Charismatic leader of the Month: Alexis Tsipras

September 30, 2015

Alexis TsiprasAlexis Tsipras survives as the new protector of Greece’s austerity programs. He becomes Leaders We Deserve charismatic leader of the month

On September 20 2015, Alexis Tsipras becomes the leader elected by his country to implement the austerity programmes he was elected in January to oppose.

His story illustrates the success of a charismatic leader in retaining trust regardless of sudden shifts of policy he may make.

Background

The Greek election of 2004 had seen the success of Kostas Karamanlis of the New Democracy party, defeating George Papandreou of PASOK. It was very much business as usual, as the two were from the dynastic tradition in Greece, of political families providing the country’s leaders since the new era of democracy in 1944.

Syriza as a political party emerged in 2004 as a coalition of left wing groups (implied in its acronymic type name) challenging this tradition. The coalition held six seats but its members were engaged in various power struggles (hardly surprising as the radical alliance could count around twelve groupings within it).

After several years of internal struggle, a young Athenian politician Alexis Tsipras eventually gained the leadership of the Greek parliamentary opposition. His track record was as a student activist who had considerable media visibility through his energetic campaigning efforts which demonstrated his considerable personal charm and audience appeal.

Greece and the domino theory of collapse

Greece went on to suffer from increasing financial difficulties exacerbated by the global economic crisis which called for austerity measures imposed externally. By 2012, had Greece became the first domino within the theory of the collapse of the EU. The financial crises had a Darwinian feel to then, with the weakest national economy facing tough austerity measures or default from the club.

According to the domino theory, the default on the weakest economy would increase pressures via creditor institutions, on the next weakest. The IMF, the European Central Bank, and the World Bank were in complex ways influencing financial and political measures taken by national governments. The weakest economies would face increasingly painful decisions which acquired the euphemism of taking austerity measures. Opposition to such measures were simplified into anti-austerity policies. The next dominos included Spain, Portugal, Italy and even France. The most secure economy in the European Union was Germany. Increasingly German economic power was seen as dominant, and Angela Merkel seen as the most powerful political figure in Europe, and chief architect of the austerity measures being imposed on Greece. Greece was seen as fragile enough to make its exit from the EU (‘Grexit’) likely.

By then, Tsipras was attracting international attention for his anti-austerity speeches. Across Europe more extreme parties on the left and right were gaining ground. Disenchantment with austerity measures and the old political alliances was high. The country faced pressing demands to implement further demands in order to renegotiate a financial bail-out, needed to protect the very viability of the internal banking system.

Promise of a heroic rescue

Tsipras promised a heroic rescue. The Greek voters turned to Syritza and Tsipras’s anti-austerity proposals in an election of January 2015. He was sworn in as Prime Minister with a mandate to renegotiate the resented austerity measures.

Tsipras became the poster boy of youthful political protest around the world. At 40 he was the youngest Prime Minister of Greece and arguably the leader of opposition to the EU’s austerity programmes. His election promises had been greeted with incredulity in European leaders concerned with the wider financial stability of the Eurozone and their own internal political pressures. His success in the election was even more of a surprise.

The young hero flung himself into the battle with the forces of austerity. Any sympathy for his cause was weakened in the EU by his lack of diplomatic concealment of his contempt for his perceived protagonists. He was further weakened by the even more abrasive style of his chief financial negotiator.

In the first month of difficult negotiations Greece’s European lenders agree to extend its second bailout by four months with additional evidence of good faith by the newly appointed Greek government.

Neat footwork or stumble?

By June, the EU negotiators appeared to have been making progress, when Tsipras found a way of wrong-footing his opponents (although possibly wrong-footing his own cause as well). Facing unacceptable demands, he announces a hasty referendum on a possible bailout agreement. In July The electorate again supported Tsipras in rejecting the EU latest terms Tsipras assured the voters that the result would not be ‘Grexit’.

The timing resulted in further pressures on the Greek economy, but Greece agrees a bailout deal allowing more austerity measures. The government is in disarray and destabilised by defections.

Another snap election

Then in another piece of wrong-footing, Tsipras resigns and declares he needs a mandate for implementing the deal. A snap election is called for September, as he seeks a new mandate.

On 20 September, Alexis Tsipras wins but without a majority of seats. He is able to form a coalition and survives as the new protector of Greece’s austerity programs which he originally came to power by opposing.

He becomes Leaders We Deserve charismatic leader of the month for September 2015.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Greece Demonstrates, Syria bleeds

November 14, 2012

In Greece, Political leaders continue to battle for the country’s economic survival. The ruling coalition is introducing increasingly unpopular austerity concessions. Refugees from Syria find there is little compassion for their plight. Leadership lessons are hard to find

The political and economic turmoil in Greece continues.

