Traders, Betrayers and Taking Responsibility

jp morgan chase, The Myndset Thought Leadership

Getting chased...

Unless you live in a cave, you will have heard that JP Morgan has taken a (minor) hit to its balance sheet as well as its “balanced” management reputation.  As several articles have pointed out (I refer you to the Daily Beast), there have been three celebrated cases of “rogue” French traders causing substantial losses at three different banks.

First, there was the famed Jérôme Kerviel, who generated a 5B euro loss at  Société Générale in early 2008.  Then, in 2010, there was “Fabulous” Fabrice Tourre, whose employer, Goldman Sachs, had to pay out half a billion dollars in fines related to his “ingenuous” creation of the “Abacus synthetic collateralized debt obligation.”  Talk about a complex product.  And, then last week, we now have the third muskateer: Bruno Iksil, implicated in a $2B loss at JPMorgan Chase.  Known as “The Whale,” he seems to have been beached.

The outcome and who takes the blame?

For Kerviel, he has been sentenced to five years in prison and ordered to pay €4.9 billion ($6.7 billion) in restitution to the bank.  Good luck in getting that back.

According to Wikipedia, the outcome of the Tourre scandal was that “Goldman agreed to pay $550 million – $300 million to the U.S. government and $250 million to investors – in a settlement with the SEC. The company also agreed to change some of its business practices regarding mortgage investments, including the way it designs marketing materials….”  Goldman has not admitted wrongdoing.  Tourre’s future, meanwhile, is still hanging in the balance.

Who knows what the future holds for the London Whale?  But, already there has been a major fallout among the senior ranks who have been dismissed/resigned as a result.  Management has clearly been held responsible.

In what I found a brilliant summary, the way the banks, Société Général and JP Morgan,  handled their respective cases, led my brother to write the following comment to me:

“The difference is that in the French bank, it is the poor little trader that takes the hit and in American banks it is the management that takes its responsibility.”  I think that the Goldman case shows it is not quite as black and white.  But, the point is that upper management is and should be, by definition, held accountable even if one of its employees are guilty.

The sub plot of all three of these scandals is the French Connection, related to a strong educational system in France that focuses on mathematics and enables the French students to tackle and, indeed, invent such complex matters as derivatives.  The second thread is that, as in the case of Tourre and Iksil, there is an evident attraction by certain French young men to the Anglo-Saxon world (of banking) and an equally evident ability to tolerate risk — a characteristic not regularly attributed to the French.  A third point is the age of these men.  Kerviel and Tourre were both exactly 31 years old at the time of the ‘infraction.’  And, if you check out the other major recent rogue trading scandal (not involving a Frenchman) with UBS’ London-based Ghanian, Kweku Adoboli, who was nabbed for a £1.3billion loss, he too was 31 years old. Iksil is apparently “in his 30s.” (Anyone know his exact age, please comment!).

Some conclusions (and I’ll gladly look for yours!):

  • we need more mathematics in the English and American curriculum
  • management should always be held accountable, especially when such huge sums are involved
  • there is something about the testosterone-charged thirty-something men that creates an aura of invincibility?

Many Tennis Players Would Benefit From Going All Out on Second Serve

It happens throughout every match — players uncork a first serve with as much force as possible, confident in the knowledge that another chance awaits. And on the second serve, they hit a much different, more timid, perceptibly slower serve.

The ball is more likely to go in. The subsequent rally, however, is also far more likely to be lost.

And the question persists: would players have a better chance of winning the point, even after factoring in the sure rise in double faults, by going for it again on the second serve — in essence, hitting two first serves?

The answer is yes, over time, for many of the top players. Continue reading

GEF 2009 Ipsos Study on Women in Business in France – 10 measure manifesto

I attended a GEF (Grandes Ecoles au Feminin [1]) conference yesterday, here in Paris, at which I listened to the results of an Ipsos study entitled, “How to improve the mix of women in management [in France].” You can read the French results here. This was the fourth time that a study had been commissioned in and around this topic, and apparently the results remained largely similar: all manner of managers in business recognize that having women in management is a good thing, but that little progress has been made and the road ahead is still long.

