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LEADERSHIP 2012: Winners, Wannabees and Losers

January 6, 2013

Malala2 Another year has come and gone quickly. During the past 12 months much has happened in the business, political and community spheres. We’ve witnessed horrendous instances of bad leadership, cases of fledgling leadership and, thankfully, situations where people have shown extraordinary commitment to leading others and making the world a better place.

The lists of bad, wannabee and excellent leaders are long. I’ve selected notable examples of people living in different countries and from diverse walks of life. Leaders are found throughout society, from business to politics to community development. Leaders range in age from teenagers (as you’ll find out in a moment) to those in their sixties and seventies. In short, there is no stereotypical leader.

Take a moment to check out last year’s CEOs of 2011–The Good, the Bad and the Ugly: What We Can Learn from Senge’s 7 Learning Disabilities

So let’s get started.

I’ll begin with looking at leaders who proved to be losers in 2012, moving on to wannabee leaders and then concluding with winning leaders. Wannabee leaders are those who are in formal leadership positions, but have yet to actually demonstrate true managerial and leadership practices. They have the potential, but for whatever reason they’re fumbling by not achieving truly impressive results in their organizations.


CIA Director David Petraeus and Gen. John Allen combination photo 1. Generals David Petraeus and John Allen

There’s actually a tie for what I’ll call the worst-of-the-worst in 2012. Meet the Bobbsey Twins: Four-star retired general David Petraeus, who had to step down from the position of CIA chief after only one year, and four-star Marine general John Allen, whose imminent appointment as Supreme Commander of NATA was cancelled last November. Allen continues on as commander of U.S. and NATA forces in Afghanistan.

After being married for over 37 years, I showed extremely poor judgement by engaging in an extramarital affair.
– David Petraeus (November 2012)

I’m not in love with David Petraeus. But I think he does present a terrific role model.
– Paula Broadwell (Petraeus’ mistress, February, 2012)

I don’t have to replay the sordid events that led to the public humiliation of what were once highly esteemed top military leaders. Cyberspace is polluted with an unlimited supply of the events that lead to the disrobing of these two men.

But I can’t refrain from making one observation: Sure, I’m a guy, about Allen’s and Petraeus’ ages, but it is mind-boggling how one Tampa-based female socialite, addicted to the trappings of military power, could so easily ensnare two supposedly very intelligent men. And how Petraeus got himself sexually involved with his biographer, who’s reminiscent of the Michael Douglas-Glenn Close film Fatal Attraction is beyond my grasp.

One final point on the Petraeus-Allen fiasco: this was narcissism gone bad, which resulted in the downfall of previously highly respected and prominent military leaders. However, it’s not just their reputations that have suffered, but more importantly those who serve valiantly in the United States military. Shame on David Petraeus and John Allen.

As former CIA director Michael Hayden stated to TIME: “A lot of power comes from moral authority because you are asking people to do stuff that is really on the edge legally and politically, and they have to sense that you’re the guy they can trust.”

Let’s move on to the next loser.

2. Mitt Romney

Willard “Mitt” Romney isn’t just a loser because he lost the U.S. presidential election; he also lost his values and principles along the way, notably during the bizarre spectacle of the Republican primaries, which hosted an array of candidates, ranging from the clueless to dumb-as–a stump post.

Yes, to win the Republican candidacy Romney had to constantly change his stories, flipping past policy stands on their heads, pandering to the scary right-wing fringe of the Republican Party. Yet even when he won the nomination he continued with his polarizing statements against President Obama, lying outright numerous times.

By the time the election was called it’s not surprising if Romney had lost his way, not having any idea for what he stood and what his values were. Let`s hope he rediscovers who he is and on what principles he stands.

The Republicans were handed the 2012 U.S. election on a silver platter by President Obama, yet they blew it. What lessons have they learned?

3. President Barack Obama

Hold the bus! Barack Obama won the election. Yes he did. But he also lost the hearts and minds of Americans. His splendid hyperbole leading into the 2008 Presidential campaign produced anemic results in the end. Whether he actually saved General Motors and Chrysler remains to be seen. But the taxpayer tab may be around $20 billion in the end.

Obama blew most of his political capital on his healthcare legislation, employing his then chief of staff (pit bull Rahm Emanuel, now mayor of Chicago) to help ram it through Congress. Unfortunately, the United States still has the most expensive healthcare on the planet, eating up 17% of its GDP. Just wait until Baby Boomers hit their senior years. The system will then implode upon itself.

