Potemkin villages and the politics of Formula 1 racing

October 11, 2014


Formula 1 heads for Sochi and the Russian Grand Prix, where a huge PR budget has been described as producing an example of a modern day Potemkin village

The Telegraph came up with the brilliant analogy of the Sochi site as a modern-day Potemkin village.

Potemkin village

Catherine the Great, accompanied by a gaggle of courtiers, made an unprecedented six-month trip to Novorossia – literally ‘New Russia’ – now the much disputed and fought-over territories of eastern Ukraine. As governor of the region, Grigory Potemkin, a favourite and lover of the empress, was tasked with impressing Russia’s allies along the journey.

The tale goes that Potemkin’s men would assemble mobile villages, dressing up as peasants, before moving the settlement down the Dnieper River overnight for inspection by Catherine the next day. The notion of a ‘Potemkin village’, a facade concocted to hide an undesirable reality, was born.

The Sochi Autodrom, more than 300 miles away on the shores of the Black Sea, has all the hallmarks of a modern-day Potemkin village.

Similar to a simulacrum?

I have been looking for a way of explaining a simulacrum for students of symbolic leadership. A simulacrum is a term for a representation of an original that never existed.

Maybe, in future I will offer Potemkin villages, and The Sochi Autodrome to my descriptions.


The Obamas speak peace in Northern Island

June 23, 2013

Barack and Michelle Obama address the achievements and challenges facing Northern Island.

I was not intending to blog yet again on a speech by a leading politician. As I listened to the context of the speeches and introductions [17th June 2013] I became more intrigued about the political messages and composition of the speeches. President Obama had taken the opportunity of meeting with an audience of mainly young people prior to the G8 summit being held this week. Here are my immediate notes:

A sixteen year-old introduces the First Lady. She speaks clearly with clear yet well-crafted words of hopes and demands of young people.

Michelle Obama speaks. Her words are also clear and well-crafted. Here is someone who believes in a future guarded by the aspirations of young people. It spoke to Northern Island but she could have been speaking in any of a hundred other countries. The message is partly clear because it is uncluttered.
See introduces her husband with well-received gentle irony.

Barack speaks. At first his message is not clear and well-crafted. Its local references do not quite work. The jokes do not quite work.

He moves almost hesitantly to his main point, his key metaphor. Much has been achieved in fifteen years since The Good Friday agreement but there is still much to do. He spoke of walls keeping communities separate. Now his speech was clear. Northern Island continues to remind the World that there may not be peace but we must hold to the promise of peace.

Fifteen hundred young people and battle-hardened politicians were still applauding after the Obamas had left the hall.

Footnote

The speech by President Obama appears to have been made in relatively relaxed mood the anticipated difficulties of dealing with the Syrian conflict at the G8 meeting. President Putin was sending vigorous signals that the West was calamitously wrong in its emerging policy towards arming the insurgency in Syria.


Pussy Riot and the Presidency of Russia

October 8, 2012

Pussy Riot, a three-member all-female punk rock band in Russia, recently performed a political protest song in Moscow’s main cathedral. They now face up to seven years in jail

by Vikas Patnaik

The case has divided Russia for the last five months, ever since the women were put behind bars without bail [in March 2012]. There are those who feel the women have been treated too harshly and those who consider their act to be “blasphemous” to the Orthodox Church, which has seen a revival in Russian society since the collapse of the atheistic USSR. The EU has also grown concerned, particularly over the basis and method of pre-trial detention of the band members.

Hooliganism

The women were charged with “hooliganism” for dancing in colourful balaclavas near the altar of the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour, and “singing to the Virgin Mary” to rid Russia of Vladimir Putin. In their own defense, Maria Alyokhina, Nadezhda Tolokonnikova and Yekaterina Samutsevich stated that their performance was intended to be a protest at Patriarch Kirill’s open support for Putin in the build-up to the March Presidential election, and not to offend adherents of the Orthodox faith. They added that this was “not a trial over Pussy Riot but of the entire Russian political system”.

Mixed Messages from Political Leaders

Western pop icons such as Madonna and Yoko Ono have come out in support of the Pussy Riot cause. A St. Petersburg government official reacted strongly to this, calling it an “imposition of Western values” that should not be allowed. Dmitry Rogozin, a Russian deputy prime minister, went on record tweeting that Madonna was in no position herself to engage in “moral lecturing”.

