Swansea football success hints at leadership secrets

February 25, 2013

Michael LaudrupSwansea City’s victory in the Capital One Cup Final over Bradford City was hailed as a heart-warming story of sporting triumph. We examine its leadership themes

As Swansea City was winning its first major trophy in its hundred year history [February 24th, 2013], I was returning from the arctic city of Tromso, after a visit that deserves a future blog post of its own.

I arrived home early evening to hear the BBC football commentator Alan Green on a radio phone-in describe Swansea as ‘coming from the Welsh valleys’. Sorry Alan, that’s like describing Londonderry as ‘somewhere in Ireland’. Swansea is on the Gower Peninsula, to be found forty miles to the west of the Welsh valleys.

The story was creating itself

The match had recently finished. As I listened, the callers to the programme were creating an instant myth. Their story told of a glorious encounter between two teams of heroes. The arena was the great battle-ground of Wembley Stadium. This was not a battle of good and evil. Although Premier side Swansea was the clear prematch favourite, Bradford, three divisions below them, had reached the final through defeating among others the mighty Arsenal and Liverpool teams.

The battle of everyday heroes

In mythology, the ordinary becomes heroic in battle. In this myth, both Bradford and Swansea had become heroic. The central heroes were the players who fought out the battle. There were also the battalions of supporters, not fighting against each other but witnesses to the performance. At the end of the match, rival fans embraced in respect. There was a tragic hero in the figure of the Bradford goal-keeper who fate decreed had unwittingly broken the rules, and was dismissed from the field, not in disgrace but in an act of atonement.

The glorious battle

The battle was fought not for the annihilation of an enemy but for the celebration of the encounter. Swansea ‘gave an exhibition’ which means a celebration of beauty in the performance. They won 5-0, a record score for the competition.

The apotheosis of Laudrup

The phone-in also revealed the elevation to the heights of the Swansea manager Michael Laudrup. The former Danish international player had helped create the team and its a free-flowing style. His gracious post-Match interview, speech acknowledging the achievements of Bradford was recognized as one showing authentic leadership.

His managerial acumen was shown by his skills at early identification of the talents of the Spanish player, Michu, ahead of the scouting teams of the wealthy European giants.

Laudrup’s destiny?

Already we can see ahead the inevitable outcome of mythic success. Laudrup, through the glorious victory of his team, will leave the little club of Swansea City. There is already talk that he is destined to replace another great football manager, Arsene Wenger, at Arsenal.

A Cast of Heroes

Classical Drama requires an entire cast of heroes. Before and beyond the battle can be found the wise chief. The Swansea City chairman could claim credit for seeking out managers with the spirit to lead the club to greatness. His earlier choices were Roberto Martinez and then Brendon Rodgers . Their success at Swansea meant that they were fated to accept a move away for an offer they could not refuse.

Next year

Next year, as winners of the League Cup, Swansea will play in European competition. The myth will continue its fated path. Victories will bring glory. Glories will fade into memory. Sic Transit Gloria Mundi

Global reach: Does Manchester United Football Club have five hundred million ‘followers’?

February 18, 2013

MUFC red devilTudor Rickards

A market research firm claims that Manchester United Football Club is followed by approximately one of every ten people in the world. This figure has prompted much suspicion.

The claim was made by Kantar Sport, and is featured within promotional material by the football club which also has claims to have the greatest following world-wide.

The story was reported by the BBC [February 18th 2012]

Even the most ardent opponent of Manchester United would acknowledge that the club has fans right around the world. But the statement that the club has a global following of 659 million adults – out of a total five billion adults in the world – is still quite staggering.

The work was carried out earlier, and had already appeared on MUFC’s official website which stated:

The largest global football follower survey ever conducted has today [29th May 2012] named Manchester United the world’s most popular club, with 659 million followers worldwide.

The survey was carried out by leading market research agency, Kantar, and gathered 54,000 respondents from 39 countries. The club that Forbes recently named the most valuable in world sport was identified as the favourite team of 659 million followers around the world. Kantar found that football remains the world’s most popular sport, with 1.6 billion followers globally, reinforcing the results of a recent FIFA survey which produced a similar figure.
Richard Arnold, the club’s Commercial Director, commented on the long-term strategy that has made Manchester United the number one club in the world’s number one sport.

