Malcolm Gladwell attacks NFL as a ‘moral abomination’

December 11, 2014

Malcolm Gladwell displays considerable talent as a potential American thought leader in his analysis of the NFL as ‘a moral abomination’

Any lingering doubts about Gladwell’s intellectual weight are dispelled in this interview. Its primary focus is a considered response to a fine imposed on colleague Bill Simmons by ESPN for ‘calling the NFL commissioner a liar’

The wider issue The broader context was a report by the NFL on long term brain injuries sustained by its former players.

The interview by Emily Chang was reported in a video put out by Bloomberg [Nov 12, 2012]. Gladwell starts coolly, but then produces a coldly-calculated moral rant against the NFL, and secondarily against ESPN for their treatment of Bill Simmons.

I have little doubt the video will polarize opinions, and no bad thing either, but watch the three minute exchange. If you are a teacher, show it in class for discussion. You may find it has potential as an educational experience.


Uber’s image is taking a beating: How will the market react?

December 8, 2014

Uber barges ahead, picking up major criticisms of its business policies and practices. Will the marketplace result in a shift towards more responsible corporate behaviours?

The Uber story is heading for business case stardom. It started in 2008 as a brilliant ‘why didn’t I think of that’ idea of using new technology to revolutionize personal transport arrangements. The smart phone car service is now valued at $18 billion and rising.

Success factor no 1. Clever use of IT

The basic proposition is easy to understand. Personal travel could be revolutionized by the use of information technology.

Success factor no 2. The creative leap and ‘Why didn’t I think of that?’

The creative leap is easy to communicate if the initial AHA insight triggers the admiring and envious response ‘Why didn’t I think of that?’

Success factor no 3. ‘It’s so obvious. Why didn’t I do anything about it?’

Maybe the reception to its early adaption is the stronger if the now-obvious insight was already widely considered. Most of us might have speculated of using IT car-sharing. Über acted on the idea.

Success factor no 4. The founder and named executives are tennis nuts

Only partly true. The corporate web site introduces its team of dynamic young thrusters as sporting enthusiasts to a person.

The thumbnail sketch of CEO Travis Kalanick lists his achievements as founder of the first P2P search engine, and as someone who ‘racked up the second highest Wii Tennis score in the world’. It seems somewhat less keen to reveal that Travis is approaching 40, a rather ancient codger among the Wii-wielding juveniles of California’s Venture community.

No brainer or roller coaster?

Like all radical innovations, Uber looks to be thriving in crazily dangerous conditions, more roller-coaster than no-brainer for market activists.

The matter of corporate social responsibility

A highly damaging story is bubbling up [November 2014] over errors of corporate social responsibility. The whiff of near adolescent energy and self-confidence in the web-site is being linked to an apparent pride in a corporate skill at accessing information of potentially valuable but illegal kind from its customers. As such tracking is part of the Corporate USP, the story at very least suggests insensitivity to its CSR implications.

Maybe in the dash for growth, any publicity was good publicity. That has been the slogan of more than one successful entrepreneur who later modified the approach for pragmatic or ethical reasons. Meanwhile the Ubervolk continue their search for global success for a powerful idea.

Tuesday December 9th

Über ban in Delhi by Transport Authorities after an alleged rape in a Uber taxi, Friday December 6th.

To be continued

[Comments and suggestions from Uber users and leadership students are particularly welcomed]


UKIP win sets scene for recognition of political realities beyond the English borders in the omnishambles by-election

November 21, 2014

The voters of Rochester and Strood returned Conservative defector Mark Reckless to parliament as their new UKIP MP

The result is seen as a defining moment in UK politics.. Perhaps, but it certainly was no surprise. Polls had anticipated the result well in advance.

An omnishambles vote?

For the traditional political parties, the episode has seemed another example of an omnishambles. This was the term capturing the political mood of the nation, according to the right-leaning Daily Telegraph.

It captured enough of the mood after its first recorded use in the political satire The thick of things to be voted word of the year in 2012 by the Oxford University Press.

