Wendy Hughes and the call of creativity [Part 1]

September 29, 2011

Wendy Hughes is a self-employed house painter and decorator, based in South Manchester, England. She is also a creative artist who has discovered a latent talent after a visit to a local New Age gift shop where she was to experience a defining moment in her life

Tudor Rickards

Wendy’s story

in the video above, Wendy was filmed in a break from her daytime occcupation as house painter.  She tells the story of how her artistic creativity was released.

Eighteen months ago Wendy had a strong inner urge to get hold of a different kind of paintbrush and start a different kind of painting. She recalls “going into a shop that sells crystals…there was a Medium there. I didn’t know her”. The medium told Wendy she had a message “telling me to get a small paint brush and some acrylics and start painting… and that’s how it all started”.


A can of a certain well-known drink appears in the video. Its appearance is not an example of product placement. It was not even placed there for creative effect. For adequate sponsorship, Wendy might be prepared to endorse the product further….


In a second video, [to be published in LWD]  Wendy talks more about her artistic creativity. She is quietly insistent that she does not create  her paintings, preferring to say that since that first experience, they are  ‘given’ to her through a Medium or spiritual guide.

She had brought with her several examples of paintings ‘given’ to her by her guide. Her story is a long way from the majority of posts in LWD.  Only later did it occur to me that it does have a connection with much that has been written about the essentially mysterious and even magical nature of the creative process.  The ideas are at odds with rationalistic treatments.  But they can also  be traced to ideas of charisma, and its root meaning of a gift from the muse.

To be continued

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Sandhurst Confronts the Ultimate Military Dilemma

September 29, 2011

Review of Sandhurst, BBC4, by Tudor Rickards

The BBC is following the progress of a group of officer cadets in their early months at Sandhurst, the UK’s elite military academy for its army officers. This week’s episode explored the deepest moral dilemma confronting every military leader

In Leaders We Deserve recently I have been musing on what makes a natural born leader. This was prompted by a news report that Graeme Swann had been labelled as such a rare person at a military training event. I should have remembered answers that might be found in the Officer training regimes in military institutes such as West Point in the United States, and The Royal Military Academy at Sandhurst in Surrey.

The Mini-series

The BBC4 mini-series provides coverage of the extensive process of selecting and training all UK army officers receive. In episode 2 [Tuesday 27th Sept 2011] the emphasis was on the way in which the cadets were confronted with the deepest of leadership dilemmas for every military officer: that of taking life as a way of life.

Tom Sutcliffe in The Independent provided a sensitive review of the issue: He permitted himself a flight of fancy on the impression which the film may have left on hypothetical observers from Taliban intelligence:

What may puzzle [the Taliban intelligence officers] is the odd combination of aggression and sensitivity that runs through the Sandhurst training. We have what they might recognise as mullahs – army chaplains who tutor the trainee officers in the theology of justified killing – and we even have something that they might identify as a pale (and far more thoughtful) equivalent to their own cult of martyrdom. The soldiers here were taken on a trip to a military cemetery to impress upon them just how terminally demanding their career choice can be, and they were also encouraged to read the combat diaries of an exemplary young officer who had been killed just four weeks into his first tour in Afghanistan. There are also elements of training designed to replace humane instinct with a more brutal reflex. In bayonet training, a phalanx of young trainees chanted “kill, kill, kill” as a colour-sergeant screamed his dismay at their lack of obvious blood-lust.

The dilemma

In the BBC documentary, the would-be officers are followed as  they wrestle with the ultimate dilemma. One painfully decided that he did not feel he could accept utterly the implications of killing as an essential part of his career choice. He was counselled sympathetically by senior officers, and eventually left the course to seek another occupation. As Sutcliffe points out, the behaviours we observed would probably have been somewhat different in the absense of the BBC  cameras. Nevertheless, the programme seemed to capture much that is consistent with what has been reported elsewhere is authentic about the ethos within the UK military training as captured in public addresses by senior figures .