Obama only got the jobs religion in his last year of office when he descended from his lofty perch to prep for what turned out to be a brutal election campaign.

One of Obama’s worst sins was ignoring the recommendations from the Simpson-Bowles commission on how to balance the federal budget and avoid falling over the fiscal cliff in 2013.

On the foreign relations front, Obama has somehow managed to both anger the Israelis and incur a cooling attitude from Palestinians through his restrained approach to dealing with this longstanding issue. “Restrained” may be interpreted an inept leadership on the President’s part. And the continuing problems in Syria and with Iran’s intent to construct nuclear weapons have been met with a puzzling hands-off approach by Obama.

Shame on you, President Obama. Take a stand, and then act.

4. Mark Zuckerberg, Founder and Chairman, CEO of Facebook

Mark Zuckerberg deserves to be on the losers list for his triple sins of:

a) the disastrous showing of Facebook’s IPO on May 18, 2012,
b) his continued weak performance in boosting the company’s online advertising revenues,
c) for thumbing his nose to privacy commissioners, parents and indeed the whole world when it comes to the ethical business practice of managing people’s personal information.

Enough said. Let’s move on.


Paulson 1. Pat Paulson, Commissioner of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police
Last January in my CEOs of 2011 – The Good, the Bad and the Ugly I flagged Commissioner Paulson as a potential leader for 2012. However, it would depend on how he addressed the rot and corruption that had set in to the internationally acclaimed red-clad national police force.

In that post I noted Paulson’s enormous challenge ahead of him, and referred to a December 2011 interview with the Globe & Mail’s editorial board. When he was asked as to whether the public trust had been violated, Paulson replied: “I tell you, one day, there is going to be the removal of the Stetson if we don’t get this straight. We’ve got to get onto this. This is urgent.”

The Mounties are still wearing their Stetsons and red serge uniforms. However, Commissioner Paulson’s communication skills appear to be severely lacking. He made the mistake on a few occasions to engage in email arguments with experienced Mounties who challenged his approach to cleaning up the force. Paulson’s scathing replies made it to the national media, which took exquisite glee in sharing the exchanges with the Canadian public.

Paulson obviously missed the Leadership 101 module on how to communicate effectively with employees. Indeed, perhaps he should have read the late Stephen Covey’s The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. In particular, he should pay heed to Habit #5: Seek first to understand, then be understood.

Had Paulson done so, it is likely he would never have engaged in a non-productive email exchange which quickly turned sour and public.

Paulson also showed poor judgement when he used RCMP officers, courtesy of Canadian taxpayers, as his honor guard when he got married in August 2012.

Commissioner: you’re still on the watch list for 2013.

2. Prime Minister Stephen Harper

Stephen Harper remains an enigma to Canadians, who were too nervous for five years to award the Prime Minister a majority government. Harper finally achieved that by subduing his right-wing ideology and bringing his caucus to the center mainstream. However, his actions have been and continue to be highly contentious. Indeed, I almost placed Harper on the Losers list.

Whether it’s the issue of immigration reform, crime and punishment or foreign investment and trade, Harper tends to sway to the hardline, but then oscillates. His poke-the-Chinese-in-the-eye approach for much of his first several years in office recently switched to pandering to Beijing on trade deals.

Foreign investment, a vital component of building a healthy economy, has been all over the map. This is especially frustrating for Canadian businesses, and creates uncertainty for foreign investors who, to now, view Canada as a solid country with which to establish business relationships. Harper’s background is in economics (he has a Masters degree), so he should be more attuned to the realities of a brutally competitive and rapidly changing global economy.

Harper’s masterful flip-flopping on the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program (the largest military procurement in Canadian history) depicts a national politician who is abandoning ideology for an attempt to balance the government’s books by the next federal election in October, 2015. Harper seemed to finally achieve clarity on the F-35 program when costs were reported as tripling. There will now be a competitive procurement process, instead of what was a sole source contract.

One other issue that embarrassed the Harper government last year and which resurfaced in December is the Attawapiskat First Nation Nations reserve’s plight. Read my December 2011 post to see how deplorable conditions on First Nations reserves have been permitted to persist by the federal government.

