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Leadership and the Terrorist Plague

July 30, 2005 Leave a comment

The last couple of weeks have set me thinking about what leadership is or should be. This entry will be fairly rambling – as I want to throw up ideas. I’m still unsure myself what the ideal leader should be like.

Maureen Sharib’s blog entry (Psychopaths in the Hallowed Halls touched on this. Maureen mentioned an excellent article – a must read at www.fastcompany.com/magazine/96/open_boss.html. This great item looked at the psychology of business leaders. However it did not go far enough in my opinion, by looking at national leaders. If your boss is a psychopath at least you have the option to change jobs. If you live in a democracy, then if the President/Prime Minister is psychopathic then he/she may not get re-elected. But what if you are not in a democracy – what then! Iraq under Saddam Hussein, Syria under Assad, Myamar (Burma), Zimbabwe….

A couple of years ago there was a session at the SCIP London conference (SCIP Europe 2003) entitled “Advanced Analysis: Pychological Profiling” by Jens Hoffman and Everhard von Groote. The aim was to teach methods of leader profiling, and several of the examples were national leaders. Four leadership styles were discussed:

  • Narcissistic (feelings of grandiosity, lack of empathy, need for admiration, power fantasies);
  • Paranoid (General distrust, jealousy, provokes interactions, aggressive, feeling of superiority);
  • Compuslive (High structure, perfectionism, rigid, highly adapted socially);
  • Pyschopathic (Superficial charm, grandiose sense of self worth, a liar, manipulative, no guilt, lack of empathy. Often impulsive and reckless – and lifestyle may be parasitic, feeding off others).

Several national leaders were discussed – Clinton, Margaret Thatcher. There is a wealth of literature on the topic. (For example: Profiling Political Leaders: Cross-Cultural Studies of Personality and Behavior edited by Ofer Feldman – containing essays on several political leaders e.g. on Mao Zedong’s Narcissism).

What worries me about all this is that it gives the impression that those who reach the most senior positions in countries or companies are all suffering from some kind of personality disorder – paranoia, narcissism, pyschopathy and so on.

At the same time, there is a second element to leadership – trust. Without trust, you won’t get people to follow you. Instead you need to rely on control and your status.

In the bible there is an odd story – of Phinehas, who was the great nephew of Moses (and grandson of Aaron). The book of Numbers discribes a plague that came about following an episode of immoral behaviour. (See Numbers ch 25). It appears that none of the leaders of the Israelites did anything to stop this – other than talk. That is until, Phinehas (who was not in the chain of command) caught one couple in flagrante delicto. In a gesture of righteous indignation, Phinehas killed the couple. The strange thing is that instead of being condemned for murder, or taking the law into his own hands, Phinehas is praised, the plague stops – and Phinehas is granted a covenant of peace.

The Jewish Rabbis spent a lot of time on this story – discussing what was meant by it and what was meant by the covenant of peace. They also raised questions on leadership and what it involved.

Re-reading this story (the weekly reading in synagogues this week) set me thinking about all the above issues – what is leadership?

  • Is leadership managing others and controling them?
  • Is it the ability to be decisive – like Phinehas – and take actions which might be unpopular, damning the consequences?
  • Or is it something else?

A lot of this thought has also been tied in with recent events in London. How do you fight terrorism? What do you do with a suspect who runs? (As happened last Thursday, when an innocent man was shot dead – in a Phinehas like act by the police. He’d been linked to one of the bombers, although the link appears coincidental, and when ordered to stop, he ran. He was also wearing a quilted jacket on a hot day. The police thought that this hid a suicide bomb belt, and rather than risk shooting his torso and setting off a possible bomb belt, or allowing him to set it off, they shot to kill).

Mistakes may be made – but in fighting terrorism the leader needs to be prepared to take positive action, even if this is unpopular. Appeasement and other approaches to avoiding an unpleasant decision are not really options as they only sort things out in the short-term – deferring the problem until later. (Think of Chamberlain, the pre-WW2 British Prime Minister who followed a policy of appeasement with Adolf Hitler – letting Hitler carve up a bit more of Europe, and proclaiming peace in our time, while giving Hitler a chance to arm up).