Leasons for organisational leadership

The attention to leadership goes far beyond rhetoric.  The subject is directly addressed in formal studies, and runs through much of the drilling and preparations for taking tough decisions under battle-field conditions. In a very real way, officers experience the sometimes brutal and de-sensitizing treatment meted out to the troops they have to lead.  Followership as well as leadership is recognised as an important part of the training.

Born or made?

There can be little doubt that the Sandhurst culture is geared to selecting officers with potential to survive the training and perform as leaders under extreme conditions. Within the selection criteria, most are ‘made’ into effective leaders. Yet Sandhurst would have little to quarrel with the US Marine Corps list of fourteen trait-like characteristics such as  intelligence, resilience, dependability, decisiveness, mental stability, loyalty, and integrity which are broadly consistent with the the well-known big five personality traits of cognitive psychology. The practical challenge is to identify them within the development process.

Pitfalls and paradoxes

Even as I write them down, I see that potential paradoxes and pitfalls of putting total faith in behavioural traits, some of which which can become weaknesses if treated as absolutes.   Unreliable, neurotic and manipulative behaviours are not unknown among great leaders and tyrants alike.


Image is from Ian Mansfield’s informative Ian Visits blog.

An Idiot Abroad 2 : Not a Review

September 26, 2011

An Idiot Abroad had begun its second series on Sky 2 TV before I had overcome my aversion to its title and pre-publicity. Its back story raises disturbing questions about creativity, social identity and thought leadership

It was hard to avoid information about An Idiot Abroad (second series) showing on Sky2 TV. The programme had received extensive advance advertising on Sky as innovative comedy within a travel-show format. Its co-founder Ricky Gervase had been tireless in his enthusiastic plugging of it on the chat show circuit. Gervase and collaborator Steve Merchant had become internationally acclaimed for their achievements first in the cultish British TV series The Office, and later in American media ventures.

The big idea

The big idea in the Sky programme was that Gervase and Merchant had stumbled upon a remarkable non-celebrity whose gnomic observations blew their minds. Said non-celebrity became a challenge, a project to bring to the attention of a wider audience who would share their delight in getting to know him. The title may have been inspired by Mark Twain’s once-famous book An Innocent Abroad which also had its share of disingenuousness built in to its humour.

The idiot Abroad, as Sky puts it:

The man with the spherical head is back! An Idiot Abroad returns this autumn as Karl attempts to tick things off his bucket list [unfulfilled dreams]…. Having struggled to find much to do since returning from 2010’s adventure – as he likes to put it, “when you’ve been in a programme called An Idiot Abroad, other job offers aren’t going to be flying in, are they?” intrepid misanthrope Karl Pilkington sets off for a second time in September. As usual, Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant pull the strings from the comfort of their office, as Karl journeys further from his comfort zone and encounters more confused locals and cultural differences.

Karl’s adventures

The result is an imaginative programme which is part travel show, part improvisational art. Carl gets to visit touristy places and comment in ways which are more touristy than the accepted genre. Individual scenes make great U-tube materials: Carl on a camel; Carl and the not so great wall of China; Carl reacting to the non-Mancunian culture of a tribe whose members worship Prince Philip; Carl in space [I might have made up that one].

Carl Pilkington and the making of celebrity

Carl Pilkington was taken up by Gervase and Merchant after working together on a professional assignment. They related to him as a person of unusual quirky personality and saw the potential for celebrity-making. Their undoubted creative talents, so acclaimed in The Office, are evident in the structuring of this project. It shares part of its success with that of celebrity shows and the complex dynamics of social identity including vicarious enjoyment in both the success and the humiliation of ordinary people.

Carl is presented as someone who has celebrity thrust upon him. It the background, the programme supplies the ingredients of humiliation and bullying of an ordinary bloke. The structure is neatly summed up in the blurb above. There’s a big brother somewhere operating in comfort as fools and horses prance for their entertainment.

