How to win friends and influence people: A tip from a great business leader

February 27, 2007

Some years ago I learned a great leadership principle from a successful leader. The idea seems even more relevant today, as it can be adapted to web-based communication systems.

The basis principle is an ancient one with a great ethical pedigree. It comes in various guises such as the principle of reciprocity, or ‘treat others as you would like to be treated’. My mentor applied it on a near daily basis.

‘If I come across anything I think would interest someone’ he would say, ‘I’ll tell them about it’. He explained that he subscribed to various papers and journals, and followed a ‘read and use’ policy. After he came across an article that he thought would benefit someone else, he would cut it out. Before the days of Post-it notes he would clip out the relevant pieces to be used for this purpose, before binning the residual document. Then he would send each cutting off, always personalized with a note. For example, I would often receive something with a message suggesting how it might would help in my research, or in my work with some mutual corporate contact.

Didn’t he charge money?

No. He had worked out the principle that the process was mutually beneficial. It happened to be great marketing, and it helped keep him in mind within his network of business and personal contacts. But it wasn’t just marketing. He enjoyed doing it. Thinking about it, he didn’t even waste time. It was more efficient than trying to contact by ‘phone.

The 21st Century business model: use targeted not pepper-shot give-aways

He was anticipating a very 21st century business model. This operates on the premise that you build a business by first giving things away, not worrying about how much to change for them. It works particularly well for e-businesses. If you come across something on the web, you should be able to think of someone who would like to see it. Simple. Your computer has probably got that famous icon of a paper clip. So e-clip the article (or use a permalink). Then personalize the message and send it off in an email.

A chance to practice the networking tip

You may like to practice the suggested tip using the recent posts from this blog. (OK, so I’m practicing what I’m preaching). The following posts fall into three broad categories, business, political, and sporting. Scan the list for one of those categories until you find one you think would interest one of your contacts. Ask yourself why she or he would like to receive it. Forward it using the permalink with that personalized message. Let me know how you get on, and good luck.

List of recent posts to practice your e-networking

1 Tata take-over of Corus. Why Tata is a bit like Tesco and a lot like Unilever.

2 The BA strike (1) .. How bullying management may have played a part in the dispute.

3 The BA strike (2) .. and how its resolution called for more than macho (Mandrill) management

4 What sort of leader do you need? Introductory note on ‘superleadership’ and distributed leadership

5 Is John Reid incompetent? Maybe, but what would anyone else have done differently? Is his problem more of trying to conceal powerlessness than of incompetence.

6 Pfizer: Analysis of the company’s financial strategy and status

7 FT fate in the balance

8 Lateral thinking as a project aid

9 On becoming a leader. Post to support student project work.

10 Leadership expectations: Jonny Wilkinson

11 Dysfunctional/disgraced leaders: The Hyundi case

12 Leadership priorities: What problem is small enough for a Leader to ignore?

13 English Football invasion by American entrepreneurs

14 Allan Leighton and Royal Mail leadership

15 On becoming a leader

16 Politics

17 Burberry leadership problems

18 John Reid political judgment

19 Chrysler troubles

20 Gun Crisis

21 How ‘failed’ leaders bounce back

22 How to read opinion polls

23 More on gun crimes

24 Airbus problems

25 Understanding why comparative analysis is difficult, using the case of football managers

26 Virgin and Network Rail leadership challenges

27 More on airbus struggles

28 Of special interest to the next Project Leadership experiment, the post on co-creating project leadership information.


Is Airbus hard-wired for a crash?

February 26, 2007

Delays in the vital Airbus 380 project have been identified around complex wiring problems. But the crucial problems may be the cultural hard-wiring of the parent company EADS revealed in the job-equity summit between Chirac and Merkel.

Update: I recently suggested that Airbus was struggling in its efforts to secure its future because of some killer facts noting that:

The killer facts that will pervade the talks are as follows. The mighty and innovative airbus 380 project has been mired in technological challenges (particularly over gigantic wiring problems) at the Toulouse plant. At minimum, these will cause huge compensation payouts to customers. (The financials would be much worse if competitor Boeing were not working to full capacity). The governance of EADS has been an extended story of struggle between French and German interests (in which the Franco-German co-leadership plays a part). British political influence disappeared after UK defense and aviation company BAE Systems announced its plans to sell 20% stake in Airbus to EADS last year.

Over the weekend, an official version of the story has emerged via the news agencies. In it, the discussions between Chirac and Merkel have been described as resulting in a concord (is that really le mot juste?). According to a Times article

Chirac said he expected that “in terms of jobs, in terms of technology, there be perfect equity in the sharing of the consequences but, equally, that there be no straight layoffs.”