Terrorism is a plague! (Blaming it on the Iraq war, the situation in Palestine/Israel, and so on is just such appeasement in my view. Otherwise how do you explain the weekend bombing in Egypt, or last week’s bombs in Turkey – both unrelated to the Iraq and Palestine issues.) I believe that the only approach is to hit hard at the terrorists and not give them a chance to group up. Obviously you also use other approaches to try and stop people joining the terrorist movements – and without clarity and a willingness to emphasise this is wrong some people will continue to be brainwashed into believing that setting off bombs on buses, trains or in shopping malls is an acceptable way of reaching heaven or achieving political aims. Perhaps this is what the Bible is trying to say when it talks about the covenant of peace. That it is only through strong and decisive actions that will we be able to defeat such plagues and gain peace?

There is leadership story told about Presidents Bush and Clinton.

When President Clinton turned over the reins of government to George W Bush the public and political pundits were all quite surprised how short the two of them met to discuss transition issues. In a recent exclusive, it was revealed what Clinton discussed with Bush.

It appears that Clinton handed Bush three envelopes, each consecutively numbered from 1 to 3. Clinton told Bush that his father, George Bush Senior, had provided him with the same briefing and the same three envelopes, as had all Presidents done from the time of George Washington.

“When things get tough,” said Clinton, “open the envelope marked Number 1 and follow the instructions. If things get worse, open the second envelope. And, when things get really impossible, open the third. Do not,” emphasized Clinton, “open these envelopes under any other circumstances” The envelopes were passed on to a new era of leadership and the two shook hands and took their leaves.

Bush, being an intensely curious and impatient man and one who is frequently up at all hours of the night, became rather curious as to the contents of the envelopes opened the first. He read “Blame your predecessor.” His curiosity piqued, he opened the second. “Blame the Senate.” He then tore open the third. It read “Prepare three envelopes.”

Competitive Strategies – the dog fight!

July 25, 2005 Leave a comment

Sometimes selecting the right strategy is not straightforward. You have to think laterally.

People talk about competitive strategy – and how important it is for the business to have an effective competitive strategy. In fact, this is a redundant use of words. If a strategy is not effective, then it is not competitive, and vice versa (i.e. if it is competitive, then it will be effective). So why not just say that businesses need effective strategies.

The following story comes to mind in the context of designing an effective strategy that will beat the competition. (It is also timely, considering the recent London atrocity – still in the news of course). There are five lessons from the story:

  1. You need to know what you are up against (so do a full SWOT analysis)
  2. You need to ensure that you have all the facts
  3. You need to be wary of assumptions – just because you think you know what something is, does not always mean that that is what it is!
  4. Never underestimate your opponent – they could have a more effective strategy than you have
  5. Sometimes, to win requires lateral thought. The obvious or standard approach will not win out.

It is now the year 2010. Around 2007, the US and the Al-Quaida network realised that if they continued their fight they would someday end up destroying the world. So they sat down and decided to settle the whole dispute with a dogfight. The negotiators agreed that each would take five years to develop the best fighting dog they could. The dog that won the fight would earn its owner the right to rule the world. The losing side would have to lay down its arms.

Al Quaida found the biggest, meanest Dobermans and Rottweilers in the world. They bred them together and then crossed their offspring with the meanest Siberian wolves. They selected only the biggest, strongest puppy from each litter, killed all the other puppies and fed the lone dog all of the milk. They used steroids and trainers in their quest for the perfect killing machine, until, after the five years were up, they had a dog that needed iron prison bars on his cage. Only the trainers could handle this beast.

When the day of the big fight arrived, the US showed up with a strange animal: It was a nine-foot-long Dachshund. Everyone felt sorry for the US. No one else thought this weird animal stood a chance against the growling beast in the Al Quaida camp. The bookmakers predicted Al Quaida would win in less than a minute. The cages were opened. The Dachshund waddled toward the center of the ring. The Al Quaida dog leapt from his cage and charged the giant wiener-dog. As he got to within an inch of the US dog, the Dachshund opened its jaws and swallowed the Al Quaida beast in one bite. There was nothing left but a small bit of fur from the killer dog’s tail. Al Quaida approached the US, shaking their heads in disbelief. “We do not understand. Our top scientists and breeders worked for five years with the meanest, biggest Dobermans and Rottweilers. They developed a killing machine.” “Really?” the US replied. “We had our top plastic surgeons working for five years to make a Florida alligator look like a Dachshund!”

Moonwatching – Google goes out of this world!

