Antonio Horta-Osorio: Charisma and the fate of the heroic leader

January 8, 2012

by Paul Hinks

Antonio Horta-Osorio returns to his position as a CEO of Lloyds Bank on 9th Jan 2012 after his break suffering from serious fatigue and insomnia. It seems that even charismatic leaders suffer human weaknesses

When Lloyds Banking Group appointed Antonio Horta-Osorio as CEO in March 2011, they looked beyond their immediate internal pool of talent. What leadership traits were apparent in Mr Horta-Osorio, and not immediately obvious in an internal candidate?

A serial achiever

Mr Horta-Osorio’s impressive CV suggests he is a serial achiever; an individual whose energy is infectious, and clearly somebody who is very passionate in his quest for success. In short, a charismatic leader. Such individuals can be portrayed as all-conquering, with boundless energy when persuing their passions, often supported by a highly impressive list of achievements. They often appear unstoppable in their quest for success.

The Special One of the Banking Industry

Described as ‘The Special One’ or ‘The Mourinho’ of the banking industry, Antonio Horta-Osorio’s is seen as energetic, enthusiastic and completely at the top of his game. So when Mr Hotra-Osorio took extended leave in November 2011 citing extreme fatigue, there was understandable interest and analysis from the media:

The move by Lloyds to appoint Mr Horta-Osorio as its CEO in March 2011 had initially been warmly received by various stakeholders, and yet just eight months later – with Lloyds missing Q3 2011 targets – Mr Horta-Osorio was sidelined on medical advice.

Antonio Horta-Osorio versus Insomnia

Previous to his medical leave, it was widely reported that Mr Horta-Osorio had not slept for five days. He’s not alone though. Other famous leaders including Margret Thatcher & Napoleon are reported to have survived on little sleep [but did they ‘thrive or dive’ on it? Ed.]

In an article published in The Independent Mr Horta-Osorio alluded to treatment that he’s undertaken. It also provided an insight into the seriousness of his condition:

Mr Horta-Osorio said it was his wife who urged him to seek help: “I sought medical advice and went to see a specialist. He told me that in effect my battery was so run down that it was virtually on zero. I went to the Priory for a week just to rest. Then I went home and was immediately sleeping eight hours a day. By then I felt extremely well and was telling the chairman I wanted to come back to work. I spent the next five weeks in London and Portugal and took a few restful trips.

The treatment involved medicine to help me sleep and I am still on mild doses of that, which I expect to come off in the next few weeks.”

Mr Horta-Osorio’s treatment was paid for under the bank’s private medical insurance. He was astonished to learn how common insomnia is. “The official figures are that 30 per cent of the population suffers from sleep deprivation at some time but my specialist told me it was more like 50 per cent,” he said.

Unanswered questions

It’s interesting to consider why Mr Horta-Osorio would suddenly find himself suffering from insomnia. Was the job just too big? Did he feel isolated or threatened in the board room? Did external (media) pressure contribute to increased pressure in the job? Could there have been more support internally?

Expectation levels were understandable high, perhaps Mr Horta-Osorio felt an unnecessary urge to prove himself to his new colleagues, perhaps establish a power-base before he could build trust?

It was only a false start

As 2012 unfolds, spare a thought for Mr Horta-Osorio as he re-evaluates his own priorities and leadership style. Perhaps Mr Horta-Osorio’s false start at Lloyds is another blow to the theory of ‘super-hero’ leaders . As The Telegraph reported “Working until you drop” is no way to run a company. More recently, The Telegraph ran an article where Mr Horta-Osorio acknowledges he needs to change his Leadership style and delegate more. Perhaps power and control will need to make way for more trust-based and distributed leadership?

About the author

Paul writes: “I work for a subsidiary of Hewlett Packard where my career to date has been focused in the Enterprise Computing space. I have experience of working with businesses that operate globally, and I find cultural diversity another interesting dimension of leadership.

I really look forward to exchanging views and opinions with readers of LWD. I first became aware of the website when studying the Global Events and Leadership module at Manchester Business School in Jan 2011. I’m increasingly curious about leaders and the dilemmas they face. I have interests in Business, Politics, Sport and Technology. Having started as a passive reader of LWD, I decided it was time to make a contribution”.

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