Creativity trumps cruelty

There are various psychological defences to protect social identity. Creativity trumps cruelty. Art transcends moral values. It is uncool to object to a bit of light-hearted fun. The charge of political correctness gone mad can be wheeled out. And Ricky Gervais can continue to plug this and his next project. It seems this will involves yet more light-hearted fun involving a gifted artist who becomes the chosen one to benefit from the Gervase celebrity makeover treatment. Parallels with shows orchestrated by ringmasters such as Simon Cowell are clear.

Graeme Swann: Natural born leader?

September 23, 2011

As Graeme Swann prepared for the captaincy of England’s T20 cricket squad, he is described as a natural born leader. What’s all that about?

The story broke on the morning of Swann’s first captaincy appointment [23rd Sept 2011]. It seems the assessment had been made by army trainers at a pre-season training event in Germany.

Impressive, but not enough to advance Swann’s cause above that of the younger incumbent, Stuart Broad, whose injury a vacancy which Swann was more than eager to fill.

“I’ve captained every test I’ve played in, in my head…” he told the BBC, “Now I can dictate the way the play goes on the field.”

The expression of intent is worth close study. I welcome the thoughts of leadership students who also have a passing interest in cricket…


Image from castrolcricket

See comments on this post for recent work on natural born leaders

Swann’s first two tests as England’s T20 Cricket captain produced one overwhelming win, and one crushing defeat with the samde team, against the same opponents.

Tough Calls: Allan Leighton’s philosophy on business and how to fix the economy

September 22, 2011

Allan Leighton has distilled his experience as a successful business leader into a how to do it book. He talks to BBC’s Radio Five of the book and his views on how to fix the economy

Not a Book Review, by Tudor Rickards

Allan Leighton has written a book on business as a matter of making tough calls. This post followed Mr Leighton’s appearance talking about his new book on a radio interview [BBC Five Live, Sept 22nd, 2011]

The high-profile leader

Allan Leighton has had a track record of considerable success as a corporate business leader. He is widely credited for the successful transformation of Asda. LWD subscribers will have followed his more turbulent time at Royal Mail. You can see a range of posts dealing with the period 2007 on as he battled with the challenges of transformation in the State owned organization [Use the LWD Search box opposite inserting the tag Allan Leighton]. According to reports at the time, his leadership style was no-nonsense, and popularist (or unpopularist if you crossed him). His successful career justifies attention when he turns his attention to offering business advice.

No business jargon

Mr Leighton spoke with impressive confidence. The absence of business jargon was noticeable This differentiates him from business leaders whose public utterances often suggest too much coaching, over-rehearsal and acceptance of someone else’s script-writing.

The key ideas

Three key ideas were clearly expounded.

[1] ‘Most business decisions are ultimately simple’
[2] Work from understanding consumer needs and motivations
[3] Stick to your Business DNA. [Shades of the advice given several decades ago by Peters and Waterman, ‘stick to your knitting’]

George Osborne or Allan Leighton?

The interview shifted to the Tough Calls facing the Chancellor of the Exchequer. Mr Leighton suggested that the Government’s focus should be on renewing consumer confidence which had been eroded by high levels of inflation. Confident consumers are spending consumers.

Within an hour there was a powerful exchange of views between two industrial commentators, one taking the view that confident financial analysts were more important than confident consumers for long-term economic stability. Not such a simple decision, perhaps?

Tough Calls reviewed

I came across a fine review of Tough Calls written by Tom Otley, in The Business Traveller:

Books from business leaders seek to draw general rules from specific experience. For us to read them we have to believe the person is successful, and they are able to distil the knowledge they have gained from their careers into a form we may learn from.

One obvious advantage his high profile has given him is that for a book like this he can speak with dozens of very well known, influential and respected business leaders and learn what they think about decision-making. Everyone from Sir Terry Leahy (Tesco) to Martin Sorrell (WPP), Sir Stuart Rose (Marks & Spencer) to Charles Dunstone (Carphone Warehouse) is here, and it’s immensely interesting reading what they have to say.

The disadvantage of Leighton’s approach is that each one of these business leaders has their own receipt for success, and they don’t always agree with one another. Nevertheless, Leighton concludes by offering a sequence of actions on the part of the decision maker:

“1. Step in. 2. Collect and digest the best information available at the time. 3. Make the decision. 4 Communicate the decision. 5. Make sure it happens. 6. Move on.”

