Marvellous. TV study of Neil ‘Nello’ Baldwin is a feel-good story of our time

October 31, 2014

Marvellous is a brilliantly crafted and acted TV drama drawing on the eventful and engaging life of Neil Baldwin, who earned local fame in the 1990s as the much-loved kit-man and sometime mascot of Stoke City football team.

I nearly didn’t watch Marvellous [BBC 2, September 25th, 2014]. The trailers suggested it would be a Ricky Gervase meets Forrest Gump piece of fantasy about someone overcoming learning difficulties and becoming friends of the good and the great in the land. Fortunately, I discovered my misconception and watched a thoroughly enjoyable production with a remarkable core of fantasy wrapped in reality.

Marvellous: The Drama

The central character Neil Baldwin is played by Toby Jones, and is also played by Neil Baldwin. The Stoke football manager of the time was Lou Macari, who also had a walk-on role as himself and his ‘real’ involvement with the ‘real’ Neil Baldwin

Narrative tricksiness

This narrative tricksiness just about worked, as the story of Nello unfolded in its numerous unexpected encounters with a range of characters from Archbishops to cabinet ministers. The story tells how Neil Baldwin wins the interest and affection of many people he met from all walks of life, and who came to accept Nello’s designation of them as his friends.

As his remarkable network extended, his friends contributed to a wider range of exploits. At Stoke City, the Saturday football crowds chanted his name and cheered his cameo appearances as a mascot or in his clown outfit from an earlier job opportunity. At nearby Keele University, he become an unofficial ambassador and eventually manager of his own student football team.

The secret to Nello’s success

The secret to Nello’s success is easy to guess at, not so easy to pin down. Toby Jones portrayed him as someone blessed with an absence of irony. “I want to become a clown or a football manager” he told his concerned mother. “Perhaps best start as a clown then” she replied, with a little more irony.

I liked the anecdote of the Bible he kept as a sort of autograph book signed by his religious friends. When one cleric was invited to sign he was told “sign it at the back. The front’s for bishops and Archbishops”. And that turned out to be true.

The tale unfolded with various hard-to-believe events that were as much ‘based on a true-life story’ than we had any right to expect. Mostly they were played as evidence to disbelieving friends that Nello was not living in a fantasy world: confirmation of those bishops who signed his Bible at the front; a meal with Tony Benn after introducing himself at The Houses of Parliament; celebrities turning up to support one of his ideas publicising his beloved Stoke City.

Stranger than fiction

Since the broadcast, the news broke that the City of Stoke is to grant the honour of freedom of the city of Stoke on Trent to two distinguished sons of the City. One is its world-cup winning goal keeper Gordon Banks.  The other is Neil ‘Nello’ Baldwin,


With Twitter, at least the abuse is free

October 28, 2014

Twitter disappoints market expectations and its share price slumps. Somewhere in the fantasy world of finance, perhaps the firm’s stance to on-line abuse is being factored in

This week [28th October, 2014] Twitter shares slumped as promise continued to outpace financial performance. Dick Costolo, Twitter’s chief executive remained upbeat.

The weirdo tweeters

I wondered what effect increased levels of personal abuse in the tweets from weirdo tweeters might be having.

The poisoning of online debate

The thought occurred to me after reading Twitter and the poisoning of online debate by the BBC Technology Correspondent Rory Cellan-Jones.

For anyone who believed the internet and social media would foster a new era of free expression and open debate, this is a depressing time. It seems no area of discussion is free from mindless and often vicious exchanges between people who have different opinions.

And there is wider concern about the future of online debate. Where now are the places that reasonable people can go to find discussion that does not quickly descend into abuse and flame wars?

For a long while, Twitter was different, a place where people were who they said they were and were aware that a tweet was a public statement for which you could be called to account. Now though, a rash of spam and so-called sockpuppet accounts have started to poison this well too.