Stephen Harper has the potential to become a competent (albeit boring) prime minister. However, his Achilles heel is his penchant for petty politics and a petulant attitude towards anyone who disagrees with him. You may see Harper in the Losers category next year.

3. Sheryl Sandberg, Chief Operating Officer of Facebook
Sheryl Sandberg is a very competent executive who in another capacity in another company would undoubtedly shine. However, she is hitched to Mark Zuckerberg’s saddle, displaying at times obsequious behavior during interviews with Zuckerberg.

Facebook continues to face criticism from the public (eg, parents angry over Facebook’s ignoring requests to address the problem with minors) and privacy issues (eg, Canada’s privacy commissioner has hammered Facebook relentlessly).

Then there was the humiliating fallout from Facebook’s IPO earlier in 2012 and its poor showing in reaping advertising revenues.

Sandberg has the potential to be a true corporate leader in a difference business context. However, she needs to get out from under Zuckerberg’s thumb and show her true talents.

4. Marissa Mayer, CEO of Yahoo!
The 37 year-old gifted techie has unfortunately had more attention focused on her being a new mom than on whether she will get Yahoo! out of its tailspin. That Marissa Mayer is seen as technically very competent, with two degrees in computer science and a solid understanding of technology, is to be welcomed. She was Google’s first female engineer, running Google’s Maps before exiting in June 2012 to join Yahoo! As she said to CNN in April 2012 on her being a woman in a male-dominated industry: “I’m not a woman at Google. I’m a geek at Google. If you can find something that you’re really passionate about, whether you’re a man or woman comes a lot less into play. Passion is a gender neutralizing force.”

Experienced tech analysts have expressed caution about whether Mayer, despite her technical knowledge and skills, has what it takes to pull Yahoo! out of its nosedive. It’s expected that she’ll refocus the company on web technology and products in place of expanding its online presence.

Marissa Mayer brings some solid skills to Yahoo! Let’s see whether she can enroll and align Yahoo! employees in a shared vision. She’s on the watch list for winning leaders for 2013.


malala1 I’d like to start with who I believe is 2012’s top leader of the year.

1. Malala Yousafzai.
The world is in awe of Malala for her steadfast perseverance, incredible courage and vision for the education of girls in Pakistan. Last fall, she took bullet in the head from a Taliban assassin, but that hasn’t stopped her. Read my earlier post on Malala’s miraculous survival.

Malala, 15 years of age, has devoted the past six years to articulating her vision of Pakistani girls being able to go to school, to become educated and to contribute to society. She has been an active blogger through the BBC and conducted numerous interviews in both English and her native language. Watch this interview with Malala from 2011 where she talks about her vision:

An international petition was launched in late fall to nominate Malala for the Nobel Peace Prize. Please take a moment to visit this website. On January 3 she was released from hospital and will be treated on an out-patient basis. However, she requires further surgery to rebuild her skull which was partially removed to address swelling when she was shot.

To date, some £10 million has been donated to the Queen Elizabeth Hospital Birmingham charity. When she is better Malala will be asked to decide how this money should be allocated by this independent charity, which funds such programs as patient care, medical equipment and research.

At the end of November, despite her still precarious condition, she asked to speak by telephone to Ayesha Mir, a 17 year-old Pakistani teen whose father was almost assassinated by the Taliban in a car bomb attempt. A TV anchorman, he regularly criticized on the Taliban in his nightly reports. Ayesha was handed the phone from her father. “This is Malala,” came a weak voice. “I understand that what happened was tragic, but you need to stay strong. You cannot give up.”

This rare phone call from Malala since being hospitalized left an impact on Ayesha. As she put it: “The way [Malala] spoke was so inspirational. She made me realize that my father was fighting our enemies and it was something I should be proud of, not afraid.”

Leaders come in all sizes and at all ages.

Let’s look at three more top leaders in 2012.

2. Sergio Marchionne, Chairman and CEO of Chrysler
I’ll state up front that I believe that Chrysler should have been ushered into bankruptcy when President Obama assumed his duties in his first term. General Motors was a maybe. Chrysler is still not out of the woods, though its recent performance has been impressive.

If there’s a CEO on the planet who has a chance of turning around Chrysler to long-term profitability it is Italian Canadian Sergio Marchionne. An absolute workaholic who does not suffer fools in his executive ranks, Marchionne has a clearly focused vision on where he wants to take Chrysler. And what separates him from the riff raff of corporate leaders is that Marchionne knows how to execute, a competency in short supply in corporate North America.

