The Obamas speak peace in Northern Island

June 23, 2013

Barack and Michelle Obama address the achievements and challenges facing Northern Island.

I was not intending to blog yet again on a speech by a leading politician. As I listened to the context of the speeches and introductions [17th June 2013] I became more intrigued about the political messages and composition of the speeches. President Obama had taken the opportunity of meeting with an audience of mainly young people prior to the G8 summit being held this week. Here are my immediate notes:

A sixteen year-old introduces the First Lady. She speaks clearly with clear yet well-crafted words of hopes and demands of young people.

Michelle Obama speaks. Her words are also clear and well-crafted. Here is someone who believes in a future guarded by the aspirations of young people. It spoke to Northern Island but she could have been speaking in any of a hundred other countries. The message is partly clear because it is uncluttered.
See introduces her husband with well-received gentle irony.

Barack speaks. At first his message is not clear and well-crafted. Its local references do not quite work. The jokes do not quite work.

He moves almost hesitantly to his main point, his key metaphor. Much has been achieved in fifteen years since The Good Friday agreement but there is still much to do. He spoke of walls keeping communities separate. Now his speech was clear. Northern Island continues to remind the World that there may not be peace but we must hold to the promise of peace.

Fifteen hundred young people and battle-hardened politicians were still applauding after the Obamas had left the hall.

Footnote

The speech by President Obama appears to have been made in relatively relaxed mood the anticipated difficulties of dealing with the Syrian conflict at the G8 meeting. President Putin was sending vigorous signals that the West was calamitously wrong in its emerging policy towards arming the insurgency in Syria.


Virgin Mary crisps withdrawn by Pret A Manger

February 3, 2013

Virgin Mary CrispsThe Pret A Manger food chain has withdrawn its line of Virgin Mary crisps from sale, following protests from Catholic leaders

The crisps were tomato flavor, and the name indicates a relationship to the Bloody Mary cocktail, a potent and popular concoction of vodka, tomato sauce, Tabasco sauce and assorted and idiosyncratic ingredients introduced by innovative cocktail makers.  Among enthusiasts for the drink was one Ernest Hemingway.

Bloody Mary

While Bloody Mary has always struck me as a term with potentially inflammatory connotations for Christians, it seems to have mostly avoided demonology.  The deepest objections come from those who rail across the demon drink in all its manifestations.

The Cult of Mary

The labeling of Virgin Mary crisps, however, triggers off far more powerful reactions. The Catholic Church has elevated Mary, Mother of Christ, to what has been described as cult status.

A gift to the poor

Unsurprising that Catholic leaders protested vehemently over the crisps, and Pret backed down after a broadside from the Protect the Pope website.  The offensive crisps were withdrawn and donated to the poor.  I have heard no objections to this further symbolic gesture.

Brainstorms

The brouhaha reminded me of the outrage during the Pope’s visit to England in 2010 over the leaking of weird ideas to jazz up the visit. The bizarre outpourings of a brainstorming hit the headlines briefly. Another downer for practitioners of creativity-spurring techniques, I thought at the time.

Halal contamination

This week also saw the story of Halal meat contaminated with traces of Pork, offensive to the dietary observations of Muslim and Jewish religious practices. 

Religions sustain their beliefs through symbols.  A perceived attack on the symbols is a perceived attack which goes to the core of the religious beliefs.

On giving offence

I had no intention writing this blogpost to offend the sensibilities of subscribers to Leaders We Deserve. The image above was taken from Catholic Answers Forum. The story seems to me to have considerable interest to leaders and leadership students.


A horse, a horse my kingdom for a horse even if it’s a retired hack from the police service

March 3, 2012

A highly-charged symbolic story has emerged around David Cameron’s ride on retired police horse Raisa. Headline writers demonstrate their creativity

The New York Times captured the symbolic dimension to the story neatly:

Prime Minister David Cameron’s ride on a retired police horse in the Oxfordshire countryside appears, for now at least, to lack the elements of a full-blown scandal. But as political symbols go, the horse and its links to the tabloid newspaper scandal roiling the country seems likely to become, at the least, rich fodder for political satirists and cartoonists. In Brussels on Friday [March 2nd 2012], Mr Cameron was peppered with as many questions about Raisa, the horse, as about Britain’s refusal to sign on to a new treaty.

Henry 5th and all that

It set me wondering about the potency of horses in narrative. Where better to start than Shakespeare? The hero king Henry 5th and the villain Richard 3rd are tales retold as great movies with the monarchs and their nags as the stars.

