Martin Jols. A great night, but the die is cast

October 2, 2007

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Martin Jols seemed to be fighting for survival as coach of Tottenham Hotspur Football Club. On the club’s anniversary match, his team fall three goals behind. Then something amazing happens

Martin Jols is a much-respected football manager. Since his arrival at Tottenham in 2004, his teams have performed beyond expectations. ‘Beyond’, that is for neutral commentators.

This season, results have been bad. Very bad. Tottenham lies in the relegation role. Jols has been made one of the favourites for the next Premier League manager to lose his job. He has received a dubious public statement of support from the board.

On Monday 1st October 2007, there is a pre-match celebration at White Hart lane, in honour of the club’s one hundred and twenty-fifth anniversary. In a wave of emotion, the team starts well, and scores through one of their few prized assets, Dimitar Berbatov. After that, it was the story of the season again. Opponents Aston Villa equalise, then sweep into a two goal lead at half-time.

Say Goodbye to Martin?

As in all good dramas, there is another unexpected twist. The team could not guarantee the future of Martin Jols at the club. But they could have ensured his demise. A poor second-half performance would have finished him as surely as the loss to Fiji finished the job prospects of Gareth Jenkins of Wales a few days before in Rugby’s world cup. Heads down, and the performance would be seen as irretrievable loss of confidence in the coach.

For all their renewed efforts, Tottenham fall even further behind. Four-one with fifteen minutes to go. They think it’s all over.

But the team fought back ferociously. Two goals in ten minutes. Four-three. The clock runs down. In extra time, a corner-kick to Tottenham. Nervous defending and Younes Kaboul scrambles the ball into the net, maybe from an offside position. The game is saved.

The players rush to their coach, celebrating in delight. Player-power may have rescued Martin Jols for the moment.

It’s only a matter of time

It’s only a matter of time for any Premier League manager before he faces the sack. The process seems to work in this way. A board of directors, or in football, the powerful chairman, believes that his social identity is threatened through disappointments on the field. Regardless of the competence of the manager, or availability of a better replacement, the die is cast. [Coincidentally, Aston Villa until recently had a chairman in this mould].

The even-more celebrated demise of Jose Mourinho seems a notable example from earlier in the month.

The decision to axe the manager becomes public following a particularly humiliating critical incident for chairman and club. A bad loss is seized upon. (‘A decisive decision’ was how it was described over the weekend.

Protesting fans may be used as evidence to justify such a decision. This is a matter of judgement. Most fans believe they actions sing their team to victory, and settle the fate of their managers. I’m not sure it works that way. In this instance, it rather confirms a contrary view. It seems to be more plausible that the players screwed up big-time, then redoubled their efforts for fifteen minutes. That lifted the crowd. The result stayed the hand of the board.

For the moment.

Well done Martin Jols.

And good luck in your future career.


Message from Northern Rock: Telling it Like it Is?

September 21, 2007

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In a message from its CEO Adam Applegarth, Northern Rock communicates with its customers. The one substantive item is an offer to refund all penalties imposed if they re-invest within two weeks. The message is as revealing for what it does not say, as for what it does

Northern Rock for the moment is the safest Bank for investors in the country. The website, much maligned as an indication of the Bank’s inability to respond swiftly, shows signs of recovery. (Although that side-bar graphic of a deep-sea diver gently descending offers a rather unfortunate image of the company’s future …)

Mr Applegarth’s message suggests just how little wriggle-room there is for a leader in these adverse circumstances. Every scrap of information will be scrutinized minutely. A minimum requirement is the avoidance of any factual inaccuracy. I read it carefully, and was left with the impression of a company doing its best under exceptionally difficult circumstances.
One dilemma is how much honesty there should be about the future. Should the message tell the truth, the partial truth, and only the truth that encourages investors to return to the Northern Rock’s offerings?

It is a dilemma, because the marketing and PR impulse is to create the simple brand message. That is the brand imperative. The conventional wisdom is to draft and redraft until the final version has eliminated all traces of ‘off-message’ signals. In this instance, the short-term need is to get some cash back in.

