Mourinho Fulfils his Destiny

September 20, 2007

icarus.jpg

Jose Mourinho leaves Chelsea football club. In doing so, he fulfils his destiny as the special one, chosen to achieve greatness. His story, like that of David Beckham, is the tragedy of those who would challenge the Gods by flying too close to the sun

Jose Mourinho is the John F Kennedy of football mangers. The clearest illustration of the charismatic personality in a sport not lacking in charismatics. The similarities to the stories of David Beckham and George Best are worth noting.

According the mythologists, the story draws on deep and commonly shared beliefs about ourselves and our world. It speaks of our acceptance of powerful forces guiding our destiny. The most powerful stories are told and retold down the ages. They can be found in Greek tragedies, in Celtic and Norse sagas, and also in the campfire tales of ancient peoples. The central figure is heroic. Destined to succeed spectacularly, and then fail spectacularly. The message is that the special ones may appear to have been blessed, but whoever is out there doing the blessing also wants to remind us that humans at some point have to come to terms with their limitations.

The special gifts of the charismatic include that of captivating those with whom they come into contact. We still use the old terms such as ‘spell-binding’ about their acts and speeches.

Jose had to go

Jose was fated to lead Chelsea to success, as he was fated to win the European Cup with Porto, a team hardly considered capable of it. Charismatic leaders have that effect on followers. The spell makes then capable of achieving things they would otherwise have believed to be impossible.

Those who come to mock often fall under the spell, but may fight against it. So it was that Mourinho even captivated the skilled and wilful members of the English Media legions, although there were those waiting, waiting patiently for the story to end in tears.

However, the spell retains its potency. Even when there are signals of a different reality, there are cries of denial. Jose has a contract to 2010. He will be staying at Chelsea. Thus spake Peter Kenyon on behalf of the club. But the fact he needed to make such an assurance was significant.

Perhaps sensitized by the week’s financial denials and reversals of policy by the Government and the Bank of England, I was not convinced by the spokesman on behalf of the Chelsea financial empire. So much so that I found time yesterday to update an earlier post, on the likelihood of Jose leaving the club.

Jose, David, and George

As is it with Jose, so it was with David Beckham and George Best. Their stories have similar ingredients of great giftedness and achievements accompanied by reminders of their fallibility, and potential downfalls. All achieved world-wide acclaim. All suffered. I will spare further links to the stories of the great Achilles or the original Hero. Jose and David still may have opportunities for further episodes in their reworking of that ancient story.


Tribute to Nelson Mandela

August 29, 2007

nelson_mandela_1998_cropped.jpg
A nine foot statue of Nelson Mandela now stands in London’s Parliament Square. The homage paid to a great leader is the outcome of over a decade of controversy

On August 29th 2007, the great man watched as the wraps came off his statue in Parliament Square. Fleetingly I thought of other statues of leaders. How size certainly does matter. How art and politics can not be kept apart, any more than sport and politics could be kept apart in an earlier South Africa. How the downing of statues can be as symbolic an act as their erections.

Nelson Mandela doesn’t need a statue

He already is an awesome world-figure, destined for his place in the history of the 20th Century. There may well be revisions to the story. There always are. Human-scaled blemishes will be revealed to enrich the tale of his role in the struggle of his country on what he termed a long walk to freedom. Enriched by evidence of weakness, temptations yielded to … Otherwise, the deification process will have succeeded in eliminating the personality behind the icon.

I was immensely moved by Mandela’s story written down in his autobiography. I go back to it from time to time. I remain in awe of what he communicated about his time in prison.

‘Even in the grimmest times … I would see a glimmer of humanity in one of the guards, perhaps just for a second, but that was enough to reassure me and keep me going. Man’s goodness is a flame that can be hidden but never extinguished’.

With Mandela, the process is reversed. In his every public action his ‘goodness’ shines through. We search for that second of wilfulness and vengefulness that seems forever hidden. For from diminishing his achievements, I feel this will enrich them by connecting them more strongly to the wider human world of weakness and frailty to self-service.

