Foxconn case is a recent successful one. [Apple’s new leader faces ethical dilemmas at Foxconn ] Others widely used around the world include Peace One Day: The Adidas Puma Story , and Emirates Airline: the Secret Story of a Successful Company .

Acknowledgements

There have been many contributors to the 1000 blogs as well as over a thousand subscribers, and supportive colleagues. I am grateful to you all, you know who you are. I will risk errors and omissions acknowledging you in a future post

To be continued [including those acknowledgements]


Leadership stories of the week: Bo Xilai, Glenn Greenwald, Narendra Dabholkar

August 22, 2013

In China, the long-running saga of the charismatic leader Bo Xilai reaches court. In the UK, the Brazilian partner of a Guardian journalist is detained at Heathrow. This adds to the Edward Snowden story of the leaking confidential information to the embarrassment of the US and UK government security agencies. In India, Narendra Dabholkar an advocate of rationality, is killed

As this is examination season, I have added brief notes for leadership students.

The Bo Xilai trial

This story of the rise and fall of the charismatic Chinese leader Bo Xilai continues. This week [August 2013] Bo Xilai goes on trial. A long-running drama reaches a critical stage. The story has been followed and been through over twenty updates in an earlier LWD post. These need to be sifted through as a starting point to evaluating what happened in this complex story of leadership, ambition, charisma, and global implications. Writing a post on the trial requires considerable thought or it will be mostly speculation

The Guardian and the latest in the Snowden spy leaks story

In the UK, The Guardian newspaper makes news itself The background to the story according to CNN:

Lawyers acting for David Miranda, the partner of journalist Glenn Greenwald, said they will bring his case to the High Court in London on Thursday [Aug 22 2013] after he was detained at Heathrow Airport.
Greenwald, who works for The Guardian newspaper, has been at the forefront of high-profile reports exposing secrets in U.S. intelligence programs, based on leaks from former U.S. National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden.
Miranda, a Brazilian citizen, spent nearly nine hours in detention Sunday being questioned under a provision of Britain’s terrorism laws. He was stopped as he passed through London on his way from Berlin to his home in Brazil.

For students of leadership, we have here a typical ‘story within a story’. An examination of the dilemmas facing the various leaders involved is a worthwhile exercise.

The murder of Narendra Dabholkar

In India, Narendra Dabholkar an advocate of rationality and a kind of Indian Richard Dawkins is killed. The story is being presented as the fate of a modernizing leader threatening traditional ‘superstitions’ and perhaps being killed for his views. This is a version of the dilemmas facing reforming and charismatic leaders.

Postscript

Another UK story. The ‘Best and worse Pensions providers’ are named. I would argue that the review is valuable information, but needs to be recognized as being about ‘best current yield’ rather than ‘best Pension’ providers.


Low Status High Security: lessons from the Snowden case

August 19, 2013

By John Keane

The Snowden case has drawn attention to a characteristic of espionage in an electronic age in which high security information is accessible to security-cleared contractors of relatively low status

The phenomenon of electronic espionage by low-status contractors is becoming increasingly discussed after several high-profile leaking stories, which for shorthand sre being labelled as wikileaks. The BBC noted recently that the conditions are well-known, but little has been done to address the problem. The article points to the need to grant contractors high security status. They cite the large consulting firm Booz Allen as having remarkably high numbers for staff cleared for accessing Government information. Of its 25,000 staff, nearly half have security clearance to top secret class information. These are the ranks from which Edward Snowden emerged.

A leadership dilemma

Security analysts recognize that the management of vast information flows requires considerable back-up support. I think of it as a wormhole in the blogosphere through which data can slip. In principle, the dangers can be reduced by greater care in allocating access to highly sensitive data. In practice we have a leadership dilemma of the electronic age.

The author

This post is written by Dr John Keane of Urmston University in Northern England where he teaches and researches into leadership and the history of economics. The views expressed are those of the author.


The fight for the ashes: A tale of two Captains

August 13, 2013

The 2013 cricket matches between England and Australia showed two different styles of captaincy. It could be argued that the England had the better team and won, Australia had the better captain and lost

Monday 12th August 2013, approximately 6.30pm local time A cricket match in the scenic little town of Chester le Street in Durham was well into its fourth day, with Australia in control. The most likely outcome was an Australian victory sometime in the afternoon of the following day. England were leading with two victories and a draw. Australia could still draw the series by winning the match and then the final contest the following week. The match was running later that the scheduled finish time for the day to make up for time lost through rain in the afternoon session.

