Airbus is an early test for Sarcozy

May 18, 2007

791px-farnborough_air_show_2006_a380_landing.jpg18-nicolas_sarkozy.jpg_41385977_seamusheaney203.jpgNicholas Sarcozy discovers that Airbus will be one of many issues which will require his attention as President. At present, he may be able to do little more than signal his awareness of its significance. He is unlikely to have a long honeymoon period.

The energetic M. Saroczy moves quickly to the scene of potential troubles over the future of Airbus employees in France. The company serves as an interesting indicator of his leadership style early on in his Presidency.

He arrives at the firm’s Toulouse headquarters with plenty of experience and preparation for what he will do. While it has not dominated the recent Presidential campaign, he will have had as much time then, as he is likely to have in the future for considering his plans. His call then was for a strengthening the leadership of the company through attracting new investors to its board.

In the election battle he avoided addressing the immediate production difficulties and the longer-term strategic and governance issues which have been the preoccupations of Louis Gallois.

For all Sarco’s intentions, it is hard to see him being in a position to make a difference in the short-term. The workforce has already begun action direct. He comes as the newly appointed champion of the Right. A gesture of masterful inaction is likely to be his best outcome at the moment.

Some words of advice: Listen to the poets

Across the channel, an historic election recently resulted in the appointment of leaders to the new power-sharing assembly of Northern Ireland. The challenges facing the leaders are as tough as any facing Sarcozy.

In his acceptance speech, deputy leader Martin McGuinness recounted advice he had been given. He had chosen Seamus Heaney as his mentor. The great Irish poet had urged him to pay attention not to togetherness, but to working and celebrating ‘otherness’.

Not bad advice for Nicholas Sarcozy. Also, as a general principle, listen to the poets. Their worlds, and words, in another inspired phrase borrowed from Seamus Heaney, offer us redress to our assumptions and beliefs. That’s maybe a worthwhile leadership principle of itself.

A week is a long time …

May 8, 2007

_42890517_mayweather2031.jpg… in politics and boxing. What leadership lessons can be learned from the narrow victories of Nicholas Sarcozy in France, Alex Salmond in Scotland, David Cameron in England, and Floyd Mayweather in Las Vagas?

This week in France, the biggest contest of the year to date came to a close but predicted conclusion with victory to Nicholas Sarcozy. This requires a closer examination in its own right, elsewhere. Sarco-Sega round two has inevitably been bigger than Sarco-Sega round one. Its own prime-time TV blockbuster attracted an audience of over 20 million viewers.

Even these figures threatened to be eclipsed by the viewers of the biggest boxing contest of the decade in Las Vagas, as Golden Boy Oscar de la Hoya went head to head against Pretty Boy Floyd Mayweather. Fight addicts in the States, and insomniacs elsewhere around the world-wide united in watching the richest gladiators on the planet …

In Britain, there were elections in Wales for its National Assembly, In Scotland for its Parliament, and in England at local Council level. All had their points of interest from a leadership perspective.

In France

A clear, yet uneasy triumph for Sarcozy, with 53% to 47% of an awesome 85% turnout. The uncertainties among the electorate were not translated into a low vote. The uneasiness was confirmed in demonstrations by his bitterest opponents, although these were assessed as minor by the standards of the nation’s tradition of action direct. Sarcozy’s earliest remarks after his victory indicated his wish to serve all the French people. (Echoes of Margaret Thatcher’s debut utterance on taking power, from the steps of Number 10 Downing Street?).

The local election results in England

There is no English parliament, per se, and so there are never English National elections. In England, The local council elections have been taken as an indicator of the wider political struggles. For months, the (United Kingdon) Government had been acknowledging the inevitability of significant loss of support, reflected in the outcome at the local elections. This painful admission was, at least, one which could hardly be attacked by their opponents. The ultimate meltdown which was hinted at in the run-up did not take place. The departure of Tony Blair as PM, (now anticipated to be more a matter of days rather than months), will be an opportunity for the party to distance the party and its new leader from the unpopularity of Mr. Blair, now particularly damaged for his identification as an architect of the Iraq war and its consequences.

