Lee Kuan Yew (1923-2015): Singapore’s State maker remembered

March 23, 2015

Lee Kuan Yew was one of the influential State makers of the 20th Century. A case could be made that he conceived and brought about a prosperous and peaceful future for Singapore.

I became interested in the culture of Singapore some years ago, after taking part in the celebrations of its national day. After three decades in power, Lee Kuan Yew had handed over control of the State he had helped create. In the process he was showing dynastic aspirations.

Dynastic aspirations

It was being rumoured at the time, correctly as it turned out, that Prime Minister Goh, who succeeded him, was a transition figure who was to be replaced by Lee’s son. Informally we were also given to believe that Lee would remain the power behind his son’s actions.

Tickets for a celebration

It had been hard to get tickets for the celebrations at the old National Stadium in Kalang Leisure Park, close the Changi airport close to where the new and impressive modern sports stadium was later built.

Our tickets had came from a Singaporean friend who had seen enough ceremonies to make them less valued for him. Well worth seeing it all for the first few times, he reassured us.

We reached the stadium by subway, another of Singapore’s marvels. Allegedly, it was maintained in those days in pristine condition through President Lee’s regime of corporal punishment handed out to any litter-making individual. Westerners tended to admire the results, if not the means of achieving them.

Pre-conceptions

I had preconceived beliefs that we were going to observe a demonstration of State orchestrated loyalty. What happened was enough to unsettle such assumptions. To be sure there was the orchestration. Everyone was issued with a goodie bag, complete with a national flag to wave, an a small torch with coloured tissue paper over the business end,

There were the obligatory displays of military music, and marching discipline. Jet fighters roared low over the stadium, trailing slipstreams in the national colours. We tried to join in the passionate singing of the national anthem. Later, as night fell, the torches helped produce an equally impressive light-show in the national colours.

Unexpected experiences

What was unexpected was a warmth and mood of enjoyment throughout the lengthy event which seemed spontaneous and genuine. This was not evidence of a State operating under dictatorial edict.

At the time, the charismatic President had already become a mythic figure, a State-maker in the mold of Nelson Mandela. Much later, Lee attributed the role of ‘China’s Mandela’ to Xi Jinping, a judgement not shared by Time magazine.

Today, the appreciation of Lee’s period as all-powerful State maker is more balanced internally. His contribution towards the creation of the modern hi-tech, highly educated little country is recognized. But opposing views can be expressed publicly.


Brian Clough was a better manager than Sir Alex Ferguson says Roy Keane

December 11, 2013

This week [Dec 2013] Roy Keane the combative former Manchester United and Ireland football player turned pundit has responded to remarks about him by his former manager Sir Alex Ferguson

Keane is settling old scores, but is also playing the media as his television programme “best of enemies” is screened.

He is reported as saying that Brian Clough was a far better manager than Sir Alex. New subscribers may like to see an earlier post from LWD, re-posted below. It was entitled Can we learn much from Brain Clough’s leadership style?

The original post

My leadership students this week [sometime in 2010] chose Invictus as a book or film worth studying. Would they have voted for Brian Clough, if they had seen The Damned United, screened by the BBC this week-end?

A case can be made for studying leadership in its widest variety of forms, including the actions of dictators as well as saints. Can we learn more from studying Nelson Mandela, Mother Teresa and Gandhi than from studying Hitler and Stalin? And what about sporting leaders such as Sir Alex Ferguson and Brian Clough?

The Damned United, [released March 18th, 2009], concentrates on one of Clough’s few managerial failures, who after less than two months managing Leeds United Football Club, was fired for a combination of bad results and an abrasive style which extended to the club’s board of directors.

It was rescreened by the BBC [10.30pm, BBC2, Sunday July 18th, 2010].

Brian Clough is fondly regarded nowadays, not because he was ahead of his time but because he was very much of it, despite upsetting football’s authoritarian old guard with his cocky contempt for them. He would never have got away with his genius in today’s world of agents and multimillionaire egos. With copious footage, this documentary traces his rise from a dazzling young centre-forward scythed down in his prime, turned brilliant, self-assured manager, to the ruddy-faced figure he cut in his sad decline.

When the film was first released, Prof Szymanski of CASS Business School told the BBC “It was socialism if you like …You do see this idea in business sometimes. The focus was on the needs of his players. These were his frontline staff – they’re the ones under the pressure, they’re the ones who deliver, so you need to meet their needs whatever it takes. …[however] he was a very overbearing employer, incredibly paternalistic – like Stalin and just as frightening.”

Clough himself never over-analyzed his management technique.
“They tell me people have always wondered how I did it” he once said. I’m told my fellow professionals and public alike have been fascinated and puzzled and intrigued by the Clough managerial methods and technique and would love to know my secret. I’ve got news for them – so would I”

Would Clough make a good business leader? In one of his teasing philosophical dialogues, Plato has Socrates ask a similar question: ‘would a military leader be a good director of a theatrical chorus?’ But in Plato’s account, Socrates was too cute to suggest that there was a simple answer to that question.

