Ryan Air and Easy Jet are considered innovative and successful low-cost airlines. This week, [July 28th 2015] commentators were quick to point to the excellent financial results and growth figures from Ryan Air, and to compare them with the relatively modest progress made by Easy Jet over the same period
President Obama has received continued criticism for being a weak leader. His military actions against IS in Iraq and Syria are now being used to demonstrate the contrary argument. I suggest that such assessments need to be made with great care
Popular and political judgements of a leader’s competence need to be tested carefully. Too often they are reactions to a single critical incident.
Critical incidents may not be all that critical
A news story often follows a ‘critical incident’. For example, the IS made headlines over brutal videoed execution of an American hostage. President Obama said at a Press Conference that there was no American strategy in place for dealing with the emerging Islamic State. The remark was widely taken to illustrate the President’s weakness as a leader.
Was it weak leadership to speak the truth?
A leader is expected to offer reassurance. Obama’s sound-bite was uncomfortable to hear. It could be used in Media Training as an example of a remark that might have been better expressed. An example of a weakly-expressed point. But was it weak leadership to speak the truth? Would it have been any better to say “We know exactly what to do, as you will learn very shortly” ?
Was it strong leadership to launch the air campaign against IS?
British politicians appear to be believe so. They debated the issue and voted overwhelmingly in favour of supplying air support in Iraq (where the new regime requested military support against IS) Here is where some careful testing of ideas is required. One view is that a strong leader is decisive and ‘sends signals of commitment and willingness to act’ unilaterally if necessary.
There seems a wide consensus that the initiative has little chance of a simple successful ending without ‘boots on the ground‘.
Yet there has been a remarkable level of regional and international support of at least a symbolic kind.
And the question of what is strong leadership remains a matter of perspective. If strong is understood as having the power to bring about desired change, President Obama is in a relatively weak position for someone in the role generally perceived as that of the most powerful political leader in the world.
I have hesitated in commenting on the vital issue of Ukraine’s leadership dilemmas, as all seems confusion as regime change takes place
[DEVELOPMENTS WILL BE FOLLOWED AS THIS POST IS UPDATED]
A decade ago, in 2004, Viktor Yanukovych, then Prime Minister, was declared the winner of the presidential elections. The results caused a public outcry regarding illegalities. This resulted in the peaceful Orange Revolution, bringing Viktor Yushchenko and Yulia Tymoshenko to power, leaving Viktor Yanukovych in opposition. Yanukovych returned to a position of power in 2006, when he became Prime Minister until snap elections in September 2007 made Yushchenko Prime Minister again who fell out with Yulia Tymoshenko who was imprisoned on corruption charges.
Disputes with Russia over natural gas added to the political tensions far beyond Ukraine. Viktor Yanukovych was again elected President in 2010, although again with charges of electoral illegalities.
Ukraine’s leadership morass
In the space of a few days in late February 2014, bloody events in Kiev have left over a hundred fatalities. These were followed by the flight out by President Yanukovych, release from prison of opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko, and implicit acceptance by the authorities and police of the success of the demonstrators.
As can be observed from afar
As much as can be observed from afar, there is little of the triumphalism that accompanied the events of the Arab Spring of 2011. Perhaps the extended and bloody outcomes in Egypt and elsewhere provide a tempering of the mood of the articulate demonstrators willing to speak to Western journalists.
Not as simple
Nor is the story being offered as a triumphal return of an imprisoned heroine who would advance the process of escape from oppression. After her release from prison, Yulia Tymoshenko’s first public appearance and appeal to the people [23 February 2014] received a mixed reception by the crowds in Kiev. it was hardly the return of the savior, which tends to be one in which rationality is secondary to uncritical acclaim.
East is east?
Nor is it as simple as ‘East is East and West is West’ although the geo-political story of a convenient division marked by the Dneiper has been discussed.
I seek some understanding by wondering about dilemmas facing the various leaders and their supporters.
President Putin would have wanted time to bask in the un-bloodied success of the Winter Olympics at Sochi before permitting Ukraine to take the global headlines.
Angela Merkel who would like to signal support for a new relationship with the West on behalf of the EC, without provoking unwanted reactions from President Yanukovych.
Deposed President Yanukovych would be considering what options are open to him to return to power, or maybe avoid criminal charges.
Yulia Tymoshenko, is street smart enough to know there is no easy route to power, and also for dealing with some unanswered questions about her own track record of corruption for which she was imprisoned.
Vitali Klitschko, best known as former world heavyweight boxing champion. Now an opposition party leader active in the Kiev demonstrations in which over a hundred people were killed. Charismatic? At least very media savvy. He has to assess who might be his most valued allies. I can’t help thinking of former world chess champion Gary Kasparov, whose political career in Russia remains unfulfilled.
