No Mourinho magic in Manchester

March 12, 2009

jose-mourinho-and-coat

Charismatic leadership can be like a conjuring trick which seems to defy all rational principles. But there are limits to what can be achieved, as Jose Mourinho found out at Old Trafford

The European Cup tie was billed as the clash of two great football managers as Jose Mourinho brought his Inter Milan team to Old Trafford [Wed 11th March 2009] after a goalless first leg at Milan. Manchester United and Inter headed their respective national leagues. United had won the trophy in 2008, and had since won a fledgling competition to establish themselves as World Champions. Most commentators considered United to be a stronger team. Inter had further problems from injuries to key players.

And yet …

And yet there was a degree of caution in the press in predicting a winner. On the home goals rule, a score draw would be enough for Inter to go through. But the main consideration the pundits mentioned in favour of the Italian team was Mourinho’s overwhelming winning record against Manchester teams (which means teams managed by Sir Alex Ferguson). This record, first with Porto, and then Chelsea, was part of the legend of Mourinho, the self-styled special one, and charismatic leader.

Mourinho may not have spooked Alex Ferguson, but he had had his usual effect at a distance on supporters and media alike.

Even the first leg could be claimed a minor victory for Jose. United played well but were denied by Inter in the first half, who then came back strongly after half time. Mourinho was assumed to have worked his magic during the interval or a team considered to have fewer world-class players in their prime.

The effects of charisma

The preservation of the image of a special one was captured in the post-match conference in Milan. Mourinho had, unusually, not acknowledged his counterpart on the touchline, when the match ended.

THis was not intended as a mark of disrespect. I have a special exit from the field, the special one explained. But he had left a message for Sir Alex with a ‘three houndred pound bottle of wine’ at his hotel, to say he would look forward to meting at Old Trafford for the second leg.

Two weeks later

Now at Manchester, Mourinho’s customary swagger is evident as comes into view on the touchline wearing his trademark black magician’s cloak (sorry, overcoat). The crowd in the theatre of dreams boo him energetically and theatrically. The contest starts.

Four minutes later, and the magic spell seems to have gone wrong. Slack marking from Inter, and United take the lead. Technically Inter win still win if they score one goal and United do not add to their tally. Mourinho paces around uttering incantations.

But maybe he still has inspired something special in his players. Manchester’s skill levels drop off (Afterwards, Ferguson was caustic on their sloppiness). His team gets to half time lucky to preserve the lead. United were still appearing scrappy and uncomfortable as the second half started. Then United score another goal, in one of the few world-class moves of the game. Even then, with Milan now needing two goals to triumph, the players played nervously in a way that was at odds with the score, and their record at Old Trafford for many months.

The limits of charisma

United repelled fluent moves from their opponents, cameras switching from time to time to Jose on the touchline. As his team created chance after chance and failed convert them, his body language began to change. It was like watching one of those cartoon characters racing over a cliff, and pedalling furiously in mid-air before fantasy yields to the reality of gravity, and the character plunges to earth.

The crowd chanted “You’re not special anymore” but more with a mix of relief and black humour than of spite.

We were witnessing the limits of charisma. Maybe not gone for ever, but vanquished in one particular battle in one particular place. Even the magician’s cloak looked more like a perfectly ordinary if expensive piece of clothing, more often associated with mourners at a funeral.

The final whistle blows. N special tunnel for Jose. The two great managers execute a clumsy embrace for public consumption. In the press conference shortly afterwards, Jose says Manchester United are ‘at their maximum’ and will win everything they compete for this year.

Of course. It takes super-special magic to defeat a chosen one.


Brown v Salmond was the undercard to the Obama McCain fight

November 11, 2008

don-king-wikimedia

As Obama cruised to his historic victory last week, little attention was paid internationally to the fight between Alex Salmond and Gordon Brown in the Glenrothes by-election in Scotland. The pre-match posturing suggested Alex was supremely confident. But the voters marked their cards rather differently

To be precise, Alex Salmond and Gordon Brown were the fight promoters. Lindsay Roy (the eventual victor) and Peter Grant of the Scottish Nationalists were not exactly billed as crowd-pleasing performers.

That was partly why I began to think of Alex Salmond as a fight promoter such as the legendary Don King. He has this way of dominating a press conference with his creative imagery. And sometimes happened with Don King, Alex Salmond was also grabbing more headlines than his fighter. When the bout was lost, it was Alex Salmond who retained the headlines. The vaunted clunking fist of Gordon Brown had done some damage. And Alex Salmond didn’t just hit the headlines, he hit the canvas.

The BBC reported it as follows:

The by-election was a result of death of Labour MP John MacDougall. He had held a majority of over 10,000 votes in 2005, but Labour’s decline and the upsurge of support in Scotland for Salmond’s nationalists have put them favourites. Prime Minister Gordon Brown, MP for the neighbouring constituency of Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath, had departed from the tradition of a PM staying away from such by-elections. Mr Salmond said it was “clear” the SNP could win the by-election.
“Just as Americans voted for hope over fear, people in Glenrothes can choose between the positive record of the SNP and the negativity and scaremongering of Labour”

Polls seemed to back up this claim until a few hours of the polling booths closing. The seriousness of another defeat for Brown was the main topic of the closing days of the campaign.

What happened next?

Within hours of polling ending, rather like the Obama battle, the grapevine was indicating a clear victor. But it wasn’t the ante-Post favorite.

The BBC again:

Lindsay Roy [Labour] was elected the new MP with a majority of 6,737 over the SNP’s Peter Grant …BBC Scotland political correspondent Brian Taylor said: “Labour attacked the Nationalists day and daily over claims that the SNP-led administration in Fife Council had cut home care services for the most vulnerable.
“In vain did the SNP protest that this was driven by externally imposed exigencies, that they were doing nothing different from several other councils (including Labour ones) and that they had increased the budget in key areas of expenditure.”