Did I get it wrong?

My earlier account was ‘off-message’, if M Chirac’s statement is to be accepted at face-value. However, further reading of the reports in the German press suggests that that ‘perfect equity in the sharing of consequences’ is unlikely, and even less likely is there to be perfect harmony between French and German expectations.

I had misled myself in conflating the company announcement to delay its restructuring plan, with the meeting between Jacques Chirac and Angela Merkel. It turns out that the decision to delay the restructuring of the company, although attributed to the political storm brewing, was announced before the ‘summit’

I had also bought the story from English press reports that the wiring at Toulouse had been a major source of the Airbus 380 problems. In contrast, a German report suggests that their Hamburg plant has been blamed for much of Airbus’s operating loss for 2006 due to the delays, and that some of the A380 production could be transferred to Airbus plants in Toulouse, France, which could also be the assembly site for the new A350.

But these remain issues to be cleared up. More obviously, the political meeting was more about finding a political statement of harmony. This may not be unconnected with electoral campaigning in France at present.

Cultural hardwiring

This seems to me to be an example of cultural hard-wiring in the company. I have modified the more familiar terms of hardware and software in cultural theory to suggest that the corporate rigidities, like the wiring of the Airbus 380, may be rather resistant to a quick-fix. The structure is closer to hardware than to software, more hardwired than softwired in nature.

What happens next?

We will learn whether the company will announce steps to address its urgent technological problems which are key to its production difficulties. Or whether the stories will remain focused on the political dimensions of the company’s hard wiring. (No, I still don’t think Concord is the mot juste). Some predictions are still worth offering.

Airbus is not in a position in which traditional ‘strong’ leadership can be expected to make a significant difference in the short term. Louis Gallois was not selected for such actions, and he may as well continue seek a consensus which permits the company to introduce its needed restructuring plan. This suggests that change will be that of the reasonable man rather than the progress which Bernard Shaw argued was achievable only through the efforts of the unreasonable and heroic leader.

Virgin rail crash is a leadership challenge for Richard Branson and John Armitt

February 25, 2007

220px-richardbranson.jpgA crisis brings its particular leadership challenges. The Cumbrian rail crash has revealed the various kinds of challenges for the emergency service teams, as well as for the roles demanded of leaders, such as Virgin head Richard Branson and Network Rail’s John Armitt

The London to Glasgow Pendolino train derailed in a remote region of Cumbria late in the evening of Saturday 24th February 2007, killing one passenger and injuring another two dozen. The majority of the 120 passengers were relatively unscathed. The high speed train with its innovative tilting technology had been introduced successfully over the last few years. The scale of human loss could have been far greater, and this appears to confirm the claimed robustness of the structural design of the train. Failures to the track-maintenance appear to be the likely immediate cause of the accident. In times of crisis we look for leadership. So what happened?

Leadership visibility and contributions

Leader of the main rail union Bob Crow was one of the first to get to the site of the accident, and provide a statement for his members and the wider public. He indicated the preliminary evidence as pointing to points failure. There was some mild criticism of him for the statement prior to a more detailed investigation. Crow’s information turned out to reflect accurately the focus of investigation subsequently.

Richard Branson was reported as having cut short a holiday to get back to England and the scene of the crash. He also visited casualties in hospital. His statements were widely reported, and he spoke eloquently about the heroism of ‘his’ driver, Iain Black who was among the injured, as well as of the human suffering. He also conveyed the message that the design of ‘his’ train had been a major factor in minimizing the scale of suffering that occurred.

If Branson is seen as an energetic, empathic, decisive leader, Bob Crow should also receive accolades. Their involvement compares favourably visibility, decisiveness and efforts of political figures, and (it must be said) with the efforts of John Armitt, chief executive of Network Rail. He eventually provided a statement acknowledging that the accident may have occurred ‘on our watch’. As far as I am aware he was not reported as visiting the scene of the crash, or the hospitals. Earlier ‘on his watch’ he drew praise for his leadership during the Potters’ Bar crash. Mr. Armitt has a track-record as an empathic and hands-on leader, but it may not be coincidence that his retirement date has already been set for later in the year.

Even Mr Armitt’s modest contribution stands out in comparison to those of politicians who have been jostling for media attention this week. Is this the result of a calculated decision to keep away from the whole business? We will probably learn more in the coming days as a report of the accident comes out.