The Charismatic Leader

The idea of the great charismatic leader is coming increasingly under scrutiny. Leadership scholars have largely discarded earlier ideas of the heroic leader, or at very least challenged them. In the 1980s, a tamed-down version of charisma was proposed, as the transformational leader. More recently, the expression post-charismatic leader has emerged, from theological and secular sources.

In this context, Nelson Mandela and his story deserves the closest attention. He may be the exceptional case which tests a wider concept. Classical leadership theory would suggest that the course of history was fundamentally influenced by the actions of the great leader.

An excellent recent biography by Professor Lodge adds to several authorized biographies, as well as Mandela’s own accounts. It suggests that Nelson Mandela was

Especially sensitive to the imperatives for acting out a messianic leadership role during his [time as a guerrilla commander] …deliberately constructing a mythological legitimacy.. to engender hopes that salvation would be achieved through heroic self-sacrifice

.

Did the charismatic leader make a difference? The more you dig, the more complexities emerge. Whether you read to challenge the idea of the great leader, or to challenge it, read for yourself.

Look on my works, ye mighty and despair

Today’s story of the tribute in Parliament Square is more of an ironic tale. One version might run as follows.

The idea of erecting a statue to Nelson Mandela has been around for over a decade. There was (and still is) a highly suitable place in Trafalgar Square, which has four plinths for monumental pieces. Three are occupied with military and monarchic figures. The fourth would be particularly appropriate as it is close to the South Africa House, focus of so many ‘Free Nelson Mandela’ demos during his imprisonment on Robben Island.

When the public was invited to suggest appropriate images, For some while, a favored image was of a piece which would celebrate animals in wartime service. Nelson Mandela was among other front runners together with The Queen, Margaret Thatcher, Lady Diana, as well as long shots such as David Beckham, Winnie the Pooh, and a very large Pidgeon, (capturing one of the more intrusive visiting groups that flock to Trafalgar Square).

The fund-raising ran ahead of the official decision, and the statute commissioned was considered too massive for the original location. Eventually the political pieces fell into place, and Nelson Mandela’s image was unveiled at Parliament Square, rather than close by to that other Nelson atop his column in Trafalgar Square.

What the poet says

Trust the poets to have something interesting to say. Anyone with a taste for such things will find something in Shelley’s words I borrowed above.


Hamilton’s wins take heat off Murray

June 12, 2007

Lewis Hamilton’s first Grand Prix wins make world-wide sporting news. Adulation reigns. In England, Hamilton’s triumphs have taken the publicity spotlight off injured Tennis star Andy Murray. Even David Beckham has been pushed into second place. But Wimbledon looms. If Murray wins, can the Great British public find the emotional wellsprings to embrace more than one super-hero at the same time?

England has another sporting idol. Front and back pages of the papers had been widely covered by the story of Lewis Hamilton and his astonishing first months as a Formula one driver.

His Grand Prix wins at Montreal and Indianapolis means that all bets are off for that indicator of popular sporting affectio , Sporting Personality of the Year. In December, Lewis will be up on yet another podium. Then he will in all probability be flanked by two other favorites for what used to be called the housewives’ votes.

In years of limited sporting triumphs on the international stage, voting tends to be a reflection of national affection. But gallant national near-misses will from time to time be thwarted by an international success. So, this year Lewis Hamilton will collect another first place. Frankie Dettori may not end the season as champion jockey, but memories of a great series of classic wins this summer may be enough to get him to second place.

There’s still time for a British golfer to beat Frankie into third place, but this will take a win in a major, maybe at Oakmont, starting this week (I’m hoping, but not betting on that one).

Andy’s still a possible winner

Or maybe Andy Murray will somehow sneak in ahead of Roger F. and Rafael N. at The American Open later this year. Injured at present, he promises a last-minute decision on playing the big one, Wimbledon, in a few weeks time.