Interestingly, Vladimir Putin relayed a message of leniency towards the Pussy Riot members, on his recent visit to London for the Olympic Games [but has been more neutral in his comments since: Ed].

Leading Russia out of Resentment

It will be very interesting to see the outcome of this trial, the verdict of which is due 17th August. This may reflect on Putin’s leadership style, given his power and influence, but by virtue of doing so, it could expose what many in Russia are growing concerned over and Putin may be trying to conceal – the alleged links between government, law enforcement and the church. At the same time, Putin must dispel fears that the trial is part of a crackdown on dissent since his return to the Kremlin following the biggest anti-government protests in recent Russian history. Clearly a leadership dilemma of multiple dimensions.

While Putin’s style does not fit classic (mythological) charismatic leadership (Potts 2009), the recent pop hit “A Man Like Putin” notwithstanding, he has been given credit for much of the economic transformation of Russian society (McFaul and Stoner-Weiss 2010). This has not, however, qualified him as a transformational leader of the stature of Gorbachev, and (re)building trust is a priority for him. The complexity of the situation is thus likely to call for strategic – even ethical leadership as espoused by New Leadership theories (Rickards 2012) – rather than a transactional or situational one derived from the dominant rational model (Hersey and Blanchard 1988).

Putin may look to distance himself from the Orthodox Church and support the release of the Pussy Riot members, in an attempt to shake off the long-standing stigma of association between church and state going back to the days of the Tsars and Stalin. Whether moral or Machiavellian, it will attempt to address the best interests of Putin, Pussy Riot and, most importantly, the people of Russia.

References

Summary of story [accessed 11 August 2012].
Hersey, P., and Blanchard, K. (1988). Management of organizational behavior. 4th edition. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall.
McFaul, M. and Stoner-Weiss, K. (2010). Elections and voters. In: White, S., ed. Developments in Russian politics 7. New York: Palgrave McMillan. 72. ISBN 9780230224490.
Potts, J. (2009). A history of charisma. Basingstoke, Hants: Palgrave Macmillan.
Rickards, T. (2012). Dilemmas of leadership. 2nd edition. London: Routledge.

The author

The author of the post, Vikas Patnaik, is Global Modeling & Analysis Leader at Ingersoll Rand. Apart from applying thermodynamics to the real world, Vik enjoys music, social commentary, philosophy and writing.

Update to follow


Putin’s presidential victory suggests a modification to “leaders we deserve” theory

March 5, 2012

Vladimir Putin, as expected, wins a substantial victory in Russia’s presidential elections. The process raises questions about the proposition that social systems get “the leaders we deserve”

When Leaders we deserve blogs began, nearly 800 posts ago, commentators were quick to point out the implications of its title. Who are the “we”? What have “we” done to “deserve” leaders?

The questions were acknowledged as relevant and in need of deeper examination. It would be accurate to say that such an examination has been more implicit than explicit in subsequent posts.

Esssentialism and leaders we create

The basic idea and assumption behind the title to this blog was that beliefs about leaders are socially-constructed. A more formal treatment by Professor Grint suggests that ideas of an objective essence of leadership (‘essentialism’) are being challenged by newer ideas in which leadership is considered as a social construction. These ideas might have produced a blog entitled “leaders we create”.

Elected leaders

The implication of a social-constructivist view is that a social group has some influence of the acceptance and shaping of beliefs about its leaders. This contrasts with beliefs that leaders have objectively identifiable characteristics which make up the essence of leadership.

The measurable

Attempts to measure “essence of leadership” were weakened after a century of investigations of traits. This helped in the emergence of alternative proposals about the deepest nature of the phenomenon.

The elected leader

At its simplest, we can say that an elective leader is a person accepted as leader by a process of voting. This has considerable merits of reducing uncertainties as the constituency granted legitimate rights casts observable votes.

Putin as elected leader

By this reasoning, Vladimir Putin is the undisputed elected leader of Russia.

Do the Russian people “deserve” Mr Putin?