The BBC was more skeptical:

Even the most ardent opponent of Manchester United would acknowledge that the club has fans right around the world. But the statement that the club has a global following of 659 million adults – out of a total five billion adults in the world – is still quite staggering.

When an advertising agency makes statistical claims, it is a good idea to carry out a few simple tests to understand the degree of marketing speak behind the statement.

Schrank’s analysis

The advertising guru Jeffrey Shrank has compiled a list of the methods behind advertising claims in The Language of Advertising Speak. The Schrank article ‘does what it says on the can’ to borrow another advertising claim. Schrank lists ten ways in which advertising claims seek to imply more than the words claim.

The Manchester United Claim

In the case of Manchester United, this will be the owners, The Glazer family. It is worth asking: What part might the ‘one person in ten’ claim play in the strategic thinking of the owners of the club?

Note to students of leadership:

Can you apply the processes of map reading, testing and making to understanding more about the claim? What do you make of the statistical methods applied by Kantor? [intelligent assessment if you are not experienced with stats] How would you advise a competitive club on the significance of the claim for their own strategic considerations?

The public use of reason: a reflection on Kant’s essay “What is enlightenment?”

February 17, 2013

Immanuel KantTudor Rickards

In 1794, the great German philosopher Immanuel Kant [pictured] entered into public debate about the nature of state control and individual freedoms. His ideas are important today for an understanding the deepest dilemmas of leadership in public life

Two hundred years later, the issues raised by Kant remain with us. We are familiar with the dilemmas of unthinking acceptance of authority. Debates rage over individual rights of women to aspire to religious roles, gay couples to marry with the approval of the state or religious leaders, and the rights to free speech.

The nature of individual freedom

Kant was writing within a public debate over the nature of freedom. The ‘German enlightenment’ had defined enlightenment as the emergence of a society through reason from a condition of self-inflicted intellectual immaturity. He used a German term which has been translated as ‘nonage’ or a pre-adult condition. [These days we might consider immaturity or adolescence as related terms.]

He argued that in an Age of Enlightenment, there a possibility for human progress from nonage through the application of reason. Kant was no utopian believer in the emancipation of the human race from its largely unreasoning condition. He drew attention to several difficulties. Specifically he examines the roles of ‘Guardians’ who have a designated public role in which they sustain the institutions of state, including the established social order, [the monarch, or tyrant] the military, and the government officials.

Public roles and public duty

Kant illustrates how such public roles come with public duties: A military officer obeys orders, a cleric accepts doctrine, a tax collector has no right to challenge the principles behind the demand to the citizens to pay taxes. The public official thus has restrictions imposed on the application of reason to challenge publicly the offices of state. However, he sees how without reason and challenge, the institutions will ossify. He argues for the right of such individuals in public office to exercise reason privately to explore how the systems may adjust to changes over time.

Kant concludes that the state is advised to permit the exercise of private freedom to test and challenge the institutions and their functioning. An enlightened ruler permits freedom of articulating religious, as well as artistic ideas, as falling into the processes for sustaining the viability of the State.

The limits of revolution

The age of enlightenment gave intellectual impetus to radical and revolutionary disruptions of the old order [the ancient regime in France; the British rule in America]. However, Kant notes that any revolution will not sweep away restrictions to personal freedom, although they may replace a more repressive regime with one more prepared to grants to individuals to think what they like, as a Fundamental human right. He points out that such freedoms have mostly been feared by unenlightened rulers who have not seen that repressing such freedoms will eventually be counter-productive.

Meanwhile, today…

I find the ideas expressed by Kant more than relevant as I listen to the contemporary discussions raging over individual freedoms, the appointment of women priests and bishops, and the legitimacy of marriage granted by religious and political institutions.

Don’t Miss “The Queen of Katwe”

February 13, 2013

The Queen of Katwe jacket image

Book alert: The Queen of Katwe is a must-read for chess players and all who wonder at human triumph against adversity

Top of my reading list this week is a story of a little girl who wants to become a chess champion. As sports writer and author Tim Crother puts it bluntly and contentiously in his book:

“Phiona Mutesi is the ultimate underdog… to be African is to be an underdog in the world. To be Ugandan is to be an underdog in Africa. To be from Katwe is to be an underdog in Uganda. To be a girl is to be an underdog in Katwe.”