The study was made with individual interviews of top management from 16 major French companies (Dec 2009) as well as the answers of 5,431 respondents (questionnaire was self-administered on Internet) in May 2009.

Some highlights that I picked out:

o 82% of men and 87% of women are in favour of more women to change the style of management. This point strikes me as supremely important and recognizes implicitly the failings of current management practice (hierarchical, control & fear based…)

o 80% of men and 96% of women recognize it is rare to see women in top posts. The point here is that 20% of men actually believe it is not rare.

o 47% of men and 76% of women see an important or rather important difference in salaries between men and women. That’s a stunning 29% difference.

In a review of actions taken by companies to promote women in management, the study identified 25 measures that had been concretely taken by one or more of the 16 companies interviewed. The irony of the study was that 16 of the 25 measures were considered en masse to be easy to implement and effective in their results. And, yet, the net results remain basically imperceptible. The GEF team concluded that the reason for the lack of impact is that companies are satisfied to implement only a couple of the measures which, in practice, did not bear any fruit. Fully 1/4 of the respondents (21% for men and 29% for women) believed that it will take 50 years before seeing parity in France.

The net result of this GEF survey is a sort of manifesto of 10 specific measures that need to be taken, ensemble, in an effort to make real headway on this issue. I cite those 10 actions below, adding a few comments where I see fit.

GEF Plan: A Plan of Action in three areas, that needs to sponsored by top management

Actively promoting women
o For each open position in management, ensure the presence of female candidates and justify if there is no female candidate. The key is having someone who calls out and verifies when no female candidate is presented.
o Identify the high potential women to create a target group that is representative of the company’s mixity [2].
o Develop specific training for women.
Only 7% of women have ever received any special training.
o Promote networking
. I believe that women might benefit from some specific training relative to how men might network a little differently — at least to decode the ‘masculine’ ways of networking.

Changing the rules
o Change the criteria for performance evaluation. I believe that performance evaluations need to be adapted to the new world order, especially to promote collaborative behaviour.

o Break the linear career model and changing the criteria of geographical mobility. This applies not just to women, but to basically all Gen Yers. On average a woman has just under two kids in France and, therefore, spends 8 months out of a 40-year career on maternity leave.
o Educate management on the behavioral differences between men and women and on the interest in taking on a greater mix. The key here, for me, is bringing out/accepting feminine values of management in men as well.
o Develop a practice for a better
work-life balance. Personally, I struggle with the notion of balance on a daily basis, in that we are constantly out of balance. The key is to find a way to create a longer-term balance.

Operating and monitoring of measures implemented
o Establish quantitative targets at any level. You can’t improve what you don’t measure.

As for quotas (as in Norway for Executive Boards), the GEF position is: there is no proof that we can do without quotas. They asked their pool of respondents the question to what extent they were opposed to a quota system. The “good” news was that they were less opposed than expected. However, that still left 45% — 56% of men and 32% of women — opposed (somewhat or totally) to a quota.

And, finally, I leave you with an article on a study which I have found extremely enlightening regarding how men and women can operate differently. The Harvard Business Working Knowledge article by Martha Legace
interview of Professor Boris Groysberg (Harvard Business School) is entitled, “How female stars succeed in new jobs.” The article (and study of 1,000 analysts) presents how female analysts (Wall Street) do a better job of creating a successful transition to a new company. As Groysberg said in an HBR article in Feb 2009, “[f]emale star analysts, it would seem, take their work environment more seriously yet rely on it less than male stars do. They look for a firm that will allow them to keep building their successful franchises their own way.”

North America if far from perfect in terms of parity, but there are surely some good examples to be had from over the pond.