Down, but is he out?

So we can say Alex even from the ringside ended up on the canvas. But even if it’s been a knockout, is it such a blow as to be the end of the victory which his party is scenting in the longer term? Above the political battle, the vision of the SDP is for a free Scotland away from the shackles of the Union, and with a new poliical relationship between Scotland and England.

In the week of Obama’s triumph, it would be a bold person to predict that such an outcome will never happen. Obama’s was victory for the originally oppressed minority. We might also remember Mandela’s victory in South Africa. But in each of these cases, there was one big difference: the direction of change was towards integration not differentiation.


Selectors agree with Boycott and appoint Pietersen England captain.

June 28, 2008

When the England Cricket Selectors were considering a one-day captain to replace Michael Vaughan, pundit Geoffrey Boycott tipped Kevin Pietersen. Eventually, the selectors saw it Boycott’s way

At the time of Geoffrey’s recommendation, a Leaders we deserve post was unkind about Boycott’s choice. Boycott’s judgment, and even his motivation for backing Pietersen were disparaged.

Boycott was a brilliant opening bat, and now is a trenchant and insightful commentator. He was also arguably the worse cricket captain of England in modern times. What can we make of his judgement in this case?

The England selectors did not see it Boycott’s way. Most TMC pundits agreed. They all went for Paul Collingwood.

In the original post, there was a pinch of Jungian psychology, and the dour Boycott was accused of backing his shadow-self, the flamboyant Pietersen. Collingwood was seen as the safe pair of hands.

Collingwood has had a rather unsuccessful captaincy. His stock declined further this week after accusations of playing against the spirit of cricket. This coincided with a ban for failing to achieve the overs rate, both charges arising at a critical stage of the one day series against New Zealand.

The Selectors turn to Pietersen

Kevin Pietersen promised to captain England according to his “gut instincts” in the final one-dayer against New Zealand at Lord’s
Pietersen, who will deputize for the banned Paul Collingwood, admitted he had “zilch” experience of the role
“I think I’ll be a similar captain to the kind of person I am – I’ll be calm, pretty chilled and let my gut instincts and feelings guide me.”

It’s a very old leadership question. Do the circumstances favour flair over reliability? For Boycott it was flair. We now have a chance to see whether that view will be justified.


Have ‘Woolies’ been Bullies? The Case of Trevor Bish-Jones

June 21, 2008

Trevor Bish-Jones departs Woolworths with a smile. Is there a lesson here about the life-cycle of a Charismatic leader?

This week, Woolworths confirmed details of the departure of its Chief Executive Officer Trevor Bish-Jones. The corporate web-page provided the news at the end of an interim statement

“We have also announced this morning [18th June, 2008] that Trevor Bish Jones will be standing down as Chief Executive of Woolworths Group plc. Trevor will stay in place for the next three months as we start the search, both internally and externally, for a new Chief Executive .. We have strong operational management running each of our businesses and this, combined with Trevor’s commitment to stay while we find a successor, will ensure continuity for the Group. The Board would like to thank Trevor for the significant contribution he has made to the business over the past six and a half years.”

Six and a half years ago

Chairman Gerald Corbett reported on Trevor Bish-Jones’ appointment as follows

This financial year our priorities have been to stabilize the business post the de-merger, tackle the significant overstocking problem, reduce debt and take action on loss makers to give us a sound base for recovery in the year ahead. We are on target to achieve our stock and debt targets, albeit at a cost to this year’s profits .. I am delighted to announce the appointment of Trevor Bish-Jones. He is a highly experienced retailer with a successful record of managing large national retail chains in highly competitive markets. The performance of the Mainchain shows how much work there is to do to re-invigorate its position in the eyes of the consumer and improve retail disciplines.

We expect to see considerable further progress next year. We have a strong brand; major market positions; a national high street presence and sales of over £2.5 billion. We are continuing to strengthen our management at all levels and look forward to next year with confidence.

Neelam Verjee of the Times captured the new leader’s background:

Mr Bish-Jones never intended to end up in retailing. He studied at Varndene Grammar School in Brighton, before training as a pharmacist at the Portsmouth School of Pharmacy. His first job was as a research chemist studying oil shale in Colorado, Denver, with Tosco, a US company. He returned to Britain in 1983 to finish studying and joined Boots in its pharmacy division ..He spent the next 11 years at the health and beauty chain, first as a store manager before making the jump to buyer. He joined Dixons Group in 1994, at its PC World division, and went on to work for The Link and Currys, before taking the top job at Woolworths.

His hobbies include fast cars, especially Porsches, and motorcycles (he owns a Ducati), football (he supports Brighton and Hove Albion), spending time with family and friends and going to the pub. Mr Bish-Jones, 46, also likes horse riding and golf. He is married with two daughters.

Time passes

This week, the Financial Times noted that

Dealt a difficult hand from the outset with onerous leases and an outdated business model, Mr Bish-Jones had some success in improving the wholesale side of the business, which distributes CDs and DVDs to other retailers ..[But] the Woolworths stores have proven an uncrackable conundrum ever since they were spun out of the Kingfisher conglomerate, and he leaves with the shares close to an all-time low. [under 10p, 19th June 2008]

The demerger referred to took place in 2001, before Bish-Jones joined the company.

The Times this week updated its earlier story

Resplendent in a three-piece pinstripe suit, Trevor Bish-Jones gave a great impression of a man without a care in the world, at Woolworths’ annual meeting yesterday ..Sitting in the middle of the board of directors, the outgoing chief executive leant back and let his chairman do the talking. Mr Bish-Jones could contemplate what job offers he may consider and how to enjoy the rest of the summer.

