“I didn’t see that coming” The glorious unpredictability of sport, leadership and life

December 1, 2015

Not a ReviewNot a week goes by without me stumbling over the unpredictability of leadership in business, sport, politics, and more seriously over environment challenges and global conflicts

Being alive brings with it the survival skill of reacting to the unexpected. Fear of the unknown is part of the evolutionary arrangements. Learning from the immediate is another.

My blogging tries to help me, and I hope readers,  to connect up the microcosmic with broader sets of ideas, sometimes known as theories. This weekend there were several moments in which my reaction was “I didn’t see that coming”.

Tyson Fury

Tyson Fury’s win over Vladimir Klitschko was one such story. It involved two excessively large boxers in a sometimes hilarious spectacle of drumming up business for their world championship match. The challenger, Tyson Fury, had a range of attention-grabbing stunts. He heaped on the obligatory abuse belittling his opponent. At one press conference he appeared dressed as Batman and gave a pantomime performance of apprehending The Joker. He burst into tuneless song, dedicating it to his pregnant wife, and once, to his impassive opponent.

His underdog back story of the Gipsy King was already in place, ticking many boxes some with similarities to those of bad boy Mike Tyson after whom he was named.

Boxing, that noble art, risks going down a path of gratuitous violence with increasing suspicions of its integrity of decisions, and welfare of its participants. I watch from to time to time with a mix of admiration and suspicion at the apotheosis of athleticism at the service of big business.

The long-established but aging champion was still widely expected to win, although Fury had his cautiously optimistic supporters among pundits. In the fight, Fury delivered the strategy he had boasted of in the pre-fight nonsense and was the shock winner. I for one was fooled, and perhaps so was Klitschko.

As one report put it

Britain’s Tyson Fury pulled off one of the great boxing upsets as he outpointed Wladimir Klitschko to become heavyweight champion of the world. It was a dour and often messy fight but Fury, courtesy of his superior boxing skills, fully deserved to be awarded a unanimous decision.

Ukrainian Klitschko, whose nine-year reign as champion was brought to an end, simply could not work the challenger out and did not do enough to win.

George Osborne

The chancellor stood up to present his autumn financial statement before a House expecting some humiliating climb down over his plans to scrap financial benefits. Osborne sat down to conservative cheers having found a way of turning a defeat into apparent victory.

He was no longing scrapping financial benefits as announced, he was scrapping his plans. A bemused Robert Peston for the BBC described the ‘conjuring trick’.

So how has George Osborne pulled off the magical trick of maintaining spending on the police, imposing smaller than anticipated departmental spending cuts in general, and performing an expensive u-turn on tax-credit reductions, while remaining seemingly on course to turn this year’s £74bn deficit into a £10bn surplus in 2020.

Well, it is because the government’s forecaster, the Office for Budget Responsibility, has increased its prognosis of how much the Treasury will raise from existing taxes (not new ones) and reduced what it thinks the chancellor will shell out in interest on its massive debts.

Or to put it another way, George Osborne is today £23bn better off than he thought in July, and without doing anything at all.

Time to go back to the alleged remark by Napoleon about lucky generals.

Robert and Grace Mugabe

Nothing will surprise me about Mr Mugabe anymore. Or so I thought. Then I read of the expectations of his wife that thanks to a little help from orthopaedic aids, she expects him to rule Zimambwe until he reaches his hundredth birthday. After that  Grace Mgabe is willing to assume the presidency. Grace has already astounded her observers at the speed her PhD was granted from the University of Zimbabwe, following her less successful efforts as a correspondence course student at the University of London.

Lucky Robert. Poor Zimbabwe.



Leaders in the news

November 28, 2015

As November ends, more leadership stories fill the headlines

Marissa Mayer

In preparing posts for LWD I am detecting a reduction in fresh stories of heroic leaders.   Some years ago I could select from several available on any day of the week to discuss with my students. Now the stories more often report leaders whose actions and decisions have turned out badly.

Marissa Mayer

Among  leaders under attack is Yahoo’s Marissa Mayer who finds her turnaround plans in disarray, while facing criticism of a poor approach in dealing with employee engagement.