But we know that these are exceptional times, and there has been plenty of evidence in the last week of the difficulty of finding a way of reassuring customers. Thanks to the actions of the Bank of England, in coordination with the Financial Securities Authority and the Government, Northern Rock can say without falsehood that

The Chancellor has made it clear that all existing deposits in Northern Rock are fully backed by The Bank of England and are totally secure during the current instability in the financial markets

But that truth is unvarnished, and yet carefully polished in the posting. Polished to remove any hint that mistakes might have been made, or that changes will have to be made that will be unpleasant for investors. The dilemma is the inclination to be honest about such matters. To treat people frankly. Doesn’t that help build trust? And is it really the case that it will be pretty much business as usual in the future?

A mischievous suggestion

Sometimes it helps to face reality by acknowledging what can’t be said. Suppose the reality is that Northern Rock has been in a near fatal accident? At the moment it is presumed to be wrapped up in a financial security blanket and unlikely to return to full health. No-one will turn the life-support system off until arrangements have been made for donation of the various organs. A first message is received from the bedside of the patient.

There has not been much time to reflect on how I arrived in the Accident and Emergency Room of the Financial General Hospital. I suppose I had been feeling a bit off-colour for quite a while. But I had always been in such good health before. Maybe that had prevented me from seeing those symptoms that something was going wrong.

In hindsight, I suppose my lifestyle was unhealthy in some ways. I’m just thankful to all those who helped keep me alive. The doctors tell me that I will make a full recovery. I’m not sure. I’ll probably have to change my life style quite a lot. Still, must put a brave face on for the sake of the family. There’s a lot more like me. That A&E department is working 24/7. I think I’ll say it’s business as usual. Except I suppose it can’t really be the same business again. Can it?

If you want to sit in judgment …

A lot of effort is going into trying to establish ‘who is to blame’ in the declining fortunes of Northern Rock. I would prefer to see whether there is anything to be learned from what’s going on. Would things have been better, say, if Robert Peston had been in change of Northern Rock? Or Will Hutton in charge of The Bank of England? Or if George Osborne, or Roman Abramovich, or Warren Barton had … Enough of that. Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.


Nurses pay won’t go away. Gordon Brown must have his say

May 28, 2007

_42810465_noreena203.jpgA recommended pay award for nurses in England was partly delayed by the Government. The Royal College of Nursing is to ballot its members for possible industrial action. Politicans back the call. A tricky and possibly important early challenge for Gordon Brown’s leadership. Is there anything he might learn from Nicholas Sarcozy’s first weeks in office?

How long is a leader’s honeymoon period? As long as a piece of string. Gordon Brown has over a month to go even before the nuptuals are celebrated. Already there are malcontents likely to be at the wedding ceremony.

Gordon Brown as Prime Minister will be not be given as much time to find his feet as was David Cameron on his appointment of leader of the Conservative party and wannabe Premier. Brown’s honeymoon will be briefer, if only because he has been in the public eye as a political heavyweight for a more that a decade (and a decade as we all know is a very long time in politics).

In this respect he has something common with Nicholas Sarcozy, the newly elected French president. Sarco had a tricky little test within days of coming to office. As he was preparing to assume the trappings of power he had a little time to consider the rumbling discontent of workers at Airbus.

Now Airbus in the French psyche is not quite the cultural icon as is The National Health Service in the British. Not quite. But combine the threat the French jobs with the traditional willigness for action direct and you are looking at a challenge that had to be dealt with at risk of a bad first impression as a leader. So we might conclude that Gordon has this also in common with the French leader.

The joys of opposition

The circumstances provide one of the joys of opposition. The opportunity to espouse a popular cause. Already there is further support from activists who have enlisted Professional Footballers to the cause.

Gordon Brown in opposition would have been in there with his political opponents (which, as they say, can be found in, as well as outside, his own Party).

According to The BBC

Nearly 200 MPs, including the leaders of both main opposition parties, have backed calls for nurses to get a full 2.5% pay increase this year. Nurses in England, Wales and Northern Ireland have been offered a 1.5% rise followed by another 1% in November .. [The MPs also include] several leading Labour figures – the deputy leadership candidate Jon Cruddas, former health secretary Frank Dobson and former ministers Kate Hoey and Stephen Byers

What might Gordon do?