Check out my post on Marchionne Tough-Assed Leadership: We Need More of This Stuff!

Keep on rocking, Sergio!

3. Clarissa Ward, CBS Foreign Correspondent
There are a number of excellent foreign correspondents working for Canadian, British, American and other Western news media outlets. However, one correspondent over the past year has blown me away with her crisp, insightful and courageous reporting.

While Canadian and American correspondents were reporting from Syria under the supervision of the government, Clarissa Ward snuck into the country with the aid of rebel fighters to report independently (she received a Peabody award in May, 2012). To say she was putting her life on the line is an understatement. Fluent in seven languages, Ward is devoted to bringing the best in foreign news reporting to people around the world.

4. Mark Carney, Governor of the Bank of Canada
Midway through his first term, Mark Carney shocked Canadians and Britons on November 26 by announcing that he’ll leave his post in July 2013 to take up duties as Governor of the Bank of England.

Earlier in the year, Carney dispelled rumors that he would resign his post when it became public that the British government was actively recruiting him. It seemed that Carney, viewed as perhaps the most competent of central bank heads in the world, would stay in Canada. However, the British government wouldn’t take no for an answer.

In taking up his new role next summer, Carney will be leading one of the world’s oldest monetary giants. He will also continue to head up the G20’s Financial Stability Board, to which he was appointed last year.

This will be a loss for Canada and a huge win for Great Britain, whose economy is in the tank. Viewed from the big picture, however, Mark Carney’s new role will be a big plus for the international economy. He certainly will have his hands full in trying to turn around Great Britain’s economy through the use of monetary levers, especially given the increasingly inept British government. Good luck, Mark!


images (1) Maria Santos Gorrostieta, former mayor of the small Mexican town of Tiquicheo

For her refusal to back down to drug lords battling for control of the western state of Michoacan. In 2010, she was shot three times yet survived (see photo). Three months previous her car was ambushed, resulting in the death of her husband. She became a widow with three young children. Maria fought on against the gangs.

On November 15 at age 36, Maria’s body was found by farm workers in a field. She had been beaten and tortured.

There you have it, folks, a diverse list of leaders for 2012. However, that’s my lens on the world. You, no doubt, would have your own lists.

Let’s now take a look at the key traits that winning leaders possess.

Personal Vision – that attracts and engages people.

Courage – in the face of adversity

Perseverance – to never give up on the vision

Enrolment – of followers in that shared vision

Execution – of making things happen and achieving results

Humility – in not having all the answers

Humor – knowing when to laugh

Restlessness – with the status quo

Take some time to reflect on people who you admire for their leadership qualities. Then answer these three questions:

1. What makes them stand out?
2. What specific aspect of their leadership would help YOU grow as a leader?
3. What are YOU waiting for?

There is no such thing as a little freedom. Either you are all free, or you are not free.

– Walter Cronkite (CBS News anchor, retired)

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. January 8, 2013 1:34 am


    What an excellent summary of 2012 through the eyes of some of the world’s most prominent citizens. I’d have to agree with you on most counts.

    You mentioned Facebook’s botched IPO offering. Facebook stock has been doing remarkably well, so I don’t agree with tagging it and Mark Z. a loser.

    I definitely agree about Mitt Romney and can see your points about Obama, but I can’t see classifying him as a loser.

    Most distressing was the story of Maria Santos Gorrostieta. I had not heard of her before. Horrifying situation.

    Again, great job analyzing this year’s best and worst public figures.

    • January 8, 2013 2:15 am

      Thanks Susan for sharing your thoughts. Zuckerberg’s in the category I placed him since he’s been widely criticized for months, more on the IPO and weak performance re: online ad generation fronts. But I added the third aspect of privacy and the criticism that’s generated. The U.S. is laxer than Canada and some other Western countries on the privacy front, but he’s been getting hammered relentlessly by privacy commissioners, parents, consumer groups, etc.

      Re: Obama, I’m apolitical, but in the end preferred him over Romney. But he’s been disappointing to many to date. But politics are what they are – a bloodsport in America, though Canada’s picking up the pace, and the UK, Australia and many European countries can get pretty brutal.

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