When Cellan-Jones asked twitter to respond to criticisms they replied:

“Our rules are designed to allow our users to create and share this wide variety content in an environment that is safe and secure for our users. When content is reported to us that violates our rules, which include a ban on targeted abuse, we suspend those accounts. We evaluate and refine our policies based on input from users, while working with outside organizations to ensure that we have industry best practices in place.”

There is no such thing as a free tweet

A second thought. As economists might put it, there is no such thing as a free tweet. By which I mean even the innovators who gave us Twitter still operate a business model that has to satisfy the expectations of the all-powerful gods of the market place.

The Dilemma

The dilemma for corporate twitter is how to preserve its brand image of an altruistic, neo-capitalist cuddly big brother to its zillions of users at the same time as placating the gods of the market place.


So, Is President Obama a weak leader?

October 26, 2014

President Obama has received continued criticism for being a weak leader. His military actions against IS in Iraq and Syria are now being used to demonstrate the contrary argument. I suggest that such assessments need to be made with great care

Popular and political judgements of a leader’s competence need to be tested carefully. Too often they are reactions to a single critical incident.

Critical incidents may not be all that critical

A news story often follows a ‘critical incident’. For example, the IS made headlines over brutal videoed execution of an American hostage. President Obama said at a Press Conference that there was no American strategy in place for dealing with the emerging Islamic State. The  remark  was widely taken to illustrate the President’s weakness as a leader.

Was it weak leadership to speak the truth?

A leader is expected to offer reassurance. Obama’s sound-bite was uncomfortable to hear. It could be used in Media Training as an example of a remark that might have been better expressed. An example of a weakly-expressed point. But was it weak leadership to speak the truth? Would it have been any better to say “We know exactly what to do, as you will learn very shortly” ?

Was it strong leadership to launch the air campaign against IS?

British politicians appear to be believe so. They debated the issue and voted overwhelmingly in favour of supplying air support in Iraq (where the new regime requested military support against IS) Here is where some careful testing of ideas is required. One view is that a strong leader is decisive and ‘sends signals of commitment and willingness to act’ unilaterally if necessary.

There seems a wide consensus that the initiative has little chance of a simple successful ending without ‘boots on the ground‘.

Yet there has been a remarkable level of regional and international support of at least a symbolic kind.

Strong leadership?

And the question of what is strong leadership remains a matter of perspective.  If strong is understood as having the power to bring about desired change, President Obama is in a relatively weak position for someone in the role generally perceived as that of the most powerful political leader in the world.


Are managers sacked for breaking the rules and leaders sacked for not breaking them?

October 24, 2014


It’s a nice idea from a well-respected source, and indicates yet another take on an old question about the difference between leaders and managers

I came across the quote in a chapter on ethical change written recently by two business school authors, By and Burnes. By coincidence, this week Tesco was involved in a story of managers sacked for breaking the rules, and a leader (Richard Broadbent) who sacked himself for not breaking enough of them.

A long-running debate

There has been a long-running debate about the difference between leaders and managers which goes along the lines that ‘managers do things right’ and ‘leaders do the right things’. This was popularized, if not coined, by Warren Bennis in the 1980s, when it found resonance with the New Leadership movement, and the virtues of the transforming leader.

Burnes and By are not necessarily ‘Bying in’ to the Bennis distinction. They are offering a critical challenge to others think a little more carefully about leadership, business, and ethics.

Testing the difference between leaders and managers

In Dilemmas of Leadership I suggest that concepts such as leadership and management are social constructions. In use, the terms tell us what sense we make of leaders (observable) and leadership (social constructions). By examining or testing the maps dealing with the topics, and looking for important dilemmas we see more clearly what sense is being made by the authors. We also see more into the sense we make locally in our own leadership roles.

Bennis writes powerfully of leaders as being ‘made’ rather than being ‘born’. His map is very much influenced by (and perhaps exerted its influence on) the New Leadership movement and its transformational and visionary leaders.

So are managers and leaders sacked for different reasons?