One of the most likeable men in retailing, Mr Bish-Jones is also one of the most hardworking. In a career spanning 27 years he has never taken more than two weeks off at a time and is keen to spend a bit more time with his wife and two daughters.

The picture emerging from these reports is that of a charismatic leader, able to win hearts without necessarily winning the battle of the financial numbers. Which may indicate something about charismatics …[But see the list of hobbies above, for those fascinating discrepancies sometimes revealed in secondary data sources.]

Was Trevor a Scapegoat?

But was Bish-Jones a scapegoat, as the Telegraph asked?

Richard North, Woolworths’ chairman since last June and himself the subject of a sudden sacking by his chairman when he ran InterContinental Hotels in 2004, said that it was time for someone new to take a “fresh look” at Woolworths …Mr Bish-Jones will remain for three months while Zygos, the head-hunter, searches for a replacement, [adding] “Trevor has just completed a series of big things which in effect have come to a natural conclusion, so it is a natural time for change,”

The “big things” referred to were the reshaping the DVD and CD-making business, in the wake of Tesco dropping a lucrative contract in 2006, and a refinancing last year.

Some shareholders at the meeting supported the scapegoating view. Others were reported to be of the opinion that his departure was based on the rational considerations that it was time for a change, time to introduce fresh blood, etc.

It is certainly convenient for a business to arrange an amicable departure for its leader. One that implies no blame, rather a timely move forward. Such a rationale will always be less convincing as shares head south to record lows …


Leaders We Deserve: Andrea Williams

May 21, 2008

If leadership is the process of influencing others to achieve your goal then Andrea Williams is one the clearest examples I have come across of that species. In that respect she would be a candidate for running many a commercial organization

This week, political attention in Britain brought into focus issues of the most contested and deeply held kind for many people. Parliament debated the Human Fertilization and Embryology (HFE) Bill.

The Government chose to make it a conscience vote. This was to lead to some differences in how the processes of influence played out. The process of lobbying by interest groups did not disappear, but rather took on a different guise.

Mentioned in Dispatches

The role of one particular lobbyist was captured in a riveting TV documentary by David Modell in the Despatches series.

Modell has won praise and prizes for his work through which he reveals the operations of various groups whose behaviours tend to be labelled as extremist and fundamentalist. Neo-nazis, Animal Rights Activists, Football Hooligans, and now Fundamental Christians. His skill is to win from group members acceptance for his presence as a non-judgmental recorder. While this is an over-simplified view, his filming has a non-judgmental quality, leaving the viewer space to a better understanding of individual behaviours regardless of whether the beliefs and practices are found acceptable.

In this programme one personality dominated by her sheer energy and capacity to make a difference to situations in which she engaged. The central character was Andrea Williams, who seems to be increasingly devoting her efforts to causes within religious networks. Among her roles is that of Policy Director of The Lawyers’ Christian Fellowship.

The Lawyer turned Activist

In an interview for The Church Times, she explains how her upbringing had led to her activism. She also explained how her husband’s job as a senior executive of a telecommunications company gives her the opportunity to devote her time to her religious beliefs

In the programme, we follow Ms Williams in a series of scenes in which she repeatedly displayed a capacity to take control of events by her words and actions. Let her loose in many corporate battlegrounds, and she would quickly emerge on top. Or, perhaps more subtly, as the person influencing the top cat.

Maybe this will happen. If not, it is because Andrea Williams has signed up to a different cause. Her motivations are primarily non-secular.

Modell, writing in The Independent describes one recent example of her influencing skills at work on the Conservative Peer, Norman Tebbit:

Lord Tebbit meets us in Central Lobby and takes us to a meeting room. He and Ms Williams perch across the corner of a huge oak table. Ms Williams is persuading him of the importance of laying an amendment to the Bill. “You can get a slot on the Today programme,” she says. “Because you can say, ‘I’m tabling an amendment to reduce the upper limit on abortion’.”

Ms Williams has already written the amendments she wants incorporated into the legislation. Lord Tebbit is asked if he’d be willing to lay one, and he agrees to consider it. Ms Williams doesn’t hesitate in closing the deal. Without missing a beat, she reaches into her bag and pulls out an A4 sheet. The document is passed to Lord Tebbit and he takes it away with him. It seems too easy.

Other examples of the leader captured in action also caught my eye. There is confirmation of the rapid rapport, turning to friendship and political alliance, between herself and Conservative MP Nadine Dorries.

Charisma in action, I muttered to myself.

Indeed, Ms Dorries sponsored an amendment to the HFE bill debated in Parliament (May 19th -20th, 2008), and spoke in the debate in tones that seemed to echo those of her close friend Andrea Williams.

In yet another episode in the film, Ms Williams arrived at a demonstration where events were somewhat complicated by a general lack of focus, exemplified by a well-intentioned supporter who was capturing media attention with a ranting performance. Andrea swiftly marshaled the more media-attractive supporters into line, and made a good stab at shifting the ranting one off-stage.

Modell had also been energetic advancing his own cause. Writing in The Telegraph timed to plug the programme, he noted

I met [Andrea Williams] on a demonstration against the Sexual Orientation Rights [gay rights] legislation outside Parliament at the beginning of last year. The protest had been organized by the Lawyers’ Christian Fellowship (LCF) – or, more specifically, by Andrea Williams, its public policy director.

Ms Williams believes any law that goes against her strict biblical beliefs must be fought. Her latest target is the Human Fertilization and Embryology (HFE) Bill … Ms Williams tells me why she is campaigning against it. “I believe there’s a spiritual battle going on,” she explains. “These laws reject God, and any rejection of God is the work of the enemy, Satan.”