Some commentators argue that the elections were not “free and fair”. The election takes us back to the question about whether a society gets the leaders it deserves. Does the general proposition still hold? At very least, it needs to be re-examined taking into account the implications of processes which distort the leadership appointment process.

Transformational and pseudo-transformational leadership

The election may be a useful addition to the debate over transformational and pseudo-transformational leadership.

To be continued


Is Vladimir Putin a Transformational or a Charismatic Leader?

December 1, 2011

The question assumes the two categories are ‘either-or’. A better question: are Vlidimir Putin’s behaviours explained better by transformational or charismatic leadership maps?

Beware the ‘Either-or’ question

A quick visit to textbooks of leadership (such as Dilemmas of Leadership) provides ways of answering the questions and explains the difficulties inherent in an ‘either-or’ formulation. One reason is that an either-or perspective overlooks overlooks the key point that in empirical studies, leaders display a full range of styles including transformational and transactional features.

The charismatic leadership map

Charismatic leaders have been mapped from ancient times. The core assumption about them is that they have special skills or gifts so that followers are captivated by them and their ideas.

The transformational leadership map

The transformational map is a modern treatment of leaders (ca 1980s) which acknowledges some features are charismatic. The Transformation leader, as its label implies, transforms the worlds of their followers (which can be local to a team or organization, or global to the leader of a Nation State).

Transformational leaders are assessed most commonly on a scale developed by Bass and Avolio which captures a ‘full range’ of factors including transformational and transactional ones. Transformational leaders mostly require some transactional skills as well.

Other differences

The older maps of charismatic leadership have increasingly been extended to incorporate the ‘dark side’ of charismatic leadership manifest in tyrannical leaders. Transformational leadership has tended to treat tyrannical leaders as a special case. This has produced the so-called ‘Hitler dilemma’ for transformational research.

In part, the difficulty may be seen to require attention to the ‘dark side’ of leaders which is not generally considered.

Putin as a Grand Prix driver

A recent news article from Xinhuanet shows Mr Putin as a Grand Prix driver.

Jeff Schubert’s view

LWD subscriber Jeff Schubert notes

In order to justify his impending return to the presidency, Putin has invoked the cases of Franklin D. Roosevelt, Charles De Gaulle and Helmut Kohl as men who held power for a long time and who have been treated quite well be history – in contrast to Russia’s own Leonid Brezhnev.

Dmitry Peskov, his press secretary has said: “Putin reads all the time, mostly about the history of Russia. He reads memoirs, the memoirs of Russian historical state figures…”

The maps suggest…

If the distinction between transformational and charismatic style holds, a case could be made that Putin fits the older maps of someone who is actively promoted as a charismatic leader more than as the more modern transformational one.

Recent events

Recent events in The Ukraine have brought President Putin into the international spotlight. The western media have tended to mock the assiduous building of his image of the great leader, although with less contempt than in their treatments of North Korea’s incumbent. His decisive military intervention in the Ukrainian crisis has drawn attention to his power to influence world events.

Worth thinking about

Emerging events suggest that Putin is being seen as a modern illustration of The Great Man theory of leadership.. The theory was associated with Thomas Carlyle in the nineteenth century and considers that heroic and rare individuals shape the course of history. The contrary theories suggest that historical situations create powerful leaders. Cometh the hour, cometh the leader…

In many cultures the yearning for a Great Man to emerge and lead the people to greatness or rescue them from danger remains. Students are left to consider why the theory tends to ignore the Great Woman theory of leadership.

Interest in this post increased at the height of the Ukraine crisis [March 2014]. Is someone adding the Lone Ranger style to those attributed to Putin?


The Search for a New leader: Now its BA and Willie Walsh

May 15, 2008

Update: The post below [May 15th, 2008] was updated [December 16th, 2009] as British Airways faced a highly damaging strike of Cabin Crew over the Christmas holiday period. Original post follows:

When a company starts looking for a new leader, rumours about the incumbent are bound to arise. The most recent case is that of British Airways and its CEO Willie Walsh. Students of leadership succession should keep a close eye on unfolding events.

The duty of a corporate board is to safeguard a company’s future viability, and that must include monitoring of its leadership. While secrecy is desirable, it may suit pressure groups to bring matters to public attention. For example, shareholder activists seek advantage for their narrower interests, which would include getting the best short-term deals on investments, but might also include the possibility of becoming king-makers for a change of leadership.