Then there’s Monty

In years without significant international success, the continued progress of cricketer Monty Panasar, who is consolidating himself in the public’s affections, would have been enough. But not this year. Anyway, his iconic status may also just have wobbled a bit. That engaging enthusiasm may have been seen as bordering on the unsporting through excessive appeals to the Umpires, in this week’s the victory over the West Indies at Old Trafford, Manchester.

Yes, Monty, Great British sporting idols have to be like Caesar’s wife in that one respect. You have to be above suspicion of taint or of falling short of the highest standards of sportsmanship.

The poppy’s already too tall

Which is why Lewis Hamilton will be under the most intense scrutiny for several glittering years. The image of perfection will be tested unto destruction. And do you know what? A young man for whom fame and fortune is guaranteed, will one day show he is human. He will drift a few inches too far and too fast, maybe on the race track. Maybe in a dark place suddenly illuminated by the flash of light from a Paparazzi’s camera. The former will be more physically dangerous. The latter is likely to be temporary. Then the public will be on the emotional roller-coaster ride manufactured for us by those who help create the stories of our sporting heroes.

In a week of sporting dramas

Lewis Hamilton wins a second Grand Prix. Local acclaim becomes even higher. Memories of Frankie’s triumphs decline. Monty is not so much of a hero in the final Cricket test against The West Indies.

David Beckham manages the threat to his pole position in sporting celebrity as courageously as you would expect. He is helped by a football result. In an emotional night, playing in his last game for Real Midrid, Read win a thrilling game to grab their thirtieth Liga title, and twart rivals Barcelona. But even Beckham’s publicity machine can’t match Lewis in his flying machine. Would Andy, even with a dramatic final win over Reger Federer in a Winbledon final, be enough to surge to a top podium position?


Leaders we deserve: Stevie Mac brings Beckham back

June 5, 2007

englandlineup_l.jpg

First, Steve McClaren dumps superstar David Beckham out of the England soccer set-up. Then, following a run of disastrous results McClaren brings back Beckham. Weak or strong leadership?

The story so far. New English coach Steve McClaren steps up from the number two job, and is seen to put down a marker of his intention to make a fresh start. David Beckham had offered his resignation as team captain after an unconvincing display in England’s disappointing World Cup performances . McClaren drops him from the entire squad.

The new-look squad perform poorly. Beckham signs the largest contract of all time for a footballer, and agrees to leave Real Madrid and play in America for the Los Angeles Galaxy club later in the year. In the interim, Beckham suffers injuries and loss of form, and is dropped from the Real Madrid team, with clear indications that his career is finished.

A long time in football politics

As the season progressed, England without Beckham are far from revitalized. There is every chance that the team will not make the finals of the European championships. By coincidence, (?) Real Madrid also continues on a poor run of form.

And so it comes about that David Beckham returns to the Real Madrid team, and performs with distinction. Real makes a late challenge for the championship. Pressure mounts on Steve McClaren to bring Beckham back to the England squad.

An opportunity arises in a friendly match scheduled as the first international for the new Wembley stadium. The occasion is to be graced by an international team from Brazil, still widely regarded as the most gifted of all soccer-playing nations. The friendly is to be followed by a must-win European match the following week against minnows Estonia (No pushover, says wife, kibbutzing on this post, no such thing as an easy match …).

McClaren brings back Beckham. Much heated debate. Is it a desperate attempt by the coach to salvage something from the failing European campaign? Is this the action of a weak leader, or one strong enough to admit he had made a mistake dropping David Beckham in the first place?

What happened next?

I’m not a serious commentator on football. The indisputable facts are that England took the lead after a courageous header from new captain John Terry. The cross was provided by David Beckham – one skill in which he is widely regarded as being exceptionally talented. The other precious talent is that of taking lengthy dead-ball free kicks from what had became known in a favorite phrase of commentators as David Beckham territory.

