Test your knowledge of charismatic leadership

August 7, 2014

Christmas Quiz

Test your knowledge of charismatic leadership with this brief ten-item quiz. It is based on the chapter on charismatic leadership in Dilemmas of Leadership.

Click here to try the test

If you have not read the chapter, a score of 5/10 suggests you already know some aspects of the subject.

A score of 10/10 suggests you should be helping in the revised test prepared for a forthcoming edition of the textbook.


Satya Nadella’s leadership dilemmas at Microsoft begin with Nokia

August 5, 2014

Paul Hinks

Satya Nadella

Satya Nadella

Satya Nadella became Microsoft’s third ever CEO in February 2014. He faces enormous challenges of change to an economic powerhouse

Since its inception 39 years ago, Microsoft has driven change. Its products have shaped and disrupted the IT landscape. Its desktop and server operating systems have become industry standards. Yet, relentless competition demands further changes. The new CEO recognizes the situation.

‘One Microsoft’

A few months into his appointment [10th July 2014], Nadella published an ‘internal memo ‘ in the public domain entitled: ‘One Microsoft’. The document provides insight into the strategic priorities at Microsoft – as well highlighting deeper leadership dilemmas. “The day I took on my new role I said that our industry does not respect tradition – it only respects innovation.” He wrote.

Changing landscapes and Microsoft’s previous success

Cloud Computing and Mobile technologies were focal points in the memo – repeated references to “a mobile-first and cloud-first world” emphasising where he feels Microsoft’s future lies.

A key dilemma and challenge for Nadella is that Microsoft no longer appears to be dominant in shaping the direction of the IT landscape. Microsoft’s desktop and server operating systems provide examples of different franchises that became de facto industry standards. Today we talk about firms such as Apple, Google and Amazon and how their products and services have momentum – the iPad, iPhone, Kindle, Android phones – as well various cloud services.

It isn’t that Microsoft hasn’t tried to succeed in these new marketplaces – it has. It’s just that Microsoft’s success doesn’t mirror the success of its competitors. Microsoft has attempted to break into the tablet market but Apple still leads the way. Windows mobile phones competes against Android phones and iPhones, but they do not enjoy the passionate following that their competition enjoys.

Microsoft Axes 18,000 jobs

The acquisition of Nokia in 2013 provides an example of Microsoft’s efforts. Nokia was itself a market leader in the mobile telecommunications market before suffering a number of setbacks which saw its products fall out of vogue. Some analyst at the time saw merit and synergy in Microsoft’s acquisition. However on Thursday [17th July 2014] the BBC reported that Microsoft was announcing a loss of 18,000 jobs globally – the bulk of the cuts to be at Nokia:

Microsoft pledged to cut $600m (£350.8m) per year in costs within 18 months of closing the acquisition – cuts that were much more severe than the 6,000 initially expected. Is this acknowledgement that the Nokia deal was ultimately a failure? Or is it an example of how knowledge, know-how and patented technology can be bought lieu of ethical leadership and employees’ livelihoods?

The Future direction of Microsoft?

Nadella and Microsoft appear to recognize the challenges ahead. Change is necessary. Cloud Computing infrastructures are maturing; mobile online access is now ubiquitous – Nedella’s memo acknowledges Microsoft’s need to adapt and respond – repeated references to “mobile-first and cloud-first world” provide a clear indication of where he sees Microsoft’s future. Will change at Microsoft result in the progress needed for Microsoft to remain a dominant force?

Bill Gates’ 1990 vision of ‘Information at your fingertips’, and then his keynote speech at Jan 1995 Comdex of ‘information at your fingertips ‘ provide evidence of how Microsoft’s first CEO led the way and helped shape an industry.

Nadella has one of the toughest jobs in the industry, made more challenging by an expectation that Microsoft can remain creative and innovate. Not an easy task.


The Commonwealth Games illustrates the potency and symbolic nature of sport

August 2, 2014

The Commonwealth Games takes place in Glasgow as Scotland temporarily suspends campaigning for its referendum next month on independence from the United Kingdom

The Games reminded me of the Christmas Day truce in World War One. Not that I was there personally for Glasgow or WW1. According to the legend, on Christmas Day 1914, British and German troops downed arms, left their trenches and played a football match before resuming battle.

