For Online E-newspaper
The East African : Dec 22nd 2014
46 The EastAfrican BUSINESS DECEMBER 20-26,2014 Ha≥d choices: Fo≥ people exe≥cising leade≥ship, these a≥en’t good times COMMENTARY JEFF KEHOE “As Barbara Kellerman argues in Hard Times: Leadership in America, context is a crucial but often overlooked element of any leadership system.” and collaborate with Democrats to craft and pass legislation. When factions are at odds, he J is supposed to pull them together, or get enough of them to compromise, to reach a deal. But, during his years on the job, we have often seen him poised to act, only to pull back, short of the needed votes. What happened? If you follow Washington poli- tics, you know that when Boehner became Speaker in 2011, a wave of tea party Republicans had just gained significant power in the House. The context was not the same as it had been during Boehner’s previous 20 years in Congress. And, as Barbara Kellerman argues in her latest book Hard Times: Leadership in America, context is a crucial but often overlooked element of any “leadership system.” Congress is a system. Your or- ganisation is a system. The global economy and geopolitics are systems. Sitting in a traffic jam? Broken system. Distal context Leaders like Boehner cannot navigate or change systems without deeply understanding the broad (or “distal,” as the academic Kellerman calls it) underlying context. However, thanks to the growing number, size, complexity and interaction of the systems that surround us, that is rarely easy. On this score, Kellerman is right: For people trying to exercise leadership, these are “hard times” indeed. Her book — with its categori- cally titled chapters (History, Ideology, Politics, Economics, Innovation, Environment and so on) that describe what she believes to be the relevant contextual information in each category — prompted me to turn to two other recent books. Each one highlights a modern leader who uses an original approach to change systems in unique contexts. Hillary Clinton nods to the in- herent difficulty of leadership at the highest echelons with the title of her book Hard Choices, a memoir of her four years as US secretary of state. She has taken some flak for the book’s tomelike length and her failure to document any dramatic breakthroughs during her tenure 20 yea≥s ohn Boehner has had a rough go of it. His role as US Speaker of the House is to lead his fellow Republicans as diplomat in chief. But I was impressed by her clear-eyed, comprehensive grasp of global politics and economics, perhaps the greatest of human systems. From the “pivot” toward Asia, to winding down the war in Afghanistan, to the attack in Benghazi, Libya, Clinton recounts how she responded to a dizzying array of events, places and people, crises and opportunities. Journalists and gossipmongers who look for hidden bombshells miss Clinton’s measured purpose: To show how she applied her own brand of “smart power” by bringing “the right combination of tools — diplomatic, economic, military, political, legal and cultural — [to] each situation.” I came away with a sense of Clinton’s deliberate progress and extreme competence. If you think about traditional 20th-century diplomacy, its mindset and practices as a system, this book compellingly illustrates Clinton’s expansion of it. In The Great Reformer: Francis and the Making of a Radical Pope, Austen Ivereigh vividly portrays another leader at the centre of a complex global system — the centuries-old Roman Catholic Church — that is facing some particularly daunting problems. Most prominent and painful in recent years have been the scandals involving sexual abuse of children by clergy. But the church has also had to cope with growing pressure on issues such as contraception, the ordination of women as priests and homosexuality. Many observers felt that these times of change called for a more contextually sensitive leader than Pope Benedict Dos and don’ts in ≥unning a business with kin, f≥iends By RICHARD BRANSON Special Correspondent Q: I am interested in starting a business with two of my close friends, and we already have a lot of ideas. When a company is run by a group of friends, what sort of atmosphere should it have? Should it be corporate or more informal? A: Starting a business is a stressful, demanding process. Working with family and friends can certainly be a great idea, since those bonds can help to relieve some of the strain. It sounds like you and your friends are onto a good thing. You seem to have a healthy respect for each other, plenty of ideas and the courage to try them. So I think it is wonderful and wise that you are already thinking about your business’ culture — carefully mapping this out is an important step in starting up a company. It was not one that our team thought about during Virgin’s early days — we were simply lucky in this area. Anyone who has followed the Virgin story knows that our company culture has driven our success. As I have written in the past, our team inadvertently created Virgin while we were lolling around on beanbags at our first record shop in London. Hanging out together After the launch, the business Former US secretary of state Hillary Clinton, who applied her own brand of “smart power” by bringing in the right combination of tools. Picture: AFP XVI, a conservative theologian who seemed unable to forge a clear path for the church in the modern world. And so rose Jorge Mario Ber- goglio — Pope Francis. By telling his personal story more richly than heretofore, the book helps to illuminate why and how he has had such a dramatic impact in a relatively short time as pontiff. Here is a full portrait of a man shaped by many “crucibles” of leadership (as Warren Bennis and Robert Thomas dubbed such shaping experiences): His childhood in “Peronist” Argentina after World War II; the origins of his deep sympathy for the poor; his early inspiration by Jesuit missionaries and eventual leadership of the Argentine Jesuits; and his deftness in the face of military dictatorship. Even more pertinent to our topic The time John Boehner was in the US Congress before he became Speaker in 2011 is the substantial epilogue focusing on The Great Reform. Ivereigh tells us about Francis’ incisive recognition of the church as a system suffering from multiple barriers between “the centre and the periphery” and his bold move to make the system’s power structure flatter, its parts more evenly distributed and autonomous. (Ivereigh amusingly describes consultants from McKinsey, KPMG and Ernst & Young flitting in and out of the Vatican.) Francis’s greatest influence, however, seems to be not structural but one of feeling and focus. The Pope actually has little pow- er to change core doctrine — but with a deep, intuitive understanding of the transformational context in which the church finds itself, Francis has shown that this limitation is almost beside the point. With his engaging personality, heartfelt communication style, genuine compassion for the poor and the downtrodden, authentic humility and lack of imperial airs, he has impressed the world and reinvigorated a global institution — a system — that was in obvious decline. Clinton and Francis are spe- cial cases. But exceptional leaders across the spectrum of human endeavour — in business, science, the arts, wherever you look — can effect systemic change. These absorbing profiles high- light the truth that no matter the venue, an act of leadership is one that improves the system. The first step is to understand the system you inhabit — leaders, followers and context. The second is to develop judgement in selecting the right levers for change. Finally, you must summon the courage to pull them. Jeff Kehoe is a senior editor at Harvard Business Review Press. finances were pretty tight — at the end of each week, we would have to figure out if we had earned enough money to pay the rent and the staff — but this did not bother us. We were having such a great time that we kept going, mostly because we just liked hanging out together. One of the last things on our minds was setting up a company, let alone a corporate culture. Since we were happy, we treated our Virgin Records customers like they were part of the family. And since our customers loved their experience, they kept coming back for more. As Virgin grew, our “serious fun” approach became a driving force for our enterprise. We took our passion for our work and our idea that we could upend “business as usual” to change things for the better and applied them to creating better banks, trains, telecoms and airliners, plus a multitude of other diverse ventures around the world. We are often asked how we have maintained this culture across the more than 300 companies that Virgin has started up. The answer: We make sure that every new company that joins the Virgin family fits within the brand’s ethos and personality, which includes a commitment to making a positive difference for the wider community and the planet. Richard Branson is the founder of the Virgin Group of companies.
Dec 15th 2014
Dec 29th 2014