In yet another cameo within the programme, we heard the evocative use of statistics which characterizes the charismatic leader. (Yes, I encourage my students to bring statistics to life, but I think I’ll not use this particular example). The number of abortions in this country, she told a rapt audience of fundamentalist Christians, has now reached a scale comparable with that of the holocaust. Her mission is to stop another holocaust.

Leadership Watch

I have no hesitation in offering the case for study towards understanding the nature of exceptional leadership behaviours. The performances of the wannabe apprentices in the Alan Sugar series rarely demonstrate the raw influencing skills witnessed here.

The Problems with Charisma

One of the problems with charisma is one which has troubled earlier researchers into leadership. The very elements that had been attributed to transformational leaders turned out to be too similar to the characteristics found in leaders such as Hitler.

The evaluation of any set of leadership behaviours forces an examination of the leader’s beliefs. Here we have a leader who is driven by a deep sense of mission, and of evils to be tackled. In efforts to achieve the ends she so fervently seeks, she resorts to a form of rhetoric that often attracts descriptions such as spell-binding or magical. It appeals to visceral values and fears.

The style worked for President Kennedy and Martin Luther King many years ago. It seems to be working for Barack Obama at the moment. But in its mechanisms of influence, it can not be disconnected from the performances of an Andrea Williams. Nor unfortunately can it be distanced from the style of leaders who have also been labelled with various clinical terms from narcissism to megalomania.


Martin Johnson: Bigger, Stronger, Braver, Better?

April 17, 2008

The much-rumoured appointment duly occurred. Martin Johnson replaces Brian Ashton as England Rugby Coach. But is his unrivalled credentials as winning captain on the field adequate for the wider leadership role he now assumes?

The issue has been simplified to a mantra. Martin Johnson was England’s most successful Rugby captain of modern times. This seems enough for some commentators who argue that England Rugby needs a winner like Johnson to rescue it from under-achievement.

Two inter-related issues. The selection process has involved a group of administrators which as had its fair share of criticisms for lack of grip of essentials of sporting management and leadership. The most famous criticism by former Captain Will Carling likened them to a bunch of boring old farts.

The second issue faced was what to do about current head coach Brian Ashton.

On the eve of the World Cup final last June [2007] I shared the wider doubts among rugby fans about Ashton’s future as England coach.

England Rugby, The World Cup and Brian Ashton

Less than a month ago, Mr Ashton was seen as credible a leader as Sir Menzies Campbell [who had resigned before he could be fired by the Lib Dems] The performances of Ashton’s teams had been bitterly criticized. Now, on the eve of the 2007 final, he now stands one game short of receiving the kind of accolades showered on his predecessor Clive Woodward after his team became World Champions, four years ago. Outside of England, the suspicion is that England are serious underdogs to a South African team that beat them comprehensively in the run up to the finals. This is not a time for logic. How far is Paris from Agincourt?

Which was a bit high-falutin’, but the drift was right. England had turned around a dreadful run of results under Brian Ashton. As ultimate success against South Africa was unlikely, the case for firing Ashton was a strong one. Rumours that the turnaround came from player power subsequently added to the ‘Sack Ashton’ campaign. This week’s sacking has been generally acknowledged as bungled, but not necessarily a bad decision.

Martin Johnson, Superhero

As a one report put it

Martin Johnson has been appointed England team manager from 1 July to the end of 2011 in a shake-up that sees Brian Ashton removed as head coach. The World Cup-winning captain, 38, will have full control of team selection and the appointment of the coaching team.
Johnson will report to [Rob] Andrew, but have “full managerial control” of the England team.

He remains a sort of Chief Operating Officer to CEO Rob Andrews. (I translate the roles into Business Speak).

Experience

That an under-performing England team have been crying out for leadership — and that Martin Johnson is the ideal man to provide it — ought to be beyond question, even if his detractors decry his lack of coaching experience.

Or according to The Telegraph

Is Martin Johnson the right man?
Yes, he is. We all know he’s straight-talking and hard-nosed. But his greatest qualities are his intelligence, his perception and his sensitivity. A growl and a stare don’t frighten anyone these days. Not on a rugby field, nor off it. Johnson has integrity, shrewdness and decisiveness.
Does it matter that Johnson hasn’t managed before?
No. If you’re good enough, you can learn on the job.

Discussion wages around whether the exceptional on-field performances are an adequate rationale for making Johnson such a nailed-on candiate for the wider managerial role.

Beyond LCD

These are not accounts from Lowest Common Denominator media sources. But the arguments are little better than LCD opinions, taking us no further than pub talk. They illustrate how difficult it is to construct analysis in a theory-free zone.

Over the last decades, studies of leaders have become regarded as less fruitful than studies of leadership processes (‘Situated leadership’ as one of my colleagues calls it).

We have a long way to go, even in this little corner of social science. But there are a few emerging principles which may be worth introducing in this specific case.

Leadership involves several inter-related components. Building a great organization or a Rugby team involves a distribution of leadership responsibilities. The responsibilities are shared among a ‘top echelon’ of individuals including Martin Johnson, but also including Rob Andrews, and key figures from within the governance system so graphically described by Will Carling.

From there, we can better see the roles and responsibilities for those involved, and their inter-relationships.

This process of concept-building permits us to test assumptions and beliefs (formally propositions and hypotheses). We can introduce evidence from other cases.

To make such analysis requires a lot of hard thinking, creativity and judgement. For example, can we draw on examples of leaders in other sports, or even in business or politics to inform our new model of leadership of England’s rugby team?

Theorizing Martin Johnson

What’s the point of theorizing Martin Johnson? Partly because we can adjust our expectations about what difference he might make in his new leadership role, and how.