Thoughts turned to dinner and to catching up through a highlights programme of the penultimate day’s play a few hours later.

Monday 12th August 2013, approximately 8.30pm local time Returned from delights of Pepperoni pizza in downtown Bramhall. Astonished to find that the match was over. Jubilant players were mingling with jubilant supporters. Australia had collapsed. England had won the series.

A tale of two Captains

If we are to take the media reports seriously, Australia were a relatively weak team captained with panache and skill by Michael Clarke. England had the stronger team captained by the inexperienced Alistair Cook. Clarke repeatedly found imaginative ways to unsettle the England team’s batting efforts, and ‘led from the front’ almost winning the previous game, only thwarted by bad weather. Cook’s captaincy was criticized for putting safety first, waiting for the Australian batsmen to self-destruct. In several matches this eventually worked, only after Australia had worked their way to winning positions.

If we don’t take the media reports seriously …

There is a dilemma of leadership here. In tightly contested matches, you might expect better captaincy to swing the matches in favour of their teams. Possibility one is that Cook’s captaincy was not as bad as some pundits opined. Possibility two there were other apparently game-changing factors. Home advantage might have been one, for example.

What the papers say

I have refrained from reading what the newspapers say until after completing this post. They may tell the story as a tale of two captains, or the brilliant final bowling spell of England’s Stuart Broad, or the fine batting of Ian Bell which more than compensated for the batting of Australian captain Michael Clarke.

Next series

Cricket continues on its remorseless way. In less than six months, it will be Australia on home grounds against England. Another series to enjoy and create the leaders we deserve?

Follow up news on captaincy

The crude ‘good captain/bad captain debate continued. I haven’t found adverse comments on Clarke’s captaincy. The original comments on Cook’s performance have been rejected by several team members and coaching staff. Ian bell wrote of Cook’s outstanding skills at leadership when crisis loomed – calming the team and encouraging them to perform better. Coach Andy Flower was even more effusive in praising Cook’s leadership skills The issue may not be unconnected with the England Captain’s apparent drop in batting form in the series

Which suggests me that the criticisms of Cook may reflect leadership decisions mostly tactical on the field; that he is respected and liked in the dressing room; that the views of coach and players may capture aspects of his leadership style perhaps influenced by a desire to react to criticisms of Cook’s captaincy. AS so often, the evaluation of a captain’s capabilities defies simplistic polarity into ‘good Captain/bad captain.


British Airways struggles in the competitive world of airline travel

August 12, 2013

Airlines around the world are competing fiercely for business. Creativity, robust business models and effective leadership will be required to survive

Unsurprisingly, airlines have become one of the favourite sources of business school cases. The American Southwest airlines has been studied for its innovative “no frills/customer care” approach. LWD has looked at Emirates for its complex business model (is it more a vehicle for fulfilling Dubai’s development aspiration?). We have also commented on the often egregious leadership styles exhibited by airline CEOs, such as Willy Walsh of British Airlines.

Why Southwest is a dangerous case to study

I have listened to many student presentations lauding Southwest over the flailing giants of the industry which in comparison show financial vulnerability. One point that is rarely mentioned is that Southwest, a fine example of strategic leadership, is also a relatively simple business to study. [Compare its number of destinations, fleet size, freight business and scheduled passenger distances for example with Delta or even British Airways. However, the case helps Professors make the kind of glib generalization I offered for it above]. Southwest has pioneered the so-called peanut airlines which have replaced meals by peanut snacks. Even within the peanut lines the business models must not be assumed to be identical. Ryanair sees Southwest as its inspiration, but has approached customer satisfaction in a completely different way.

Dilemmas for old and new airlines

The old airlines struggle with older fleets. With a strong business model this may eventually turn out well. The newer airlines have the advantages of the technological advances in the new generations of plane. They also have the disadvantages of untested glitches that beset new models.

Just an opinion

This weekend, I read of the problems encountered by passengers on a British Airlines flight attempting to travel on the Boeing 747 to London from Riyadh, Saudi Arabia [7 August 2013]. After a forced return to Riyadh, believed to a problem with the wing flaps, the plane set off and turned back again.

On my last British Airways flight in July, from Heathrow to Manchester, the plane sat on the runway for nearly two hours. The first announcement said that the safety checks had not been carried out overnight. The second announcement said that a toilet needed fixing, the third announcement that a piece of equipment was being brought to fix a wing flap.