There is a juicy dilemma of leadership here. Gordon as social reformer would like to find a way of supporting the Nurses. As politican he would also like to win some points for being nice to such a cherished group of workers. As Chancellor, he has already faced the tough financial and political consequences of granting a modest-looking pay award in full and on time. As would-be leader his famous concern for prudence is likely to be gnawing away as he nail-bites his way to a decision.

A tip from across the channel

The parallels with the Airbus case are strong enough to be worthy of consideration.
In an earlier post I suggested that:

There are times in politics, when as in chess, the leader has to find a waiting move. In chess, the idea is to move without disturbing the delicate balance in a complex and dynamic situation. You do best by effectively not disturbing the status quo. … So it was in Toulouse. Facing angry Unions, represtatives of the Company’s French leadership, and the wider international press, he signals two somewhat contradictory positions. Yes, he will ‘stand by’ and ‘do his duty’ to the interests of the French employees. But in the longer term, he does not rule out selling the Government’s stake in the company. I will return, he promises. In July. When he will be accompanied by his new friend Angela [Merkel]. If not masterful inactivity, we have seen an example of how to create a little wriggle room in a tricky situation.

Gordon, who would have made a good chess-player if he had not chosen other pursuits, has to find a waiting move. He will try not to upset the nurses. That would never do. He will try to appear not to have been forced to act by political opponents. That will never do, either.

And so we will not have long to wait to find out what happens next. The next game in the leadership match is starting, and Gordon Brown’s clock is ticking away.

Update

Later, May 28th 2007. Gordon brown’s website has a vote on issues of the week. Voters were opting for the NHS by a narrow margin (over international affairs).


Sarcozy finds some wriggle-room at Airbus

May 20, 2007

Early into his honeymoon period, President Sarcozy finds himself in action at the fermenting Airbus organization. Contrary to his reputation and inclinations, he finds a waiting move, buys himself some time, and preserves some of his limited options.

Airbus was always likely to be an indicator of M. Sarcozy’s presidential style. Politicians may be accused of not listening, but they do listen to the evidence provided by popularity polls, especially those connected with the votes they may be winning or losing in democratic elections.

During his own leadership campaign, his call was for a strengthening of the leadership of the company through attracting new investors to its board. This came through more clearly than his views on the difficulties facing the company, such as immediate production difficulties and the longer-term strategic and governance issues which have been the preoccupations of its chief, Louis Gallois. The plan to address these problems has led to Union unrest not only in France, but elsewhere in Europe where the plans also threaten jobs.

In an earlier post, I suggested that for all Sarco’s intentions, it is hard to see him being in a position to make a difference to Airbus, in the short-term. A gesture of masterful inaction is likely to be his best outcome at the moment.

Kissing Angela Merkel

Sarco has had to balance his new international role with his inclinations to preserve what he sees as a cherished French asset. So he has already made warm overtures to German Chancellor Angela Merkel. Hamburg’s Airbus manufacturing plant is, like Toulouse in France, facing major job-cuts. The International Herald Tribune acknowledges this as a necessity, commenting from the Toulouse:

As Louis Gallois, the French chief executive of Airbus, noted wryly in a session with reporters here , “He is kissing Angela Merkel every time they meet, but that doesn’t mean anything.”

For Gallois, a seasoned executive with ties to the Socialist Party, the election of Sarkozy injects another volatile element into what is already one of the hardest repair jobs in European industry.

The article further points out that Sarkozy has been sending out mixed messages during his campaign, leaving it unclear whether

… he is, at heart, a free-market reformer or an economic nationalist determined to prop up France’s industrial patrimony. Given his track record and the imperatives of French politics, several experts said, he is likely to be a bit of both. Sarkozy, they predicted, will give Airbus leeway to proceed with cost-cutting, while at the same time moving to strengthen France’s influence over the enterprise.

Sarco finds a waiting move

There are times in politics, when as in chess, the leader has to find a waiting move. In chess, the idea is to move without disturbing the delicate balance in a complex and dynamic situation. You do best by effectively not disturbing the status quo.

So it was in Toulouse. Facing angry Unions, represtatives of the Company’s French leadership, and the wider international press, he signals two somewhat contradictory positions. Yes, he will ‘stand by’ and ‘do his duty’ to the interests of the French employees. But in the longer term, he does not rule out selling the Government’s stake in the company.