It is almost certainly reveal uncertainties more than specific predictions regarding his success or failure. Less enthralling than the dreams and visions in the headlines at present, but maybe more grounded in reasoned evidence.


The Charismatic Campaign: Will Boris become London’s next Mayor?

April 16, 2008

Boris Johnson takes an early lead against the incumbent Ken Livingstone, and eight other candidates in the contest to become London’s mayor. It promises to be a campaign running on charisma and celebrity

The Charismatic Candidates

Think of a larger-than life political figure in the UK. Someone who has acquired a reputation of an outspoken and somewhat eccentric individualist. A person who can cause himself great political harm by intemperate remarks. Untrusted by leaders of his political party. A media celebrity with a reputation for acerbic humour. A bon viveur.

The description could come from press accounts of Boris Johnson, new darling of Conservative politics, and contender in the battle to become London’s mayor. They could equally well be applied to Ken Livingstone. That’s what makes the current leadership contest so fascinating.

Boris Launches his Campaign
At the launch of Boris Johnson’s campaign to become the next Mayor of London, we had a pretty good idea of what to expect from the endorsement made by David Cameron.

Boris Johnson would “do a brilliant job” as London mayor and is “exactly the kind of leader” the capital needs, Tory leader David Cameron says. He was “twice as charismatic, twice as energetic” as rival and current mayor Ken Livingstone.

At the launch, Boris was on his best behaviour. His foot was away from his mouth and from the humour pedal. He offered a concise statement of the policy on which he would run.

Mr Johnson, who polls suggest is in the lead for the 1 May election, said that tackling crime was his top priority. If elected he would set up a fund to encourage London’s “wealth creators” to support voluntary sector projects tackling the city’s social problems… [adding that] he believed it was possible to get more police on the streets and [that] creating a safer city was central to everything else that he wanted to achieve.

You can find a neat sketch of the launch in The Telegraph.

Mr Cameron [warned of] the “real risk” if people who want a change don’t come out to vote that Mr Livingstone will win another four years in power, after which the Tory leader arrived at the heart of his message: “Fortunately, there is an alternative to that dismal prospect. Boris Johnson.”

There was a time when such a statement might have produced titters even among the pro-Johnson audience assembled in the deliberately unglamorous setting of Bounces Road Community Hall, Edmonton, north London.

But now that Mr Johnson has shrugged off his undeserved reputation as a purely comic figure nobody dreamed of laughing.

The Rise and Rise of Citizen Ken

Boris has to overcome the formidable figure of Ken Livingstone. When he was first elected mayor in 2000, it was as an independent who had come to power as a rebellious outsider. Red Ken had become a symbol of the political leftie, kicked out of the Labour Party, and standing as very much his own man. His political power grew out of his leadership of the Greater London Council, during which time he had acquired an image of an outspoken individual and eccentric newt-loving revolutionary. An introverted personality, and a rather flat and quiet delivery did not prevent him appearing successfully on television shows as a witty entertainer, a useful asset towards celebrity status. The very unusualness of his life and escapades increasingly gave him the additional label of charismatic.

Charismatic Credentials

Churchill, Castro, Jose Mourinho, Mandela, have all had regular mentions in this and many other blogs. While it seems a bit of a stretch to add Ken and Boris to the list, they fit into the wider category. Livingstone, like his mayoral rival Johnson, has been the centre of self-generated controversies which have reinforced suspicions that politically he can be a liability.

Nevertheless, Ken’s success at the ballot box and continued popularity resulted in a pragmatic decision by Tony Blair’s labour government to reinstate him to the party and endorse his campaign for re-election. That was also to prove successful. Now Boris has received a similar kind of reinstatement in his endorsement from David Cameron.

An Earlier Analysis in The Guardian covered two of the three defining stories of the Livingstone’s time as mayor, his acknowledged part in bringing the Olympic Games to London, and his much admired public reaction to the terrorist bombs of 7/11 when London was still celebrating the winning of the Olympic bid. [Note to leadership students: the speech stands comparison to those classic political performances of Martin Luther King and Churchill. Yes, it’s that good.] The third defining story is that of his controversial transport policy, in which he has shown determination, commitment, and vision.

So Why isn’t Ken an Odds-on Bet?
That’s the next fascinating aspect of the race. Polls suggest that Boris quickly moved into a surprise lead.

Charisma can compensate for lack of experience. We are seeing it in the currently successful Presidential campaign by Barack Obama (and arguably by the John McCain, who is relatively inexperienced the highest levels of political office). David Cameron himself swept to power as Conservative leader in similar charismatic style, as did Tony Blair for the (New) Labour party.

But the charismatic success often emerges out of a distaste for and rejection of the status quo. Ken has to operate within the general climate of discontent with Gordon Brown’s Government. He may be a somewhat luke warm supporter, but he is officially the Government’s candidate.

The Challenges Ahead

The next mayor of London will have several mega-challenges threatening the well-being of one of the most vibrant and complex of the world’s great cities. He or she will have to make decisions that will influence the security, comfort, and well-being of upward of ten million residents, and countless others indirectly affected. The Olympic Games will compete with the logistic and financial complexities of moving people and goods around the metropolis. Wealth generation from its financial operations is expected to be more bumpy into the foreseeable future (which is not very foreseeable even into next year, as the campaign for mayor starts).

Ken’s Policy Manifesto states

London is leading the world with 21st Century solutions to the challenges that face all of the world’s great cities. My priorities for a new term will be clear – transport, crime, housing, the environment and good community relations.

Boris Leaps into Action

In search of more information about Boris and his policies, I went to his web-site

At the time of my visit, [April 1st 2008, but no joke] the day after his endorsement by Cameron, I found nothing on the site about the election, but a lot about local concerns such as the possible closures of post- offices. Surprising, and not consistent with the ringing endorsement from his leader about how his energy levels will be deployed in the forthcoming campaign.