Personal opinions make poor business analyses. I do not suggest from these two episodes that British Airlines is a bad or dangerous airline. I still like its service, and of course its safety record and will continue to use its services. The anecdotes indicate the increasing operational pressures that accompany extremely competitive businesses. I hold a similar view over BP and the factors contributing to the Deepwater Horizon disaster.

Stop Press: BA and the leaders we deserve

A curious little story from Sri Lanka of a British Airlines fight and a political leader who tried to get out while the plane was in motion. OK, so I was attracted by the title of the piece “The Leaders We Deserve”.


Zero-hours contracts: the battle between flexibility and ethical management at McDonalds

August 8, 2013

Zero-hour contracts have become a trending issue as companies such as McDonalds balance efficiency against corporate social responsibilities

As happens, one firm is picked on in the media to illustrate a broader issue. In the case of zero-hours contracts, this week [August 2013] the firm is McDonalds.

The article in The Independent notes:

McDonald’s has admitted 90 per cent of its UK employees are on zero-hours contracts. The admission indicates the fast-food chain is potentially the largest zero-hours employer in the UK’s private sector, with 82,800 contracted staff not guaranteed work or a stable income.

The controversial practice requires employees to be available for work when it is required but, as they are contracted for 0 hours a week, employers are under no obligation to use them or pay them a set wage. This allows businesses not to pay staff during quiet periods, but ensures they are available to work at short notice when required.

UK Politicians have reacted to McDonald’s admission by calling for it to offer affected staff a new contract with a minimum hours guarantee.

The concept of a zero-hours contract appeals as an efficiency device. Organizations are able to pick and choose workers and avoid paying for slack times. Indeed, the notion of slack is worth considering. Economists have argued that slack is unproductive time, the enemy of efficiency. Innovation theorists in contrast have argued that slack time is vital for innovation. How can an organization develop a creative culture without time to ‘play with the future’. The appeal of Taylorism is that slack-time is reduced, even eliminated, in theory. Fordism, became its exemplar. Thus, modern management from its inception may be seen as approving the principle of zero-hours contracts.

From a different perspective

From a different perspective, behavioural scientists have long concluded that worker dissatisfaction eventually contributes to other losses in productivity through demotivated workers, militancy, and an increased tendency towards that economic sin, free-riding or exploiting fellow-workers to minimize personal effort.

Zero-hours contracts became politically interesting in the UK this year [2013] as a survey by The Chartered Institute of Personnel Development claimed that a million workers, around four percent of the working population could have such working arrangements.

Interesting, the practice is more common in the voluntary and public sectors than in private industry.

Zero-hours contracts were initially introduced in hotels, restaurants and shops, but their use has spread to the public sector because of spending cuts. The number has reached almost 100,000 in the National Health Service, while new figures show more than 270 government staff are on such contracts. Unison, Britain’s second biggest union, called for them to be outlawed. Its general secretary, Dave Prentis, said: “The vast majority of workers are only on these contracts because they have no choice. They may give flexibility to a few, but the balance of power favours the employers and makes it hard for workers to complain. Not knowing from week to week what money you have coming in to buy food and pay your bills is extremely nerve-wracking.”

Good or bad for workers?

It has been argued that the arrangement suits some individuals. I am less convinced the argument can be extended, as it has become, to entire categories such as students.

Good or bad for employers?

The greater enthusiasm shown in the public sector figures suggests that private organizations are more cautious about the arrangements. I found this unexpected at first sight. Are for-profit outfits more concerned about their workers? Or might it be they are more aware of hidden responsibilities owed to the zero-hours employees, yet to be tested in law.


Glaxo takes hit in China, but these are global dilemmas for Big Pharma

August 6, 2013

Glaxo Smith Kline faces a serious scandal for its business practices in China. There are serious implications for the entire global pharmaceutical industry

Some years ago, I wrote of the dilemmas facing Glaxo as its then chief sought to address criticisms of the gap between corporate actions and its rhetoric of corporate social responsibility. The entire pharmaceutical industry has been a favourite target on the internet under the cover-all term Big Pharma, as long-term profits were threatened, and speed-to-market pressures increased. Various unpleasant and often illegal practices were revealed.

