It is an interesting time to be a student of leadership. We wanted to report on this "snapshot" and will be commenting on it over the course of the ensuing days as the reports come in:
|The week ahead is packed with leadership drama, yet much of the news coverage won’t tell you about that. It’s a reminder that whenever we read about companies or countries, we’re actually reading about leaders – and if we remember that, the news suddenly gets a lot more interesting and instructive.|
Start with this week’s earnings reports – dry stuff, they may seem, but many of them are progress reports on a leader’s transformation efforts, and often the stakes are high. IBM will update Ginni Rometty’s bet on remaking the company around cognitive computing and cloud-based services. At United Technologies, new CEOGregory Hayes is deconglomerating, selling the Sikorsky helicopter business to Lockheed Martin in an effort to revive a plunging stock. Caterpillar’s Doug Oberhelman made his name before the financial crisis, before he was CEO, when he forced managers in the middle of a boom to plan for a bust. Now times are tough again, and he’s again implementing a bust strategy; the stock is down 37% in the past 15 months.
At American Express, Ken Chenault is trying to recover from the costly end of a long exclusive arrangement with Costco and bracing for a possibly adverse court ruling on how retailers steer customers toward different credit cards – all while, at age 64, realigning a succession plan after heir-apparent Ed Gilligan died of a heart attack on a plane in March. Microsoft’s Satya Nadella continues the high-wire act of adapting one of history’s greatest business models to a new era for infotech; for example, he recently gave away the company’s new operating system. McDonald’s board madeSteve Easterbrook CEO last March and told him to rescue the company, which was floundering as U.S. sales fell for six straight quarters, franchisees were rebelling, and some major cities were raising the minimum wage. Investors like his plan, and his challenge now is maintaining their faith as the stock hits new all-time highs.
Amid all those earnings reports, China announced third-quarter GDP growth of 6.9%, which beat forecasts but marked the slowest reading since 2009. Even if (like me) you’re skeptical of China’s official statistics, they can’t deny reality forever, and the slowing growth further chips away at president Xi Jinping’s stature and authority. Now look at the second-order effects. China’s slowdown is one factor in declining prices for commodities from Canada and Argentina – and both those countries are holding national elections this week. Not a good environment for incumbents. Polls say Canadian prime minister Stephen Harper’s Conservative Party will likely finish second to the Liberal Party led by Justin Trudeau, son of former PM Pierre Trudeau. Argentina’s incumbent president, Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, must step down because of term limits, and none of the three main candidates seems likely to get a majority, in which case a runoff will be necessary.
That’s a lot of human leadership drama just in this week’s scheduled events. The political coverage will emphasize the people while most of the corporate coverage won’t. But all of it will be about leaders, whether it says so or not.