The Role of leaders

According to Weber, leaders traditionally drew authority from their acceptance as intermediaries of transcendental forces. They were indeed the chosen ones, or the special ones. Later, the chosen ones became accepted as having unchallengeable rights as leaders of tribes and nations. Weber developed his theorizing of charisma around such ideas. One relevant aspect of his ideas is the role of the leader in a crisis to bring comfort and reassurance.

More recently, political and management scientists such as Alan Bryman have been working out a new leadership model. His earlier work has been updated recently in a chapter on the post-charismatic era of leadership.

Bryman, with co-author Ken Parry, have marshaled considerable evidence indicating the limitations of the long-familiar notion of leader as heroic figure. They also draw attention to the way leadership is more of a shared (distributed) effect than was previously realized.

We defer elaboration of this to future posts. However, we note that researchers have become more concerned with the way in which leaders influence intentionally or unintentionally the cultural agenda. In terms we have been using, this involves production and consumption of cultural messages.

Assessing the leadership contributions

Richard Branson behaved according to expectations for a charismatic leader. He was decisive, empathic, and provided powerful images through the media. Bob Crow had less access to the media, and his impact was accordingly diminished in the eyes of the public. John Armitt may have made a peripheral impact (although his admission of possible culpability within his organization was a cut above the more common PR-mediated messages often resorted to by leaders fearful of admitting liability or weakness).

Weber’s broad ideas of a leader offering solace at times of crisis seem more convincing than the 1990s models of ransformational leaders offering powerful and uplifting visionary guidance.

Clearly there need be no either-or. However, the role of ‘just being there’ may have been under-estimated, as has the damaging impact of ‘not being there’


Update on Richard Branson planned for September 2014

I don’t know if Jose’s the greatest football manager ever, but I know how to find out

February 24, 2007

Jose and Arsene (BBC image)So the Special one’s been at it again. In his own words, he’s up there in a group of no less than eight and no more than fourteen. He may be talking of today’s managers. Or he may be talking about where he is in the all-time great rankings. In either case, it would be nice to have some rules for working out whether Jose Mourinho has got it right. Here are a few suggestions.

This is not going to be very exciting. On the other hand, you might find it useful if you ever find yourself in a fighting talk situation. Otherwise you may want to save it for after the end of the season. Which, according to some Watford fans, has already arrived. Anyway, yerwego. Letsby Avenue.

According to an excellent Arsenal website, Jose Mourhino has been winding up the opposition prior to the Carling Cup final. The BBC also picked up, and provided the excellent image above of Jose and Arsene both looking suitably wise. On reflection, Jose wound me up, prompting this post.

How to decide the greatest anything: The rule of last one standing

You can decide the greatest anything – once you know what the rules of the game are. The greatest is the one left, when you have shown all the others are not so great. Take the London Marathon. The winner is the runner who is not finishing behind anyone else. Or in the long jump, he or she is the one whose longer jump is longer than everyone else’s. And so on. Apply the rule and spot the champion.

But it’s not as simple as that is it?

No, sorry, it’s not. For example, today we heard that this year at Wimbledon, the best female tennis player of the tournament this year will get the same prize money as the best male tennis player. I’ve listened to lots of people say that’s right, and lots saying that’s wrong. The rule of last one standing (or actually the last flopping down on the hallowed grass in a practiced victory routine) sorts out the best in each of the competitions. But who deserves the most money? The last bloke standing (or flopping?), simply because the blokes play more sets than the women? Or Roger Federer, because he’s likely to be said bloke, and because he plays fewer sets than any other bloke? Or because he would get ten out of ten for artistic merit for more sets than anyone else.

See where I’m coming from? We can’t decide if we can’t even agree what are the rules of the game to arrive at the greatest. The more events and the wider the timeframes, the harder it gets.

You mean like picking the greatest footballers of all time?

Exactly. I mean like picking the greatest players of all time. And even if we agreed on the rules of the game, we run into the complications of judges interpreting rules. It’s bad enough in Football with one referee having to interpret the rules (with assistance). But what about that Olympic favourite, high diving? The judges practice as hard as the divers, but they still can’t agree all that closely.

So picking the best players over time is tricky. You can’t even compare statistics. Some clever maths show that sports become more competitive over time, with less of a spread between best and worse teams playing each regularly. (It may not seem so in the Premier league, but it’s probably the same there as has been shown in other studies).

Some ways to decide how to decide

In each case, a general principle can be proposed. Find some way of establishing the what rules are to be used to arrive at the last manager standing. Notice, the problem now shifts from finding the winning manager, to finding the winning rules. See what can be learned from the rules applied to obtain the winner in other situations.