——————–

(1) GEF is an assocation regrouping alumni from 9 major graduate schools in France: Centrale Paris, ENA, ENPC, ESCP-EAP, ESSEC, HEC, INSEAD, Les MINES et POLYTECHNIQUE

(2) Using the term “mixity” is perhaps a bit of a frenchism, but the important point is relating the percentage of women in top management positions compared to the overall employee population of that company. For example, it is highly irregular and suspect to see a company with 10% women on a board of directors in a company where over 60% of the employees are women.

MEDEF Débat – Bâtir le leadership {français) en Europe

J’ai participé à la première heure du débat monté hier soir par le MEDEF dans le cadre de leur programme “Bâtir le leadership Europe.” La question posée pour ce débat était: “L’influence française à Bruxelles: le vrai et le faux” — A quatre mois avant les prochaines élections européenes, quelle est la réalité de l’influence française?

La salle, qui avait autour de 400 places, a débordé de participants. Le débat, animé par le journaliste économique, Arnaud Fleury, avait comme intervenants principaux: Jean Quatremer (Les Coulisses de Bruxelles), Anne Dufermont (Dir Govt et Industry Affairs, Rohm & Haas), Henri Thomé (Bouygues, Dir des Affaires Européenes), Michel Troubetzkoy (EADS), Sonia Plecita-Ridzikova (policy officer, DG des Affaires Economiques et Financieres de la CE), Bertrand Deprez (Think Tank, The Centre).

Jean-Dominique Giuliani, Président de la Fondation Robert Schuman, a lancé le débat avec une question : est-ce que la France apporte quelque chose de différent à l’Europe, ou, sont les objectifs de la France et l’Europe en commun? Ceux sont des questions pertinentes, me suis-je dit.

Voici le receuil de quelques autres commentaires/discours d’intérêt.

Troubetzkoy a parlé des 3 grandes périodes pour la France en Europe [en tout cas dans l’ère moderne]: (1) la période avant le marché unique avec “la belle époque de l’influence française…”; (2) l’installation du marché unique où les intérêts de l’Europe et la France ont divergé avec la mauvais résultat de Nice, le vote NON en France en mai 2005 et l’elargissement de la communauté; (3) depuis 2007, avec le renouveau d’une belle expérience, ou la France est passée d’un dispositif défensif à l’offensif.

Quatremer, qui n’a pas voté pour Nicolas Sarkozy bien entendu (car journaliste Libération), a félicité le pragmatisme de la règne européene de Sarkozy–un pragmatisme “dont seuls les Britanniques sont capable normalement.” Tout le succès des 6 mois de la présidence française de l’Europe a été tenu sur les épaules d’un seul homme. Ca veut tout dire!

Avec l’animation rhythmé, le forum était bien intéressant. J’ai noté qu’il y avait — a mon sens trop pour un débat — une grande similarité / unanimité par rapport au role de Sarkozy dans la présidence européene. La présidence française a absolument augmenté l’influence de la France — même sur le plan mondial. Mais, si on revoit la définition de leadership, n’est-ce pas un bon leader quelqu’un qui fait grandir le prochain leader? Clairement, la présidence tchèque n’a pas de bonne augure. Bon, sinon, je ne peux qu’être d’accord sur l’impressionant coup de fouet qu’a joué Sarkozy.

NetExplorateur 2009 — Tom Gensemer on the Obama online campaign

At the NetExplorateur Forum 2009, I attended the Obama_online presentation by Tom Gensemer, Managing Partner at Blue State Digital (BSD), who explained the inner workings behind President Obama’s online campaign. Gensemer, who is not one to hide his partiality, gave lots of insights as to how to make an online political campaign effective — insights that carry over well into the business world.

