Friday, April 29, 2011

Canadian Elections and Strategy: Easy Solutions for Hard Problems...?

Dr. Hari Bapuji

Prof. Henry Mintzberg, one of the most respected strategy scholars, has been weighing in on the upcoming elections in Canada. I am pleased to see him speak on an issue that is relevant to all Canadians because I believe that academics have a responsibility to use their research and knowledge to inform public opinion. So, in the same spirit, I decided to think further about the strategy offered by Prof. Mintzberg.

Briefly, Prof. Henry Mintzberg suggests that Canada is at a danger in this elections and has offered a strategy to conserve Canada by keeping Conservatives from forming the next government. He recommends that voters consult the latest polls in their ridings to vote strategically against the Conservatives and in favour of any candidate (irrespective of party affiliation) who has the greatest chance of defeating the Conservative candidate. My intention is not to advocate for or against any political party, but only to reflect on the “anything, but the Conservative strategy” (ABC strategy) offered by Prof. Mintzberg and if it alone can achieve the goal of conserving Canada.

Although past polls might not be the best way to predict the outcomes in future elections, this data shows that the ABC strategy is unlikely to work. In the most ideal conditions, this strategy works well in those ridings where the Conservatives polled less than 50 percent votes. For obvious reasons, even pooling together all the non-Conservative votes in ridings where the Conservatives polled over 50 percent votes will not defeat them. Of the 143 seats the Conservatives won in 2008, their vote percentage was less than 50 percent in 63 seats. Of these 63, the number of seats that can be targeted are those where the vote percentage of the Conservatives was 45 percent or less and the winning margin is less than 10 percent. There are 25 such seats, which if wrested from the Conservatives through the ABC strategy would reduce their tally to 126. However, that is unlikely to happen given the difficulties of getting people to change their voting preferences and mobilizing all the non-Conservative voters to implement the ABC strategy. So, what is reasonably possible is that the seats the Conservatives won with less than 5 percent margin in 2008 can be won by others with the ABC strategy. The number of such seats is 17 across Canada. So, if all these seats are wrested from the Conservatives, then the tally of the Conservatives would reduce to 126. Whether the ABC strategy reduces the tally of the Conservatives to 126 or 118, that will be unlikely to keep the Conservatives from staking a legitimate claim to form the next government. Going by the past results (Liberal – 77; Bloc Québécois – 49, and NDP – 29), the Conservatives might still be the single largest party and might have a better shot at forming the government in a 308-seat parliament.

Another reason why the ABC strategy might not work is that it interacts with the strategy of the Conservatives. Let us for a moment, assume that the Conservative strategy is to win the seats they lost by less than 5 percent votes in 2008. The number of such seats is 15, which would be similar to the seats they would have lost if the ABC strategy becomes successful. In fact, of the 165 seats won by the non-Conservatives, 125 seats were won with less than 50 percent votes; thus, more non-Conservative ridings are theoretically at a greater risk of changing hands than the Conservative ones. As a result, the ABC strategy does not appear to be sound if the objective is to keep the Conservatives away from power. A number of things might change and the Conservatives might not form the next government, but that is a separate issue and is not borne out of the ABC strategy of defeating the Conservatives in their weak ridings.

As I thought about this, I felt that the real issue is not to keep one party or the other out, but to elect a government that is better representative of Canadians and truly respects their will. The only way to achieve it is by voting. In the last elections, only 59 percent of the electorate cast ballot. This percentage is small for the democratic process in a developed country; for example, in just concluded provincial elections in India, the voting was over 70 percent and even touched 85 percent in some provinces. A higher voter turnout would not only help to elect a government that represent the majority of Canadians, but will also let the governing parties know the will of all Canadians – thus preventing them from acting against the will of Canadians. At times, governments go against the will of people, but they do so at their own peril.

Dr. Hari Bapuji is Associate Professor of Strategic Management and International Business, Asper School of Business, University of Manitoba

Sunday, April 10, 2011

India Against Corruption or India Against Democracy?

Dr. Hari Bapuji

The last few days have seen an unprecedented action in India. Anna Hazare spearheaded a people’s movement seeking tougher legislation against corruption. Anna Hazare has been hailed as Gandhi 2.0, while the movement was dubbed as India’s second freedom struggle. No doubt, corruption in India is rampant. Definitely, Indians can do better without the all pervasive corruption. No doubt again, that tougher legislation is needed against corruption. The process through which this is sought to be achieved, however, can potentially undermine the very institutions of democracy.

Anna Hazare’s fast certainly galvanized many people in India, particularly given a number of recent scams. It received widespread support, with thousands of people rallying in several cities. Not surprisingly, the Government of India was ready to accept all the demands put forward by Anna Hazare, including formation of a 10-member committee (five nominees of Anna Hazare and five nominees of the government) that will draft a legislation. However, the government was not ready to provide legal status to that committee and also to not allow a non-elected representative to be the chairman of the committee. Bowing to the pressure, the government finally agreed to both these demands as well. These steps strike at the very roots of the democracy.