Even more unexpected, I found the biographic details somewhat familiar. Boris, (yes it must be he, rather than an aide) had extracted the good bits from his Wikipedia entry. Like the journalist he is, he acknowledged his source as his Wikipedia entry, but suggested that further unmoderated comments can be found via the wikipedia site.

Yes, there are quite a few of those, and a few more substantiated ones which will no doubt come into play as the campaign unfolds. But the same can also be said about Ken’s Wikipedia bio. My point is whether Boris is confirming suspicions about his political frailties in dealing with controversial aspects of his past in such a fashion.

Will Boris become next Mayor?

If he does, the logic of the electorate will require the skills of an undercover economist to explain the manner in which fear, loathing, and hope were components within the process. The election is already promising to be one to explore the concept of voters searching for the leader they deserve

Note:

See blairwatch for an extended review of London Transport problems, and an examination of Boris’s proposals for dealing with them. Also the useful observation that the four key responsibilities of London’s Mayor are for transport, culture, emergency services and development.


Kevin Keegan and the limits of charisma

January 19, 2008

kevin-keegan-green-cross.jpgKevin Keegan’s triumphal return to Newcastle United Football Club demonstrates the power of charisma. But will it also indicate its limitations?

On Wednesday January, 2007, a major sports story broke in England. Unlike some stories, this one began big, but the after- shocks of the first story were even bigger.

The football story of January had been the sacking of Sam Allardyce from his post as chief coach at Newcastle United. This was sporting news, but hardly surprising. The only element of certainty about Sam, in face of a cluster of difficulties on and off the field, was the timing of his sacking.
The end was mercifully swift, but that too was unexpected, as Sam was on his way to a press conference.

The consensus view that had developed outside the club was that the culture had held unreasonable expectations, and that Sam’s days were numbered, even if his team were to improve on a modest start to the season.

An unhelpful culture, and a new ownership regime were local factors assumed to add to problems including a stack of injuries to key players, such as striker Michael Owen.

Our people need a saviour

Part of the culture seems to be a deep emotional need for a saviour. The conditions for acceptance of a charismatic leader seem to be particularly favourable. Opinion polls (backed up by betting patterns) indicated how strong was the yearning for such a person.

At first, the front-runner was not Kevin Keegan, but the more recent figure of Alan Shearer. Even as he was reaching the end of his playing career, Alan Shearer was being mentioned as a future manager of the club.

This is the sentiment generated by a great on-the-pitch leader. At Manchester United, I can (just about) remember the terrace talk around ‘Captain Marvel’, Bryan Robson as future leader off the field. Robson made the transition to manager with some struggle. There seemed to be rather less talk a few years later around Mark Hughes, or even Roy Keene, each of iconic status at the club, and who were to make more promising starts to subsequent management careers.

Shearer the once and future saviour at Newcastle

During his time as England captain, Shearer was widely regarded as a thoroughly uncharismatic character when he appeared before the media. He often appeared truculent and sulky. Hardly the characteristics associated with the charismatic leader. On the field he exercised the selfishness of the individual goal scorer in the van Nistelrooy or Gary Lineker mould,

This aspect of Shearer’s public persona is rarely mentioned now by fans or commentators. Nor did it seem to matter to the clamouring fans last week that Shearer has no experience in football management. The symbolic power of the Shearer myth was sweeping all before it.

Except for one little point

Shearer quickly indicated he had not been approached by the club, and felt he was too inexperienced for the vacancy. Shearer was replaced as front-runner, but Keegan did not become the front-runner. In quick succession other names came and went. There was Harry Rednapp who seemed to me to tick as few boxes as Allardyce for the bare-breasted brigade of Newcastle fans.

After Harry’s Andy Warhol moment there was Jurgen Klinsmann .
The German FA had turned to Klinsmann in desperation and the national team did better than the fearful host nation expected. Klinsmann also is more of an identifit figure of a charismatic personality on the field, and closer to the articulate end of the spectrum off the field. Klinsman’s name also reappeared briefly in media stories after Shearer appeared to be a non-runner.

Maybe its Keegan and Shearer

After denials by Klinsmann, another rumour, that a deal had been struck with the dream-team of Kevin Keegan and Alan Shearer who would share managerial responsibilities.

The Messiah returns

Then the bombshell. The last rumour was partly correct. Kevin Keegan had agreed to become the new manager at Newcastle. He is to return from self-imposed exile (as do many charismatic leaders from religious and political mythology).

Note to any readers from cultures distant from that of England: Football is often spoken of in religious terms. This is sometimes unconscious, but often tinged with irony. These are deep matters indeed, and you will have to do some ethnographic research, perhaps starting at Shearer’s Bar in Newcastle, to make more sense of it than I have been able to.

What happened next?

Many strange things happened. They are all extensively recorded. Crowds came to bear witness. They did not wave palm leaves, but did have banners saying The Messiah is Coming. Others said Kev the King. I particularly liked more secular Super-K ones, made from family-size Kellogg’s packs. Now there’s a thought. Kelloggs to take over as sponsor of NUFC from Northern Rock?

Thousands of extra fans flocked to the holy of holies, St James Park, for a FA replay against Stoke City, where re-enthused players scored a convincing win, witnessed too by Super-K.

The Press Conference

Keegan’s first press conference was another early indication of the charismatic leader in action.

Keegan had the necessary air of confidence in himself as the special one destined to do a special job. The video clip will make excellent and instructional viewing for leaders and students of leadership.

The charismatic performance

I have watched many performances (for that is what they are) by leaders and would-be leaders over the years. This one was up there with the old classics and newer examples of the inspirational style.