Don’t mention the war

In Glasgow during the Games, it was very much ‘don’t mention the war for independence’. If so, the truce was successful. This was perhaps because it was not clear to either the Yes or the No campaign whether political posturing would lose much-needed votes.

Overall, the Games have proceeded in an atmosphere of scarcely- controlled hysteria. Hysteria among spectators; among adrenalized athletes gasping out their semi-coherent replies at interviews minutes after completing events (“tell us what you are feeling as poster-girl now you have failed to win a medal in your favorite event”); and above all, hysteria among the assembled ranks of the broadcast media.

Gilded and giddy commentators

The BBC had more than its fair share of gilded and giddy commentators interviewing athletes and proud parents. These were performances honed by BBC experience of numerous interviews with Andy Murray and celebrity mum Judy before, during and after Wimbledon fortnight over the last few years.

The Gold standard

Great efforts were made to preserve or even enhance the value of the gold standard. The actual events were represented as all equivalently-compelling and equivalently worth watching. After all, they all offered changes to win Gold. The prospect of winning ‘yet another gold’ was the dominant marketing offer from the start of the Games. Each session was going to be special as there were so many gold medals to be won. Somehow the discourse permitted at the same time acknowledgement of the equivalence and specialness of gold and of gold-medal winners, and the lower status silver and bronze medals . (Another image: the satirical sketch of the British class system beginning “I look up to him because he is upper class and I am middle class”).

All events are equal but some are more equal than others

I enjoyed most of the actual athletic events, particularly those that lasted fewer than several hours of running, cycling, or wheel-chairing around the track. You could keep your percentage time watching athletes up by ‘using the red button’. Otherwise you were faced with a choice of multi-tasking or taking full-on the high-intensity but very cozy chats between the assorted teams of BBC commentators and guests.

Soon our revels will be over

I multi-tasked, with mobile, tablet, and library book at the ready at all times. In a few days the Games truce will be over and the referendum campaigning will begin again.


Executive powers and creative license

July 31, 2014


Republican plans are announced to sue President Obama over abuse of executive powers. They are addressing the broader issue of leadership action and creative license

Effective leadership action often involves a creative insight. It may surprise and shock opponents into a claim the the action exceeds the legitimate powers granted.

This appears to be the claim behind the Republican move from the House of Representatives which was passed acrimoniously along party lines this week [July 2014] Speaker John Boehner denied it was a party political act, but one taken in defense of the Constitution. President Obama dismissed the action as a stunt.

Every President since George Washington

Every President since George Washington has deployed executive orders. It seems Obama is no more prolific than his predecessor and likely to be less active in this respect than the famously hands-off Ronald Reagan.

But that’s politics. Each side can make a case that is likely to be accepted by its supporters. The defense of democratic freedoms stumbles on.


Is Amazon under control or under the influence?

July 28, 2014

Bezos bullet train
Amazon announces disturbing financial figures. Its charismatic chairman Jeff Bezos will, as ever, be taking the long view

The mighty Amazon – the company not the river – may be in temporary trouble. Its second quarter sales reported on Thursday [24th July, 2014] showed powerful growth in revenues but unanticipated losses. The results worried the numbers people. Shares, already drifting downward, slumped around 10% on Wall Street the following day.

Taking the long view

Its founder and leader Jeff Bezos is famed for taking the long view. He is a business visionary who fitted the bill as a great leader for the near classic story he has helped bring about at Amazon. His leadership style is restless and remorseless.

He is noted for personal involvement and fermenting a culture of creative challenge. He also likes to ‘back-engineer’ strategy from a desired future to reach and deal with imminent decisions.

The immediate future

The immediate future suggests that his enthusiasm for innovation in the interests of that more distant future may have incurred costs for the present. The ideas at times have breath-taking simplicity. Sometimes there is an initial appearance of craziness that often accompanies great creativity. Think Steve Jobs, or Napoleon even.

This week, the craziness appears to be found in the diversity of effort which may suggest a lack of a cohesive plan. The results were timed to accompany the launch of the company’s new smartphone, the Fire Phone. Other recent plans have included grocery delivery, video streaming, and drone delivery of products.

Not to mention The Washington Post

Then there was the recent takeover of the Washington Post, with assurances from Bezos that under his ownership the newspaper will retain its independence, and certainly without influence brought to bear to advance Amazon’s interests.