…Many of us over the years have had bosses like this, who distil their considerable wisdom to the point where it’s obvious.

The reviewer mischievously then illustrates the point with a quote from the currently beleaguered James Murdoch:

“I have been following a lot of journalists and commentators tweeting and blogging about News Corp. … They’ve been out to dinner, they’ve had a drink and then they are on Twitter. It is just madness. You have to have rules about engagement in these areas.”

Follow That

I’m not sure if I can add much to Tom Otley’s review. However, the book is available at a very reasonable price on Kindle, and I may well attempt my first review of an e-book.

Watch this space.

Charismatic candidates add spice to the Irish Presidential elections

September 19, 2011

Martin McGuinness

David Norris

The Irish Presidential Elections will be dominated by charismatic candidates including Senator David Norris and Northern Ireland’s deputy leader Martin McGuinness

News of the forthcoming Irish Presidential Election has been spiced up this week [September 18th 2011] with stories of Martin McGuinness and David Norris. For rather different reasons, neither name yet appears on the official list of candidates.

Martin McGuinness

The declaration of intent by Martin McGuinness [September 16th, 2011] came as a surprise even to political commentators

The surprise quickly turned to an appreciation that the move was a politically shrewd one on the part of his party, Sinn Fein:

If Martin McGuinness makes it to Aras an Uachtarain [the Irish seat of Government] it will mark one of the most remarkable political journeys possible in a lifetime … When he joined the Provisional IRA [Irish Republican Army] around 1970 … he could have been court-martialled for even talking about contesting elections. The Irish State and all its institutions were looked on as treasonous.

Now that is all water under the bridge. Instead of a backdrop of bombs, bullets and threats he goes into this election with Rev David Latimer’s description of him as “one of the great leaders of modern times” fresh in the public’s mind. [This refers to a story [9th Sept 2011] of a prominent Protestant cleric invited to Sinn Fein’s annual conference and publically praising McGuinness’s efforts as a Statesman].

Suddenly Sinn Fein [McGuinness’s party associated with the IRA’s the struggles for a United Ireland,and a major player in the peace process] no longer seems the edgy or dangerous choice it once did to southern {i.e. Republic of Ireland] voters.

A wider political story

A few weeks later, McGuinness announced his intentions to stand as President of Ireland. It became easier to see the David Latimer story for its wider political implications.

David Norris: will he, won’t he?

The second ‘might be’ candidate is former front-runner, Senator David Norris [Independent]. He has recently become the centre of a blogging storm .

Norris is widely regarded as a charismatic figure, and an openly gay civil rights campaigner. His withdrawal from the race has been attributed to a clemency letter he wrote to Israeli authorities on behalf of his former partner Ezra Nawi, who had been convicted for having sex with a 15-year-old boy. A variation of this suggests he was politically damaged by remarks he made about underage sex with boys.

At the time of writing [Sept 20th 2011] his re-emergence as a candidate remains unconfirmed.

The betting

Betting is still strongest on the two confirmed candidates (who have not even been mentioned in this post). Michael Higgins (Labour) is a near odds-on front runner; Gay Mitchell (Fine Gael) trails, and is only marginally ahead of McGuinness, and the still undeclared Norris.

The downside of charisma

Charismatic leadership has the potential to carry forward a vision or cause. Such leaders have been associated with great transformational movements particularly in global politics. They also attract fierce opposition.

While theorists talk of a post-charismatic era, the charismatic mode remains an influential force for social and political change. Martin McGuinness makes it clear he intends to stand as a candidate for a United Ireland. Controversy will rage over the time he fought for that cause as a member of the IRA.

Belbin Team Roles and their Leadership Implications

September 16, 2011

by Tudor Rickards

Belbin team role theory had found widespread practical applications for diagnosing and influencing team behaviours. Yet its implications for team leadership have been widely ignored

Background provided from the University of Coventry confirms that Dr Belbin [b 1926] is a graduate of Clare College Cambridge and that among his academic positions he has held a visiting Professor in leadership at the University of Exeter. His team role theory can be traced to his seminal work [1981], Management Teams: Why They Succeed or Fail.