Acknowledgement

Image [Brian Clough not Roy Keane] from The Tactician


Tribute to Nelson Mandela: A personal memory

December 7, 2013


A Tribute to Nelson Mandela [1918- 2013]

December 6, 2013

Nelson Mandela changed his country and through it our understanding of what can be achieved by a leader.

Leaders We Deserve commented five years ago [2007] on the impossibility of capturing the essence of his achievements . The post is reproduced here as a tribute.

On August 29th 2007, the great man watched as the wraps came off his [nine foot high] statue in Parliament Square. Fleetingly I thought of statues of others leaders. How art and politics cannot be kept apart, any more than sport and politics could be kept apart in an earlier South Africa. How the downing of statues can be as symbolic an act as their installations.

Why Nelson Mandela doesn’t need a statue

He already is an awesome world-figure, destined for his place in the history. There will be revisions to the story. There always are. Human-scaled blemishes will be revealed to enrich the tale of his struggle in what he termed a long walk to freedom for himself and his country.

I was immensely moved by Mandela’s story in his autobiography. I go back to it from time to time. I remain in awe of what he communicated about his time in prison: ‘Even in the grimmest times … I would see a glimmer of humanity in one of the guards, perhaps just for a second, but that was enough to reassure me and keep me going. Man’s goodness is a flame that can be hidden but never extinguished’. With Mandela, the process is reversed. In his every public action his ‘goodness’ shines through. We search in vain for evidence of wilfulness and vengefulness.

The Charismatic Leader

The idea of the great charismatic leader is increasingly coming under scrutiny. In the 1980s, a tamed-down version of charisma was proposed, as the transformational leader. More recently, the expression post-charismatic leader has emerged, from theological and secular sources.

In this context, Nelson Mandela and his story deserves the closest attention. An excellent recent biography by Professor Lodge suggests that Nelson Mandela was
‘Especially sensitive to the imperatives for acting out a messianic leadership role during his [time as a guerrilla commander] …deliberately constructing a mythological legitimacy.. to engender hopes that salvation would be achieved through heroic self-sacrifice.’

‘Look on my works, ye mighty and despair’

The idea of erecting a statue to Nelson Mandela in London has been around for over a decade. There was [in 2007] a highly suitable place in Trafalgar Square, which has four plinths for monumental pieces. Three are occupied with military and monarchic figures. The fourth would be particularly appropriate as it is close to the South Africa House, focus of so many ‘Free Nelson Mandela’ demos during his imprisonment on Robben Island.

The public was invited to suggest appropriate artifacts. One suggestion was for a work that would celebrate animals in wartime service. Nelson Mandela was among other front runners together with The Queen, Margaret Thatcher, Lady Diana, as well as long shots such as David Beckham, Winnie the Pooh, and a very large Pigeon, (capturing one of the more intrusive visiting groups that flock to Trafalgar Square).

The fund-raising ran ahead of the official decision, and the statute commissioned was considered too massive for the original location. Eventually the political pieces fell into place, and Nelson Mandela’s image was unveiled at Parliament Square, rather than close by to that other Nelson, atop his column in Trafalgar Square.

What the poet says

Look on my works, ye mighty and despair. Unlike the despotic leader Shelley wrote about, Mandela could be said to inspire us to look on his works and rejoice.

Timeline: July 18, 1918: Born into the Thembu royal family in Mvezo, southeastern South Africa. Died, Dec 5th, 2013

Tribute video


You can see a tribute video here


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.


On the week of the School Massacre in Connecticut we ask “where have all the leaders gone”

December 21, 2012

Last week ended with news of the Sandy Hook School massacre in Newtown Connecticut and President Obama’s public agony at failures in America to protect the nation’s childrenSandy Hook School Sign

Before the dreadful week-end news, I had been scanning the net to see what leadership stories I could find. These notes are in chronological order.

Leadership training

The first item I came across was a promotional ebook from a successful experiential leadership programme at the Said Business School, Oxford . The approach offers an imaginative mix of experiences involving drama, moral philosophy, music and poetry. The book [53 pages] is worth browsing by leadership trainers.

HSBC money laundering

The next item that caught my eye was the settlement of the money-laundering charges at HSBC. The bank has agreed a $1.9 billion fine with the US Department of Justice over anti-compliance regulations.

“We accept responsibility for our past mistakes. We have said we are profoundly sorry for them, and we do so again,” said Chief Executive Stuart Gulliver in a statement.

Branson Brand Bashing

The next story had a familiar feel, with cult business hero Richard Branson defending his Virgin Atlantic business from a bit of turbulence (Sorry. That cliché is almost compulsory). And alongside Sir Richard we have the egregious Willie Walsh, now fighting his corner from chief executive International Airlines Group (IAG) which now incorporates British Airways.

Sir Richard Branson pledged to keep control of his airline after his arch-rival, BA chief Willie Walsh, said that Singapore Airlines’ sale of its [49%] stake in Virgin Atlantic would lead to the demise of the brand.

From China with Love

Now that’s more like it. A full-on profile of China’s new leader as Xi Jinping, the new head of the Communist Party, made a visit over the weekend to the special economic zone of Shenzhen. The south China province has stood as a symbol of the nation’s embrace of a state-led form of capitalism since its growth over three decades from a fishing enclave to an industrial metropolis.