Bezos is a fascinating business personality. He has created one of the Century’s most successful businesses with a simplicity of its core competence of rapid, safe product delivery at highly competitive prices. Perhaps its strategic trajectory constrains the creative impulses of its remarkable founder.

To be continued

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After Sir Alex: Van Gaal leads out Manchester United for his first game as manager

July 24, 2014

Louis van Gaal
The match [July 23rd, 2014] is a ‘meaningless’ friendly in Los Angeles. Or is it so meaningless?

Louis van Gaal arrives as manager at Manchester United Football Club after managing Holland in the recent World Cup in Brazil. He joins a club suffering a severe dip in performance following the departure of the iconic Sir Alex Ferguson, who is widely credited with the record-breaking successes of the club in recent decades.

Van Gaal’s reputation as a leading manager has been established in a string of successes at the top European clubs. After Sir Alex, his own selected successor and fellow Scot, David Moyes, lasted less than the season, as results declined disastrously.

In the recent World Cup, Van Gaal reinforced his reputation as a tough but creative manager of the Netherlands’ [Holland's] national side. For example, he came up with an incredible and pre-planned decision to substitute his first choice-goal keeper in extra time to bring on one better able to win the imminent penalty shoot-out.

First impressions at MUFC

Within days of Holland’s departures from the World Cup, their new manager arrives at Manchester United. There followed a few days of intense image management, reinforcing his image as a dominating personality who expects to get his own way on as many matters as possible.

MUFC fans largely approved of this, [call-in messages at the club's TV station MUTV] as it was a style for which Alex Ferguson was recognized and feared.

The pre-season tour

Within a week, the squad had left for the pre-season tour of North America, van Gaal grumbling about excessive traveling which was a disruption to pre-season preparations. He said such arrangements would not happen again on his watch.

Reconstruction of the club

On van Gaal’s arrival, funds withheld from Moyes were released by the owners and board to strengthen the team. New players were acquired seen as the quality needed to address weaknesses in defense and midfield.

The LA Galaxy game

The first pre-season game was against LA Galaxy, a club with prior connections with MUFC, through the recently-retired David Beckham. The match was switched to the Pasadena Rose-bowl to accommodate the interest it attracted. A near-capacity 86,000 fans watched the game.

The American team, half-way through its season, was expected to be match fit. This did not make much difference in the first half. United, playing a new attacking formation, were lively and effective, scoring three unanswered goals.

The new manager had made it clear he would be assessing all players before completing his summer transfers. At half-time, as agreed for the fixture, large numbers of changes were made in each team. The United squad players brought on were more successful than their Galaxy counterparts,and scored a further four goals unanswered.

Final score: Los Angeles Galaxy 0 Manchester United 7. The Van Gaal managerial regime could hardly have started better.

Leadership reflections

The new manager has a direct – some would say brutal – style which seems designs to overwhelm all opposing views. His history of success with his teams has been accompanied with confrontations with players and with influential figures in clubs he worked in. He wins respect and makes enemies. The style can be found in many business and sporting leaders. In his encounters with the press, the style does have resemblance to that of Sir Alex Ferguson who could be famously (or infamously) combative.

There is something vaguely Machiavellian in the public persona which may be designed to rule through fear rather than being judged weak.


Three leadership books ‘favorited’ by executive business students in Miami

July 23, 2014

Miami July 2014 003

A group of executive MBA students in Miami selected three books as having influenced their personal leadership thinking and actions

The books add to results in a data base of books nominated by executive students around the world in upwards of 200 workshops conducted each year.

Long walk to freedom by Nelson Mandela

This classic has been frequently nominated for our data base. It was chosen by the student team for its insights into ‘a moral and unique leader…..the book has inspired me by encompassing all aspects of moral leadership

The servant by James Hunter

This is a book on servant leadership. ‘The essence of leadership is serving the needs of others’. Leadership is characterized as authority through intention plus action. The book was chosen ‘because it worked for me..

Creativity Inc by Ed Catmull

The third selection was Creativity Inc, by Ed Catmull, head of Pixar Animation and Disney Animation. It is the account of leadership in Pixar, one of the world’s creative organizations and pioneer of screen animation with Disney. The nomination was for its suggestions for ‘leadership encouraging the best from others’


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