First, here are some numbers about Obama’s “online” campaign:

  • They achieved a database of 13.5 million people each of whom subscribed and opted-in for the Obama campaign.
  • 7,000 unique email messages were created and sent out, populating the 1.2 billion email messages that were sent out between February 2007 and November 2008.
  • There were 3.2 million donors who gave, on average, more than twice an average of around $80 (some $500 million were raised online).
  • Around 2 million text messages were sent out.
  • They motivated 2 million social networking participants and created more than 200,000 events across the country.
For all the President 2.0-speak, this campaign excelled more in its presence online (more like a 1.0 approach) than for being a truly web 2.0 interactive campaign. The messages were evidently very controlled and, yet, by being touch with the communities, there was plenty of interaction. By mixing beautifully the on- and offline communication, the Obama team clearly mastered the art of feeling interactive via their effective grassroots mobilisation.

So, some guidelines to retain for creating your own campaign, political or not:

  • The average email message was less than 250 words long.
  • Each message was designed to provide a call to action of some sort (sign up, sales, contribution, affiliation…). i.e. no gratuitous communication. Every time, it was relevant and engaging.
  • The email remains the killer application.
  • There is no such thing as too many emails as long as the emails are not unwanted!
  • If you fake it, they will notice it. Be authentic.
  • If you promise, follow through.
  • Ask the addressee something (an action) with a clear and easy request.
  • Newsletters are dead. “When was the last time you opened and read a newsletter,” Tom chided us.
  • Text messages are more cumbersome to create in large scale and they do not work for raising funds.

In order for an online campaign to be successful, there are some basics that need to be understood by top management.

  • Make the online campaign fully integrated into the organisation: the online team and its activites must be part a the whole team — I think of the salesteam in particular.
  • Invest in staff, not the tools — not the easiest of Tom’s recommendations in today’s climate.
  • Listen and respond to the community needs. The Obama campaign had as a principle to get back to any sign up within 3 to 5 days with a telephone call or visit, thereby bringing online off line.
  • Test, test, and re-test. Not just the technological testing, but test on smaller markets to check the tone, the message and the uptake.

In a sidebar conversation with Tom, I was able to glean some insights as to how they managed to gain the budget for their activities. The first point was that the campaign already had some money which made it a little easier. But, the way they won the bid (they learned about it just 10 days before the campaign began in Feb 2007) and the way the budgeting progressed was by setting bite size measurable objectives. At the outset, the goal setting was all about acquiring emails (always with the mantra of linking each communication with an action…). Thereafter, the number crunching revolved around the number of email addresses that remained “live”, the number of people that contributed, responded or acted on one or other request. Blue State Digital clearly have a very good and immediate metrics system.

For me, my biggest takeaways from Tom’s presentation were that the success of the campaign was brought out by these two fundamental considerations:

  • Obama was and is a committed community builder offline; whatever strategy employed online was intimately related to the offline approach. The leadership set a consistent tone.
  • The success of the online approach benefited from groundwork done via the prior campaign with Howard Dean (2004), helping to break into the political infrastructure. I.e. An online campaign cannot be miraculously built overnight.

The revelation in all this? Business can learn from politics. Whereas I think that business principles are gravely missing from political processes, the way that BSD and Obama ran this campaign (call it “integrated sales & marketing”) is certainly a case study for businesses. For companies that are not as interested in totally letting go, there are still ways to involve and engage the consumer without succumbing to too much web 2.0 freak speak. The message was controlled, yet it looked and felt legitimately inclusive. Interesting, no?

You can read more about the Obama case study on the BSD website here.

Cricket as Life – Howzat for a Philosophy

Cricket as Life – A philosophy to follow

Playing Cricket

Considering the space that sports has taken in my life, I can hardly help thinking that sports are, at the same time, a part of my life as well as a microcosm of life itself. I have written on several occasions in the past on how one can draw [management] lessons from sports, for example with rugby and rowing… There is no doubt that sports participate in the development, among other things, of leadership skills and life skills (e.g. learning to win and lose graciously). Sports have been an integral part of my experience and formation. Physical and emotional scars, tears and elation, friends and enemies mark my portfolio of memories.