February 24th 2014
February 26th 2014
February 28th 2014
The southern province of Crimea becomes potential flashpoint for new regime with pro Russian demonstrations
Tuesday March 3rd 2014
Events have moved swiftly. Deposed President calls for Russian help. Russian troops invade Crimea. US, EC, UN seek revolution fearful of escalation into military conflict. Russian finance markets also in turmoil.
Thursday March 5th 2013
War of words between Obama and Putin over Putin’s actions
Monday March 10th
Western Press reports a lack of clear strategy for Crimea coming from Kiev
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  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.
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
China jails Peter Humphrey for illegal transactions
Leaders in the UK’s National Health Service are facing a new (but curiously old) set of challenges, as another Government initiative is introduced to set up international profit-making hospital services
Tudor Rickards & Susan Moger
Officials from the Department of Health and UK Trade and Industry will launch the joint scheme this autumn,  which will aim to build links between hospitals wishing to expand, and foreign governments which want access to British health services.
Hospitals including Great Ormond Street, the Royal Marsden and Guy’s and St Thomas’ could create new branches. The proposal draws on initiatives occurring in America, including Baltimore’s John Hopkins, Hospital.
Health Minister Anne Milton is quoted as saying:
“This is good news for NHS patients who will get better services at their local hospital as a result of the work the NHS is doing abroad and the extra investment that will generate. This is also good news for the economy, which will benefit from the extra jobs and revenue created by our highly successful life sciences industries as they trade more across the globe.
The NHS has a world-class reputation, and this exciting development will make the most of that to deliver real benefits for both patients and taxpayers”.
Unsurprisingly, the announcement [21st August, 2012] attracted criticisms
Katherine Murphy, chief executive of the Patients Association, said:
“The guiding principle of the NHS must be to ensure that outcomes and care for patients come before profits. At a time of huge upheaval in the health service, when waiting times are rising and trusts are being asked to make £20 billion of efficiency savings, this is another concerning distraction. The priority of the Government, hospital trusts and clinicians should be NHS patients.”
New and curiously old dilemmas
The dilemmas for NHS leaders are in some ways new, for example in the sense that the implementation of such a scheme will involve addressing problems of untested technologies impacting on clinical, informational, and managerial actions.
In other ways the dilemmas are curiously old. There have been a series of ‘revolutions’ announced by successive Governments to reform, update, transform, the NHS. The shocks and repeated initiatives led one distinguished commentator, Professor Andrew Pettigrew, to refer to the process as one of “churning not changing”.
It would hardly be surprising if some hospital leaders will see the plan as a further temporary burden to be shouldered, or one further storm to be weathered, rather than an opportunity to be seized.
Investment from private patient profits
A deeper analysis can be found in The Independent. The proposed initiative attempts to anticipate some of the dilemmas. Investment will be allowed only if drawn from income received from private patients; and any profits made abroad would be channelled back to the UK.
Areas of the world identified as key to the success of the project include the Gulf, where British medical brands already have high recognition, and China, Brazil, Libya and India.
The marketing of the NHS ‘brand’
Media comment is describing and evaluating the intiative as an attempt to market the MBS brand. It has echoes of marketing UK plc. The enthusiasm for business school language is not without dangers. Effective implementation of innovation may require a strtegic evaluation of what the ‘brand’ will look like in th future.
An example from a related service sector is that of the universities who are discovering the challenges of establishing outposts in various international locations. The learning curve is steep and competition ferocious. The most successful UK example is the Open University, and that has one unique advantage. Its knowhow (brand?) is precisely of a kind which makes such international ventures attractive to its undergraduate students.
Earlier LWD posts of interest
One of the most difficult dilemmas facing a sporting business occurs if the board decides that a leadership change is necessary. Wolves FC serves as a case study.
The pressures on the board at Wolves FC mounted as the team struggled to escape relegation [Jan 2012]. Mick McCarthy as head coach bore the brunt of the anger from frustrated fans. The board decides to fire McCarthy. After some delay the chairman announces the appointment of Terry Connor, McCarthy’s assistant
The dilemma: terms of engagement
The difficulties facing the board must have been relatively easy to simplify into finding a decisive course of action to kick-start a reversal of fortunes. Firing McCarthy and bringing in a new chief coach would offer the prospects of radical change. On the other hand, firing McCarthy would leave the club with the possibility that any high-calibre manager would be in a strong position to negotiate advantageous terms.
Intended and unintended consequences
The intended consequences of firing McCarthy would be renewed support from the fans and players alike. The unintended consequences included the possibility that no deal could be brokered. Also, as McCarthy argued, he had several exceptional seasons at Wolves working with limited resources. His dismissal would have sent warning signals to prospective managers
The fall-back position
Under such circumstances, a board needs some holding position. Wolves first indicated their intention of finding an experienced replacement for McCarthy. It seems several such candidates were approached. Eventually the club announced an interim appointment. McCarthy’s deputy Terry Connor would be promoted with the possibility of a full-time contract, according to results.