In British sport, there were the unrivalled performances by Jose Mourinho.

In business, there have been various appearances of Richard Branson as super-leader, and the recently mourned John Harvey-Jones.

In national politics, there were the two conference speeches by David Cameron, each considered to be high-voltage and influential in confirming his leadership credentials and style. There was the even more emotionally-charged adieu from Tony Blair recently, and (for me) many years earlier, Neil Kinnock’s finest oratory, when he successfully confronted the growing influence of the militant wing of his party in an electrifying conference speech.

Kevin’s magical moment

Keegan’s performance was up there with these magical moments.

By coincidence, it took place on a day when a new and glamorous national hero had been acclaimed after a near-disaster crash of a Boeing 777 arriving at Heathrow. Captain Peter Burkill had been claimed an iconic figure of Hollywood proportions, although the near- perfect story was slightly blurred as it emerged that the in crucial last minutes, it was first officer John Coward who had responsibility for taking over from the automatic landing system as the engines failed to respond to orders.

Leadership musings before the first match

Whatever happens, the first match played in the time of King Kev was going to be high-voltage, high drama, big box-office.

But whatever happens in that match, the drama is still early into its first act.

Update: After the first league game [Saturday 19th January 2008]

The first game was as emotional at the start as expected. But according to the BBC

Kevin Keegan’s return as Newcastle boss turned into a damp squib with a desperately poor goalless draw against Bolton at St James’ Park.

So we can conclude one thing. The new-leader bounce did not take place. These players did not have hidden reserves that could be called forth, either from fear for their futures,. or from those mysterious motivational forces triggered by encounter with a charismatic leader.


Breaking News: English Football isolated from Jose Mourinho

December 14, 2007

isolation.jpg

This was the week that Jose Mourinho was not appointed manager of the England football team. ITV ran an interesting and intelligent report on the special one. It concentrated on his charismatic leadership style as much as on his achievements.

The TV report was mostly confirmation of a much-told story. One or two of the anecdotes were new to me, and rather striking in their demonstration of a leadrship style that deserves study for its more general description of a charismatic in action.

To put the leadership aspects in context I will draw on the notions of charisma from the monumental studies of Max Weber, as interpreted as a contibution to new leadership research by Alan Bryman, and later by Rickards and Clark.

Weber in translation

Weber was not the first or last German scholar to write in a complex and unforgiving style. His name is frequently mentioned as the father of sociological thinking on charisma. It may be realistic to assume that his ideas might have lost something as they have become distilled into Anglo-American academic folk-lore.

As Bryman noted:

Weber’s writings [on charisma] are highly diffuse, sometimes contradictory, and often [lack] definitive exposition

Weber’s ideas imply that charismatic leadership is an ancient mode of social dominance. The charismatic leader wins power and authority through exceptional personal characteristics. He is indeed the special one, maybe the chosen one. At the extreme, cult leaders are ‘pure’ examples. Followers are also believers. The special one has powers of revelation. He displays symbolic evidence of his unique gifts. He is likely to have been also ‘blessed’ with hypnotising personal presence.

Jose as cult leader

The programme gave examples of Jose’s near mystic powers. Let’s not forget they were backed by meticulous prepararation. We know the mysterious powers of the ancient soothsayers derived from their acute observational powers, and even careful . This is an anticipation of scientific method, although with claims for a quite different epistemology.

One episode was impressively stage-managed. It took place at press conference before an important game in the European Champions League. The press were demanding something. (A sign from the special one?).

His response was startling, but in keeping with the wiles of the oracles of old. ‘You want me to name my team? I will do more than that. I will name their team.’ Which he did. With complete conviction. Live, to camera. He was to be proved completely correct.
[Students of leadership: discuss].

Playing chess with the media

In one interview he was asked if he played chess with the media. His reply indicates the care with which his performance is planned:

When I face the media … before or after the game, I feel it as part of the game. When I go to the press conference before the game, in my mind the game has already started. And when I go to the press conference after the game, the game has not finished yet.

Cult leaders and sacred texts

JM even has a secret document, which records his extended labours. A book of Jose, written by himself. It is said that no-one knows what’s in it. So secret is it that his words will go to the grave with him. Secret, and with the whiff of the supernatural associated with sacred texts which mere mortals are not permitted to see.

Paying penance

After one particularly epic performance by his team, he ordered the players to commit a highly symbolic act. They returned to the field acknowledging their legions of followers. The players removed their shirts. What or who was all that about? The religious symbolism persists. [Students of theology: discuss].

Righteous indignation

Another anecdote reveals the wrath of the special one if an acolyte falls short of expectations. He once publicly rebuked the Chelsea player Joe Cole for a lack of the dedication and work ethic expected of all acolytes. In a game shortly afterwards, Cole scored a magnificently-taken goal, JM gestured to him in agitated fashion from the touchline. When the player approached his manager, he discovered that he was not being acclaimed for the goal, but abused for his lack of commitment to defensive duties in the build-up to the move. The programme claimed that JM eventually succeeded in upping Cole’s contributions to the team ethic, where previous coaches had failed.

Trials and temptations

The program also examined the strained relationship between Mourinho and Roman Abramovitch, billionaire owner of Chelsea FC. The disputed territory appears to have been over the owner’s wish for success both in terms of results, and in terms of style of play. While Mourinho’s personality sparkled, his team failed to capture the imagination -say in the style of envied rivals Manchester United. Abramovitch had taken steps to intervene more directly, acquiring support staff and two expensive players that had not been part of Mourinho’s plans for the future of the club. Among the support staff was Abram Grant, personal friend of the owner, and who was widely accepted to have been installed as likely replacement for JM.