Recently, reflecting back on my days (10 years) at boarding school in England, I was pondering what cricket had brought to my life. Cricket outside England and the former colonies does not bowl over many people and I do not have regular occasion to talk about the subject in my sphere of friends. Mentioning cricket is more likely to provoke a long off, sound like a silly slip of the tongue, leave a pit in the gully. They just don’t get the point; you don’t have a third leg to stand on.

I remember reading a wonderful article about how countries that play cricket go to war less often; at least, cricket was a pacifying activity, capable of aiding diplomatic relations. The point of the article was that cricketers were inculcated with a certain sense of civility and that, in competing against one another, there is an overall sense of fair play that reigns — otherwise the epithet, “that’s just not cricket” is voiced. Of course, all the cited countries in the article were colonies of the English. There remains the fact that, unlike England’s other colonies, the USA did not see fit to pick up cricket. In its stead, the Americans cultivated baseball. Here is a crooked timber blog taking a look on that subject. If I can retrace that article, I will gladly post.

Meanwhile, I was reflecting how a 5-day [cricket] test match was a condensed version of life. If you play a full 5-day test, it is quite the journey. As the title of the contest suggests, it is a test of your endurance and concentration. There are a four cycles as you bat first, field, bat again and field again (in life, there are four broad cycles: baby, teenager, adult and you’re looking good, son). You pass multiple moments being in, being out. If you mess up the first time, you generally have the chance to make up for it in the second innings. But if you score well in the first innings, people will be gunning for you in the second at-bat. More often than not, you come out with a draw, but the superior point is to appreciate the journey, to take away the positive moments, learn from the mistakes. Like most of life, cricket is not exactly wonderful television material (although the success of reality shows is throwing doubt on my assumption). Like in life, it is the collection of small moments that give the most meaning to the event.

Oval Cricket GroundAs Voltaire said, one should cultivate one’s garden. In cricket, during a 5-day match, you certainly want to have a good grounds keeper and a beautiful green square. Over the five days, the wicket gets worn down and the bounces keep you on your toes. You cannot be dulled into routine, for you will surely pay the price. And, as I found in this thoughtfulmood blog, you need to take every ball at face value, because each ball has an independence from the prior deliveries and needs to be played accordingly.

While recognizing that a cricket match need not necessarily last 5 days to accommodate my machinations, I just wanted to use this space to reminisce about the days I played cricket. For the record, I played wicket keeper and was a very mediocre batsman. But, I remember well my cricketing days. My last official game was playing as an old boy at my prep school (now the defunct Old Malthouse School, replete with VIP site on Facebook) and I remember how we achieved a tie (exactly the same score after 20 overs). The last time I faced a ball, without pads I might add, was on a dusty field outside of Delhi where barefooted boys were having the equivalent of a pickup game. I faced one ball and bowled a couple of balls (which caused considerable aches for the following days). They showed great grace in allowing me to relive my younger days.

Howzat CricketLike many of the eccentric games that I have had the occasion to play (and still do), including Real Tennis, Eton Fives, Field Game, Wall Game, the game of cricket has enriched my memories. To a certain degree, cricket represents the closest I came to doing far niente (not one of my strengths) in sports. Howzat?

If you like this topic, you might want to read on… Here’s another philosophical post on Life is Cricket from Kevin Rodrigues in Mumbai. And you can get a Life Is Cricket t-shirt here.

Otherwise, the name of the game is to make sure you live your life and are able to say at the end: that’s cricket.

Global Gender Gap 2008 Report – Who’s on Top?

The World Economic Forum have just released the results of the Global Gender Gap Report 2008.

Yin & YangThere are a few suprising facets to this WEF report, now in its third year, authored by Ricardo Hausmann, Director, Centre for International Development, Harvard University, Laura Tyson, Professor at University of California, Berkeley, and Saadia Zahidi from the WEF.  First, what strikes me is the tremendous dynamism in the results — from one year to another a country can change by more than 30 places (as France did jumping from 51st to 15th).  Secondly, the list of sponsoring companies for the research includes a number of banks, consultancies and a car company hardly known for women’s equality as well as the employment services company MANPOWER.