Gonks, anoracks, accountants, and attourneys (sorry, members of the legal profession) like rules that involve counting and measuring. The greatest golfer is said to be the one who earns the most dollars in a year. That’s more or less accepted in a year. It doesn’t work over time however. Note, it’s not the golfer who gets the lowest hole average in a year, a method which wouldn’t always get the same result. Note also, it’s not the football team winning the most games that necessarily wins the league or even the World Cup, or the tennis player who wins the most games in a match, tournament or a year.

Hm… Boring, isn’t it. There’s no one answer. But we can fix it to get different ‘right answers’ according to different rules. Or how about this approach? You ask the best managers to vote on the very bestest one of all?

I think you can see the snag there. How do we pick the best manager. Hm. Or maybe we ask everyone in the world interesting in soccer to send in their votes. Hm, again, lot’s of scope for cheating, and how much do most of those ********’s **** s know about anything anyway?

How to see how right Jose is on this one?

OK. That’s what you’ve been waiting for. You deserve a serious no messing answer. How can we Jose compare with today’s managers; and how to compare him against the all-time greats?

This is what I’d do. I’d carry out what’s called a meta-analysis (phew). I’d have two sets of people. One group would be the rule-setters, and the other the rule testers. Each would have fans, players, coaches, pundits, even referees and other officials. Then I’d lock the rule-testers up until they agreed on the rules for picking the bestest manager. They would then be let out.

Next, the rule-testers would be locked up to reach the answer as dictated by the rules. Again they could come out when they have reported. Their job is to have a league table of the current day managers. We can then see where Jose fits on that list.

This gives us the answer to the first, and simpler question. For the other question, I’m inclined to go for a different approach. I’d get all those game players to play out footie games with teams and managers from all time periods. Using some of the rules already established you could then see who wins out.

Oh, yes, if that fails, I’d be inclined to ask Jose what he thinks about it all… Or maybe Arsene.

Airbus struggles: A killer fact analysis

February 23, 2007

791px-farnborough_air_show_2006_a380_landing.jpgStrategic decisions at Airbus have been increasingly mired in political wrangling. Killer facts appear to include serious production delays difficulties in France; job preservation priorities of French and German politicians, share disposals by BAE to Airbus parent EADS, and leadership changes as the political, economic and technological challenges play out. Leader Louis Gallois will have to find some wriggle room to secure the restructuring required for the company.


Considerable changes have occured at EADS since this post was first written. These can be tracked through the Airbus posts, including details of the corporate restructuring. The longer term Power8 plan seems still on the agenda, but delayed. Angela Merkel still visits Toulouse, but with new French President Nicholas Sarcozy. The post has been retained as a useful historical context to more recent developments in the company.

[Original Post follows …]

You know an international company is in trouble when it becomes the topic of discussion between corporate and political leaders. Today, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Jacques Chirac meet with executives of EADS in Germany. The subject on the agenda employment, and potential job losses at the planemaker Airbus. The company’s largest sites, with greatest potential for job losses are at Toulouse and Hamburg.

Last year, A380 project executives, including Airbus CEO Gustav Humbert, were dismissed. Humbert was blamed for the failure to deal effectively with the project delays, but also was accused of concealing the seriousness of the problems.

In the same period, it was revealed that the joint CEO of EADS, Noel Forgeard had sold EADS stock weeks before its Airbus subsidiary announced the Airbus A380 would be delayed again. M. Forgeard resigned, and the stock plummeted.

In a short space of time, Humbert’s replacement, at Airbus, Christian Streiff resigned, which was when Louis Gallois stepped in. Streiff was believed to have failed to secure backing for a financial package he believed necessary to turn things around with the A380. Gallois is a much admired leader with a track record of top-level negotiating skills as well as industry experience. This week, the famed negotiating skills of Louis Gallois have been strained. An announcement of the restructuring with losses of over 10,0000 jobs was postponed, and now will follow the meeting of EADS executives with Merkel and Chirac.

The Killer facts

The killer facts that will pervade the talks are as follows. The mighty and innovative airbus 380 project has been mired in technological challenges (particularly over gigantic wiring problems) at the Toulouse plant. At minimum, these will cause huge compensation payouts to customers. (The financials would be much worse if competitor Boeing were not working to full capacity). The governance of EADS has been an extended story of struggle between French and German interests (in which the Franco-German co-leadership plays a part). British political influence disappeared after UK defense and aviation company BAE Systems announced its plans to sell 20% stake in Airbus to EADS last year.

What will happen next?