The programme featured a psychologist exploring the messages to be found at film of a press conference held shortly after the arrival of the two international stars Shevshenko and Ballack. His body language is distant. No eye contact left or right. The
The psychologist suggested a desire for ‘total control’ , and in this instance, partial loss of control.

A few weeks later the Special one was gone. ‘By mutual consent, and with great love’.

So much religious symbolism. In the programme, Mourinho ducked questions about his religion, but talked a lot about the importance of love. Like a true charismatic, he seems to have worked out his own ethical philosophy.

Footnote

Following McClaren’s departure, Mourinho emerged as the strong favourite for England manager in the media and among most football supporters. BBC Radio 5 Live football correspondent Mike Ingham said:

In many ways he would have been perfect ..The job is about giving players an extra 10% and I think he would have done that ..Mourinho ticked all the boxes bar one – I’m not sure how much of a diplomat he would have been.

He might had added on behalf of a minority of fans and English wannabe managers, “… pity he’s not English”.

The Guardian also considered that Mourinho was the FA’s first choice, though Soho Square sources say he was never offered the job and they clearly remained uncertain of his motives. The FA’s caution was borne out when talks between Mourinho’s agent, Jorge Mendes, and the FA director of football, Sir Trevor Brooking, ended with the Portuguese ruling himself out.

Three weeks later, and a complex deal was sealed, and another of the world’s supercoaches, Fabio Capello, was appointed England manager. The special one had just faded from the scene.

Acknowledgement

Image is: edcommunity.apple.com/…/38/isolation.jpg
with echoes in the post of the famous headline:
Fog over channel, Continent isolated

[To be continued …]


Football Leadership: Who are the Fifth-level masters in the Premiership today?

November 11, 2007

arsene-wenger.jpgmark-hughes.jpgFifth-level leaders have become one of the latest Business School obsessions which can be applied to sporting leadership Unlike the much-publicised charismatic leaders, they are supposed to be rather modest, and like to keep out of the limelight, and they create ‘built to last’ organizations. There are some examples in the English football Premiership today who confirm the theory

The Premiership is a wonderful laboratory for anyone interested in sporting leadership. It has a remarkable collection of leaders, whose style and performance are about as visible as you can get outside those exhibitionists on 24-hour display in Celebrity Big Brother and related TV programmes.

I have been catching on the theory of fifth-level business leaders recently, and began to wonder what (if anything) could be gained from extending my week-day labours to the world of football management.

Fifth-level leadership

Fifth-level leader is a term invented by business guru Jim Collins. His work is regarded as technically sound enough, and has increasingly reached a very wide popular audience.

In a nutshell, Collins claims that he has compared the performances of various kinds of leaders of America’s largest corporations. On a scale of one to five, the most successful (and therefore ‘best’) leaders are given a rating of five (hence, they are fifth-level leaders). They turned their organisations from Good to Great, which was the title of a book he wrote about the subject.

Exceptional companies and fifth-level leaders have been explained as follows:

At the helm of each of these companies stood individuals who[m] Collins describes as “counterintuitive [or] counter cultural,” … Surprisingly, the CEOs of these remarkable companies were not aggressive, not self promoting and not self congratulatory. This relatively unique class of leader possesses the ability, says Collins, to “build enduring greatness through a paradoxical combination of personal humility plus professional will.”

So the theory suggests that the egoists as a group failed to reach the very heights of leadership performance compared with a group fifth-level leaders with a more modest and publicity-shy leaders.

There’s quite a bit more to go into, and the whole concept is in need of further testing, using different methods and measures. But the basic idea will do quite nicely for our purposes here.

In an earlier post, writing about such leaders, I used the example of Jonathan Warburton, as ‘the greatest thing since sliced bread’ for the bread-makers that had been keeping business in the family for five generations.

Why ego may get in the way of performance

Collins wondered why his results came out the way they did. He suggested that one plausible explanation is that ego can get in the way of performance. A tendency to be constantly in the limelight may be one indicator of a certain kind of ego. Such individuals are (or become) prone to act as if their views were better than those belong to anyone else. Furthermore, what was good for them was good for the organisation (rather than acting as if what was good for the organisation, its workers, and customers, was more important than their own needs).

If we follow the Collins principle, there will be quite a few fourth level managers in the Premiership, and even a few who don’t quite make it even to level four.

Can we find fifth-level leaders in the Football Premiership?

I would say that the style of the fifth-level manager has most obviously been exhibited, over an adequate time period, by Arsene Wenger of Arsenal, who has been rightly admired for creating teams that are built to last. For many years, he has displayed the fifth-level style, which is partly that of an absence not a presence. The absence is of behaviours that appear to be driven by personal ego, sometimes to the detriment of the short-term consequences. As we saw above, fifth-level leaders were not aggressive, not self-promoting and not self-congratulatory.

Among the younger managers, I would nominate Mark Hughes of Blackburn Rovers FC as a fifth-level leader in the making. If I am right, he epitomises the absence of what might be termed ‘aggressiveness in the service of the ego’. As a player, aggressiveness was the hallmark of his style, although he had a far gentler inter-personal style off the pitch.

So there you have it. Fifth-level leadership theory applied to football managers. I would encourage anyone interested in wishing to take the idea further.

What a load of rubbish …

‘What a load of rubbish’. A well-known chant from the terraces, which has survived the demise of the football terrace. Maybe you think that about the idea of fifth-level leadership. If you do, tell me why. I may be a bit of an agent as far as ideas go, but I’m free-lance, and I’m not engaged in a selling mission on behalf of Jim Collins, or anyone else.

But it does help suggest that a charismatic style may not be the only one requred of a successful football coach, and explain why Arsene Wenger has done quite nicely in a more understated way than some of his professional rivals.


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