Horsegate

The story seems to have attracted the press after initial press statements had appeared to be unconvincing denials of a matter of fact, namely that the Prime Minister had ridden on a horse pensioned off from the police service and placed in the care of horse trainer Charlie Brooks. Mr Brooks is the husband of Rebekah Brooks, who is involved in the hacking stories at News International. Both are close friends of David Cameron , as is a senior policeman who may have helped in the arrangement to pension off Raisa, the nag at the centre of the story.

Beyond the rational

At a rational level, some kind of plausible explanation can be constructed. On the other hand, you might think that on a rational level there doesn’t seem much point in such an exercise. It will take a lot of effort to find serious wrong-doing. The potential of the story lies in the symbolism of a cosy group of wealthy friends using friendship to get further unpaid privileges.

Symbolism and leadership

It is a case of symbolic leadership, as portrayed, say, by Sir Lawrence Olivier mounted on his horse before the battle of Agincourt. It might also be seen as more a narrative interpretation of leadership. The symbolism is of Mr Cameron enjoying himself with his friends through privileged access to the aging Raisa. Faint echoes of Animal farm also seep into mind.

What the papers said

The whole episode offered creative opportunities for headline writers. The mirror went for losing the reins I did horse around with Sun’s old nag. The Telegraph offered
Horsegate: the PM will forever be saddled with Raisa‎. The Guardian went for the old cliche of closing the stable door

To be continued


Haka demonstration of leadership style

September 10, 2011

The rugby world cup in New Zealand provides much food for thought about leadership processes, including the symbolism of the ceremonial Haka performed at the opening ceremonies and before the host country matches

The Haka may be seen as a modern and symbolic representation of an ancient perception of a leader as someone who channels the spirits of the supernatural world to inspire the actions of the people or tribe.

Later, the behaviours were described as charismatic and in the nature of a special gift from the Gods.

The appeals to social cohesion and committment is retained in the pre-match inspirational urgings of the captain, and sometimes of the coach.

To be continued


Apple faces a Jobless future

August 25, 2011

Tim Cook and Steve Jobs

Steve Jobs, iconic leader and one of the great creative innovators of his era, leaves the company he founded and built into a global superstar

The departure of Steve Jobs as leader of Apple on medical grounds has been anticipated in and outside Apple for some time. We can anticipate even more news coverage of the iconic figure whose design genius was behind a steam of products since the time of the first Apple personal computer, launched as the Apple 2

Quirky but much loved

This was quirky but much but much loved. Even the earliest versions were revolutionary in appearance and functioning. They suggested a future for personal computing that could not be imagined in the market leading IBM product and its host of imitators trying to be as compatible as a possible at lower cost.

The Apple Mac

Then the Apple Mac came along. This was even more obviously evidence of new species emerging. They are coming from a common ancestor, but retaining a genetic capacity to visualize as well as to digitalise.

IBM and clones under threat

Apple products become a serious threat to the generic sounding PC (i.e. IBM’s products and its clones). Compatibility was more an aspiration than a reality for each set of products, and even today there are enough differences to create famous entry barriers to switching from one of the two IT tribes.

Design excellence

Apple developed a brand image of innovation and design excellence. The company succeeded in grabbing a share of the emerging mobile phone market with its i-phone and then the tablet market with the i-pad. Apple stores became cathedrals for worshippers.

And each of the innovative leaps in the company was utterly associated with the design genius of Steve Jobs. Stock levels were seen to shift according to reports on his deteriorating health.

Symbolic leadership

This is one of the clearest example of symbolic leadership to be found in modern times. Steve Jobs was Apple. The closest parallel I can think of is that of Walt Disney. Incidentally, you can find fascinating comparisons of the two companies in the book Disney Wars.

All is not gloom and doom

There are naturally signs of bereavement at present at Apple. But all is not gloom and doom. Apple has had a strong internal candidate waiting to step up. The evidence is that the company has faced the realities of succession. Tim Cook is already highly regarded internally for his operational and organizational talents. He was appointed in what seemed like one last symbolic act after his strong endorsement by Steve Jobs in his letter of resignation. We will learn much more of Mr Cook in the coming months. Will Apple now enter a post-charismatic era in its public image?


Question for leaders: what’s the difference between special and essential?

May 24, 2011

It meant something during President Obama’s state visit to England, as a joint message with Prime Minister Cameron revealed.

The two leaders published the communication in the Times. It seemed to be at pains to address the increasingly aging notion of the special relationship between the two countries. Instead, the word was ‘essential’. How modern. Special is an emotion laden word. Essential is a cool word of functional management. Special has symbolic overtones. Essential doesn’t.