The Perfect team?

An influential historic article was by journalist Anthony Jay, who pointed up the core concept that a team needs members capable and willing to carry out the identified roles. The salient features of Jay’s article has more been recently [2004] republished. It covers the essential features of the team roles, and supplies the factor analysis associated with role preferences as:

[1] intelligence; [2] dominance; [3] extroversion/introversion; and [4] stability/anxiety.

Cognitive psychologists will recognise the connection with various classifications of psychological traits (although Belbin has always emphasised that the roles are preferred rather than innately fixed behaviour patterns).

Team role labels

The labels are not totally self-explanatory, and have changed somewhat over time. One simplification is into four roles with a focus outside the team, and four which are more internally-focussed. I will use the older terminology for consistence with materials cited below. More recent labels include Coordinator for Chairman.

Outward looking
Resource Investigator

Inward focus
Company Worker
Monitor Evaluator
Team Worker
Completer or finisher

Team Roles and Leadership theory

The outward facing roles anticipate much later leadership theories of distributed leadership.

‘Chairman’ is one of those slightly misleading titles, since he [or she] may well not be the leader of his team; nevertheless, it is team leadership that he is best fitted for. His early contributions are morelikely to take the forms of questions than assertions or proposals. He listens, sums up group feelings and articulates group verdicts, and if a decision has to be taken, takes it firmly after everyone has had their say.

The Shaper exudes self-confidence, which often belies strong self-doubts. Only results can reassure him. His drive, which has a compulsive quality, is always directed at his objectives. They are usually the team’s objectives too, but the Shaper, much more than the Chairman, sees the team as an extension of his own ego.

Some researchers have suggested that a team needs a ‘social’ leader, who is the permanent head of the group, and a separate ‘task’ leader who is in charge of a specific and defined project – much in the way that a nation needs both a Head of State, who is permanent, and a Head of Government, with a specific job to do. If so, the Shaper is the task leader and the Chairman is the social leader. The Shaper is the most likely to be the actual leader of a team both in cases where there is no Chairman, or where the Chairman is not, in fact, the leader.


Belbin’s work overlaps with notions of distributed leadership emerged. Jay wrote that“nobody’s perfect but a team may be”. Manz and Sims wrote of a team acting as a “superleader” with shared responsibilities for the various challenges facing it.

The Plant and Creative Leadership

Another outward focussed role is that of a Plant. Early work deliberately ‘planted’ a creativer individualo in a team to enhance its creative outputs. More recent work suggests that creativity is strongly associated with leadership. Here again, Belbin’s work suggests its implications for leadership research.

More research needed

Belbin’s team role theory has been seriously ignored by leadership authors. There is a considerable opportunity for valuable research in this area with practical implications.


The post was triggered by discussions recently with Manchester Business School Worldwide tutors. I am particularly grateful to contributions from Dr Richard Common, Susan Moger, Leigh Wharton, Stephen Parry and Louise Pinfold

How leaders support (and sometimes hinder) corporate innovation

September 13, 2011

Research shows that leadership commitment can be a powerful supporting factor within global new product development projects. However, the commitment can also have an inhibiting effect

The surprising result emerged from prize-winning study by a team of researchers from Europe and America who studied the relationships between leadership commitment and effectiveness of new product development (NPD) projects surveying nearly 400 global business units.

The paper by Elko Kleinschmidt, Ulrike De Brentani, and Søren Salomo won the Susan Moger and Tudor Rickards best paper award for 2010, voted by the editorial board of Creativity and Innovation Management Journal.

The study

The study draws on information processing theories of innovation which explore the relationships between information technology deployment and knowledge conversion into new products. The researchers examined the impact of senior managers internally as moderating factors in the process.

Such research requires the most careful attention to methodology to arrive at claims for reliability and conceptual validity of conclusions. The difficulties increase when the studies are multi-level (internal to the firm, and out into the wider global environment). The authors are careful to address these issues.