The Independent reports that

[British Airways] has appointed the recruitment consultants Whitehead Mann to find a new chief operating officer and possible successor for its embattled chief executive Willie Walsh.

The successful candidate will fill a newly created role, devised after the recent Heathrow Terminal 5 fiasco. Both BA’s director of operations, Gareth Kirkwood, and head of customer service, David Noyes, parted company with the group last month [April 2008] . The two roles will now be combined to create the position of chief operating officer.

The airline, which will publish its full-year results on Monday, is believed to have instructed Whitehead Mann to find a senior level candidate who could be considered for a position on the board within two years, and could also be a potential replacement for Mr Walsh within five years.

Opening Sacrifices?

For ‘parted company’ read sacked. Gareth makes an opening sacrifice in BA’s attempts to allay criticisms for a wave of customer service reactions. David will do for the time-being for operational failings, as Terminal 5 lumbers into action.

Later, [May 13th 2008] BAA, Heathrow’s operating organization announced the departure of Mike Bullock, its Managing Director at Heathrow, another victim of the Terminal 5 opening (or non-opening, if you prefer). At least the BBC announced it, beating the BAA web-site to the news.

The departures at British Airways seem more in the nature of opening gambits, if we want to puruse the theme of chess as a metaphor for corporate strategy.

The Times has reported that public sentiment strongly in favour of BA finding a replacement for Willie Walsh.

However, Richard Northedge argues that

Walsh ..is directly culpable too [for the recent Terminal 5 opening fiasco]. Unfortunately, BA cannot afford to lose him. It has other problems that require solutions – from its pension deficit to its industrial relations – and Walsh is the best man it has. But stakeholders require some recognition that Walsh’s acceptance of responsibility is not just hollow words: it would be appropriate if, when the remuneration committee considers bonuses, it acknowledged the need to punish Walsh.

The Walsh Legend

Mr Walsh arrived at British Airways in 2005 already as something of a celebrity. His reputation had been secured as a former pilot who aspired to leadership. He had risen through the ranks at Aer Lingus to be acknowledged as a transformational figures for the fortunes of that company.

Stories accumulated about his hands-on style, and were used to sketch his operating methods.

He was known for negotiating toughness. Successfully reinventing Aer Lingus as a profitable no-frills airline, while other established European flag carriers went to the wall, he slashed costs by 30% and shed more than a third of staff. [saying]”we make no apologies for focusing on profit” … [and that] “a reasonable man gets nowhere in negotiations”.
He is renowned for not driving an expensive car and choosing not to take on a secretary, instead writing all his own letters and answering his own phone.

Mr Walsh’s obvious toughness and eye for increased profitability no doubt caught the attention of BA’s board. After the UK airline’s long history of staff disputes, most recently the wildcat walkouts in August 2005 in support of sacked workers at the airline’s main caterer, he must have seemed ideal.

Be careful of what you want…

‘Be careful of what you want. You might get it’ runs an office-wall summary, capturing the myth of the Faustian pact. Maybe that is another version of getting the leaders we deserve. The appeal of a tough leader for BA was obviously appealing, not just to the Board, but to its major shareholders.

Students of leadership succession should keep an eye on events at British Airlines. We will continue to watch Willie, at Leaders We Deserve.

To go more deeply into succession planning

We touched on British Airways in the context of Mandrill Management .

Travolution is a useful site for wider issues of the industry

The Post Office/Royal Mail leadership succession activities were noted including attempts to have a fall-back plan if Allen Leighton were to leave.

Times Warner’s appointment of Jeff Bewkes also makes an interesting succession story.

EADS strategic issues under Louis Gallois
and also its leadership challenges have been covered.

There have stories of the rise and fall of varous sporting leaders. When Liverpool owners approached Jurgen Klinsmann, the story blew-up as a scheme to get rid of the popular Rafa Benitez.

England’s Rugby Football Union eventually appointed Martin Johnson and relegated Bryan Ashton to the bench.

Numerous posts covered the stories the longest leadership succession saga of modern times.

The transition from President Vladimir Putin to Dmitry Medvedev is offering further insights into succession issues in internationally important arenas.