After Mandela

One of the all-time great leaders, Nelson Mandela, is hospitalized [later he was successfully operated on for Gall Stones]. The news comes at a time when the ruling ANC party in South Africa is engaged in further leadership struggles.

The Glass Ceiling in Oz

The Glass Ceiling has not yet been shattered in Australia, despite the influence of the mighty Rupert Murdoch and residual members of his dynasty.

Starbucks

The tax row in the UK continues to hit at Starbucks image, and perhaps its profits

Japan’s shift of leader

The Liberal Party [LPD]’s massive victory in Japan will re-elect former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe who has called for major monetary easing, an increase in the inflation target and big spending on public works to rescue the economy.

Sandy Hook School Massacre

The Sandy Hook massacre in Connecticut http://uk.reuters.com/article/2012/12/15/uk-usa-shooting-connecticut-idUKBRE8BD0Z220121215 contributed to the sense that political leaders have to deal with forces beyond their powers to deal with. There are calls in America for tighter gun control legislation, but few commentators believe that President Obama will be able to introduce meaningful change.

Reflection

Before the New Town Massacre, I was impressed by the number of encouraging stories in the news about leaders and leadership challenges. There are still positive leadership stories around, and the leader vilification count was rather lower than I expected. Indeed there were quite a few stories offering accounts of positive leadership. However, the end-of-week news takes us back to a more nuanced views of distributed power and leadership’s struggles, rather than stories of heroic leaders with the skills to deliver transformation through a compelling vision of change.


Charisma and Transformational Leadership Revisited

September 15, 2010
Statue of Nelson Mandela in Johannesburg. The ...

Image via Wikipedia

 

The ancient concept of the charismatic leader remains in everyday use. It was explained by Weber, and partly modernised as transformational leadership, but the older idea retains much of its potency

In 2004-5 while writing Dilemmas of Leadership, co-author Murray Clark and I had many discussions about the old idea of charisma, and the modern concept of transformational leadership. It was clear that the style of the transformational leader had some similarities with that of the charismatic leader described for at least two millennia.

The Taming of Charisma

We suggested that the newer concept had ‘tamed’ charisma. By that we meant that charisma in its pre-modern form had too much that was mystical about it. The twentieth century was a period in which such older ideas were being swept aside by advances in the newer branches of knowledge such as psychology and sociology.

Bernard Bass had influenced thinking about leadership, moving attention away from the difficult question of what a leader is, to the more scientifically amenable question of what a leader is observed to do. Maybe, we suggested, the idea of transformational leadership was not so much a radical move forward in thinking, but an attempt to bring charisma up to date by stripping it of its mystique, replacing that with the rationality accompanying a factorial analysis.

Elements of the Old Remained

Elements of charisma could be detected in the new formulation. For example, the objectified factor of idealized influence of the transformational leader was acknowledged as an aspect of charismatic leadership, as was inspirational motivation. And the factor of individualised consideration might be seen as a ‘taming’ of the more mystical skills of a charismatic leader at makingleaving  each follower feel  special and uniquely valued.

One of the pioneers of transformational leadership, James MacGregor Burns, drew on his study of President Kennedy. But Kennedy is also frequently as a charismatic leader. In the run up to his election as President, the same labelling was being applied to Barack Obama.

Charisma and Its Redress

In the first edition of Dilemmas we entitled the relevant chapter ‘Charisma and its Redress.’ The reference is to the work of Seamas Heaney and his book, The Redress of Poetry. In it, he explains that poetry always compensates for popular unthinking opinion. The redress of poetry is its power to challenge conventional beliefs. We were suggesting that transformational leadership offered a redress, a compensation for the age-old assumptions about the magical nature of charisma. Of course, Weber had got there before us, and with far a richer analysis of charisma. He had seen charisma as becoming less suited to modern organisational structures and their leadership. 

Charismatic Leadership

Since the first edition of Dilemmas, there have been further contributions to our understanding of charismatic leadership.  John Potts wrote a particularly thoughtful study from a historical perspective. There is plenty of scope for further reflection. Our earlier suggestion followed Burns and pointed to the dilemma of empowerment associated with charisma. We noted “we are left with the impression that Burns now feels that such a view of leadership and power is inadequate for dealing with the dilemmas posed by transformational leadership. [ DOL, pp91, 93]. ”

Revisiting the Dilemmas of Charismatic Leadership

It seems to me now that charisma, far from being tamed by the more modern notion of transformational leadership, is co-existing very nicely with it. Despite attempts to welcome in a post-charismatic era, it fits nicely with popular conceptions of the specialness of such figures as Obama, and sporting leaders such as Jose Mourinho, and of course the still-potent idealisation of Nelson Mandela (witness the retelling in the book and film Invictus).

Work in Progress

My own work in progress is taking a closer look at the style of these charismatic leaders and how it deals with a dilemma of retaining specialness while conveying the impression of being one of and at one with the tribe. From such a perspective, we begin to see another dilemma of being isolated from (protected from?) information that might require a more rational relationship with the technical over the symbolic aspects of leadership.