Last week [7th November 2012] judges and doctors participated in a general strike. As politicians deliberated, over 80,000 angry protestors including a group of policemen in uniform, demonstrated outside the Parliament buildings.

The Greek dilemma

The Greek dilemma is increasingly seen as misery and decline inside the Economic community, or misery and decline outside it.

If Greece leaves

The most vulnerable members of the Economic community such as Greece, Spain and Portugal all have the most recent history of military dictatorships ‘rescuing’ the country at its time of need. Is there any evidence of that about to happen? It seems at least a possibility, if Greece leaves the EEC.

Meanwhile, in Syria

Meanwhile the national turmoil has implications for the bloody conflict waging in neighbouring Syria. [14th November 2012]. Even the cold statistics make heart-breaking reading.

The Syrian Red Crescent charity says two and a half million people have been displaced within Syria, and a UN refugee agency considers the estimate on the conservative side. Nearly half a million Syrians have fled to neighbouring countries, the UN says. Figures of more than thirty people have been killed since the uprising against President Assad began over the last eighteen months.

Civilians flee in their thousands into camps on the Turkish border.

Life savings for an eight mile boat journey.

I watched a BBC Newsnight report last night, which showed desperate Syrian families prepared to spend their life savings in a risky crossing of eight miles, into Greece. Hardly surprisingly, those who arrive find the bitterness of people at their own plight, and a mood of heightened xenophobia against immigrants in general.

Leadership, what leadership?

I would like to draw some instructive leadership lessons from these stories, but they are hard to find. Perhaps there is the paradox to consider of the weakness of strong leaders and the limits to autocratic rule. Maybe we should think about the inter-connectedness of events which make dominant theories of leadership too simplistic to help us understand events and find actions which protect the interests of those most at risk.


Euro-drachmas, Football, and the Poll of Poles

June 17, 2012

The Greek nation prepares itself for elections which are said to risk its exit from the Euro and return to the drachma. Meanwhile, attention in and outside the country turns to the Football championships where the Greeks also face an imminent exit

The football championship of Europe is being contested in Ukraine and Poland. The battle for the Euro also continues. Greece is involved in both contests.

The Greek Elections

The Greek Election have been described as a last chance for the Country to accept the harsh disciplines required for it to receive further financial support of its economy. Polls suggest considerable popular rejection of the authority plans, with the possibility of a return to the old currency. Most external commentators believe this would be a lose-lose result for Greece, for Europe, and to some degree for prospects of more rapid economic growth globally.

The Euros [Football]

Meanwhile the sixteen qualifiers in the European football championships slug it out in the stadia of the joint host-nations Poland and Ukraine. The German team is one of the favourites. But unlike their economy, Spain’s football has triple A status, and expected to meet Germany in the final of the championships.
England’s football currency is weak. The new coach is attempting to succeed through invoking a Thatcherian spirit, establishing a stout defence and refusing to get closer to the methods of their competitors from the Euro-zone.

The Poll of Poles

Poland is in the tournament by virtue of being a co-host with Ukraine. I was much taken by a report of the football frenzy in the country.

One news report [via the BBC, June 16th 2012]] told of internal polls of whether Poland would win its next match and thus secure its place in the knock-out stages. Football experts thought probably not. Politicians predicted a comfortable win. It was nice to learn that a group of forty economists were polled and predicted a close win for the home nation. I haven’t found out the degree of consensus present among the distinguished voters.

According to one financial analyst

Odds are, according to stock markets, Greek voters will not vote pro-Euro, but that won’t matter. Europe will stabilize the situation and provide liquidity to help Europe weather any meltdown in the weeks ahead.
My guess is that Greeks will watch the game first, before they vote, and if their team is humiliated, as expected, they will vote to behave themselves and stay in the eurozone. If their team pulls off an upset, all bets are off.

Postscript

It is typical of a Euro-centric perspective that I omitted to mention a significant poll going on in Egypt, where people are voting this weekend for a New President after the removal of Husni Mubarak.

The process was thrown into chaos with official announcements declaring the recent parliamentary election process invalid.

In the football, Greece triumphed. Poland were eliminated, contrary to predictions of their panel of economists. Politically, the Greeks are still voting [17th June 2012]

To be continued


The news stream flickers by as Papandreou grapples with his greatest leadership dilemma

November 4, 2011

As the day progressed, news of Papandreou’s struggles with his greatest leadership dilemma seemed to change by the hour…

Thursday November 3rd 2011. The Coffee Shop, Manchester Business School West.