Don’t expect to find a neat Business School solution on the strategic issues. The dreaded PEST analysis (Political, Economic, Social and technological factors) seems more relevant than simple SWOTting (analysis of corporate strengths and weaknesses, against external threats and opportunities).

Structural production factors dictate that the pain of job losses will be spread around with greatest potential losers in Germany, France, and England. Interestingly, the share price has had its medium term downward adjustment, and has been remarkably stable over the last six months of corporate turbulence.

There seems scope for some wriggle-room, and political / economic trade-offs. Louis Gallois may yet lead by facilitating some creative (win-win) decisions of national involvement in future business streams. We will soon find out who will be doing the most wriggling, and where.

Gun Crime Summit as PM redoubles efforts

February 22, 2007

MacBeth (witches)Tony Blair had become more involved in domestic issues this week. He has increasingly taken the lead from John Reid in attempts to deal with gun crime. He also found himself directly involved in a consultation process on road taxing policy which demonstrates the rising impact of information technology in the political process.

Prime Minister Blair has recently been attracting less media attention than has his heir apparent, Gordon Brown. This week he appears to have moved more centre stage again. While there has been some attention paid to military stories around troop withdrawals from Iraq, he seems to have taken renewed interest in domestic affairs. Today he takes change of a Government initiative following last week’s spate of murderous gun crimes. Home Secretary John Reid appears in a secondary role, as he joins with Mr Blair today in what has inevitably been dubbed a gun summit.

The meeting brings together community leaders, politicians, police, victim family-members to an open-agenda meeting at Downing Street. The format has been signaled as a kind of brainstorming.

The Genie out of the bottle

The Prime Minister has also less willingly found himself dealing with the consequences of an experiment in electronic democracy. People were invited to submit petitions to Downing Street. Over a million did, on the subject of a proposed road taxing policy, road in a demonstration of the power of the internet to mobilize public opinion. The innovative approach has certainly offered a lesson in the dynamics of e-consultation. The invitation was couched in terms that provided an opportunity for individuals to voice fears and opposition to change, rather than one for discussion, debate, collaborate problem-solving, and so on.

Seems like a good thing to me. It’s already focused Ministerial attention on the significance of preparing the public better for any change process. The talk now is of clarifying the misconceptions that have been used to mobilize opinion against the proposed policy. Learning is taking place… about the followers we deserve.

The Genie of democratic consultation is out of the bottle. One consequence has been described as Mr Blair sending emails to over a million people. Well OK, a single carefully crafted email will go out to the millions of email addresses connected with the petition. Will the email invite further dialog?

Blair’s last leadership acts?

Tony Blair appears as an increasingly besieged leader, confronting a host of slings and arrows of outrageous fortune. Another Shakespearian drama. But which one? Perhaps more Julius Caesar than Hamlet, with just the slightest of echoes of MacBeth and King Lear?

A rough guide to reading Leadership polls

February 21, 2007

The latest leadership poll in Britain signals good news for the Conservatives, and bad news for the present Government. But how good, and how significant are the results? A simple three-step process is suggested which will help readers to take a more informed view of what such polling results might mean.

According to The Guardian newspaper, the conservatives are the strongest they have been in the polls for 12 years. The BBC examined the poll data and concluded that support for Labour under Gordon Brown could drop to 29%, while the Tories led by David Cameron would attract 42%.

Good news indeed for David. The article, by Julian Glover continues the regular monthly polls by the Guardian conducted by polling experts ICM. I tried to assess the significance of the results, and quickly hit several complications. The BBC news was particularly unhelpful. It plucked out a few elements of the Guardian poll, but in a way that left me searching for pen and paper to make sense of the information.

An hour, and a few sheets of crumpled notepaper later, and I had arrived at some interesting conclusions. I realized that it was not the first time I had been forced to work out things in this way from newspaper reports of polling results.

Here is a rough and ready guide that might help anyone who is not already familiar with the terrible beauty of statistical analysis. It is based on not much more than a respect for numbers (numeracy).

How to read opinion polls

Step 1 Stick as closely as possible to the data and decide what the numbers are telling you. You may have to re-organize the data for this.
Step 2 See what conclusions are being drawn in the news story
Step 3 Ask what gaps are there between the data and the conclusions.

