Wake Up Call for “Bull” Leadership – Too Big To Fail?

Samsung’s Wake Up Call.

Samsung’s Wake-Up Call – The New York Times, March 5, 2017

Maybe it was that the handcuffs were camouflaged in perfectly matching material that seemed to be an outgrowth of his tailored top coat. Maybe it was this very deft attempt to hide the obvious: “I’m busted – but at least I have some modicum of dignity”. I’m not sure what haunted me more about the image – the alleged crime or the performance. The image almost made me forget the story. It was one of 2016’s most incendiary stories, that of the battery burning Galaxy Note 7. But the photo of Jay Y. Lee, vice chairman of Samsung, being led away by police during an investigation into corruptions charges, said it all.

It made me wonder if leaders and leadership could ever change.

Like a kid playing hopscotch, all you have to do is jump from the Bre-X helicopter in 1995 to the famous book cooking of WorldCom in 2002, to Enron getting plugged in 2008 and then on to Lance Armstrong’s spectacular crash in 2012. While you’re catching your breath, it makes you wonder –  not just about human nature but about leadership nature.

And now in 2017, as we continue to be confronted with similar types of derisive leadership behaviour, you have to ask yourself, what is it going to take for people to have the head snap that asks, “How far does leadership have to slide before we get up on our hind legs?”  After all we’ve been privy to, what will it take for us to take a stand on poor, misguided, unethical or just plain bad behaviour in leadership. What would have to happen for us to say, “This does not stand.”? If a cell phone burning a hole in the pocket of your Levi jeans isn’t enough, what is? I’m mean that’s a decision that touches the personal. A bit more in your personal space than say, a company just making or losing a couple of billion on stock gyrations. 

As I see it, the commodity called “leadership” shares many of the qualities of the stock market. Buffeted by push-pull dynamics and supported by the media, shareholders and the “general public”, we have created a bull market in heroic and “I know best for you” leading. As long as we keep riding this bull market, it will never crash.

There are some forces within the leadership industry that contend leadership as we know it, as we teach it, and as we develop it, is too big fail. They say it’s hard to get your arms around and therefore, better left as is. Steady as she goes. Still others believe that it will wreck a good thing. You just have to scan Craig Wilson’s piece “Too Big to Fail” to get to the crux of the too big to fail conundrum as it relates to making changes in leadership. In speaking about the new US Treasury Secretary, Steve Munchin, Wilson asks “Why would a former Goldman Sachs partner and major financier…want to redirect the ship. It’s bad for business.” 

The same could be posited about the $65 billion leadership business. Why would anyone want to redirect the ship? It’s bad for business too.

There are different choices out there to re-think leadership and how we develop leaders. In my next blog post, I’ll begin unpacking these concepts, after a five-year slog of researching what the alternatives are in leading today.

As for Mr. Lee’s upcoming trial proceedings, we’ll have to wait to see how the prosecutor manages this 30-person indictment. Samsung asserts that “Future court proceedings will reveal the truth”. All I know at this point is that there are many truths out there out in the leadership space. Some are neatly tucked away in a defensive posture and others brandished like swords in offensive surety. Sorting through these truths is the new work of leadership development. What do you think?