I will return

I will return, he promises. In July. When he will be accompanied by his new friend Angela.

If not masterful inactivity, we have seen an example of how to create a little wriggle room in a tricky situation.


Tony Blair went at the moment of his choosing

May 10, 2007

200px-tony_blair_with_romano_prodi_at_g8%2c_cropped_to_blair.jpgTony Blair went at the moment of his choosing. But eventually, the moment was largely determined by a narrow window of opportunity. This was the week where his contributions to peace in Northern Ireland eclipsed his contributions to the conflict in Iraq. It also was the week of his tenth anniversary as Prime Minister.

The Times makes its sentiments clear. Its article reads like a long-prepared, mischievous (but fascinating) obituary.

Remember when ASBOs were first proposed by a fresh-faced Tony Blair in 1995? Or when Sharon Storer publicly ambushed Blair in 2001? And who could forget the G8 Summit in St Petersberg in 2007, when a live microphone picked up President Bush greeting the Prime Minister with the words: “Yo Blair”?

Equally unbalanced in the opposite direction was the glossy PM Pics on the Official Downing Street website

This gave the clue to the planning behind this week’s announcement: Ten years at number ten, May 2nd 1997- 2007.

Taking both views together, we quickly recapture some of the highlights and lowlights of his leadership.

Maggie’s influence on Blair

By 2005, Tony Blair was being compared with Margaret Thatcher for his Presidential style of leadership. There were also prescient suggestions that he might also have further parallels in the nature of his departure. Political Journalist John Sergeant was one such commentator. His insightful remarks, almost as an aside, can be found in his biographic description of his own encounters with Margaret Thatcher.

But if Maggie could claim political gain from her military adventure in The Falklands, Blair’s legacy increasingly is seen as the architect of the Iraq war, and (most cruelly) as Bush’s poodle.

‘Blair has been widely criticized from within his own party for championing the policy on Iraq of U.S. President George W. Bush. There is a general perception in the UK that Blair repeatedly misled the UK parliament and public in echoing the U.S. claims that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction and that invading and occupying Iraq was legal. As a result, some Members of Parliament have formed a group to call for impeachment hearings. Further pressure was put on Blair in September 2004, during the UK Labour Party conference, when the London Evening Standard newspaper published details of a leaked Pentagon briefing paper, Operation Iraqi Freedom: Strategic Lessons Learned. The document reveals that in October 2002, the Pentagon finalized its Full Operational Battle Plan 1003V for the Iraq war, at a time when Blair was insisting that no decisions had been made about whether to go to war.

Independent political editor Andrew Grice pinpointed the moment Tony Blair lost his authority as November 9th 2005, 4:56 pm.

Mr Blair’s first Commons defeat since coming to power in 1997 was heavier than expected and provoked speculation at Westminster about how long he could remain Prime Minister. [His] personal authority was badly dented … when he suffered a humiliating defeat over his plan to allow the police to detain suspected terrorists for up to 90 days without charge. [The defeat] was heavier than expected and provoked speculation at Westminster about how long he could remain Prime Minister.

Leadership choice and The Tarrasch principle

I have sometimes mused on Chess as a powerful metaphor for strategic decision-making. Specifically, The Tarrasch Principle, advices chess players to take action ‘because you want, or because you must, and not just because you can’. Tony Blair, like so many leaders, wanted to preserve his options on that biggest decision of all, the moment of his going. As hard as he tried to secure wriggle room, he found himself being pinned down. Eventually the next best thing to clinging on, was to go ‘before things got worse’. It was a symbolically convincing moment. He went not because he wanted to, nor because he was able, but because he had to, lest there would be no better time in the future.


A week is a long time …

May 8, 2007

_42890517_mayweather2031.jpg… in politics and boxing. What leadership lessons can be learned from the narrow victories of Nicholas Sarcozy in France, Alex Salmond in Scotland, David Cameron in England, and Floyd Mayweather in Las Vagas?