The anticipated findings

Among the anticipated findings was the conventional wisdom that top management commitment enhances innovation efforts. The authors were to find the view only partially confirmed.

The actual findings

“The research indicates that Senior Management Involvement does not impact global NPD outcome directly, but that there are significant interactions with the two [internal environmental factors]. One may speculate that Senior Management Involvement permeates all aspects of international NPD – but, in a leadership, visioning and delegating fashion – and that its real impact on performance is primarily indirect, through its moderation of all related systems and activities”.

The research adds evidence to another suspicion among technical professions, that top management enthusiasm for a technological fix may result in over-zealous involvement and perhaps ‘meddling’

On getting too involved

“By supporting the IT-Comm Infrastructure of their firms, senior management gives it relevance and legitimacy, potentially making its use an integral part of the global NPD culture of the firm and thus ensuring its use throughout the organization. At the same time, getting too involved in the day-to-day NPD operations can be problematic. Already developed capabilities in the form of routines for concrete problem solving could be weakened through ad hoc approaches introduced by top management.”


The researchers were honoured at a dinner in Corpus Christi college Cambridge [September 7th 2011] hosted by Dr James Moultrie, Institute for Manufacturing at Cambridge University as an event within the 1st Cambridge Academic Design Management Conference (CADMC). James was the recipient of the award in 2009.

The photograph shows from left to right Professor Olaf Fischer, University of Twente; Susan Moger, Manchester Business School, University of Manchester; Emeritus Professor Elko Kleinschmidt, McMaster University; Emeritus Professor Tudor Rickards, Manchester University; Dr James Moultrie, Cambridge University; Dr Søren Salomo, Danish Technical University; and Dr Klassjan Visscher, University of Twente.

Olaf and Klassan are co-editors of Creativity and Innovation Management Journal [with, in absentia, Professor Petra de Weerd-Nederhof, University of Twente].

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

Carol Bartz is fired as CEO of Yahoo

September 7, 2011

Carol Bartz

Carol Bartz

Carole Bartz was fired by a phone call as CEO of Yahoo. What does this tell us about the corporate culture?


The intitally published version of this post suggested Carol Bartz was ‘fired by an email’. That turned out to be false and I apologise for the error. She was fired in an unexpected telephone call. The core of the original post was that dismissal by email would have been outrageous. I’m not convinced about her ‘dismissal by mobile’, although there could well be mitigating circumstances for that. There remains an interesting story of how Ms Bartz has been treated since her appointment as one of the most successful female executives in Coprorate America.

Carole replaces Jerry

Ms Bartz took over at Yahoo in 2009 from one it its co-founders Jerry Yan. She made organizational changes, cut costs and attempted to move out of search-oriented business.

According to the BBC Ms Bartz emailed her own staff yesterday [Sept 6th 2011] to say

“I am very sad to tell you that I’ve just been fired over the phone by Yahoo’s chairman of the board”

Larry Magid, a technology analyst said the company has not seen enough of a turn-around under Ms Bartz’s leadership. “She hasn’t done anything to change the company’s fortunes, and they are still anxious to find a leader who can move them up,” he said. Critics also claim that Yahoo has failed to make significant strides in two of the most lucrative segments of the market; search and social networking.

Tim Morse, the company’s chief financial officer will serve as and interim chief executive while the board of directors select a new CEO. Shares of Yahoo jumped at after hours trading on the news [6th Sept 2011].

Bartz and the Glass Ceiling

In an earlier Leaders we deserve post we looked at the impressive track record of Bartz. The press comments on her appointment suggested that the Glass Ceiling was still alive and well for female executives in Corporate America. It also hinted at ageism (Bartz was in her 60s on appointment).

Dismissals we deserve

It can be argued that Carole Bartz ‘deserved’ to be fired for failing to meet the expectations of the marketplace. However, the manner of her firing may tell something about the culture of Yahoo, and attitudes to women and ageism in global corporations and financial institutions.