The Conservative omnishambles

The Prime Minister vowed ‘to keep his [Mark Reckess’s ] fat arse out of Westminster’. His instructions to love-bomb the election were apparently treated by his cabinent and MPs to the political practice of obeying the letter of the law while ignoring the spirit of it.

The labour omnishambles

The labour omnishambles included an attempt to change leader in mid-shambles. It ended with the resignation of an MP whose tweet seemed to be a sneering reference to people who vote UKIP, drive white vans, and display Union flags on the front of their modest homes

“Longer term, its labour will suffer” a subscriber to LWD and a student of the political scene told me. “Social media and technology will make it hard for them to keep the old loyalty of voters”

The Liberal omnishambles?

The Liberal Democrat coalition partners in Government won a humiliating 1% of the vote. One rather sympathetic headline among the majority of withering comments suggested they had conserved financial and political capital for the upcoming general election

Beyond the borders

My suspicion is that the voters recognized the failure of those in power to deliver. The single issue dominating was that of immigrants as the primary source of disaffection. If so, the outcome mirrors a mood against the much-reviled EC system within many of its member states. I’m inclined to extend the dissatisfaction to the omnishambles in the American political scene as well.

To be continued

This first-reaction posting replaced the planned post on F1, which will follow shortly.


Tony Abbott winks into a political controversy defending his budget cuts

May 22, 2014

A nod is said to be as good as a wink to a blind man, but for a leader, the public gaze is never blind

Australian politician Tony Abbott reacted to a moment of embarrassment during an ABC broadcast, [20th May, 2014] with a wink to the program’s presenter. He had appeared on the call-in show to defend budget cuts to health and education spending.

His embarrassment was produced by a call from ‘Gloria’ describing herself as a chronically ill 67 year old grandmother struggling with medical bills though his government’s budget cuts . Gloria gave a candid and emotional account of being forced to work on adult sex lines to pay for her medical needs.

His looking away and winking to the male Presenter went viral, interpreted as his disrespect for the sex worker or of her story.

What did he mean?

It is not important to prove his intentions. The social reality lies in how a public action of leader is interpreted. The interpretation will factor-in earlier actions and perceptions. Mr Abbott had previous form as rather casual in his remarks about women.

In the UK, comparisons were drawn with a recent story in which private emails of Richard Scudamore, a business leader were revealed to the public. The social reality was a perception of a leader with disrespect for a specific woman, and broadened to presumptions of casual sexism.

The stories bring out the post-modernist in commentators. Followers of the French postmodernist Foucault examine social events as ‘texts’ to be ‘deconstructed’. Foucault proposed a grand Discourse through which knowledge is produced and the hidden and suppressed voices of the powerless are heard.

While post-modern approaches remain contested, they consider that an interpretation of mine is no less worthy as a consequence of my flimsy grasp of the views of authorities. So here goes:

Tony Abbott’s wink ‘speaks’ of a moment of discomfort. He looks away from the source of embarrassment and his gaze connects with someone he believes to share his views. He is aware of the need to avoid alienating potential voters. He finds no form of words. His wink implies

I’m in it like a wombat in water. But I can still get out of it if I don’t show this slag what I really think. You see if don’t.

The power of the image

A wink is a wink is a wink. In the UK, it is often a nonverbal signal of complicity, the sign of ‘us’ in the near presence of the more-powerful them.

A friend, whose judgements on business matters I trust, falls in with the conspiracy theorists in his interpretation of an old photograph. It shows Lyndon B Johnson winking to a friend in public during the funeral of J F Kennedy . My friend believes the wink helps identify two conspirators in the murder of Kennedy. That’s one trouble with postmodernist deconstruction, sorting out the signal from the constructed reality.