This week in France, the biggest contest of the year to date came to a close but predicted conclusion with victory to Nicholas Sarcozy. This requires a closer examination in its own right, elsewhere. Sarco-Sega round two has inevitably been bigger than Sarco-Sega round one. Its own prime-time TV blockbuster attracted an audience of over 20 million viewers.

Even these figures threatened to be eclipsed by the viewers of the biggest boxing contest of the decade in Las Vagas, as Golden Boy Oscar de la Hoya went head to head against Pretty Boy Floyd Mayweather. Fight addicts in the States, and insomniacs elsewhere around the world-wide united in watching the richest gladiators on the planet …

In Britain, there were elections in Wales for its National Assembly, In Scotland for its Parliament, and in England at local Council level. All had their points of interest from a leadership perspective.

In France

A clear, yet uneasy triumph for Sarcozy, with 53% to 47% of an awesome 85% turnout. The uncertainties among the electorate were not translated into a low vote. The uneasiness was confirmed in demonstrations by his bitterest opponents, although these were assessed as minor by the standards of the nation’s tradition of action direct. Sarcozy’s earliest remarks after his victory indicated his wish to serve all the French people. (Echoes of Margaret Thatcher’s debut utterance on taking power, from the steps of Number 10 Downing Street?).

The local election results in England

There is no English parliament, per se, and so there are never English National elections. In England, The local council elections have been taken as an indicator of the wider political struggles. For months, the (United Kingdon) Government had been acknowledging the inevitability of significant loss of support, reflected in the outcome at the local elections. This painful admission was, at least, one which could hardly be attacked by their opponents. The ultimate meltdown which was hinted at in the run-up did not take place. The departure of Tony Blair as PM, (now anticipated to be more a matter of days rather than months), will be an opportunity for the party to distance the party and its new leader from the unpopularity of Mr. Blair, now particularly damaged for his identification as an architect of the Iraq war and its consequences.

The political battle in Wales

The new composition of the Welsh National Assembly shows how a sizable proportion of voters in the Principality have, at least temporarily, found a new political favorite. Wales has always been suspicious of Socialist-lite Labour, and has never been enthusiastic for the new-fangled Blairite version. This week, voters even deserted Old labour in favour of the nationalism of The Plaid. (Plaid Cymru, The Party of Wales). The results disrupted the stranglehold exercised by the Socialists.

And the De La Hoya/Mayweather contest?

This contest also offers insight on leadership. At one level we are aware of how boxing fits well with the metaphor of leadership as a form of warfare. The most recent example was Mr Blair’s outburst about the clunking big fist which would smite the opponents of the Labour Party in the near future.

The De La Hoya/Mayweather contest was an example of a battle between combatants of differing strengths and weaknesses. De La Hoya, aging, but physically more powerful De La Hoya. In contrast, Mayweather was younger, swifter, technically outstanding.

Game theorists would be able to examine the uncertainties within a predictable pattern of behaviors. De La Hoya tried to deliver a ‘clunking big fist’. To do so, he had to withstand the elusive moves, and energy-sapping if lighter blows of his opponent. Which was partly why the contest was so fascinating.

Mayweather won. But De La Hoya was always going to win another battle, through another piece of the action, as major investor in Golden Boy promotions, the company which had put on the fight.

Leadership lessons of the week?

What a week. Leaders in action, winning and losing, but often able to claim wriggle room to fight again. For the most part, the lessons seem to show that the political leaders were instruments, symbols, which helped ‘followers’, particularly voters, to show their allegiance. The symbols were the primary focus of decision-making.

We are learning of the role of atavars, or constructed identities, in webworlds. Are these really so less ‘real’ than the constructed images of our political leaders. Do they shape our judgement of their policies? Or is the ‘direction of causality’ more from our prior social beliefs and values to our interpretation of the worth of the individual leaders? Which brings us back to the idea of how we create the leaders we deserve.


Mourinho’s job is safe: Update

April 21, 2007

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An earlier post reviewed the prospects of Jose Mourinho staying with Chelsea Football Club. Renewed rumours have broken out at the start of the 2007-8 League season as Chelsea results took a dip. Relations between owner and coach blow from luke-warm to Russian Steppes cold

Original Post

Speculation has been rife for nearly a year that Jose Mourinho will lose his job as Chelsea Coach at the end of the season. CEO Peter Kenyon announces that Mourinho’s job is safe. So why is this unlikely to end speculation? The question takes us into the matter of how leaders in general may fail to convince the press and the wider public of their integrity.