Gender Gap
Those quibbles aside, the research shows that there is a “…a strong correlation between competitiveness and the gender gap scores.”  And the report indicates once again the strength of the equality movement in Scandinavia, with Norway coming out on top this year ahead of its neighbouring Scandinavian countries.   Here is the list of the top 10 for 2008.  Noteworthy for being absent from the top 10 (I should say again) are the United Kingdom (13th) and the United States (27th, behind Cuba) which scores highest in “economic participation and opportunity.”  And, fairly astonishing for being in the top 10 are the Philippines and Latvia.  The report voluntarily overweights the importance of having female leadership — as a way of providing visible role models (which clearly boosted the Philippines).  How much credit for France’s rise goes to Ségolène Royal (and Carla Bruni)?.  A

Global Gender Gap Index

Rank 2008
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
Country

Norway
Finland
Sweden
Iceland
N. Zealand
Philippines
Denmark
Ireland
Netherlands
Latvia

Score*

0.824
0.820
0.814
0.800
0.786
0.757
0.754
0.752
0.740
0.740

Rank 2007
2
3
1
4
5
6
8
9
12
13
*0 to 1 scale: 0=inequality, 1=equality

The report establishes the following “top line” numbers, indicating that on balance things are tending to get better, although there were nearly twice as many countries where the gap was widening in 2008 versus 2007 as opposed to the prior year.  The big conclusions of the report are that the world has again shown progress in closing the gaps in economic, political and education; however, it has actually lost ground on the health gaps.

Gender Gap 2008 Report

The criteria for selection are worth citing:
Male & Female Signs“The Report examines four critical areas of inequality between men and women:
1. Economic participation and opportunity – outcomes on salaries, participation levels and access to high-skilled employment
2. Educational attainment – outcomes on access to basic and higher level education
3. Political empowerment – outcomes on representation in decision-making structures
4. Health and survival – outcomes on life expectancy and sex ratio”

Meanwhile, tailing off the bottom of the list are a host of countries without need for comment: Saudi Arabia, Chad and YemenIndia (113rd) landed basically on par with Iran (116th).  Japan wallowing in at 98th is a blemish…especially when you find higher up Mongolia (40th), Kyrgyz Republic (41st) and Russia (42nd).  Italy lies at 68th, not exactly brilliant.  Meanwhile, I thought Turkey (123rd) might have ranked higher.

Here is the writeup from the BBC and from TIME (with a good and lively analysis).  If nothing else, the research and report allow for some debate and exposure to this very important issue.

Rousing Speech by President Sarkozy (Toulon, Sept 25 2008)

President Nicolas Sarkozy made a startlingly strong speech tonight (September 25, 2008) in Toulon, at the Zenith, in front of 4,000 people. His speech was marked by personal engagement & responsibility, a bold acknowledgment of the unpopularity of certain of his decisions as well as an unveiled description of the risks of the current economic crisis. The crisis, he said, is a reason to accelerate the reforms rather than postpone them.

Nicolas Sarkozy spoke of reformulating the capitalist model à la française — with a grand reduction of the bureaucracy and the elimination of 30,600 state jobs in 2009 (including a diminution of the number of local collectivities), a reform of the educational institutions (-13,500 jobs) as well as the hospitals (with a system of rewards for heightened productivity). Sarkozy also proclaimed the demineralization of the golden parachutes for corporate heads.