Wha’ever. DB is widely considered to have had an outstanding game. Terry won the man of the match award. Beckham marginally eclipsed Terry in one of those dubious polls on a BBC website. Oh, yes, and Brazil in second gear nonchalantly scored an equalizer late into the game.

So England set off for the crucial game with Estonia, with Beckham undoubtedly in the line-up.

McClaren, tall poppies and leadership actions

Whatever happens in Estonia, the debate continues.

A popular saying in Australia is that the culture operates on the tall poppy syndrome. The original story is a tyrant myth, suggesting that a powerful leader will rather destroy potential rivals rather than risk them weakening his power. Today, the story is taken to illustrate our old friend the notion of leaders we deserve. It is typically taken to illustrate the fate of celebrities, indicating that adulation and fame arise because of popular acclaim. That acclaim can be withdrawn as rapidly as it arose.

Did McClaren act according to old tally poppy principle in ending Beckham’s international footballing career? Did he then bow to another swing in public opinion in reversing his decision? Or was he strong enough to admit a mistake?

The debate continues. I can see no conclusive evidence for arguing one way or the other. In other words, we have a nice example of the ambiguities surrounding a social science narrative. I’m inclined to the view that at the time of McClaren’s appointment the king-makers at the English Football Association initially wanted a tall poppy (the charismatic Brazilian super-coach Scolari). Failing in this, they settled for the not-at-all tall poppy Steve. He may be an average-height poppy, but this will not protect him from the grim reaper at harvest-time, in the fullness of the footballing year.


Bank Holiday Quiz: Ten touching tales I never tackled

May 27, 2007

350px-thaivillageflood.jpgEvery day there are leadership stories full of triumphs and disasters. Here are ten recent ones set as a Bank Holiday quiz. Can you remember all ten recent headlines involving (1) Bertie Ahern, (2) Malcolm Glazer, (3) Steve McClaren &amp David Beckham, (4) Armani (5) Stuart Rose, (6) Tony Blair & George Bush, (7) Nicholas Sarcozy and an influential Doctor, (8) Freddy Shepherd, (9) Paul Wolfowitz, and (10) John Charman?

The weather is so bad over most of Europe that I’ve left you opportunity to pass the time on this as a Bank Holiday challenge. Meanwhile, I’m switching TV channels and watching the rain fall on two sporting events in England, a cricket test match in Headingley, Leeds, between England and The West Indies, and the golf at Wentworth.

Similar thoughts seem to have struck other bloggers such as an expat yank.

Here’s a quiz to pass the time away. If you know (really know) the ten tales, you are probably a Francophil Brit (yes, there are a few, honest) with anorak tendencies extending into sport, politics, and the world of business.

If you don’t know all ten, and it worries you, you are a wannabe anorak and a sad case.

Good luck

Hints for wannabe anoraks will be supplied in a future post …


Football leadership: Strong is weak and weak is strong?

March 3, 2007

fossil-skull.jpg

When Steve McClaren became England’s football coach he booted David Beckham out of the team and out of the entire squad. Showing strong leadership. Or was he just showing the need to try to show strong leadership? Now he faces losing his own job

Update

This story has been updated [August 20th 2007, October 19th 2007] to a time when after many twists and turns, David Beckham had been readmitted to the England Squad by Steve McClaren, then lost his place through injury.

The updates gives me a chance to clarify the content of the original post. I’m keeping the original which even I think was pretentious and unclear, because it does have a leadership point to it. I wish I’d just kept it simple, mentioned that the ‘previous General’ was Sven Goran Eriksson, his favorite captain was that self-same David Beckham, and cut out all those post-modern flourishes.

The Original Text

I will leave the full story to those who have studied it in far more detail, for nearly a year, across front and back pages of newspapers, in multiple TV and radio shows around the World. I’m really interested in the more general points of a leader’s honeymoon period, and what constitutes ‘good’ leadership.

