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Scenario 1 Fire alarm in Bucharest An engineer from the Bucharest office of a global company describ

Case study 1: Leadership styles
Konstantin Korotov, ESMT Case Study
Scenario 1: Fire alarm in Bucharest
An engineer from the Bucharest office of a global company describes a recently experienced
We were sitting at an extraordinary staff meeting in a windowless office in our
company’s building in Bucharest. Almost all of the Romanian office people were invited to
listen to a big boss from Munich. One could clearly see that our local managers were tryingto
do everything possible to leave a positive impression with the guest from headquarters.
Our local top brass people were smiling and nodding all the time when the visitor spoke,
and the Romanian general manager was even taking notes on his tablet computer,
something that he never does. The visitor from Munich was talking about the responsibility
each of us had for cutting costs. Suddenly the meeting room went completely dark and afire
alarm sounded. Everyone stayed sitting at their places, waiting for instructions. The visitor
from Munich went silent, but our local bosses for some reason were silent too. Finally
someone from the audience lost patience and shouted: “For how much longer are we
going to sit here? Do you want to burn here? It’s time to get out.” People jumped from their
seats and started making their way to the exit. They were stepping on each other’s feet and
bumping against the furniture. When we were finally out of the building it became clear
that a fire had started in one of office’s electric rooms, and firefighters were already
handling it. Luckily, nobody was injured.
When the situation cleared, the engineer found himself thinking about the behavior of the
managers in this situation:
Since this incident, I have often thought about why our managers remained silent when the
fire alarm went off. Usually they have no problem giving orders or telling us how to do things.
This time, however, they were quiet and indecisive. Could it be that the presence of the
higher-ranking boss from Munich had an impact on their behavior?
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for him to become a manager”
Michael heads a team of analysts in the mergers and acquisitions department of a large company. He
joined the company 11 years ago after graduating from university.During those years he has earned
a reputation as an intelligent and reliable professional who always completes tasks to the highest
quality and whose reports can always be trusted. After becoming the head of the analytic team he
continued to strengthen his reputation as a reliable employee.
Michael’s team often has urgent and unexpected tasks. When an acquisition target is identified, all
the analysis needs to be completed quickly, as competitors often consider the same firms to be
acquired and, therefore, support for quick decisions is needed. In such emergency-like
situations the analysts, including Michael, often work around the clock.
Following the tradition of working to the highest possible standard, Michael always double-checks the
calculations madebyhisteam before passingthemontothe management. Indifficultcases he runs
models and calculationshimself.
Michael has a couple of team members whom he considers to be the most reliable workers, and
whom he trusts with the major tasks. Recently one such employee broke her leg and had to stay in
hospital. Michael considered passing this colleague’s work on to one of the recently hired
analysts but decided against it. He chose to do the work of the sick colleague himself, as
explaining to the newcomer what he wanted from him would have taken too much time and the
result wouldn’t be guaranteedanyway.
Michael recently received the results of a 360-degree assessment mandatory for all managers of his
level in his company.Among the qualitative comments that respondents could leave in the process
of the assessment he found the following ones:

 Michael is an excellent analyst. It’s time for him to become a manager.
Michael is constantly on therun. Heis always busy.Heneverfinds time to sit down with
me and explain what hewants.
Michael distributes work unevenly. Some people are overloaded while others often sit
It is high time Michael stopped doing what he likes most, namely models and
Michael’s boss has already told him that he needs to delegate more and find time to
participate in cross-functional projects. However, Michael believes that if he does not get
personally involved in every task the work quality will suffer.
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Scenario 3: Conflicts in Prague
Two managers engage in a dialogue over coffee in a conference room minutes before a weekly
A: I often see you coming to the meeting with a suitcase. Are you travelling again?
B: Yeah. I have a car booked for the airport at six. There is a conflict again between our
production manager and the commercial manager in Prague. I need to go there to
mediate their conflict and help them work together. They are like a cat and a dog with each
A: Why not fire both instead, and hire adults who know how to work with other people? It’s
ridiculous that they can’t resolve their issues without involving you. Do you really have the
B: They are good guys. They’ve just been through too much stress recently. The last several months
were very tough. We have just started gaining new orders and attracting competitors’
clients. Unfortunately, one of our key suppliers in the Czech Republic went bankrupt. As a
result, commercial people sell, but production falls behind due to delays with the supply of
components. People work round the clock, and we exercise a lot of pressureonthemfrom
here in London, demanding quick results. Sometimes we put too much pressure on them. I
think right now we need to show them some support, as they can’t take further demands
and threats from us.
А: If you don’t threaten them, you’ll get no results from these people.
B: I haveanalyzedthe situation and Iunderstand thatthey are doing theirbest, thatthey know
their problems and ways of handling them, and that they are on the right track. They just
need a bit of time to get out of the rut. It is important to me to make sure that theydon’t
kill each other right now. I have large hopes for the Czech Republic next year.It’s my job to
takesometimenowto helpthemovercometheirlowpoints.
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Scenario 4: Training lessons that didn’t work
A husband who returned home from work later than promised, tells his annoyed wife at dinner
about his experience at work that day:
Just yesterday I was telling you that they had put all of us through a training session
where they taught us that managers needed to use a variety of styles depending on
the followers and the situation. I decided to try it in practice today. They told us
that if a manager wanted to gain people’s buy-in and increase their sense of
responsibility for the outcomes he or she needed to put them together, ask for
advice, allow for a difference in opinions, run a discussion, and so on and so
We are just facing this topic of the optimization of our supplier relationships. So at
the end of today’s management meeting I decided to raise it. I thought people
could use their brains, feel that we are all in the same boat and show their joint
commitment. So I start talking and see immediately that the head of purchasing is
gettingrathernervous. I guess he thought thatthis issue should have been discussed
with him first. It’s ok that he is nervous, as long as other people talk, I thought. And
other people do start talking. The head of supply chain management jumped in
immediately. He’s that kind of a guy – he has an opinion on every topic. Then the
head of production joined in, bringing a couple of reasonable points to the table.
He recommended a new potential supplier, and the arguments sounded very
Unfortunately, my boss, the division senior vice president, hates that company.
There is some issue that goes back in history, and all I know is that just
mentioning that company’s name would drive my boss crazy. Under no
circumstance wouldheletus use that supplier. My people don’t know that, and I
can’t tell them so.
Meanwhile, my people are getting very excited. The head of purchasing overcomes
his nervousness and joins the discussion, and he is also excited about this
potential supplier. People got so engaged that they even failed to notice that we
were far beyond the workday limits. Only the HR manager was sitting there
with a bored faced, constantly looking at her watch, and the head of
accounting was playing with her phone. At the end I had to stop all the
excitement and simply say that they shouldn’t dream about that new supplier
and that we would return to the topic at the next meeting. People’s
enthusiasm died immediately and they all left quickly.
I’m sitting here now and thinking that if I hadn’t listened to the advice of those
trainers, I would have come home in time for dinner tonight.
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Scenario 5: Attracting R&D talent
Helen, senior VP of human resources at BioFuture, a Basel-headquartered life sciences giant
corporation, sat thinking about engaging regional heads of HR in a new employer branding
campaign and long-needed efforts of promoting the company and its brand among students and
graduates of Biology and Biochemistry programs at universities in various countries. With the
growth anddiversificationofthecompany’s productlines,it hasbecomenecessaryforBioFuture to
invest heavily in proprietary research. With the recently announced increase in R&D efforts andthe
decentralization of the R&D function with an emphasis on creating centers of excellence in various
regions of the world, the company has faced significant talent shortage in many of its countries of
In some parts of the world the few existing experienced R&D professionals were approaching
retirement age, while the talented ones among university graduates were choosing different
companies to work for or academic research careers. Almost each young scientist at BioFuture’s
operations in Asia, Latin America, or Eastern Europe was a valuable resource that was treated as a
treasure. An analysis of work preferences of young scientists had shown that their motivation and
expectations were significantly different from other categories of employees at BioFuture. Unlike
the commercial staff, production personnel, or corporate functions, people in those regions
were, as internal research showed, primarily interested in stable jobs with good pay. Young R&D
candidates expressed preferences for the freedom of organizing their work, the ability tointeract
with the academic community beyond BioFuture (which was a big problem for the secretive
commercial people), and having a say inthe direction ofR&D activities undertaken by the company.
Manysurveyrespondents saidthatitwouldbeimportantforthemtoknowthat they were working
on ethical research topics, and that their own work at BioFuture could contribute to their
subsequent employability in the academic world.
Helen knew that it would be difficult for regional HR organizations to recruit and hire the
necessaryR&Dtalent.Traditionalrecruitmentandselectionapproachesthatstillworkedwellfor the
production and commercial sides of the business – and that local HR managers knew well –
wouldn’t work for young scientists. The HR group at headquarters developed job description
templates, compensation package guidelines for various countries and regions of operations, and
general recommendations for developing relationships with key universities. Helen was very
proud of this work done by her team in Basel. Now it was time for the HR functions in various
countries to understand the importance of the new efforts and accept the recommendations and
guidelines prepared by the central HR. Helen also knew that the local HR heads would need the full
support of their direct bosses – country level general managers, all of whom grew from the
commercial or production parts of the organization.
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Scenario 6: Developing employees
Margarita firmly believes that any manager should be evaluated by his or her ability to grow and
develop subordinates. One of her direct reports, Nicholas, is a great example of a return on
investment made by the boss. Margarita singled out Nicholas from his early days of employment in
her department. Nicholas was always ready to take responsibility, asked for additional
assignments, and sought advice on professional literature for further development. Margarita
started to expand the circle of Nicholas’s professional responsibilities. At times she would
establishthedeadlinesforthecompletionoftasksdelegatedtoNicholasabitbeforetheiractual due
time in order to fix potential problems, if any arose. A couple of times she had to spend long hours
with Nicholas reworking the reports and presentations prepared by him and exploring ways of
correcting the mistakesmade.
OncesheaskedNicholastotakeherplaceandpresentatanimportantmeeting.Margaritahadto live
with her own boss’ commentaries that half an hour could have been saved during the meeting
had the presentation been done by Margarita herself, and not an inexperienced young person.
Margarita tookthe time to explain to theboss why she wanted to give Nicholas achance and that his
first-time presentation was good enough for the circumstances. Of course, she had to handle a
pretty tough post-mortem discussion with Nicholas after that presentation grilling him over every
point that could have been done better. A month later, however, she put him in the presenter
position once again.This time there were no negative comments from her boss.
Margarita can’t help comparing Nicholas with another employee of hers, Eugene. She tried to
expandEugene’scircleofresponsibilities,butalwaysheardbackfromhimhowbusyhewasand why
it was impossible for him to take on additional tasks. With any criticism, Eugene would
immediately become defensive and find a thousand external reasons rationalizing why he
couldn’t do things differently. Eugene completes standard tasks with due quality, but he is not
ready to go an extra mile for anything that goes beyond his job description. He tries not to stay at
work aminute longer than the standard hours, becausein the evening he isbusy in the regional
chapter of one of the political parties. Sometimes Margarita hears stories about the pro- bono
projects Eugene is busy with as part of his political party activities. Her rage overwhelms her when
she thinks that this apparently talented and energetic young man doesn’t want to use her support
and achieve more at his workplace.


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