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

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

  1. It would be unkind to suggest that moral and ethical dilemmas cause even the most brilliant minds to be tossed about on seas of nightmares. He and other bosses might consider an afternoon nap as a part of the working day.

  2. Paul Hinks says:

    Thanks for the reply back – I actually admire Antonio Horta-Osorio’s work ethic – although clearly he’s over done it – perhaps during the course of 2012 we’ll be able to review if/how Antonio Horta-Osorio has changed his leadership style?

    I’m sure that over the course of 2012 we’ll hear more about Mr Horta-Osorio.

    I like your suggestion of an afternoon nap :o)

    regards,
    Paul

  3. Hi Paul,
    Excellent Blog and highlights some really important issues.
    Type A personalities- those who are high achievers and drive others to achieve are at real risk of mental illness and stress related illness. In particular they at real risk of suicide so it is incredibly important we are not blasé about it.
    As you know I am a GP and see many people with similar problems. There may be many underlying issues surround this gentleman’s illness (family problems, work stress, personality issues, addiction problems…) but there are many things we can learn from it.

    I am really impressed by various aspects in the way he has handled himself.
    1) He identified, or at least listened to the advice of those around him, that he needed to seek help
    2) He bravely took time away from work, with all the stigma that it has brought
    3) He came back- for me this is the most uplifting part of it all. He is rich- make no mistake about that. He had no ‘need’ to go back to the job. It would have been very easy to have walked away
    4) He has identified the need to change his ways- I tell my patients, “the thing, that part of your personality, that makes you successful is also the thing that destroys you”. He is a success because of the way he worked and handled his external pressures, and it is clear that that has had significant part to play in his illness.

    We are ALL at risk of this type of illness. It is not because he is weak, but it demonstrates his strength to come out of this situation.

    The way I explain it is to imagine we have an energy bar at 100%. We can function without obvious loss of performance to say around 60%. Many things can eat away at our energy levels- work levels, home problems, relationship problems, family issues, ill health etc. Below 60% we start to become irritable, tired all the time (or TATT as doctors call it), start to feel like something is not right. A lot of people with problems in their private life initially present with ‘work stress’. It is a lot easier to say that work is the cause of unhappiness than a marriage that is dysfunctional for example.

    There are some subtle signs here of impending deterioration- and these are loss of those habits that keep life ticking over- one stops washing mugs and plates and the sink starts to fill up, the post is either not opened or just put back in its envelope to be done ‘another day’. Clothes are not washed, or left unfolded or unironed. These to me are warning signs.

    Below 30-40% you start to see some real signs of depression/anxiety- poor sleep, poor concentration, poor appetite or overeating, low mood, over use of alcohol to help on sleep, thoughts of self harm or suicide/loss of hope for the future.

    Be careful as it can happen to all of us. That Mr Horta-Osorio has done is impressive and I wish him every success- both professionally and more importantly personally.

    Thanks Paul for the article.

  4. Paul Hinks says:

    Hi Shashi – thanks for the reply – and for the comprehensive medical perspective – very interesting and it certainly added to my knowledge.

    I’ve just had a quick search for ‘Type A’ personalities – interesting to read & learn about the personality traits (stress, multi-tasking, time sensitive, workaholics, etc.).

    I find Antonio Horta-Osorio a really fascinating leader to study – I’m still following his ‘story’ – he’s just waived his £2.4 million pound bonus which I find a breath of fresh air, particular for those operating in the banking sector:

    http://www.telegraph.co.uk/journalists/harry-wilson/9012414/Lloyds-chief-Antonio-Horta-Osorio-gives-up-2.4m-bonus.html

    I really hope he’s fully recovered; he could be the type of leader & personality that frequents our press for all the right reasons.

    Thanks again for the reply Shashi – much appreciated …

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