A small group of business academics were holding a meeting, ironically enough, on leadership. Above them, the most critical leadership story of the day, and maybe the year, was being played out silently on a TV screen. Images of Prime Minister George Papandreou of Greece, and of the other political leaders meeting at Cannes, were accompanied by a news stream, which was informing us of the rapidly-changing sequence of events

The looming debt crisis

The previous days had seen the tortuous effort of the European leaders seeking steps to reassure world markets they were dealing in a coordinated fashion with a looming debt crisis. This had become focussed on the plight of the Greek economy, and in domino-like fashion, the other weakest States of the EU and their banks.

As agreement appeared to have been reached, Then Papandreou had seemed to catch everyone by surprise, even his own colleagues, by an announcement that he intended to call for a referendum in Greece to ‘let the people decide’ on the matter.

He’s resigned. Or has he?

As the MBS coffee-shop meeting got underway, we learned that the Greek Prime Minister had resigned. Less than an hour later, the news reported that he had not resigned but was preparing to meet the country’s President, to confirm plans for the referendum.

By the time we broke for lunch, Papandreou, facing opposition from his own colleagues, also faced the possibility of being forced to resign. Early afternoon, the news stream reported that the referendum was not now going to take place.

Small potatoes

It made our agenda of reviewing progress on our marking responsibilities feel pretty small potatoes. We ended the meeting with the fate of George Papandreou, and maybe the fate of the European Community still in the balance.

His greatest dilemma

The news from Cannes and Athens continued to change rapidly throughout the day. In the evening, Papandreou was quoted [Sky News] as saying he had been struggling with ‘the biggest dilemma of his life… It was either obtaining complete unity [among his government colleagues], or a referendum’.

With a little help from our friends

Other reports were emphasising the influence being brought to bear by the other leaders, and particularly by Germany’s Angela Merkel, and her closest political ally Nicolas Sarcozy of France:

The linkage between a possible No vote and continuing membership of the union proved too much for many of Mr Papandreou’s supporters, including his Finance Minister Evangelos Venizelos, who this morning [as we watched he news unfold at MBS] withdrew his support from the referendum plan.

Many Greeks still feel they should be at the heart of Europe, and the sharp response to Mr Papandreou’s referendum plan – particularly from France and Germany – put that role in jeopardy.
Speaking to his party in parliament [that evening], the Greek leader said he had been told during those Cannes talks that not only would a “no” in the referendum mean leaving the euro, but that the question of rejoining would be off the agenda for at least a decade.

Even bigger than Steve Jobs

During the day at our tutors’ meeting, we had discovered that our business students around the world had selected one news item above all others to write about recently. That was the sad death of Steve Jobs. At least, one of us commented, the EU crisis would have given them an option with even richer possibilities for studying leadership and its dilemmas.

Willful blindness?

See the comments below for a discussion on leadership and wullful blindness


Prime Minister George Papandreou wrestles with his biggest leadership dilemma

November 2, 2011

When a leader’s actions seem irrational, it’s time to look for the toughest decision that has to be made

The tumultuous events in Europe’s financial markets took a turn for the worse as Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou appeared to agree the refinancing plan in Brussels and then appeared to destroy it in returning to Athens.

What’s his biggest dilemma?

Ekathimerini suggests he faces political extinction if he goes along with the EU plan, and maybe political extinction if he rejects it:

A day after calling for a referendum on whether Greece should adopt the debt deal it agreed with its eurozone partners last week, Prime Minister George Papandreou faced a fight for his political survival as he came under intense pressure from within his own party and from opposition politicians to ditch the idea and call snap elections or form a coalition government.

The prime minister appears to have challenged the ministers who disagree with him to bring his government down in Friday’s vote. Sources said that Health Minister Andreas Loverdos, Education Minister Anna Diamantopoulou and Transport Minister Yiannis Ragousis expressed objections to the idea of holding a referendum.

The first setback ahead of Friday’s ballot was dealt when Socialist deputy Milena Apostolaki said that she was quitting PASOK’s parliamentary group to become an independent. She referred to the referendum proposal as “wrong and divisive.” Her decision reduced the government’s presence in the 300-seat Parliament to just 152.
A further blow to PASOK’s majority before the vote cannot be discounted but even if the government survives Friday’s ballot, Papandreou’s referendum proposal will have to be put to another vote in Parliament. Again, a simple majority would be needed but it seems unlikely that the government would be able to garner even this.

The referendum and vote of confidence

Severe internal pressures for him to resign meant that he had to find some action to fight for his political life. If he could only find some way of showing he was on the side of the Greek people and their ancient commitment to democracy that has been so troubled from time to time. How about a referendum?

Creative leadership?

Perversity? Duplicity towards his EU partners? You could even say it’s a creative move in a desperate position. And like chess, the political game can drag on into a stalemate where there is no win/lose outcome, but everyone escapes with something to show for their efforts.