In a certain way, I am inclined to call his form of capitalism as Lime Capitalism — a little green, that is. Clearly, Sarkozy is looking to refurbish the right to be an entrepreneur in France and, at the same time, indicated that the State has a role in accelerating the transition to greener solutions (via the incentive of “bonus/malus”). And, as a marker of his desire for a more rapid, effective action, he asked whether Europe would be capable of taking as strong a stance and as rapidly as Treasury Secretary Paulson (left) did in demanding the controversial $700 billion bailout. Sarkozy affirmed, meanwhile, the protection of the savings of all French people should the banking bankruptcies cross the Atlantic.

As a baseline for his lime capitalism, Sarkozy said (and I translate), “If we should tax less investment, tax less work, penalize less effort and success, and tax less one’s own products, one should on the other hand tax pollution.”

Echoing many of his initial messages and promises of his presidential campaign, Sarkozy seemed confident, serious and engaged. My favourite line from his speech was: “The current crisis should prompt us to rebuild the foundations of capitalism on the ethics of effort and work, to find a balance between freedom and rules, and between collective and individual responsibility.” In sum, he was pleading for a new balance between the state and the [free] market.

What I enjoyed most about the speech was the way he took responsibility for his decisions. Rare is the boss that takes such leadership on his government’s policies and pronounce so clearly a personal engagement on the results. I would describe Sarkozy’s Toulon speech, written by his favourite plume, Henri Guaino, as a model way to stand up in the face of difficult times — in stark contrast to Senator John McCain’s approach I might add of putting on hold his campaign — and a way to rally the French people and businesses behind him.

Here is an executive transcript of the speech with some analysis, thanks to 20minutes.fr. And if you want the full monty, it is now out, here — here thanks to Le Monde.

And how did/do you react to Sarkozy’s speech?

Role Model for Obama, McCain and myself

Statue of Liberty by Andy WarholWe all need a role model. Call it a (Wo-)Man’s Condition.* I have found this true for me in life as well as in work. Among other things, a role model or icon helps to inspire you and shape your response to unknown situations; and it is in those moments that people can become bigger than life. But, for me, my icon is somewhat fragmented. Depending on the subject (spiritual, leadership, sports…), sometimes it is one singular person, sometimes it is a composition, and sometimes it is fictional. And what is true for the ordinary layperson is also true of the big leaders, corporate, humanitarian or political: we all need a role model.

Any politician that is wanting to make a name for him or herself normally will have identified a few icons to look up to. These icons can serve as models for behaviour, benchmarks for how to construct a career, make a speech or set an agenda. And there is no dearth of choice of big name leaders in the past.

Teddy RooseveltMoving to the US Presidential campaign, for Senator McCain, you tend to think he is anti-iconic to the extent he is the maverick, not that there has never been a maverick before. All the same, McCain apparently takes stock from Teddy Roosevelt (see this article by Jill Zuckman from Chron.com).

I have been wondering, meanwhile, at the comparisons drawn between Senator Obama (D) and President Abraham Lincoln (R). Certainly, there are many articles, blogs and chat rooms that have taken up this story. The fact that Obama made his coming out speech (announcing he would run for President) in front of the Old State Capitol where Abraham Lincoln served as a legislator has no small part in beginning this thread.President Abraham Lincoln

Here is recap of the similarities between Obama and Lincoln:

* they both came from humble backgrounds in Illinois
* both were lawyers
* served 8 years in the Illinois State Legislature
* 1 term in Congress
* neither served in the military
* and race is clearly a defining part of their Presidential campaign.

This television report from CBS, with an interview of Professor Daniel Weinberg from Illinois, discusses some of the similarities between Obama and Lincoln.

However, this NYT article by Michael Cohen prefers to compare Obama to Frederick Douglass, the abolitionist leader (not to be mixed up with Stephen Douglas, Lincoln’s opponent in the 1860 election campaign). Douglass, ironically, was more commonly known as a critic of Lincoln, although, as Cohen writes, Douglass, in the latter part of his life, also openly lauded Lincoln.
There are two lines that I wish to reproduce here from Cohen’s article. He writes that, what may define Obama’s presidency if he wins, is: “one campaigns in poetry but governs in prose.” And, secondly, I also enjoyed the last line of Cohen’s article: [If Obama wins in November, he will likely look to] “…prove the elder Mr. Douglass correct by seeking out the proper balance between what is right and what is possible.”