The three-step process applied

In practice, news stories tend to rush you on to step 2, then perhaps provide some help with Step 1, and avoid much mention of Step 3. The BBC report illustrates the point:

Support for Labour under Gordon Brown could drop to 29%, while the Tories led by David Cameron would attract 42%, an opinion poll suggests. With Mr Brown expected to take over as PM, the ICM/Guardian phone poll asked 1,000 adults at the weekend which party – with a named leader – they preferred. The same question a month ago suggested Labour under Brown would gain 31% and Conservatives under Cameron 39%. The Lib Dems under Sir Menzies Campbell dropped to 17% from 19% a month ago. When asked about voting intentions – regardless of leaders – the poll suggests 40% of respondents supported the Conservatives, up three points on January. Support for Labour was static on 31%, and the Liberal Democrats lost 4 points to drop to 19%.

All clear? Not unless you can think in more dimensions than I can. It’s actually clearer if you draw very crude graphs. Then you see he complications arising because the pollsters have been measuring voting intentions in two ways: mentioning, and not mentioning the leaders of the parties.

Even without graphs, if you put the data into a table you will see that the data reveals a swing to the conservatives (39% to 42% with mention of David Cameron, 37% to 40% without mention).

In rather similar way there is a swing away from the Liberal Democrats (19% to 17% with mention of Ming Campbell, 23% to 19% without mention). The labour figures are harder to interpret. They indicate a swing away only when Gordon is mentioned (31% to 29%, static at 31% without mention of Gordon).

This gives us the basis of our Step one. The data says there is a slight shift to the conservatives, a slight switch away from the Lib Dems, a slight switch away from labour if Gordon Brown is introduced into the questioning.

Step 2: The conclusions drawn are that the conservatives are the strongest they have been in the polls for 12 years (The Guardian claim), and that support for Labour under Gordon Brown could drop to 29%, while the Tories led by David Cameron would attract 42% (BBC interpretation of the Guardian poll).

Step 3: Well, actually there are various assumptions which are glossed over in the claims in Step 2. Sticking strictly to the data, we cannot project what support will be for the parties, with or without David, Gordon and Ming built in.

Nor can we speculate what difference their presence or absence is likely to make on voting day. These are among the real-life complications which make back-projection for twelve years inadequate for projection one or two years ahead.

I’m inclined to see what happens when we have a few more months of data. (Plea to The Guardian / ICM: please can you keep the ‘with and without’ questions to help us work out what is happening, using our three-step system).

Bounceback kings in boardrooms and ballgames

February 19, 2007

Doug EllisA new book suggests that being fired is no bar to future corporate success. Might this explain also how football managers as well as corporate leaders and politicians can recover from humiliating dismissal? We examine this through the exceptional case of Aston Villa football club, and its long-time trigger-happy owner ‘Deadly’ Doug Ellis.

Corporate leaders have increasingly short tenures. It’s a game of hero to zero. American leadership researchers Sonnenfeld and Ward suggest that the heroes who became zeros still have good chances of bouncing back and winning another chance to succeed in the top job. It occurred to me that their evidence could be extended from the boardroom to other leadership fields.

The researchers interviewed chief executives and executive placement consultants. It turns out the consultants find it easier to secure their clients another CEO post, than to secure them a director’s seat on the board of such organizations. (I welcome suggestions about what’s going on there. Are there more suitable candidates available for seats on boards, all with CVs free from blemish?).

Contingencies rule, OK

In certain kinds of study (including studies of effective leaders) you end up with lots of apparently contradictory findings. Researchers can still arrive at some sort of explanation by chunking up their data into clusters. In effect the process produces several micro-theories, which can be re-integrated into a more comprehensive theory within which the inputs lead to different outputs according to various ‘contingent’ variables. Here, the authors identified the type of business as a contingency, with some more willing to believe in giving a fired leader a chance.

Hiring failed leaders: The Case of ‘Deadly’ Doug Ellis

Turns out that the software sector , together with the worlds of entertainment and sport, are willing to give a fallen leader another chance. They make up a so-called ‘baseball team’ culture. In this culture, being fired is accepted as often being little to do with the competence of the hapless chopped ex-chief. The Studio chief or baseball club owner is utterly driven by results with little weight given to the competence of the victim/leader.

Nor is it a strictly American pattern of behaviour. English football teams also have their trigger-happy chairmen. The recently departed chairman (‘Deadly’) Doug Ellis had good record of spotting potential leadership talent as managers of his beloved Aston Villa. Unfortunately, he also was inclined to fire them rather quickly as well. To be discarded by Deadly Doug was more a rite of passage than evidence of leadership incompetence. The story has become a sacred tale which true Villa fans (Villans) can reel off. The list has fifteen names of coaching appointments made by Mr Ellis from 1968 to the time of his sale of the club (another, but different story) in September 2006. It makes fascinating reading. The list includes names of managers who indeed survived and bounced back. In one case, Graham Taylor (who also had a stint as England’s manager, yet another, but different story) whose bouncebackability was exceptional.. He was not fired from his first appointment, but left to become coach to the England Football team. He struggled on a near-impossible job there, so could be said to have bounced back to be rehired at Villa, and then resigned after poor results, almost certainly thus avoiding the more typical Ellis goodbye.