The political battle in Wales

The new composition of the Welsh National Assembly shows how a sizable proportion of voters in the Principality have, at least temporarily, found a new political favorite. Wales has always been suspicious of Socialist-lite Labour, and has never been enthusiastic for the new-fangled Blairite version. This week, voters even deserted Old labour in favour of the nationalism of The Plaid. (Plaid Cymru, The Party of Wales). The results disrupted the stranglehold exercised by the Socialists.

And the De La Hoya/Mayweather contest?

This contest also offers insight on leadership. At one level we are aware of how boxing fits well with the metaphor of leadership as a form of warfare. The most recent example was Mr Blair’s outburst about the clunking big fist which would smite the opponents of the Labour Party in the near future.

The De La Hoya/Mayweather contest was an example of a battle between combatants of differing strengths and weaknesses. De La Hoya, aging, but physically more powerful De La Hoya. In contrast, Mayweather was younger, swifter, technically outstanding.

Game theorists would be able to examine the uncertainties within a predictable pattern of behaviors. De La Hoya tried to deliver a ‘clunking big fist’. To do so, he had to withstand the elusive moves, and energy-sapping if lighter blows of his opponent. Which was partly why the contest was so fascinating.

Mayweather won. But De La Hoya was always going to win another battle, through another piece of the action, as major investor in Golden Boy promotions, the company which had put on the fight.

Leadership lessons of the week?

What a week. Leaders in action, winning and losing, but often able to claim wriggle room to fight again. For the most part, the lessons seem to show that the political leaders were instruments, symbols, which helped ‘followers’, particularly voters, to show their allegiance. The symbols were the primary focus of decision-making.

We are learning of the role of atavars, or constructed identities, in webworlds. Are these really so less ‘real’ than the constructed images of our political leaders. Do they shape our judgement of their policies? Or is the ‘direction of causality’ more from our prior social beliefs and values to our interpretation of the worth of the individual leaders? Which brings us back to the idea of how we create the leaders we deserve.

Sego and Sarko round two: How social identity theory interprets the political process

April 29, 2007

180px-mrs_texas.jpgA Presidential election offers a test of leadership theory. We look to the emerging ideas of social identity to interpret the dynamics of the on-going French contest between Nicolas Sarkozy and Segolene Royal. The theory suggests that the voting decision can be seen as the result of a kind of beauty contest. The vote goes to the candidate which most closely matches a mental image of a prototypical (idealized) leader.

Leadership and social identity theory

A recent entry into the leadership textbooks is social identity theory. The fundamental principle is that social actors make sense of their world through their mental maps, which are open to revision, but stable enough to help decision-making in unclear situations. Within the maps, according to social identity theory, we compare and contrast ‘significant others’ such as leaders, lovers, lenders, friends, followers, fashion-setters, and so on. The process is one of sense-making. The charismatic leader is partly created by ourselves. THis is another way of suggesting we get the leaders we deserve.

The theory suggests that our shared understanding of a leader is a social construction. Also, it indicates that preferences, while partly explicable around rationalistic and logical terms, are also influenced by aspirations and psychological needs. The leader is role model, rescuer, and parent. The leader is ‘the person I would like to be’, or ‘the person I would want to help me’. Much research still needs to be done, but we are some way to understanding older puzzles of the charismatic leader.

Which brings us back to the issue under discussion, the continuing battle between Nicolas Sarkozy and Segolene Royal.

This is a beauty contest

Social identity theory suggests that we chose our leaders on more than a rational appraisal of their policies. Rather, we vote on grounds of constructed reality of the candidates, tested against what one leadership school has referred to as a leader’s idealised influence. Metaphorically, voters are engaging in selecting the winner of a beauty contest.