When a politician says “I’m not standing for leader” the message is rarely taken at face-value. I’m most familiar with the UK scene, but it seems a pretty universal reaction. We assume that the politician will find wriggle room so that the original statement did not mean what it sounded like. I suspect that there is widely shared tacit knowledge that the politician is saying something he wants us to believe, while reserving the right to claim that something else was meant, if and when that becomes convenient or necessary.

We can examine this through the highly specific incident in which Chelsea CEO Peter Kenyon has denied the story that Coach Jose Mourinho will be fired at the end of the year. Kenyon could hardly have been more specific. In an interview published on the club’s website he was reported as saying

“Jose’s got a contract until 2010 and we’re not going to sack him. He’s got the full support of the board, that’s really important”

There have been no press stories to indicate that Kenyon habitually misleads the public in his public statements. Yet, my suspicion is, that there is something in stories about Mourinho’s future. An earier denial by team captain John Terry did not not prevent the rumors from continuing. The Press is discounting the public statements without having prior cause for doubting the spokesmen.

Don’t ruin a good story

One broader issue is the attraction to many journalists to keep a good story running. Some have made claims to know that JM is going, with ‘exclusive’ claims that yet another international coaching star has been approached. (Germany’s coach Juergen Klinsmann is the latest of a long line of heirs apparent).

There’s little follow-up mileage in a headline that says ‘Jose to stay’. Maybe this kind of wish from journalists helps achieve self-fulfilling prophesies from time to time. It probably contributes to the uncertainties and insecurities of high-profile jobs. But one factor is hardly enough to explain everything. It pays to look more widely.

The Owner’s influence

In Football, the club owner is often one major factor in the coach’s survival. In the case of Chelsea, owner Abramovich has about as much power as any one person can wield. Whatever Kenyon says, even if Jose’s got a contract to 2010, and even if he has the full support of the board today …. well, you can fill in the dots for yourself. How about ‘things might change if Chelsea fails to win the European Cup, or the Premiership, or the FA cup, or any combination of the three’ ? Abramovich’s reluctance to talk with the press simply adds to speculation.

Jose’s leadership record

Mourinho’s leadership record at Chelsea over the last three years has been outstanding. Before his arrival he had already established himself as one of the most successful coaches in world football. This gives credibility to his somewhat ironic self-description as The Special One. He has recently made it clear that he would like to stay at the club, implying that the decision to leave would not be his.

Leadership and trust

Leadership is often said to be the process of influencing others in seeking to achieve one’s goals. An important aspect is shaping the sense that others make of critical situations. Kenyon would like to reassure fans, as well as the media, that there is no ‘Jose Mourinho problem’ at Chelsea. We have also seen how such a statement may not be taken on trust.

In some contrast, Jose Mourinho seems to be achieving that precious asset in his relationship with his players. He has communicated his belief that the players, too, are ‘special ones’ . When needed, a half-time reminder from the Coach (coupled with shrewd and sometimes daring substitutions) has resulted in the second half, a return to the high levels of performance demanded of the players.

Charismatic leaders achieve their results partly through a form of unconditional trust that they induce in followers. ‘Less special ones’ have to rely on force of argument, often against the reluctance of others to believe what they are being told.

If we want to speculate …

We should take a look at the pattern of behaviours of the actors in the past. Kenyon has tended to be a ‘safe pair of hands’, perhaps tending to a parsimony in revealing and addressing inconvenient information. Abramovich has tended to achieve his results in a discrete fashion. Mourinho has tended to push his employers to get his own way, and has been known to put his job on the line to achieve what he wants. Which suggests that if and when Mourinho leaves, it will hardly be a case of ‘going quiet into that good night’.

Correction, but is it better?

The entry was modified to eliminate the earlier misspelling of Jose’s name. It originally referred to someone called Mourhino. I was tempted to retain the accidental error, but decided it was a bit of cheap and accidental graffiiti and maybe it explained why the post was not being hit very often (message to othe dyslectics out there …).


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