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Dan Hammond


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Murdoch and leadership: How not to do it


Dan Hammond asks whether we can learn anything from the leadership of Rupert Murdoch.
A recent article by Jack Shafer, published this week on a Reuters blog entitled 'The leadership lessons of Chairman Rupert' contains some surprisingly helpful pointers for today's leaders. All they have to do is make sure they do the opposite of what the author recommends.
Drawing on the comments and writings of people who have studied or worked with him, the article sets out some of Rupert Murdoch's leadership traits. Here they are with some quotes from the article to illustrate them:
  1. Ideology is for amateurs. 'If he has an ideology, it is "what's good for me?"'
  2. Public memories are short, so apologies are inexpensive. Telling the phone-hacking investigation committee last summer, "This is the most humble day of my life." was obviously insincere but it 'bought the company breathing space'.
  3. Hire only people who think you did them a favour by hiring them. 'If they feel they owe you, you can lead them with a flick of your pinky.'
  4. Seek leverage over everybody you do business with. 'Being able to punish people is an incredibly effective currency.'
  5. Listen to the voice in your head more than to anyone else. 'Everyone else will recommend caution, only you will take real risks.'
  6. Make a virtue out of selfishness. 'Make it yours, keep it yours.' 'When executives grow too big they became an expendable rival.'
It is easy to read the article and still wonder whether the author's tongue is planted firmly in his cheek or if we are to take it seriously. Sadly, the final paragraph starts with what appears to be an encouragement to emulate Murdoch, taking courage to try a few of his approaches: "Only a madman would embrace the Murdoch strategy in its entirety. Only the brave would apply even three of the maxims at once."
If the intent of a leader is to help others to succeed and perhaps even to make the world a better place, then Murdoch has to be seen as a failure. His leadership maxims are therefore useful but only if turned on their heads. Here's an attempt to do so:
  1. Ideology is for everyone.  What is your purpose as a leader? You need to know it and if you want to enrol others in your cause, help them to believe in it too.
  2. Be real. If you stuff up, say so. Everyone knows when you are lying so don't do it.
  3. Hire people with options. That is the way to get smart people into the business who won't do things just because you say so. People with options think better and do better things. It is up to you to work to keep them.
  4. Make everyone you do business with successful. Success is not a limited resource. We can all win and, in fact, our business partners winning helps us to do even better because they can be strong suppliers, customers and employees.
  5. Listen to the best ideas. They may be yours, they may be someone else's - be open to both and have the courage and humility to choose the best one. Murdoch no doubt had lots of great ideas but it would not have done him any harm to listen to the voice that said "Isn't it just wrong to listen to other people's private voicemails?".
  6. Make a habit out of selflessness. It's not about you, it's about that higher purpose we talked about in point 1. Fight for it - not selfishly but purposefully.
As a guide for all leaders trying to engage those around them and to unlock their potential to have a positive impact this is a surprisingly complete list. The only question that remains is when are the commentators going to stop proposing Murdoch's style of leadership as a positive model for the next generation?
Would they feel the same if they had to work for him?
Dan Hammond is a managing consultant at global leadership consultancy, LIW

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Dan Hammond

Managing Consultant

Read more from Dan Hammond

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