Shared social memories mean that our mental libraries of leaders (that is to say, our images of actual leaders) are
By whatever Darwinian process, we have arrived at candidates with considerable physical appeal. The image-makers have not had to work too hard to produce good results, both from photo-opportunities and from the carefully posed press releases.
They could audition successfully as potential stars within the French film industry. On the other hand, I hardly dare to suggest that they share with Ronald Reagan the characteristics out of which a Hollywood-style President could be invented. Hollywoodification and comparisons with a Reagan or a Schwarzenegger would be considered quite inappropriate …

Nicolas Sarkozy, we read, has the impact of a charismatic leader on his followers. Francois Bayrou, still in the public eye as a possible influence in the final stages of the contest, has similar physical appearance at a distance, to Sarkozy. The defeated Le Pen retains echoes of his own earlier charismatic bearing. All three male contenders in the first round matched requisite standards of what a leader ‘should’ look like. As for Segolene Royal, glamorous is one of the frequently used terms to describe her impact, not just on her followers, but on a wider non-politicized public.

The case is a strong one, that in France today, as elsewhere, an attractive physical appearance is a necessary (if not sufficient) quality for a would-be political leader. Whatever else is going on, we are witnessing a beauty contest.

To go more deeply into social identity

To go more deeply into social identity try Michael Hogg’s review of social identity

And the winner is?

The election is only metaphorically a beauty contest. Our theory suggests that the winner is the more beautiful by popular acclaim.

To guess the winner, we might assume there will be little switching by voters who have seen their prototypic leaders win through. We have to consider what happens to the votes of people whose candidates were defeated in the first round. My crude estimate of that puts Sarcozy a smidgeon ahead, a winner by a closer margin than he obtained in the first round of voting. But that’s a view from a different place.

Stop Press: Le Monde reports a voting intention poll showing Sarco still in the lead, but with a slight weakening of his lead over Sego. But there is still the televised debate next Wednesday. Saro says that he’s ahead in the mountains of the Tour de France, but a single slip and all is lost. Not Hollywood then, but maybe Eurosport.

Airbus struggles: A killer fact analysis

February 23, 2007

791px-farnborough_air_show_2006_a380_landing.jpgStrategic decisions at Airbus have been increasingly mired in political wrangling. Killer facts appear to include serious production delays difficulties in France; job preservation priorities of French and German politicians, share disposals by BAE to Airbus parent EADS, and leadership changes as the political, economic and technological challenges play out. Leader Louis Gallois will have to find some wriggle room to secure the restructuring required for the company.


Considerable changes have occured at EADS since this post was first written. These can be tracked through the Airbus posts, including details of the corporate restructuring. The longer term Power8 plan seems still on the agenda, but delayed. Angela Merkel still visits Toulouse, but with new French President Nicholas Sarcozy. The post has been retained as a useful historical context to more recent developments in the company.

[Original Post follows …]

You know an international company is in trouble when it becomes the topic of discussion between corporate and political leaders. Today, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Jacques Chirac meet with executives of EADS in Germany. The subject on the agenda employment, and potential job losses at the planemaker Airbus. The company’s largest sites, with greatest potential for job losses are at Toulouse and Hamburg.

Last year, 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. Gallois is a much admired leader with a track record of top-level negotiating skills as well as industry experience. This week, the famed negotiating skills of Louis Gallois have been strained. An announcement of the restructuring with losses of over 10,0000 jobs was postponed, and now will follow the meeting of EADS executives with Merkel and Chirac.

The Killer facts

The killer facts that will pervade the talks are as follows. The mighty and innovative airbus 380 project has been mired in technological challenges (particularly over gigantic wiring problems) at the Toulouse plant. At minimum, these will cause huge compensation payouts to customers. (The financials would be much worse if competitor Boeing were not working to full capacity). The governance of EADS has been an extended story of struggle between French and German interests (in which the Franco-German co-leadership plays a part). British political influence disappeared after UK defense and aviation company BAE Systems announced its plans to sell 20% stake in Airbus to EADS last year.

