The curious case of 2 letters

Clearly, this seems to be the seasons of the letters. We have bits and bytes of emails from Corporate heads flooding into individual employees’ mailboxes with messages. One might encounter quite a few of them during their tenure in the corporate sector, but the recent history has provided an unique case-study in terms of 2 leadership styles.

The letters under consideration are Nokia CEO Stephen Elopps’ now famous Burning Platform email and Cisco CEO John Chamber’s recent post on April 4. Both these letters talked about a mammoth of an organization, it’s coming-to-terms with current coupled with a tempered dwelling on the past and more importantly, looking at the future. These incidents indicate the seriousness of the economic times we are living in and various unseen forces influencing every one’s lives to such an extent that even Mammoth’s had to move.

The Burning Platform email is an excellent example of straight-from-the-gut honest opinion of an organization from it’s foremost employee i.e. CEO. Various expert theories have been formulated and different people have varying opinions about the same. Time will answer a lot of questions and there is no substitute to accelerate the same. Having said that, when the email is read and more importantly re-read multiple times, various themes come up. The foremost message is acceptance of an issue which has potential to turn into a snowball of a problem as metaphorically explained by the burning platform edge. Nokia had been the foremost leader or rather champion of an entire industry and was always known for it’s quality. The author’s personal encounters with Nokia in the past only accentuates this assumption. However, something changed.

I am not a business expert to dwell into the impact of Android on Nokia or Google vs Nokia. I love Android as much as I love Symbian being a core technocrat at heart and mind. However, on a ground level i.e. to borrow Geoffery Boycott’s phrase, at my Grandma’s level, things weren’t the same. Nokia phones once prided being the more stable ones of the lot, but yet once could see lot many crashes and issues being reported like never before. For the old-school, it was a shock!!

The communication provided an interesting introspection of an organization and tried to identify the pressing problems while looking at the solution. The bottomline was that a drastic change was order of the day and as an organization, it had to brace itself for the same. From my understanding, I feel the leadership pattern is aligned towards jump-start on a new path.

Contrastingly, Cisco CEO’s letter is another interesting read. To summarize the letter, it reads like an annual performance appraisal of an entity carried out by it’s mentors. Amazingly, the letter outlines the business needs, the need for focus and realignment of a culture. However, in a subtle manner, the letter clearly identifies the strengths and spots of improvement. In a nutshell, John Chambers’ communication focuses on improving the existing strengths while removing the hurdles, with a clear message on the need for focus.  This leadership style is very synonymous to objective performance measurement and improvement and amazingly has achieved a wonderful feat of extending this performance appraisal to entire organization.

Two leadership styles with the same goal of making their organizations to be market leaders, with a clear business interest of maximizing the share holder’s returns and growing the brand equity of the organization. Two Leaders, Two Paths, One goal.


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