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Jose Mourinho has a long memory

November 23, 2015

Corporal Jones

Jose Mourinho arrives in Israel for Chelsea’s European Cup match against Maccabi Tel Aviv.  Last year, Chelsea would have been expected to win the match easily against the weakest team in their pool. But their early season form has remained fragile. In the press conference, he remembers how Grahame Le Saux let him down fourteen years earlier

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Aung San Suu Kyi is political leader of the month

November 18, 2015


The 2015 elections in Myanmar await ratification.  The lengthy transition of the country towards a representative democracy seems closer.  The leadership of Aung San Suu Kui has been lengthy and heroic.  She is Leaders We Deserve political leader of the month.

Nothing is straightforward to the outside world, in the politics of Myanmar.  The country has had a painful transition from a colonial outpost of the British Empire though a military regime and now edges towards a democratic state with leaders appointed through free and fair elections.

The Leader who cannot be president

Now it seems victory in the polls has been accepted although the prevailing system secures military presence in both chambers of the country’s legislature.  This means that Suu Kyi is excluded from post of President on the law introduced which precludesappointment of anyone married to a non-Burmese partner. This seems designed with the primary purpose of excluding Suu Kyi  if her party were to gain power. She has noted crisply that would not matter as she would be able to overrule the president if necessary.

One constant in the battle for power has been the significant leadership influence exercised by Ann San Suu Kyi  during her lengthy periods of detention.  Her story of gradual concessions wrong from those in power, including the military, has been likened to those won by Nelson Mandela during and after his incarceration.

Critical events

Previous posts in LWD have touched on the critical events . These included the pressure exerted by the international community rejecting brutal suppression of opposition by the military forces;  the recognition of pressure from the world community by General Thein Sein, and the delaying tactics by the military and ruling party as hopes of change increase. The process echoes the acceptance by De Klerk of the need for change in South Africa as it moved to multi-racial democracy.

The realities of power

Over the last few months, the dilemmas of leadership are emerging.  Aung Sang has political balances to deal with.  This may explain what she said as well as what she did not say during the election campaign. Reformists and well-wishers around the world will be watching how she deals with the oppression of the Rohingya minority in Myanyar.

The Charismatic Leader

I have tended to emphasize the dark side of charismatic leadership in LWD posts. The greater the heroic image presented, the more important it is to assess the human behind the iconography. I found Nelson Mandela’s achievements all the more admirable when I accepted that he did not have to be beyond reproach for some of his actions. I am hoping that the achievements of Suu Kyi will similarly be seen as the more remarkable coming from not a flawless symbol of hope but a human being doing great things.



Why England Rugby is still in denial

November 16, 2015

Warren Gatland

England Rugby is still recovering from its World Cup performances and the sacking of head coach Stuart Lancaster. Media conversations illustrate the point

The agonies of England’ s Rugby Union defeats in the World Cup may not have been lessened by the splendid victory of its Rugby League team yesterday in its International Series against New Zealand.

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No more words

November 15, 2015

Indy Paris Rotated

Only support





November 15 2015

Gatwick Airport briefly closed. Jerome Chauris from Vendome, Loir-et- Cher arrested for possession of air rifle and knife.




Steve Cram: “We appoint the leaders we deserve”

November 12, 2015

Steve CramNearly ten years ago, the first Leaders We Deserve post was published. Steve Cram suggests its relevance to the current problems of international sporting institutions

Hours after the monumental Press Conference and publication of WADA’s report [9 October 2015] Steve Cram gave his views on the crisis in sports management globally. He was asked why the whole situation had been allowed to go on unchecked. He replied that he was over fifty years old and had been living with drug doping since he was a young (and world-beating) athlete. We are all involved, he added. Media, athletes, administrators … we appointed them, we get the leaders we deserve.

Steve Cram gave a video interview [10 October 2015] in which he elaborated on his earlier remarks:

Cram says “we are all to blame” for allowing people “not up to scratch” to get into powerful positions in world sport, but believes that IAAF president Lord Coe is the man to enact change within athletics.

For those interested, the ABOUT box on our home page traces the conversations with subscribers since the blog started in 2016 and introduces its basic ideas:

The concept behind the Blog’s title is that leadership can be treated as a social concept. We create our leaders, and to some degree build them up and destroy them. In that sense, we are responsible for the influence that leaders exercise over the rest of us. If we understand more about this, we may better understand and mediate the behaviour of leaders (In very early discussion thread, someone rightly pointed out the importance of clarifying ‘who are the ‘we’ in all this).

My previous studies had been mainly of business leaders, but I could see how there could be some similarities, and some differences, in the leadership stories in other fields, such as politics, military and sporting endeavours.



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