What will happen next?

Don’t expect to find a neat Business School solution on the strategic issues. The dreaded PEST analysis (Political, Economic, Social and technological factors) seems more relevant than simple SWOTting (analysis of corporate strengths and weaknesses, against external threats and opportunities).

Structural production factors dictate that the pain of job losses will be spread around with greatest potential losers in Germany, France, and England. Interestingly, the share price has had its medium term downward adjustment, and has been remarkably stable over the last six months of corporate turbulence.

There seems scope for some wriggle-room, and political / economic trade-offs. Louis Gallois may yet lead by facilitating some creative (win-win) decisions of national involvement in future business streams. We will soon find out who will be doing the most wriggling, and where.

The Sarco-Sego battle draws closer: The first web-driven Primaries

January 14, 2007

Segolene Royal Nicholas Sarcozy


Two charismatic politicians are expected to contest a fascinating battle to become the next President of France. In the right corner, Nicholas Sarcozy. On the left, the equally newsworthy Segolene Royal. The unfolding story promises to be one in which the new web technologies will play a significant role, as the protagonists attempt to induce more participative democracy into their campaigns. But a surprise candidate appear in the mix? (Updates added)


In just a month, the political pendulum seems to have swung in favour of Sarcozy. Royal has been somewhat error-prone, and has been damaged by inexperience and a lack of deftness (e.g. in remarks in Canada, somewhat touchy about its Anglophone/Francophone tensions).

Talk turns to a late run by centrist politician Francois Bayrou.

Original post
Last night’s TV spot just about made the late-night news in the UK. Edited highlights can be misleading. British commentators concluded that Segolene’s chances now look extremely slim. New technology, a fresh and appealing image, may not be anywhere as important as I suggested…

Can the outcome be so clear, so early in the battle? Do not pendulums swing in both directions?

Original posting (January 14th 2007)

Nicolas Paul Stephane Sarkozy de Nagy-Bocsa – more commonly known as Nicolas Sarkozy was today appointed the centre-right candidate for the French presidency. Rivals within the ruling UMP alliance Rival candidates have dropped out in recent months, leaving Sakozy as the most likely candidate to challenge seriously Segolene Royal. But the French political system tends to be structurally disposed towards complex and potentially fragile alliances. Sakozy has been emerging as a strong challenger but his appointment today is hardly a ringing endorsement.

From the other side of the Channel, the BBC noted that

The 51-year-old was chosen by party members via an internet vote. Just 69% cast a vote, but 98% voted for Mr Sarkozy, who was the only candidate. Some 327,000 UMP members could vote. Many attended a lavish rally in Paris. But President Jacques Chirac was not present, while several senior party figures had said they would abstain ..Mr Sarkozy was aiming for a show of unity, despite bitter divisions at the top of the UMP.

The UMP election process had concluded with a web-based debate between politicians and party members.

Segolene’s web-based campaigning

Segolene had also embraced web technologies energetically in her campaign to win the nomination to represent the left-wing of French politics. She has encouraged participative democracy through her web site and has claimed that the responses have shaped her election platform (details of which were also released on the web).

In Webs we trust

The web-innovations will delight those who see the web as the great new information revolution. There will, naturally be unexpected problems. My attempts to surf the URL sites today met with signal lack of success (or lack of signal success). Royal’s site does appear to be working and playing a part in her campaign.

Some interesting questions

Is France where the first web-based Primaries are taking place? Will Sarkozy survive his most important political battles, namely, against the political enemies on his own side? Will France, who gave a grateful world the concept of Chauvinism, now elect its first female President? Whatever. If French politicians can use Blogs to shape their policies, I too will welcome messages on these questions, concerning the new e-world in which we elect the leaders we deserve.