More to follow

Review comments welcomed from any LWD subscriber

The Dreamliner Dream Turns Sour. What are the Implications for the Global Air Travel Industry?

February 11, 2013

Boeing 787 Dreamliner

by Pikay Richardson and Tudor Rickards

On Friday January 18th all Boeing 787s were grounded by the Federal Aviation Authority of the United States, after an emergency landing in Japan had intensified the security and safety concerns of the aircraft. Shares in Boeing took a dive.

The Big Dream Turns Sour

This was a serious blow to the company following earlier problems to the Dreamliner, including, a fire, a battery explosion and a fuel leak. Aviation agencies around the world followed suit and grounded all other 787s. For All Nippon Airways, the airline with the biggest Dreamliner fleet, the brake problem was the third hitch in as many days. Shares dropped by more than 3% after the ban.

The troubles for the Dreamliner began in November 2010, when a fire broke out in an avionics bay during a test flight and forced an emergency landing. By this time, the plane had already had a three-year delay in its delivery deadline, which led to increased costs, order cancellations and much concern in the airline industry. Some airlines that had staked their future operations on the Dreamliner.

Boeing’s reputation is also on the line. The Dreamliner project had generated a great amount of hype for its claims of quality, innovativeness and fuel efficiency. Indeed, the Dreamliner had been touted as the great new business hope for Boeing and for its commercial airline customers. Boeing drew attention to the Dreamliner’s high-tech composite fibre body, which reduces weight and thereby improves fuel efficiency significantly. In commercial aviation, fuel costs constitute a substantial proportion of total costs and any weight-reducing innovation drops straight to the bottom line.

New order books were high, topping 848, with 50 delivered and in service, clocking about 100 flights per day by December 2012. In the event, All Nippon Airways and Japan Airlines, with 24 of the 50 delivered, had their fingers most badly burnt . Not insignificantly, passenger confidence in the aircraft and its use declined.

As observed by Patrick Smith of The Atlantic:

“this is a huge and costly black eye for Boeing and its customers. But it could have a lot been worse. The grounding came pre-emptively before anybody was seriously hurt or killed. It is also helpful that the problem, as we understand it so far, is fixable. Burning batteries are serious, but this isn’t a structural defect which will end up costing billions”

Prospects and Implications

Where does this unfortunate episode leave Boeing’s future business, reputation and leadership in the commercial aviation industry? That depends on how long it takes to fix the problems and in consequence, how long this grounding continues. There may well be wider implications for air travel, aircraft manufacture and innovation in aircraft systems, competition and of strategic leadership in the duopoly of Boeing and Airbus.

Based on the separate analysis and forecast of the future development of aviation and air travel, and in consequence, demand for aircraft, Boeing based its future on mid-sized point-to-point travel that necessitated mid-sized 250-seater type aircrafts.

Airbus, on the other hand, forecast demand for more hub-based travel, requiring bigger aircraft, hence the development of the 550-800-seater double-decker A380. The A380 is increasingly establishing itself. Emirates has ordered 30, and has plans for 90 more. It recently opened a A380-dedicated terminal [6th January 2013]. Implementing either of The competing strategies will result in interesting challenges in the immediate and longer-term.

Doping in tennis: thinking the unthinkable

February 5, 2013

Rafa NadalAndy Murray calls for stricter anti-doping measures for tennis. This is news partly an aftershock from the Lance Armstrong case in cycling. It raises an alternative explanation for near super-human endurance feats of top tennis players from time to time

[Updated March 2015]

News stories sometimes reveal a series of earlier incidents which seem to be connected. The antecedents are not necessarily causes. Take this week’s story of doping in tennis. Doping has made headlines in recent weeks [Jan 2012] over the downfall of Lance Armstrong, one of the biggest names in cycling. The entire sport risks pariah status if it cannot be seen to have taken steps to clean up its act. A more recent cycling icon, Bradley Wiggins, speaks up for the clean cyclists who feel that Armstrong has diminished their achievements.

Read the rest of this entry »

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.


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.