One way of rethinking this is by turning the narrative on its head. If managers are sacked for sticking to the rules, we need to study specific examples. What sort of sticking to the rules? Doing what they are expected to do, maybe. If leaders are sacked for not breaking the rules, they have failed to do what they are expected to do, and failed to challenge the rules (strategies, culture, and so on) that the organization had developed.

In other words, the distinction helps us learn what sense we make of the functional roles and less formal obligations of business executives whom we label as leaders and managers.


Wittgenstein Jnr by Lars Iyer isn’t Sophie’s World 2. Or is it?

October 22, 2014

Wittgenstein jnrBook Review

It is quite appropriate that I obtained a copy of Wittgenstein Jnr under the mistaken impression that the book is a follow-up to Jostein Gaarder’s classic Sophie’s World. It isn’t. Written by that Norwegian philosopher. But by the English one with a Norwegian name. Who writes campus philosophy books among which Dogma is my favourite.

My false premise

My false premise was at least in keeping with one of the themes both of Sophie’s World and Wittgenstein Jnr: the nature of reality (of course). Gaardner charms us into an overview of Western philosophy through a story of young Sophie and her journey of discovery through a world of the imagination. Iyer draws us into the world of undergraduate Peters, and his journey of discovery through a world of the imagination, set in the context of the simulacrum Cambridge (about as real as the Oxford in the Morse stories, which come to think of it is very real for a generation of admirers of the TV versions of the stories of Colin Dexter).

Wittgenstein Mark 2?

The central character of Wittgenstein Jnr is a philosophy lecturer who is referred to by his students as a latter-day Wittgenstein. This Wittgenstein Mark 2 indeed resembles the character portrayed by Monk in his biography of Ludwig the first.

The obsessive search for philosophic closure through symbolic logic or its destruction is here. The larger than life student characters of earlier work are here, but reworked away from hapless but cheerful inhabitants of a philosophic underworld to an equally hapless and cheerful bunch of privileged inhabitants of Camalot / Cambridge.

Ludwig is here, although Ludwig the second is even more clinically depressed and doomed than Ludwig the first

Highly readable in a creative slippery literary way

There is much to enjoy about the book. It is highly readable, and stylistically creative in a subtle slippery literary way. Lyer has honed his prose into a tight personal style. It works, like many works of art, by concealing the labour that goes into final text. when I tried extracting an example, it became clear to me just how crafty the writing is.

Crafty writing

Here’s an example chosen selected almost at randomm, a scene in which EDE, one of students announces his split with his girlfriend Phaedra. Lyer sets the scene in two one-line paragraphs. It might have been four or five lines of poetry.

Saturday Night. Ede texts. You up? I split with Fee.

Ede, in the communal kitchen, emptying a tub of mushrooms onto the counter.

Readable?

A cautious endorsement. I enjoyed it. When I tried explaining it to a friend, my description left him unconvinced. Which suggests the test might follow a visit to one of those old fashioned pre-Amazon  book vendors,  and a quick scan of the book’s contents.


Symbolic leadership and the significance of the discovery of the Sulawesi cave paintings

October 19, 2014

The discovery of the cave paintings in a remote region of Indonesia seems likely to change our understanding the origins of artistic creativity

According to a BBC report [October 8th, 2014]

Australian and Indonesian scientists have dated layers of stalactite-like growths that have formed over coloured outlines of human hands.

Early artists made them by carefully blowing paint around hands that were pressed tightly against the cave walls and ceilings. The oldest is at least 40,000 years old. There are also human figures, and pictures of wild hoofed animals that are found only on the island.

Art and the ability to think of abstract concepts is what distinguishes our species from other animals – capabilities that also led us to use fire, develop the wheel and come up with the other technologies that have made our kind so successful.

The dating of the art in Sulawesi will mean that ideas about when and where this pivotal moment in our evolution occurred will now have to be revised.

The co-creation of art and culture

Symbolic representation through art seems to have been around as long as the formation of early cultures. It is not unreasonable to develop the [‘social constructionist’] view that culture and symbolic communication co-evolved.