As noted by The International Business Times

The relationship between the U.S. and the U.K. however is much older and complicated than the one between the leader and the Queen. The referral of the countries mutual relationship as ‘special’ can be traced back to a phrase used to describe the exceptionally close political, diplomatic, cultural, economic, military and historical relationship in a 1946 speech by former British Prime Minister Winston Churchill. Since then, although both the United Kingdom and United States have close relationships with many other nations, the level of cooperation between them in economic activity, trade and commerce, military planning, execution of military operations, nuclear weapons technology and intelligence sharing is perceived as a unique one.

President Obama is strong at emotions when they are authentic. He is cautious when he has to wear his mask of command. He was the charismatic leader of his election campaign in Ireland yesterday [May 22nd 2011]. He was playing it for fun as well as for the votes back home with the Irish community. Today it was business as usual.


Symbolic Leadership and the Queen’s Visit to Ireland

May 18, 2011

The Queen’s visit to Ireland has been widely described as a historic moment of great symbolic significance. So what is symbolic leadership?

This month (May 2011) has already marked two events redolent in symbolism. The first was the celebrity royal wedding of William and Kate Wales. The second event will have more of a foothold on history.

The State Visit

The Daily Telegraph put it in these terms:

Yesterday when the Queen arrived in the Irish capital for the start of her historic tour, she laid a wreath at the Garden of Remembrance, which honours all those who died for Irish freedom in the early part of the 20th century … [Today] The Queen will make probably the most significant visit of her tour when she goes to Dublin’s Croke Park, the site of a British massacre of Irish civilians which turned public sympathy decisively against the Government.

The symbolic significance was not lost on those still claiming to be heir to the revolutionary struggle for a United Ireland. There were thwarted terrorist incidents in London and Dublin. Security in the Irish capital was so tight that the general public could hardly glimpse the visiting Royal.

Symbolic Leadership

Just what is Symbolic Leadership? The Danish Leadership theorist Ingo Winkler defined it as leadership which refers to, and is based on interpretation of meaning, which becomes tangible and therefore can be experienced in the form of symbols. The concept assumes that reality is a social construction, with leadership being a part of this reality.

Those Symbolic Acts

The State Visit has been thoroughly planned for its symbolic impact. So was that royal wedding. Those symbolic acts have a message to communicate to the widest of international audiences. The Queen’s visit has a further message for audiences in Northern Ireland, The Irish Republic, and the British mainland.

An Irish View

A Irish blogger captured one view from Dublin:

I watched the Royal Wedding last month; I enjoyed it immensely but I didn’t shed a single tear. I cried today as I watched The Queen stand in front of Áras an Uachtráin (Irish President’s official residence) and listen to a band play God Save the Queen followed by the Irish national anthem. A moment imbued with significance and symbolism; peace in our time in this often troubled island. [Note; the very blurry image above was shot from my television screen from RTE’s coverage of the Queen’s state visit to Ireland].

Ackowledgement

To Just Add Attitude for that ‘very blurry image’.

Update

I was struck by the Churchillian prose of the Queen’s speech. It was a brilliant piece of writing for a momentous moment. Worth studying by any student of leadership, along with the Martin Luther King classic.


On shaking hands and creative leadership in the John Terry Wayne Bridge saga

February 27, 2010

A sad sporting leadership story shows how creativity can be a leader’s secret weapon

Every tale of leadership offers opportunities for learning. “How would I deal with that decision?” is a good question. In the over-publicised case of John Terry and Wayne Bridge, there is also the question “What would I have done to avoid getting into mess in the first place?” For anyone not interested in football, you need to be aware that John Terry was recently stripped of the Captaincy of the England football team. He had been involved in an extra-marital affair with the former partner of former team-mate Wayne Bridge. Public interest is fueled this week by the news that Bridges has decided not to take part in the up-coming world cup later this year.

Leaders we deserve has advocated the merits of creative leadership. How might this play out in practice? Take the critical incident being anticipated today [February 27th, 2009]. Chelsea and Manchester City are due to play a football match. John Terry will be expected to lead out Chelsea (he retains the captaincy of that team). He will be expected to shake hands with members of the opposing team. So there we have a dilemma of leadership. What to do if the handshake is spurned? Oh, yes it’s only a handshake. But for ‘only a hand-shake’ why is the story taking on huge signficance, at least for journalists? That’s another story, and one about symbolism and leadership.

How might creative leadership come into this?

We can start with the assumption that dilemmas often result in either/or thinking. Break the ‘either-or’ and you have a chance of escpaing the dilemma. I’ve also written about this as knight’s move thinking. Edward de Bono would probably say it’s where Lateral Thinking is needed.

