At a recent conference bringing together European HR managers and leading business schools from around the world, the opening speaker asked the audience to shout out what they felt were the qualities of an inspirational leader.
This created a fever of activity from the HR community, and words such as visionary, dynamic, caring, humble, determined, etc. came flooding back from the excited audience.
However, I noticed the business school representatives were sitting on their hands and keeping very quiet.
I wondered if their reticence was due to the fact that the conference coincided with the arrest and subsequent resignation of Carlos Ghosn as leader of the Nissan, Renault and Mitsubishi Alliance. Measured against almost every dimension contributed by that conference audience, Ghosn is an inspirational leader with a great track record.
The Ghosn case presents a number of challenges for our high-profile industry. We need our leaders to be visible and set the values that underpin the working of the organisation. But is there a risk that the upfront and visible representation sometimes takes precedence?
Ghosn was the upholder of sound values when he was brought into Mitsubishi in 2015 to clean up the company’s image, after it was rocked with a scandal over the false disclosure of mileage tests.
Nissan has had problems, too – in 2017, a Nissan inspection issue came to light when it was discovered that unauthorised workers were certifying vehicles as part of the production process. Many excused this as a management issue lower down the organisation. This was despite the transparency encouraged in the company, according to Nissan chief executive Hiroto Saikawa.
Since Ghosn’s arrest, Nissan, and Saikawa – once one of Ghosn’s mentees – have seemed ready to publicly hang their ousted chairman out to dry.
The case has still to be heard and Ghosn has proclaimed his innocence. Now bailed after more than 100 days on remand in a Japanese prison, he has requested to teleconference into a board meeting – although sacked as chairman of Nissan, Renault and Mitsubishi, he remains on the boards of all three as a shareholder vote is required to remove any board member.
A Tokyo court has blocked his request, as a bail condition prevents him from communicating with people linked to his case.
Whatever happens, the next time I sit in a conference and listen to statements about great leadership, my view is being consistent in public and private affairs should be one of them.