Then there was Big Ron

Another high profile figure in the list was Ron Atkinson. Big Ron lasted for three troubled years, by which time he was developing nicely as one of football’s high profile and controversial characters. Wikipedia’s brilliant and pithy entry can hardly be bettered (although they might have worked in a reference to Ron’s apotheosis of bling).

In recent years he has become one of Britain’s best-known football pundits. He is perhaps most famous for his idiosyncratic turn of phrase: his utterances have become known as “Big-Ronisms” or “Ronglish”, the most famous of which is the term “early doors” (English: early), which has worked its way into the English vernacular – although in recent times, he has also attracted a lot of controversy over a racist comment broadcast on a TV sports show when he believed he was off the air.

Reviewing the list, I was left with the impression that Doug mostly hired and fired from somewhere not quite at the top of the leadership tree. A self-made success himself, he was inclined to give the nod to other self-made managers. He was looking for the heroic figure to fulfill his dreams. When the honeymoon period was over, divorce was never far away. Without intending to be judgmental, I have to say that the Chairman was to a considerable degree the victim of his own decision-making. He got the leaders he deserved.

The bounce-back process

How does the bounce-back process work? According to Sonnenfeld and Ward, there is little long-term damage for leaders who are dismissed for a clash of wills or judgement with the corporate owner. More damaging is dismissal for poor performance, malpractice or personal misdemeanours. It may be that politicians and football coaches have some hope for reincarnation even for these more serious of charges.

Interestingly, we are told that the secret is for the deposed leader to work on a plausible story, denying culpability, shifting responsibility, minimising the gravity of the charges levelled against him (or her), and presenting the appearance of having behaved acceptably and for honourable motives. Perhaps not at all palatable, but rather convincing (as anyone who has read the ghost-written ‘revelations’ of football managers will recognize).

All in all, the evidence points to a process in which leaders are created and destroyed by the fantasies of powerful king-makers. Our case study in football seems to match the findings in business leadership. I leave the extension into political leadership for another time.

Gun crisis: Disentangling the political rhetoric

February 18, 2007

Three teenagers were shot to death this week in London. Politicians have pronounced on the violence and apparent pointlessness of their fate, an emerging gun-culture, alienation, and single parenting, laced with more than a hint of racialism against young black culture. To what extent can we disentangle the calculated and contrived from the compassionate?

Under these circumstances, Politicians find it all to easy to express a view, although fully aware of the minefield they are treading. Proposals will be labelled as primarily gesture politics. Grand visions will have to be backed-up with evidence of thought-through first-steps.

The case illustrates the dilemmas of political leadership. Politicians in power are in the position of being able to announce those specific new and promising first steps. Although this is the case for Tony Blair, anything radically new in what he suggests will be challenged by many in the media with the automatic reaction – why did it take his Government so long to get there?

David Cameron, in contrast, does not have to deal with that particular form of cyncial challenge to new ideas. He may even be able to offer novelty which as long as it has plausibility, will not be tested in the near future. He can justify why the ideas have not been previously policy for his party. He is still (just about) in a leadership honeymoon period (weighing up his overall treatment from the media). However, he still faces dilemmas. There is still the objection that he is operating from the luxury of not having to put his ideas to the test. And he has been careful not to commit his party too closely to specific policy statements, avoiding political hostages to fortune.

What did the leaders do, how did they do?

The early front-runner was David Cameron. His analysis was unusual for a traditional Conservative politician. However, Mr Cameron has been diligent in demonstrating that he is no traditional Tory. His reaction focussed on cultural deprivation as a deep-rooted and significant factor that needed to be addressed. The position would have been ‘nothing new there, then’ if offered by a traditional labour (or contemporary Liberal democratic politician).

John Reid as Home Secretary was at first more occupied with advancing the progress towards the provision of two new prisons. He turned his attention to the teenage deaths after David Cameron. His remedy, suitably tough was to reveal Government plans offering a review of gun laws and toughening them where necessary.

Tony Blair was curiously slower in response, but toward the weekend seemed to have reclaimed Dr Reid’s story for himself, in a TV interview, and a story that had been trailed to appear in The Sunday Times newspaper.

In ‘response’ to the yet-to-be-published statement, Sir Menzies Campbell broadly warned that there could be no quick-fix (sounding disdainful of rhetorical gestures on such a matter), but offering no ideas of long term alternative.