It is interesting to note that Douglass was nominated as VP of the first ever woman US presidential candidate, Victoria Woodhull in 1872. Douglass refused the nomination. It should also be said that there is controversy as to whether Woodhull was actually a legitimate candidate (age, not on the ballot, etc.).

Lord Henry Temple Palmerston, 3rd ViscountIn any event, if I were to choose my own political icons, in no particular order, I personally would cite Prime Minister Winston Churchill — the right person for a difficult time. Secondly, I would view NY Mayor Michael Bloomberg as a good maverick icon to look up to — anyone that brings ethical business sense to politics is good news. Thirdly, I would like to mention Rudy Giuliani for his leadership pre- and post-9/11. Fourth, I would have to cite Mahatma Ghandi — proof that a single individual can move a mountain. And lastly, going further back in time, I am inclined to think of Prime Minister Lord Palmerston, the master of brinksmanship. But, in each case, what they stand for is hugely contextual. You need to find the right pitch for the times. Not that I am running for President (I cannot as I was born overseas), but it is a good exercise to stop and think over who your role model(s) is (are).

And who are your role models in business, politics or life?

____
*Not to be mixed up with Malraux’s La Condition Humaine.

Winning The Boat Race – Lessons in Leadership & Teamwork

The Oxford Cambridge Boat Race 2008Leadership means getting the team to row in the same direction!

In Time Magazine’s December 3, 2007 issue, I read with great passion the article “Ready All, Row” by Thomas K. Grose (so much so that I cut out the article and am still keen to blog about it many months later). In this article, Grose talks about what it takes to win THE Boat Race. This 4-mile boat race is fought between two eights of Cambridge and Oxford universities every April on the ThSt Catherine's Oxford 1st Eight 1977ames River. Among the many rivalries in the world, this is of course one of the most historic, dating back to 1829. The training, the hype and the race itself are extensive and intensive. Nearly 8 million people in the UK tune in, with millions more overseas. And, believing that sport is a perfect training ground for business, I am always on the lookout for lessons in leadership.

I often put in opposition two images of leadership style: (1) where theRowing Lessons of Leadership individuals in the boat are driven to excel and the direction sought of the boat is absolute perfection; and (2) where the focus is on team chemistry and individual expression where synchronization is more important than direction. Of course, neither path is necessarily at the exclusion of the other. However, as a matter of course, I tend to prefer the second orientation, putting an emphasis first on teamwork, especially when you don’t always have access to the best talent. Knowing how to extract the best out of the personnel you have allows for the greatest leverage — and people with talent will tend to gravitate to you. Key to success is the ability to galvanize the team around the same values and objectives. And, as the TIME article suggests, the interplay of the personalities is critical to gaining the extra insights, effort and results.

What does it take to create a well synched boat or team? The team needs superior communication skills (listening and sharing). It helps to have gone through some tough times together (and survived). And then, there is the alchemy that allows the team to be “in the zone” (or the groove), especially when it counts most. When these elements are suitably brought together, the fact that the team may have chosen the wrong lane at the start, been slightly off course at certain moments or hit an unexpected wave will more than likely be overcome.

For the record, the 2008 Race, this past April, was won by Oxford for the sixth time in this young 21st century–and yet with the slowest time clocked since 1947. Cambridge still holds an overall edge 79 – 74 with one dead heat. And, for one of the more eccentric reviews of this year’s race, try Mark de Rond’s piece (Cambridge Judge Business School) on orgtheory.net, “Why Cambridge Won the Race and Why It Nearly Lost It,” written while intoxicated. I will be looking out for de Rond’s book to be published this year, “Subjectivity of Performance,” as he delves into business learnings from the world of THE boat race.