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Leadership: Wily by Nature

Successful leaders need the bounce-back resilience of a cartoon character

Wednesday 15 July 2015


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Successful senior leaders need the bounce-back resilience of a cartoon character, says Rudi Plettinx, Managing Director of Management Centre Europe, in this twelfth in his series of articles for IEDP:

I’ve just spent the weekend with my old friend Gary. I love Gary. He’s so delightfully old fashioned when it comes to business, and when we talk leadership there’s no one to touch him, he just seems to naturally know how to get everyone behind him - every time. As a leader, I may have had my moments, but for me Gary is the numero uno, the big banana - and he makes it look easy too, getting results and energising people in a way most of us can only dream of.

“How do you do that?” I asked him. “ How do you reach those people, who if they were honest would all like to see you fall, crash and burn, yet, perversely, seem contented to follow you anywhere?”

He paused for a second, then his eyes brightened and he leaned over to me. “You know what they call me in the markets, don’t you?” he asks with a grin on his non too handsome face. I shook my head, somewhat mystified by his attitude.

“Wile E Coyote!” he answered, triumphantly, “like the kid’s cartoon." slapping his hand down hard on his antique desk. “They know that whatever they throw at me. I’ll always be back for more.” I’m like the creature in the cartoon, they can’t kill me off, I’m always still going in the last reel. That’s why the other fella is always looking over his shoulder, because they know I’m out there somewhere and I’ll get that deal done one way or another.”

He adds, “They also know that like the cartoon character I’ll be back next week and the week after that. I can’t be killed off, they need me. I provide continuity, certainty. Sure, a few people may laugh, but I get the star billing. What’s a few bruises, when you always win long-term?”

That got me thinking. Is Gary a good definition of a leader - super hero style indestructibility, but one with real-life staying power?

In reality, although I’m sure Gary hasn’t sat down and analysed this (it’s not in his ‘can do’ DNA to do it), Gary is a real leader in every sense of the word. By his very nature of always being there no matter what happens, he is a rock, a permanent fixture people can relate to and rely on. He can shrug off setbacks, ignore bad news and the disapproval of his peers, and get on with the job in hand. Demonstrating single-minded purpose when all around have given up. He’s also inventive, but most of all, he’s THERE. Rain or shine you know that Gary, if he’s on your side, will be there to see things through whatever the odds are against him pulling it off.

In today’s mixed up and complex world, there are far too many so-called leaders who don’t inspire the confidence they should. No wonder shareholders and institutional investors run for cover, there’s no Gary out there to come to their aid. What we want is a real-life cartoon character who can be blown up in a market bubble, pushed off a fiscal cliff and stretched to the nth degree of credibility and still bounce back.  

For my money that’s my pal Gary. Sadly he’s so busy being there and being successful he doesn’t really see it that way and wouldn’t believe me if I told him. But while everyone is still pointing and laughing at Wile E. Coyote, who’s collecting the winnings?

This column on leadership and organizational development is written exclusively for the IEDP by Rudi Plettinx, Managing Director of Management Centre Europe, the Brussels-based development organization. Have a comment or a question? Engage direct with Rudi Plettinx here

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