New Yorker columnist Adam Gopnik picks up on a related theory, that creative art of the type found in cave paintings was the consequence of a feminization of early cultures: Ape-woman started creating art and the social skills of cooperation while Ape-man developed hunting and gathering skills with greater emphasis on competition and conflict. It occured to me that the artistic Ape-woman was herself engaging in a competitive survival tactic for winning kudos through her displays of creativity.]

Gopnik is quick to concede that any theory of the origins of art needs to come with as health warning.

The fallacy of the single cause of culture does not become less fallacious when it’s set farther back in time. Symbolic communication, even in its higher form as art, is always a tide ebbing and flowing, rather than an event that just arrives.

The capacity to communicate symbolically

These ideas suggest that the capacity to communicate in symbols is an ancient skill that contributed to the survival and success of our species.

It remains vital as there is a need for more visionary leadership to help us protect our world from the unintended consequences of our technological interventions.


Argentinean men’s national soccer team: a leadership success story to copy

October 16, 2014

Carolina MayleCarolina Mayle

Having Lionel Messi, the best player in the world in a team may bring dilemmas of leadership or at least dilemmas of ego. But not with Sabella as the coach. As a non-playing leader he encouraged others including Messi to share leadership responsibilities. The story suggests something beyond the sporting arena

Lionel Messi was not born as a leader. But “he was something special,’ recalls Vecchio, Messi’s second coach at Club Atlético Newell’s Old Boys, an Argentine sports club based in Rosario, Santa Fe.

Sabella’s distributed leadership approach

Sabella is not the typical football coach. He is a conservative, analytical and detail-oriented individual. He fines young football players for breaking rules. Troublesome stars are dropped, including veterans he believes may not fit his strategy. Sabella transformed leadership dilemmas into a team strength, based on what is known as a distributed leadership scheme.

Messi and Mascherano

As part of a team, Messi needed emotional support and for that he would give back reciprocal support to the team with the promise of scoring a goal anytime. But still, the teams also needed an emotional leader. For that, Sabella summoned Mascherano. Both, Messi and Mascherano, can be taken as charismatic leaders, but with different approaches.

Attributional and emotional aspects of leadership

According to Jayakody (2008) a leader may be assessed for attributional factors or emotional ones:

Leader extraordinariness, the attributional approach – refers to the follower’s belief that the leader is beyond any ordinary person in many, if not all aspects of human attributions.

The emotional approach refers to the follower’s belief that the leader is an ideal representation of whom the follower expects the leader to be. Mascherano was even called “the captain without the [arm]band”

How this distributed leadership worked in the field

In the FIFA World Cup 2014 Semi-final against The Netherlands in Sao Paulo, it was goalless after extra time. The game went to penalties. If Argentina wins, it will be a place in the final for the first time in 24 years.

Mascherano was captured on camera speaking to goalkeeper Romero. ‘Today you’ll make yourself a hero’,he said. And the stopper did. Mascherano;s words inspired Romero in saving two penalties, as his side ran out 4­2 winners.

Messi lead from a different perspective in the same situation. He was the first to kick the penalty that ended in a goal.

Beyond football

Learning about distributed leadership should be part of any managing career in order to participate in teamwork. The Argentinean football team highlights developing a strategy to enhance each participant’s capability to commit to the team’s goals.
Their success of the field has changed my way of thinking about distributed leadership, influencing me to deal with dilemmas and going beyond the ‘normal’ assumptions (e.g. of the ‘one leader of a team) not only in my work life, but also in my personal life.

References

Drayton, J. (2014) Mascherano tells Romero ‘you’ll make yourself a hero’ before Argentina’s shootout win over Holland

Jayakody, J. A. S. K. (2008) ‘Charisma as a cognitive affective phenomenon: a follower-centric approach’,. Management Decision, 46, 832-845.

The author

Carolina is a Senior Purchasing Manager at an international consumer goods FMCG, completing a global part time MBA


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