The $400 million scam

Glaxo Smith Kline [GSK] is currently [July 2013] the centre of another scandal through its operations in China. The company is accused of a $400 million scam involving bribing doctors. Eighteen Glaxo employees have been arrested in China. The Chinese authorities claim a network of 700 people has been involved.

The issues are those facing the global giants known collectively as Big Pharma. The current story has a depressingly familiar tone. Last year [2012] Glaxo Smith Kline was hit with a $3bn fine for mis-selling drugs in the US. To date, the city has taken a relaxed view on the affair. Analyst Nils Pratley disagrees, offering three reasons:

First, reputation matters to drug companies and to Glaxo chief Andrew Witty who has been on a clean-up campaign during his five years in charge. After [last year’s fine] Witty said he was dealing with “echoes of the past” and announced his determination that such events would never happen again.

Nobody should doubt his sincerity but the Chinese allegations, if they are proved, would represent a serious failure of management. As far one can tell, GSK put in audit controls that it thought were sufficient for China; it may have been bamboozled by a sophisticated internal scam that was hard to spot without access to private bank accounts and emails. But that would be an explanation of failure, and won’t help GSK on the image front. Witty the unwitting is poor branding when you are dealing with governments around the world.

Second, GSK will probably have to rethink its entire model of doing business in China and other “high risk” countries. That signals disruption ahead as internal compliance controls are overhauled yet again.

[Eventually] in China, GSK will have to arrive at a working arrangement with a central government that appears to have a twofold agenda of running an anti-corruption drive and getting more funding into its dysfunctional healthcare system. Greater opportunity for GSK could emerge from the mess [through lower costs but greater volumes of sale and a better-regulated market.} But, to judge by the current aggressive rhetoric in China, the road to that position could be very long indeed. The story is still developing, but the City looks to be underplaying it.

I have long argued that the ‘pipeline’ model of innovation long-accepted by Big Pharma is in need of rethinking. It is based on a belief that success requires a pipeline of massive proportions through which vast numbers of candidates proceed in a Darwinian series of tests. Commercial pressures have ramped up the size and speed of operations. The temptation to ignore corporate social responsibilities is strong, regardless of the rhetoric and the establishment of CSR departments. Sir Andrew faces a host of leadership dilemmas.

July 2014

China continues legal proceedings

See Feldman, S. (2013) Trouble in the middle, oxford: Routledge for a broader analysis. http://blogs.wsj.com/chinarealtime/2013/08/01/eight-questions-steven-feldman-trouble-in-the-middle/
Accessed, July 12th 2014

August 2014

China jails Peter Humphrey for illegal transactions

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-28712420


Who owns Old Trafford?

August 1, 2013

Who owns the iconic Old Trafford football stadium, home to Manchester United Football Club? A council decision raises complex legal issues

The legal answer is the Glazer family following a controversial takeover in 2005.  However, Manchester United Supporters Trust [MUST]  have been granted rights at Old Trafford stadium if the club is ever sold, through a ruling of the local council.

An Asset of Community Value

This ruling classes the ground as an Asset Of Community Value. Unsurprisingly, the current owners of the club anticipate legal implications in the ruling. For example, would a decision to change the club’s name to strengthen its financial position be affected? Would the value in a future sale be influenced?

To the non-legal eye

To the non-legal eye, it all looks rather peculiar. The Trust talks of representing ‘the fans’. I can see the symbolic weight in this. But wait a minute. A few months ago, figures were published claiming a measurable proportion of the World’s population could be classed as Manchester United fans. It could be argued that The Supporters Trust represents millions of fans world wide, or maybe only its signed-up members.

No trivial issue

This is no trivial issue. In the UK at the moment, The Trades Union movement is currently embroiled in a debate regarding the rights they have over the Labour Party, though the individual subscriptions of its members, its block votes representing those member at Labour Party conferences, and its influence over the political policies of The Labour Party. Much politicking is taking place over the rights of individual members (some who are not Labour supporters) to opt out of the political levy included in the existing arrangements.

Which brings us back to Manchester United, its fans, and its legal owners.

Squatters rights and just cause

Another lens through which to examine the story: Various cases have been tested in court throughout the years over squatters rights and tenants rights. Common law principles are often evoked. The cases can become highly fraught, as the parties of weaker power resort to increasingly illegal methods outside the courtrooms, acting in what the individuals under threat believe to be on behalf of a just cause.

Which makes for good newspaper stories. Sometimes victory goes to the just, although more often to the powerful.