Overall, the events covered in these posts indicate recurring themes within recent leadership succession stories. A thorough examination might produce a valuable contribution to understanding of the dynamics of leadership succession. They may also hint at the likely outome to the story of Willie Walsh at British Airways.


Understanding Russia: Let’s not assume Medvedev is Putin’s Puppet

February 29, 2008

dmitry-medvedev.jpgRussia no longer makes headlines in the West. There are other evil empires to defeat. But this weekend we should be interested in Russia’s Presidential elections, and the intertwined fates of Vladimir Putin and Dmitry Medvedev

President Putin is set to become Prime Minister Putin. (Yawn). He steps down as President at the end of his second term. The overwhelming favourite to replace him is Dmitry Medvedev, a Business leader (Chairman of Gazprom), who in the West has been dismissed as some sort of Putin puppet.

In the West, we are much more interested in whether America will go for that nice Mr Obama, or pick their first woman for President, or maybe seek another good old-fashioned warrior in Senator John MacCain.

A Ritual of Pretend Democracy?

Are the Russian leadership elections a sham? Russia Today is overtly state-sponsored, and directed outwards. Its blogger, Peter Lavelle, or to give him his official title, Political Commentator, takes the issue head-on.

Many in the media have dismissed Russia’s presidential election as a charade and a ritual of pretend democracy. This is a mistake. The presidential election is clearly not exciting and there is a predictable outcome. But this does not mean the voters don’t have a choice. They do have a choice and I fully expect the electorate to act out the following logic: “If is not broken, why fix it?”

Russians will go to the polls on Sunday to vote on their future. There are four candidates on the ballot. One is well known and supported by the very popular President Vladimir Putin. Two are old hands in politics and the fourth is a relative unknown. For the “commentariat” in the West and some in Russia this all means a non-election. However, I submit this election is not about voting for someone, but about what kind of Country Russia can, and needs to, become.

Lavelle goes on to argue that Democracy is emerging in Russia, and that Putin has earned his popularity through his political leadership over his two terms of Office.

What does the West have to say?

Not a lot, as I indicated. The Guardian reflects the libertarian position in the UK. Luke Harding from Moscow reports the Civil Rights issues highlighted by Amnesty International.

President Vladimir Putin has presided over a major “roll-back” of civil rights in Russia, which has seen freedom of expression, assembly and association seriously curtailed, Amnesty International warned yesterday. In a report ahead of Russia’s presidential elections this Sunday the human rights group said the Kremlin was using new laws to persecute non-governmental organisations, forcibly break up opposition demonstrations and wipe out dissent.

The Kremlin claims it is committed to human rights and democracy. It accuses western governments of using rights as a political weapon to try to thwart Russia’s resurgence on the international stage.

The BBC at home and abroad

The BBC has been disappointing in its reporting for a home audience, while retaining some of its traditional excellent coverage internationally. On the eve of the elections, on Friday 29th February 2008, the BBC’s home news page on its website had as lead story Price Harry who has been serving in Afghanistan for the last ten weeks. No mention of the Russian elections.

In contrast, The BBC World News page did have the elections as a lead story. The focus was taken from an interview with Vladimir Churov, the head of the electoral commission.

Mr Chirov had ‘admitted media coverage was unequal’, but was further quoted as saying the Campaign was “fair but not equal”.

“That’s a problem not only for our country but I can agree that not all candidates have an equal number of news items,” However, the election chief argued it was legitimate for news programmes to focus on the activities of Mr Medvedev in his current capacity as first deputy prime minister, [adding] that he had no regrets that the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE). Europe’s main election monitoring body, had decided not to send an observer mission, and that the world would form its own opinion on the legitimacy of Sunday’s election.

More of the Same, Please

More interesting was a series of interviews with Russian citizens on their views of the elections.

The interviews suggested one view on the current situation in Russia. Unlike the United States, there is no momentum building up for yet more change. However contrived the elections appear to be in Western eyes, the Russians interviewed seemed to be welcoming the prospects of continuity.

I have no way of knowing how selective are the comments, or whether it would have been impossible to obtain stronger oppositional views expressed. I am more confident that the BBC had been unable to secure any such views, which would have made a rather more interesting story. No change wanted is not the headline of choice.