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Comparing Leaders from the Sofa: Mahmoud Ahmadinejad & Jack Ma

If you study leadership–yesterday was a great day to watch television.

Sometimes we have a unique opportunity to compare the voice of two different leaders. Last night I watched to interesting interviews which I think should be examined by any student of leadership. Take a look.

As you watch these videos, what does it tell you about leadership–its pros, cons, culture, ideology, rhetoric, style, etc.. I think you’ll find it relevant.

Part 1: Mahmoud Ahmadinejad

First, Larry King interviews Iran’s President, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. It was a fascinating take on leadership, ideology, and world view.

Part 2: Jack Ma

Next, watch Charlie Rose interview Jack Ma, the owner of–China’s e-commerce hub.

Jack Ma admits he doesn’t know too much about technology, but he says he makes up for it by hiring smart people who can make technology work for them. He is also focused on keeping operations lean, efficient, and value focused.

When you listen to Jack Ma notice how he has very carefully and clearly chosen who he wants to spend his time with. A different style than the Larry King interview.

Picture Credit: Trash It


A Peculiar Silence in Tel Aviv

As is often the case in July, I find myself sitting in my favorite cafe, MIA, in the Neve Tzedek in south Tel Aviv area.

It’s a neighborhood that has, in the last 15 years, evolved from forgotten little houses to resurrected restorations. With book stores, cafes, restaurants, and boutique stores. It’s where, on a Friday morning, or a Saturday afternoon, suburban couples come to, drift around, and have a cup of coffee.

Just a few years ago all conversations were about politics, peace negotiations, and the hope and lack of hope  in the Middle East. Now, even in the context of a nuclear Iran, there is a peculiar silence–a sense that people just don’t really want to talk about what’s happening around them.

It’s not necessarily an ostrich mentality nor is it necessarily a widespread indifference, but rather a type of political burnout–something that’s most apparent among the moderates.

For many years you would sit in any cafe and people would talk about the ‘mazaf,’ or the ‘situation’–a catchall word to describe the political security and social turmoil that is embedded within the country.

A number of years ago this was a focus of discussion in all homes. Today, it seems the energy has been depleted and discussions seem to wander away from anything relating to national politics.  Speak to any moderate and they’ll tell you, “I don’t listen to the news, it’s the same thing over and over again.”

Two days ago I had occasion to sit with a widow who lost her son in one of the wars and when the conversations turned to something of political substance, her response was simply, “What’s there to talk about? Nothing ever changes.”

When I spoke to a well known artists, he could talk about his art, an upcoming exhibit in Dublin, and his grandchildren in Los Angeles, but he echoed the same line when the conversation bent towards politics: “I don’t listen to the news, why bother?”

This mindset has shifted my little coffee shop from being a place on intense conversations to a place where people go after yoga lessons or a forum to discuss an upcoming trip to Bulgaria or a sailing expedition to Crete. Just about anything that allows them an escape from the ‘mazaf,’ the situation.

As moderates become more and more silent and go on more and more trips and take more and more yoga lessons the world is shifting.

Yoga classes might be increasing, but political involvement is decreasing.

Still, how different is this from any other place around the world? Have of all us moderates become exhausted?

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Leaders Can’t Play Do-Overs: Learn From Losing

The Millennium Challenge 2002 was a three week war game conducted by the US armed forces that cost over $250 million dollars. It fictionally pitted American forces against an “unnamed Persian Gulf military” most likely a stand in for Iran (or, as some argue, Iraq).

“Iran’s” forces were headed up by Marine Corps Lt. General Paul Van Riper, a tough Purple Heart recipient, who beat the American forces at every turn in the action. Van Riper, in what he assumed was a everything-goes drill, carried out mock suicide attacks, ran his fleet without radar effectively making them impossible to track, and he kept his men on the go constantly.

Needless to say, Van Riper defeated the American forces–badly.

The result: Van Riper got “relieved” from his post and the rules of the war game were changed. The new guidelines, among other things, forced enemy ships to operate with radar making them easy to follow and detect. In the school yard “do-over“, America won the drill and everyone went home happy.

What does this mean for organizations?

What are the lessons to be learned?

1. Pride on the Line: When we talk about leaders and organizations that wear blinders–it’s crucial to ask, why? Likely, it’s a poor mix of pride and ego that’s at stake and it’s difficult to admit to failure, laziness, lack of innovation, or knowledge. However, it’s essential to always remember that pride, especially in the face of truth, needs to be put aside.

2. Test for Failure–Don’t Imitate Success: Businesses always know that there are  cracks in their foundations. Searching for problems, then fixing them, is a required task. Yet, some businesses, on finding problems, merely write them off, pass responsibility, or vow to fix them next year.

The same can be said for leaders. If leaders find faults within their team or their leadership style they need to remedy them, not explain them away while pointing to a few successes in their office.

3. The Longer You Wait–the Bigger the Risks: Organizations and teams that choose to sideline problems, difficulties, and challenges will face a greater trouble and risk when they eventually try to resolve a situation.

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Social Media Has Reached The Tipping Point: Now What?

The first Gulf War legitimized and brought to the public the viability of the 24-hour news channel, and CNN hit its stride.  This past week, the tipping point came for Twitter and Facebook. If history is our guide, we will soon see these social technologies embedded in our communication culture.  After this past week, these technologies will no longer be tools for teen communication but tools for governments, organizations, and business.  These tools have their limitations. They demand from the viewer a sensitivity to context and the capacity to filter what is broadcast. When stores are so raw, so open, and so honest as the ones coming out of Iran reality hits us in our face. The danger however, is what happens when the social technology becomes a bit more controlled.

Social media doesn’t go through filters or editors–that means it’s fast, direct, and potentially incorrect or unconfirmed. In the age of Twitter the plausibility of a fake story being perpetuated, in the vein of Orson Welles, throughout the Internet is more than likely. It’s just a matter of thinking up a good fake news story.

Social media has created a platform for spontaneous truth, however at the same time a platform for controlled pranks. In the hands of the unscrupulous, it can become the source not only of rumors but of misdirection and false alarm. While we gain access to more news, we are forced to employ more analysis.

This can also have repercussions in the business world for both leaders and consumers. This month the electronic products company, Belkin, was caught using comment features on blogs and stores like to write fake, positive, ‘customer’ reviews about their poorly functioning products so they would sell. Again, we have gained access to more products but we are forced to exercise more caution as we shop online.

We have learned, in part, to gather news stories and product information from blogs, Twitter, Flickr, and Youtube. However, as we have seen, social media platforms are susceptible to unconfirmed information. Social media allows companies to present their corporate culture, products, and future ideas in an honest and direct light. If companies try to go beyond being honest and direct they risk losing face in front of a ever-growing number of online users. The same rule applies to governments. We need only to look at China’s and Iran’s efforts to control information perpetuated by social media outlets and the resulting bad press they receive.

Social technology demands a certain openness, honesty, and rawness as we’ve seen coming out of Iran the past few days. It demands candor and implies a democratization of information. Unfortunately, it may be the case that some countries may choose, in their paranoid moment, to control the technology–killing its spontaneity and thus, in many ways, reducing its importance.