July 20, 2005 Leave a comment

Just visited Google, and saw that today (20 July, 2005) is the 36th anniversary of man landing on the moon – the first extra-terrestial tourist walkabout.

Take a look at the moon map – and for another example of Google’s humour zoom in on the map (I can’t bring myself to call it ElGoog!). The result is really cheesy! (http://moon.google.com). (And of course this is another reason why Google is pre-eminent in the search engine world. Google is a great example of a company that encourages lateral thought – so that all staff think differently and rather than fall into a rut of mediocrity, continually try and come up with new ideas. Some may be oddball, some objectionable, but many will help enhance our web experiences. That is what marks a great company: a company that is satisfied with itself – while at the same time willing to push the frontiers of what is possible, without fear that eccentricities and failures will be penalised).

It seems strange to think that man first landed on the moon so long ago. I was still at school but remember the occasion vividly. It was an example of all that is best in mankind. Adventure, bravery, challenge, daring, excitement, fearlessness…. yes I could cover the whole A-Z! Yet by 1972 the dream was fading – and moon trips stopped.

The world today is completely different to that of 1969 with its hopes of peace, as symbolised by the One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind speech as Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin disembarked from the lunar module. Just think about how different the world is today: no more cold war, the fall of the Soviet Union, medical advances that were dreams back in 1969, instant communication (mobile, Internet) – the average computer in 1969 was probably less powerful than the credit card sized calculator given away as a freebie at many of today’s trade shows. Yet – the promise of peace is still as elusive; the world may seem smaller, but the cold war was replaced with other ideologies that still separate us from recognising that we are all part of a global community living on the only planet we know that can support human life.

London Calling

July 12, 2005 Leave a comment

The London bombings shocked the world – perhaps more than they shocked most Londoners. It is not as if Londoners are not worried about terrorism on their front door – they are. Rather, it is that we’ve seen it before. The IRA frequently bombed London and security alerts, when everybody was asked to vacate a train or a bus were not uncommon.

What is difference is the nature of the enemy. The IRA might have hated the British government, but they didn’t hate the British people. Generally there was a warning – allowing for people to be evacuated. The current enemy doesn’t care if people die – in fact, the higher the body count the better. After all, most will be infidels – perhaps a few Zionists (aka Jews) will die which makes it even better. And any followers of Allah will have achieved martyrdom, whether they liked it or not – whether they leave grieving spouses and orphans. And if they did not want to die a martyr’s death then they were not true followers of Islam and so deserved to die as heretics.

It is easy to dehumanise the perpetrators of such terrorism – to say that they are inhuman, animals, beasts and so on. However this makes us like the enemy – as it is only be defining another human being as “non-human” or sub-human that such atrocities can occur. And yes – the enemy does view everybody else as not equivalent to their elevated “holy” status. We are infidels, monkeys, doomed – so it is valid to help us on our way.

So, defeating such an enemy has to be two-fold: intelligence to catch and lock away the terrorists accompanied by actions to ensure that their communities are educated in human values. And their communities also include those in the Middle-East that allow crimes like Darfur to continue, or the dehumanisation of women (as in Saudia where women are banned from many things men expect – driving cars for instance), and the lack of choice of all the peoples. Democracy will help – but education is also needed. So that all see our shared humanity and stop defining people as “the other”.

As for Intelligence – which will be one focus of this blog in future. The IRA once said that the UK government needed to be lucky 100% of the time, while they only needed luck once! The same applies today. The London bombings were an intelligence failure in that the terrorists were not stopped. But in reality, to be 100% successful would have had other consequences – as to ensure 100% intelligence would have meant that we would be living in a police state without any of the freedoms we value, and which were attacked so wickedly on Thursday, 7th July.

The same applies for competitive intelligence – you cannot get 100% intelligence without an unreasonably high cost. Which is why companies and organisations need to have contingencies for when the unthinkable does occur. Contingency planning should be part of CI – as you cannot predict when something will happen with total confidence. Frederick the Great once said: It is pardonable to be defeated, but never to be surprised. The aim of intelligence should be to anticipate and not be surprised when something happens – even if it was not possible to prevent.

This was London on July 7th, 2005. Londoners were not surprised – what happened was expected. We did not know when, how or where. But we did know what we would do straight afterwards – and that is what we did. Which is why the stock market recovered so quickly, and everybody was back at work on Monday.

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