Tony Cocker fronts up at Eon following Ofgem’s £12m penalty

May 16, 2014

Tony Crocker, The chastened CEO of E.on, heads for the media studio circuit to be grilled on the failings in the company following the record £12m penalty for systematic mis-selling

The BBC interviewed Mr Crocker as a follow-up to its own reporting on the fine:

Energy giant E.On is to pay a record £12m penalty following an investigation into mis-selling by the industry regulator. Ofgem has carried out a series of mis-selling investigations, and in December imposed a £3.5m penalty on Npower. Ofgem says E.On’s penalty is the biggest supplier pay-out to customers, reflecting the extensive rule breaches, both on the doorstep and by telephone. The energy supplier apologised for the “completely unacceptable” failings.

Moderated contrition

At an interview on BBC Five Live radio [16th May 2014], a well-prepared Tony Crocker just about managed to balance contrition with rejection of accusations of leading an ethically corrupt company engaged in a sanctioned policy of misleading customers to agree poor deals.

The great leader arrives

Utility Week had produced a sympathetic and admiring profile less than a year ago [September, 2013].

The story reads as ‘clever but nice guy comes in, quickly sees weaknesses in company’s relationship with its customers, sets up participative ‘listening scheme’ which fixes the problems’:

Tony Cocker is not your typical chief executive. Down-to-earth, friendly, fiercely intelligent, he doesn’t seem to possess the ego that usually goes hand-in-hand with a corner office. That may be why he was able to so quickly perceive that something was very wrong with the relationship between UK energy suppliers and their customers when he returned from a stint in Eon’s German HQ to take the reins in 2011.

Cocker decided that the situation called for a total reset of Eon’s relationship with its customers, and in January 2012 launched the “Reset” programme to do just that. A six-month initiative entailed a 28,000-strong customer panel, intense research with frontline staff and the launch of the customer council.

Eon drafted in business big shot and former Asda chief executive Allan Leighton to chair the council, who was not a man to compromise. Staff across the business, from the front line to Cocker himself, reported back to Leighton and the council, having what Cocker calls with a smile “very challenging discussions”.

By the end of the Reset period, Cocker had fully assembled his management team and board, and they were ready to plan further ahead. “We spent some time with our teams reviewing our strategy off the back of Reset. What we’d inherited as a team was a much more complicated set of strategies. It was 57 pages and simplified it down to one page, [which could be summed up as] “becoming our customers’ trusted energy partners”.

The article ended with a quote from Mr Cocker saying his plans were progressing nicely:

I would say we’ve made good progress, so come back and let’s have a chat in a year’s time. We’ll be there, eager to see if doing the right thing can really translate to a competitive advantage in today’s stormy energy market.”

Before Utility Week had a chance to accept his offer, Mr Crocker is admitting his plans are not progressing as smoothly as he would have liked.

Five down and one to go

To date, the industry regulator has found five of the six major energy suppliers in the UK to have been in breach of regulations and fined them accordingly. A spokeswoman indicated that their investigations are not completed, so the ‘one’ remaining supplier is not necessary operating to higher ethical standards.

Outrage and the path to reputational hell

Politicians and the media in the UK are finding the utility companies a convenient set of targets for their sense of moral outrage. Public sentiment retains enough loathing of greed and corruption among the privileged to have some to spare for leaders of our private and public organizations. Regardless of his good intentions, Mr Crocker has a long road to ridding himself and his company of the on-going damage to their intertwined identities.


Ford gets its succession planning right with Alan Mulally and now Mark Fields

May 2, 2014

Ford seems to have managed the transition from dynastic leadership well, beginning with the appointments of Alan Mulally and now Mark Fields. The appointment even succeeded in exorcising the ghost of the anti-Semitism of its founder, a Century earlier

My inclination is to test leadership stories for their hidden side. So this feel-good story of leadership success appeared to require rigorous testing. After all, I reasoned, The Ford PR department would want to project a good-news story. I was pleasantly surprised. For once they had little need for any great display of the dark arts of their profession.