The locked-in thinking presents the story as simply one man shaking hands with another. Suppose we pose it as “how to arrange the pre-match handshakes between Chelsea and Manchester City differently (in view of the unusual circumstances surrounding the event)”. I can think of several things that might happen. My thinking has switched from ‘what Wayne Bridge must do’ to ‘what might Chelsea and Manchester City captains, players, and maybe supporters decide to do’. And, that is a matter of co-creativity, and distributed leadership.

Whatever happens this afternoon at Stanford Bridge will be an opportunity for considering ‘what might have been’.

Postscipt

At the start of the match, John Terry offered his hand to Wayne Bridge. Bridge rejects the proferred hand. Chelsea fans boo Bridge enthusiastically throughout the game. But another story was to supplant the hand-shake one. Chelsea lost at home 4-2. Two of their players were sent off by the referee. And I didn’t notice a lot of creative leadership. The ‘fake shake’ gave the tabloids a few headlines the following day.


Peace One Day: The Adidas Puma Story

September 20, 2009

Peace One Day

The charity Peace One Day plays a part in peace initiatives around the world. On September 21st, among those symbolic actions were those taken by Puma and Adidas, two firms whose existence reflects a long-lasting family feud within a small Bavarian township

A news item this week [Sept 17th 2009] tells of the origins of the international sporting equipment firms Puma and Adidas. The point of the story was that the firms have been bitter rivals since splitting, over sixty years ago. Now, leaders of the rival firms were to make ‘a historic handshake’ as one of the Charity’s events planned for 21st Sept 2009.

Background

Peace One Day (POD) was founded by film maker Jeremy Gilley in 1999. He was to became a publicist for and then partner in peace initiatives around the world. By 2006 he and POD wereassociated with various high-profile events with world leaders such as Kofi Annan, the Dalai Lama, Shimon Peres, and Mary Robinson.

Considerable praise has been heaped on both charity and the humanitarian leadership of its founder.

The organisation has survived critical setbacks: one high profile documentary filmed at the United Nations in New York lost much momentum as it took place as the twin towers disaster was unfolding a few miles across town.

The unique marketing concept of POD is the focussing of its events on the same day [September 21st] each year. There is no specific significance of the day historically.

The Adidas/Puma event of 2009

Herzogenaurach, Germany, 17 September 2009 – It will be a historic hand shake: In support of the peace initiative PEACE ONE DAY the two sportswear companies adidas and PUMA will shake hands for the first time after six decades. As a sign of amicable cooperation, employees of both companies will play football together on Peace Day, 21st of September, and subsequently watch the movie “The Day after Peace” by Jeremy Gilley, director and founder of PEACE ONE DAY. These events will be the first joint activities of both companies since their founders Rudolf and Adi Dassler left their shared firm and established Adidas and PUMA.

The Adidas Puma story seems right for a Hollywood movie. In the 1920s, two brothers grew up and worked in the laundry shop owned by their mother in the 1920s. They stared out together in business togther with a shared idea which created the marketing of clothing exclusively for sporting activities. In the 1930s they equipped Jesse Owens for the 1936 Olympics in Berlin [a story in itself]. But the brothers rarely agreed over anything, and sibling rivalry must have contributed to the split into two firms, still operating in close proximity in a little township in Bavaria.
The family rift is said to have deepened during the war, when a remark about “the B********s returning” during an air raid was taken as cruel rejection of members by one side of the family as others scrambled for the safety of an air raid shelter. It was later claimed the remark referred to a returning flight of Allied aircraft not to family members fleeing for their lives. Whatever, the story tells of a feud which was to split family and employees in the little village of Herzogenaurach for decades afterwards. Today, the old rivalries are mostly muted and symbolic. The Day of Peace celebrations confirm existing practical realities of life in the township.

Leadership Issues

The story introduces a range of leadership issues.

What strategy is suggested which might be of interest to establishing a not-for profit organization charity?

Might founder Jeremy Gilley be an example of servant leadership?

How important is symbolic leadership in establishing such an organization, and why?

What contribution might such efforts make to wider humanitarian efforts against war and towards peace processes?


Olympic Protests and Leadership Issues

August 7, 2008
Dali Lama

Dali Lama

Update

The post was written in 2008. It retains relevance as the Sochi Winter Olympics of 2014 draws to a close.

The Beijing Olympics is launched amid a flurry of political stories. The old dilemma is a dilemma no more. It seems that sport and politics can not be kept separate. But there may be ways of them co-existing, with the help of creative leadership

The Financial Times suggested that it was always a pious hope that politics and sport could be kept apart at Beijing.