In a democracy, legislation is the responsibility of the legislature. Those who are not elected representatives of the people can provide input to legislation, prepare draft laws, pressure the elected representatives to create laws or change them in a certain way. However, those who are not elected representatives are not given the authority to make laws. In other words, the legislation is the prerogative of the elected representatives and the laws made by no other person (no matter what the person’s integrity and expertise is) can be made applicable to the larger population. The authority granted to the new committee essentially allows this.

Another way to look at this development is to see it as the elected representatives working with civil society in the true spirit of democracy. This is how the media and most of the movement’s supporters seem to view it as. If that be the case, then the makeup of the committee should have been more representative of the civil society, and not restricted to the five nominees of Anna Hazare. There is no doubt that the followers of Anna Hazare number in thousands, while those who silently support his cause might stretch into millions. Even then, they are not representatives of the 1.2 Billion Indians. They might very well represent the will of people, but we do not know that and in a democratic set up the only way to know that is through elections.

Essentially, this development has indicated that a sufficiently large group of people that cannot be ignored by the government can get an equal status as an elected government in making a legislation. This in a way compromises and delegitimizes the very institution of democracy. The danger of delegitimizing institutions will not be apparent in this case (at least not yet), but it has the potential to be used in the future by other groups seeking legislations in their favour. So, this development is a moment for celebration but is also a moment for reflection on what it means for Indian democracy. Also, it is a moment for those who brought this change and supported it by rising against the politicians to think about the role of non-politicians in the corruption.

Dr. Hari Bapuji is Associate Professor of Strategic Management and International Business, Asper School of Business, University of Manitoba

Sunday, April 3, 2011

The Dhoni Effect: How to Keep Your Cool Amidst a Billion Emotions

[Dhoni's winning shot].
By Dr. Suhaib Riaz

You don’t have to know anything about cricket as a sport to sense that there was something special about the way the winning team’s captain clobbered the ball out of the park to claim the Cricket World Cup 2011 (winning shot video here). Till a couple of days ago, some had suggested that the same man should just be a non-playing captain for the final, given his lack of form with the bat throughout the tournament. Well, he won the player-of-the-match in the final against a very formidable team!

Management scholars have often turned to sports contexts to understand leadership and teamwork. Despite a number of scholars with connections to cricketing countries, studies focusing on cricket are virtually non-existent. Perhaps it is time to change that, and consider adding a new word to the leadership lexicon: the Dhoni effect.

Mahendra Singh Dhoni, the captain of the Indian team, is the anti-thesis of what you would expect from a captain of a nation wildly passionate and emotional about cricket: he somehow manages to keep his head while a billion supporters are losing theirs, is able to handle both wins and losses with equanimity, and has led the team to quite a few major victories. How does he do it?

Dr. Glenn Rowe, who has studied leaders in sports for years (with whom I wrote a couple of pieces here and here), coined a term for a special type of leadership: Strategic Leadership. The idea could be a start to analyze some aspects of Dhoni’s leadership style

Strategic leaders believe in strategic choice i.e. that their choices make a difference. Dhoni has consistently displayed this belief - he has a track record of very actively getting engaged in making choices in both team selection and on-the-field decisions. He’s certainly not one to sit back and let things take their own course. 

Moreover, such leaders exercise both linear, and more importantly, non-linear thinking. Such thinking is often backed by use of non-explicit, or tacit knowledge. Dhoni’s non-linear thinking is often the subject of major controversies. He backed an out-of-form Yuvraj Singh for inclusion into the team by ignoring his explicit scores that year and focusing on the fundamentally tacit understanding that he shines in high pressure, big tournaments. While this worked out superbly as Yuvraj won player-of-the-tournament, many other risks didn’t work, yet Dhoni kept up a balance of risk-taking through non-linear thinking to complement the more obvious decisions made through linear thinking.

Another key attribute is that such leaders have strong, positive expectations of the performance they expect from their peers, juniors, superiors, and even themselves. While the entire team vouches for Dhoni’s leadership on this count, he proved a further point by expecting a major performance from himself in the world cup final, displayed non-linear thinking by promoting himself up the batting order, and delivered in style.
There’s a lot more to be said here, but overall, strategic leadership is about balance: balancing the “visionary” side (risk taking, non-linear thinking, long term orientation) with the “managerial” side (linear thinking, short-term orientation) – and that is the secret of Dhoni's success: he has displayed the balance well.

This balance can also be summed up in another way: such leaders "come to work, dream for an hour, and then do something about those dreams for the next several hours".

Even in post-match celebrations, Dhoni displays interesting leadership attributes: his sense of who he is, is not completely dependent on the situation – he works in, but is not fully taken-in by the environment around him. His calm remained as he walked across the field with the team in a lap of honour.

This is particularly noteworthy as captains from the South Asian subcontinent always have a difficult time: public opinion is fickle and turns from love to hate in a moment, as articulated by another captain who won the world cup for his country two decades ago: Imran Khan, who incidentally labeled Dhoni’s men as his favourites this time, and who has for long been a case study of leadership

But any such comparisons can wait for another time. Right now, it's all about the Dhoni effect that gripped the Indian team for a month and made them come out tops. Let the leadership scholars take note.