Trying to leave the sainted David out of the story is bit like trying to write a history of the Second World War without mentioning Winston Churchill, or that Austrian chappie. Becks is a near-unique marketing phenomenon, as well as a former England football captain. I’m going to try to airbrush him out, if only because it keeps me on a playing field where I’ve at least got a couple of coaching badges.

The Beckhamless Tale

[Look, we’ll just cut out the clever post-modern stuff about Beckham still dominating the text, despite all efforts to leave him out. OK?] This is a story about a leader who takes over after the fall of another leader judged to have failed. I will speak only of Generals, and Captains and so on.

As I was saying, there was this leader, a foreign General, who had taken over from a failed leader. At first, the Foreign General was successful in comparison to the previous leader. But his popularity might have been the Honeymoon effect. Even quite small triumphs helped secure his popularity at first. This period lasted a few years, although there were many who always opposed him because he was not a member of the tribe of which he had become the General in command on the field of football battle.

This foreign General had a favorite warrior, whose name need not concern us in this story. This favorite was his appointed military Captain. The Captain was indeed a famed warrior, (another btale of triumph after early setbacks). Captain and General helped achieve some victories, often snatching victory as defeat seemed inevitable.

As time went by, the closeness of the victories, and a few defeats, dispelled all dreams of the people that the General was a super-hero. Both General and Captain fell from favor. The honeymoon period was over. The General indicated that he would leave his post. He was aware that the powerful barons would call for his head after his next defeat.

There followed another defeat even as the General was preparing to relinquish his duties. His gallant and weary Captain also proffered his resignation, but pledged himself to serve under a new general, and under whomever would replace him.

The General’s lieutenant takes over

Those barons had appointed The General, and had also provided him with a member of their own tribe as deputy, someone who had become a faithful lieutenant. Many people thought he was too close to the General, so faithful and discreet was he.
The barons who wanted the Foreign General to go had been wondering how to replace him. They even approached another Foreign General, but the plan did not work. ‘Maybe if we selected the faithful lieutenant’ they perhaps argued to themselves ‘that will show we still have confidence in our past actions. And so it was, that the faithful lieutenant became the new chief.

The Lieutenant’s leadership dilemma

The new chief is closely associated with the last failed campaign of the departing General. To do nothing would suggest he has no new ideas. To attempt to introduce many changes would be suggest that he had been too weak to oppose things he disagreed over in the past. Yet he had to decide what to do to replace the Captain who had been so faithful to himself and the previous General.

The big symbolic gesture?

The new leader accepted the resignation of the gallant captain, but announced that he was no longer to be considered on active service. Some said that the decision pleased the Barons who had been critical of the favoritism showed the gallant captain by the former General. Others said that the captain had lost the support of his own foot soldiers, and was weakened by the adulation he received from the common people, and had become vain and lazy.

By acting to remove him, the new general was showing decisiveness, and this also helped deflect continued criticism that he was too wedded to the plans and favorites of the former General.

What would you have done?

Remember we are trying to work towards principles that might apply more widely than a single case example. I am still trying to set aside that sense of ‘I know what happened next to the former Captain, and the results of early campaigns of the newly appointed General’. What would you have done when first put in charge? What might be the considerations favoring one action over others? You have to do something, even if it is a ‘wait and see’ policy. How might we assess a leader’s competence at the time, and subsequently?

This is a thought-experiment. We can simulate various possibilities and outcomes in imagination. This in turn helps us develop micro-theories around our assumptions and beliefs. It’s how war games are played. We can try to draw on parallels from the stories we know of other leaders, in other sets of circumstances.

There are arguments in favor of a new leader making painful changes as early as possible on appointment. The case was made many years ago by Machiavelli.

I have indicated some other considerations that might have been part of the new General’s calculations. Perhaps you feel that Machiavelli’s principle (hit hard and early, then rein back) can be used to justify the actions of the new general. Maybe you have another take on the story of the newly appointed General?


Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,559 other followers