On the eve of the Olympic Games, Reuters news agency reported that

More than 40 athletes competing in the Beijing Olympics have urged China to peacefully settle contention over Tibet and protect freedom of religion and opinion, rights groups said, raising pressure on the Games host ..The Games participants are among 127 international athletes reported to have signed a petition to Chinese President Hu Jintao, bringing sports and human rights together in a way that Beijing has often rejected as “politicising” the Olympics.

Meanwhile, human rights protesters at Liberty Square, Taipei call for an alternative ‘Peace’ Olympics.

The signs became obvious as far back as February 2008 when Stephen Spielberg announced his resignation as a high-profile artistic advisor to the Games.

His political purpose was to draw attention to the continued humanitarian crisis in Darfur. Spielberg,claimed that China was
not doing enough to pressure Sudan to end the human suffering in the troubled western Darfur region in the five-year conflict.

The Darfur issue has been kept in the headlines by Team Darfur
in a longer-running campaign by athletes concerned over the Darfur situation.

The rationale of Team Darfur is to make a difference politically in Darfur, through the publicity gained by the support of high-profile athletes.

This week we learn that a member of Team Darfur would be carrying the Olympic flag in the opening ceremony. The story was that of child rescued from Darfur who became a US citizen.

A day after China jerked the visa of former Olympian Joey Cheek because of his high-profile support for Darfur, the U.S. Olympic team announced it had voted a former Sudanese refugee the honor of carrying the American flag into the stadium for the opening ceremonies. the selection of Lopez Lomong, a 1,500-meter runner who became a U.S. citizen 13 months ago, contains almost as much provocation as poignancy.

The Olympic Flame and its Political Journey

The run-up to the Olympics has been simplified into a story of civil rights which was sustained because of the highly symbolic journey of the Olympic flame around the world. The focus of the story increasingly became the political conditions in Tibet.

Maybe it seemed a great gesture in the planning stage. But as we have been reminded, much of the ceremony and its political potential was anticipated in Hitler’s Berlin Games of 1936.

Then there’s President Bush

The President has been increasingly down-staged by the momentum of the Presidential race in recent months. This week he had to re-enter the limelight, perhaps reluctantly. His position presents a classic dilemma of leadership. Actions (going to the Games) or non-actions (staying away) are likely to bring tricky political repercussions.

Bush decided to go to the Games, while reserving his criticisms of China’s political position for speeches en route to Beijing.

The Leadership Issues

Start from the perspective of leadership as a process of influencing people towards the achievement of objectives. Negotiating, selling, threatening, and protesting, represent behaviours with leadership connections.

From such a broad perspective, we can recognise the various inter-related leadership activities within the stories connected with the Beijing Olympics.

Try as we might, it is hard to bracket out those elements which are ‘purely’ sporting. The Olympic movement has lofty aspirational goals. Even these are increasingly under threat from commercial interests of sponsors. Can we conclude that the decisions to grant the Games are being made simply on sporting considerations?

The structures around the Olympic movement are as complex as any found in global organisations of any kind. Its members influence and are influenced by the political and economic elites of the countries they represent.

This is a major way in which sport and politics mix. But then there are the multiple constituencies who oppose the policies of those in power are the world. There are constitutional as well as revolutionary oppositions.

The various demonstrations that are occurring around the Olympics are no more than the slightest of confirmations (if confirmation were needed) that we are a long way away from a Utopian world of Olympian ideals and universally shared values.

So What?

So what, you may well ask. Because the next few weeks offer a chance to take part in events that will touch almost every one on the planet. Each of us will be prompted to make decisions for ourselves. Watch the games, forget the politics? Take direct action in support of some cherished cause? Give what you can to Darfur, or Tibet, or a more local cause.

Many years ago I spent a year working in New York at a time of National upheaval over the political implication of its military policy in Vietnam. I found it difficult to square my sense of being a guest in a foreign land, not at all clear about the broader context, but someone whose friends were mostly urging me to join them in their anti-war protests. But their arguments were less convincing than their commitment to the anti-war cause.

Later, back in the UK, there were echoes of this dilemma in my ambivalence about the arguments in favour of the CND movement.

I wish I had been able to realize then that there was no right or wrong answer based on the evidence available to me. I was trying to work out what to do, when faced with values apparently pointing in different directions.

A More Creative Stance

To take a far more significant example, the Dali Lama found a resolution to the issue. He has consistently made it clear (a leadership task) what he intends to do regarding the Beijing Olympics. He welcomes the opportunity presented to the Chinese people, and will do nothing to diminish it as a sporting event. This permits him to work as he always has for the rights he seeks for Tibet.

Maybe he illustrates the creativity needed to deal with an apparently intractable problem. In which case we have a modern version of an ancient paradox resolved by rendering unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, without compromising commitment to another and higher authority.


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