The political cross-dressing continues

Tony Blair has been consistent in his repositioning of New Labour on tough on crime, tough on the causes of crime. It is now commonplace to attribute the phrasing as a gift to Tony from Gordon when they were somewhat closer buddies. His approach is thus incremental (tougher laws for younger people). Dr Reid, in that respect is also close to this aspect of New Labour orthodoxy temperamentally. David Cameron is also consistent in repositioning New Torydom with considerable invasions of regions of social policies held firmly by Old Labour. Overall, both Blair and Cameron were consistent in their enthusiasm for political cross-dressing, shocking some of their previous supporters in the interests of change. Which leaves Sir Menzies Campbell with the unenviable task of pointing only to the truism that quickfixes do not work.

Winners and losers?

I’m not sure I can find any winners from the political offerings discussed. The proposals remain less than convincing that swift and effective changes are about to begin in the interests of vulnerable groups of young people in the inner cities of London, Mmanchester and elsewhere. The leaders we elected are delivering the leadership the rest of us deserve. Perhaps, as a message from Tim suggested in response to an earlier Blog, Gordon Brown might have some personal conslation in keeping out of the battle.

Chrysler Chills: Is this Thermal Denial?

February 18, 2007

Ford and GM have shed nearly eighty thousand jobs. Chrysler now announces another 13,000 job cuts in North America. Chrysler/Daimler faces a tricky future as its head, Dieter Zetsche, weighs up all options for the ailing partnership. Against the growing reality of the job-cuts we ask: is there still thermal denial in the American auto-industry?

The overall story is now well-established. The mighty auto-industry in America is in a tailspin. There is a sense of the decline and fall of the Fordist Empire. Some of us learned that was caused by enemies within, as much as enemies from outside. Which translated points to the fiendish plot by Foreign-owned auto-companies to metamorphose into American companies.

Sales and sales projections say that big is not as beautiful as it was. It seems likely that the invaders such as Toyota can probably scale upwards in the new midi- or cross-over utility vehicle market more easily than the American auto-giants can scale down into the market.

Meanwhile at the Detroit Show

Meanwhile, the Detroit show recently indicated the approach to the market from the ailing giants. Chrysler could claim to have played a big part in creating the market for the rather large People Carriers. Tom LaSorda, head of the American Chrysler division of the partnership said as much at the show. He also indicated that the future product the company was backing was …The Grand Caravan, another people carrier.

In a sideshow, the Corporation’s chief economist was offering another interesting take on its thinking. Van Jolissaint described a gulf between views he found prevalent in Europe, and those in the States. He was dismissive of the Stern report and suggested that climate change was “way, way in the future, with a high degree of uncertainty”. He added for good measure that the Europeans appeared to be suffering from a quasi-hysterical condition producing Chicken Little behavior, running around saying the sky was falling in. The audience from within the auto-industry seemed to find both solace and confirmation of the correctness of its own views from his argument.

It may have escaped the notice of the audience that the Chrysler part of the partnership was performing particularly weakly, with strongest performance from the European Mercedes-Benz car and truck operations.

After the Show was over …

After the Show was over the auto-makers returned to their beleaguered manufacturing bases, and economists to wherever economists return to (Platonia? Milton Freedonia? Maynardsville?).

Then on Valentine’s day (of all days), Chrysler announces 13,000 job losses. The Chrysler Chief (sounds like part of a music group) is pressed about the future of the American side of the partnership. Dieter Zetsche, for it is he, indicated that he would be exploring all options with new partners.

But Mr Zetsche who used to run Chrysler, has also been engaged in a little denying. According to the BBC:
Mr Zetsche denies any plans to sell the company and pointed out that its problems could be temporary and cyclical .. “No one knows if there is a long-term shift in trends”

So what’s going on?

From a leadership perspective, who would wish to be in change of a global car operation at present? There are a very small number of names who are frequently mentioned as today’s super-leaders, and inheritors of the mantle of earlier greats. Am I right in thinking that the names are largely non-American? If so, is that not puzzling? And who will be in change of whatever is left of Chrysler a few years down the line? Probably not Mr. LaSorda, and that’s not at all because he bears an uncommon resemblance to another once powerful leader. I will leave that as a little challenge to anyone interested.

And why do I think the current crop of successful Auto-chiefs are not American? I hesitate even to offer the most tentative of hypotheses. I am still trying to work out why there are have been so few great English football managers, and such a statistical surfeit of Scottish ones. Or am I wrong about that as well?