Leaders in the news

November 28, 2015

As November ends, more leadership stories fill the headlines

Marissa Mayer

In preparing posts for LWD I am detecting a reduction in fresh stories of heroic leaders.   Some years ago I could select from several available on any day of the week to discuss with my students. Now the stories more often report leaders whose actions and decisions have turned out badly.

Marissa Mayer

Among  leaders under attack is Yahoo’s Marissa Mayer who finds her turnaround plans in disarray, while facing criticism of a poor approach in dealing with employee engagement.

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Aung San Suu Kyi Signals Threat to Boycott Myanmar Election

December 20, 2013

Freedom News reported the story

Aung San Suu Kyi Signals Threat to Boycott Myanmar Election.

The extended struggles of the Myanmar regime continue. The announcement places as the key point for negotiation the right for Suu Kyi to stand for President.

The similarities with the ‘long road to freedom’ in South Africa have been noticed.


Is Myanmar edging towards democracy?

June 8, 2013

There have been acclaimed signs of movement towards democracy in Myanmar. But racial tensions will present familiar challenges for any new non-military leadership

According to the BBC The head of the UK’s armed forces, General Sir David Richards, is visiting Burma [June 2013] to try to build ties with the country’s powerful military. He also met President Thein Sein (a former General) and leaders of the opposition including Aung San Suu Kyi for ‘serious talks’ on support short of lifting UN sanctions.

Steps to democracy

The release from house arrest of Aung San Suu Kyi and her swearing into Parliament [2012] were given global significance as steps in Myanmar towards democracy.

Under Imperial rule, Burma was treated as an outpost of the British Empire. Regional rule was operated from India, which still shows considerable interest in its Commonwealth partner.

Racial tensions

However, the country still faces the challenges of racial tensions as complex and arguably as intractable as those in The Middle East. The Indian Express outlines the tensions that have bubbled over in Malaysia.

Malaysian police said today they had detained more than 900 Myanmar nationals in a security sweep after at least two were killed last week in clashes believed to be linked to sectarian violence back home.
The two dead were likely to have been Myanmar Buddhists.. and the attacks were [reported as] believed to be the result of violence in Myanmar.
Deadly sectarian strife pitting Myanmar’s majority Buddhists against the Muslim ethnic Rohingya minority has flared since last year, in the country’s western state of Rakhine.
Myanmar called on Malaysia to take action against those responsible for the attacks and protect Myanmar citizens. U Maung Hla, who heads the Burma Refugee Organisation in Malaysia, said violence between exiled Myanmar communities here was not uncommon and was “sometimes due to religion.” The Rohingya have been described by the United Nations as one of the world’s most persecuted minorities. About 800,000 are estimated to live in Myanmar, which denies them citizenship, rendering them stateless.

The long walk

The democratic vision is that Aung San Suu Kyi will lead her country in the fashion of a 21st century Mandela or Gandhi (the two leaders she most publically admires). It is likely to be a long walk to freedom.


The release of Aung San Suu Kyi is Burma’s Mandela Moment

November 15, 2010


The release of Aung San Suu Kyi in Burma inevitably brings to mind the release of Nelson Mandela from prison in South Africa. Should we see this as Burma’s ‘Mandela Moment’ and a step on its long road to political freedom?

The overwhelming similarity found in examining the cases of Aung San and Nelson Mandela is the sense of how non-violent opposition may successfully threaten a powerful and oppressive regime. But as Mandela presciently noted, the road to freedom is a long and hard one.

Idealised influence

Students of leadership will recognise the power of charisma at work. Both leaders project an overpowering sense of destiny and service to a higher ideal than that their own aspirations. They become icons and their influence is said to be idealized. For followers, they can do no wrong, a powerful responsibility to place on any human’s shoulders.

Political realities and chess playing

I have noted how political strategy has some things in common with a complex game of chess. The release of Aung San may be seen as a chess move by the military rulers in Burma. If we continue the chess-playing metaphor it follows their move a few weeks ago to hold elections. That move was widely dismissed as dubious gambit, offering a spurious promise of freedom. Tthe Generals will have assessed the situation subsequently. The gambit presumably was considered not to be working calling for another move.

The Telegraph analysed the situation:

The military regime which released Ms Suu Kyi is nonetheless confident it has control of the levers of power after the recent elections. The Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) won and was founded by Thein Sein, who resigned as a general to become prime minister. The only credible opposition, Ms Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) was split by the poll. Elements of the party disagreed with her call to boycott the election and split off to form the National Democratic Force (NDF). But NDF leaders have said they would join forces with the NLD if Ms Suu Kyi was released. Her stated willingness to work with all democrats seems likely to heal any rift.

One of the greatest obstacles to Ms Suu Kyi – an ethnic Burman – building an effective opposition, inside or outside the system, could be the ethnic minorities that make up 40 per cent of Burma’s population. There is a widespread assumption across Burma that the military will take the opportunity, now that the elections are out of the way, to crackdown on the troublesome ethnic minorities. That might leave Ms Suu Kyi in an uncomfortable position as she tries to build bridges with the military regime yet not anger groups already antagonistic towards her.

Power Plays

Too direct a confrontation may produce yet another return to house arrest and her removal from direct political influence. Yet the power is not completely with the ruling Generals. To continue the chess metaphor, the release move was made not because the Generals wanted to do it at this moment in time. Rather it was a forced move, made because it had become the least-worse next step. It may well also be the first move towards an endgame promising a more democratic system in the country.