A balanced scorecard

I first came across the story in The Detroit News, which is a bit like going to the Vatican for a balanced scorecard on the Pope’s leadership achievements. The News [May 1st 2014] tells how close the mighty Ford Empire was to extinction in 2006. The last throw was for the dynasty to euthanize itself and appoint Alan Mulally, a well-chosen Ford insider, but not a scion of the Ford family:

”We’ve had very few, maybe ever, a planned and smooth transition, all the way back to my great-grandfather,” William Ford Jr. said from the [Corporate headquarters, Thursday April 30th]. Mulally, 68, came to Ford from Boeing Co. in September 2006 to engineer one of the greatest business turnarounds in American history. When he retires July 1, and Fields, 53, assumes the CEO position for which he was passed over eight years ago, it will truly be the final act of Mulally’s historic reign in Dearborn.

Leadership chops

Other articles recounted a similar tale of two great leadership appointments. The headline in the Autonews article suggested that Fields has ‘the leadership chops’ which roughly translated is leadership presence and ability’ to silence critics

Critics?

Criticism of Fields has been mild, and Mostly about him being an MBA and a Harvard MBA. And a hint that he has been known to square-up physically in meetings when things go wrong.

The exorcism

There were a few mentions of the fact that Ford had put to rest the anti-Semitism that haunted the company since the days of its founder Henry Ford. My source, The Jewish Telegraphic Agency has the same reputation for balanced reporting as the as the mythical Vatican agency with its gleeful headline “Take that, Henry Ford! Car company goes from anti-Semitic founder to new Jewish COO” on Fields’ promotion in 2012.

The succession plan

Bill Ford’s comments showed more than a hint of satisfaction at the succession planning that went so well.

“From the first day we discussed Ford’s transformation eight years ago, Alan and I agreed that developing the next generation of leaders and ensuring an orderly CEO succession were among our highest priorities,” Ford said. “Mark has transformed several of our operations around the world into much stronger businesses during his 25 years at Ford. Now, Mark is ready to lead our company into the future as CEO.”

Behind the headlines

Behind the headlines there are interesting issues to be considered. Is the story just great leadership from the time the last Ford in the dynasty,saw it was time to introduce an outsider? Then great leadership by Mulally in turning around the behemoth organization, and now the prospect of a third great leader, Mark Fields at the top? If so, we have a traditional account in the spirit of natural born leaders. Or again, we might wish to examine the story as an example of distributed leadership, which is more likely to defuse power struggles and encourage corporate morale.

For Fordists everywhere

Those wishing to, can purchase from the Detroit News a framed photo of Alan Mulally shaking hands with Mark Fields, with a beaming Bill Ford looking on.

To be continued


World War One and Jeremy Paxton’s existential dread

March 31, 2014


In the projection of his professional persona, Jeremy Paxton conceals and reveals his personal anxieties

Jeremy Paxton is one of England’s best-known media celebrities. He has became the inquisitorial voice of the BBC’s Newsnight programme [1989- present] and with little shift of style, the inquisitional voice of University Challenge. Building on these achievements, he has produced literary works often with grand themes of British achievements. He is currently fronting one of the BBC’s series to mark the events of The Great War of 1914-1918.

The other Jeremy

His style is combative and ironic. Some years ago, in 2009, listening to a radio interview,I mistook him for another celebrity Jeremy. Only at the end of the interview did I discover I had been listening to the equally combative and ironic Jeremy Clarkson of Top Gear. Clarkson is arguably the greater financial asset to the BBC, and equally assiduous in cultivating a controversial and discomforting personal style. In the earlier post, I made tentative analyses of the behavioural styles of each.

I return to this topic as Newsnight Jeremy is making an acclaimed contribution to the Nation’s commemorations of WW1.

The mask of control and the mask of command

Leadership studies sometimes refer to the mask of command. Both Paxton and Clarkson show the mask of control, beneath which lurks the existential fear of losing control. The leader inspires confidence by concealing the natural human feelings of despair and weakness. For Paxton, the TV interview, and the quiz with answers to all the questions provided to the interrogative quiz master provide ideal situations to act out his concealed anxieties.

On the dark side

I make no claims for the validity of these observations. They may be rooted in my mistaken reading of Jungian psychology. They just make sense to me. They confirm my belief in the nature of the concealed dark side of the persona of some of the leaders and celebrities who gain cultural acceptance.


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