Just like the appointment of Stuart Pearce by the FA?
There appear to be some similarities to the position facing the English FA recently  as the contract with current manager Fabio Capello approaches its termination date. There has been media clamour for appointment of Tottenham’s Harry Redknapp. The FA decided to go for a holding position, appointing Steward Pearce as an interim manager.
When the two cases are compared, it is seem that the FA could (for once) be seen as avoiding a tricky premature decision. Redknapp has shown interest in taking a part-time appointment. And there is some evidence of longer-term planning. Pearce as youth team coach has been seen as being groomed as a possible future England manager. On the other hand, Connor’s interim appointment could have been made immediately as the unfortunate McCarthy was being relieved of his duties. It appeared to follow failed attempts by the board to attract an experienced manager to the club.
The case raises interesting issues. There is the tricky question of promoting someone who was himself appointed by the manager that had just been fired. There is the issue of the ways in which a change can appear to have been mishandled. This is where students of leadership may find it useful to think themselves in the minds of the board and assess the likely dilemmas they faced.
An additional issue: The appointment of a black manager to Premier League football is surely worthy of comment. The press broadly avoided comment on the story. Which maybe itself is worth a little reflection..
The King’s Speech is a fine film. What are its leadership messages for today?
This is not intended to be a film review. Rather, I want to reflect on the leadership messages in a tale of the trials and duties of a monarch dealing with his human frailty. Or, if you like, the dilemmas of everyman everywhere any time.
The film itself has won widespread acclaim. It is expected to receive further accolades in the Oscars ceremonies this weekend [Feb 27th 2011]. In a nutshell, the story tells of Albert (‘Bertie’) the surviving youngest son of King George 5th. When George 5th died, Albert’s eldest son David ascended to the throne.
What follows is rather confusing, even for those familiar with the story. David briefly became King Edward 7th. This sort of name-changing and brand-tweeking was repeated when Albert replaced him and acquired the title King George 6th. King Albert was considered “too German” as someone said. And King David was too close the biblical King David for someone who would be anointed as defender of faith and secular head of the Church of England. The entire royal line rebranded itself The House of Windsor some years later to airbrush out signals of its Germanic ancestry.
The heart of the story is that Bertie was never considered up to being king, which didn’t matter because that was to be David’s job anyway. He was bullied quite a bit as a child, unconsciously on the part of King George, sneakily on the part of his older brother. This treatment is suggested to have triggered the stammer which played such a vital part in the story.
Edward was a bit of a wild thing, which used to an almost obligatory feature of the role of Prince of Wales, king in waiting. He was also rather popular with the masses, although this is glossed over in the film in order to get a better portrayal as a villain. He was rather a glamorous figure a la Blackadder officer class. No surprise then, that David becomes infatuated with a person with a past, a Mrs Wallis Simpson, played in the film as a Cruella deville figure.
King George dies. Hitler is rising to power in Europe. David becomes King Edward (still with me?) but constitutionally causes a lot of trouble by refusing to relegate Mrs Simpson to the substitute’s bench.
Courage and duty
There follows a display of what another recent remade film labelled as True Grit. Bertie is introduced to Lionel Logue, a speech guru and potential mentor. The clash of roles and class becomes central to the story. Logue demands an intimacy to provide technical success with the royal stammer. Various advances and setbacks occur. The audience cringes at the embarrassment of Bertie’s public performances. The leadership dilemmas are beginning to come into focus. We have a fine example of the courageous battle between duty and capability for Bertie. And between private and public obligations and passions for David/Edward
At least the dashing David/Edward had looked and sounded good in public. But the new king was determined in his demands. Duh! No Queen Wallis, no deal. Edward quits (abdicates if you like the technical term). Which of course leaves everyone including Bertie sensing all sorts of trouble ahead. And not just moonlight and dancing…
Meanwhile in Europe …
Meanwhile, events in Europe are not going well. Except for Hitler who seems to be doing very well indeed. The government in England eventually twigs that Hitler is about as amenable to friendly advances as Colonel Gadhafi proved seventy years later. Something has to be done. Change the Government.
The king’s battle
The increasingly important story-line is the painful battle of a suffering soul as Albert continues in his struggles to defeat his handicap adequately to fulfil his regal obligations. Concessions have to be made by King and commoner. The rights and obligations of the noble leader come into focus. The commoner pushes hard to claim rights of friendship and dismisses cherished symbolism of rights of monarch over subjects.
We see how art throws light on real-life problems. The dilemmas help us transmute the specific to the personal for beyond the story of the trials facing an anguished monarch who accepted the greatness thrust upon him.
 The author acknowledges the insights provided in discussion with Susan Moger for the dilemmas suggested in this post. Without her contributions, the text would have little substance beyond one person’s reactions to a considerable work of art.
 Image from Wikipedia