On decision making, Plan B and half-time team talks

October 27, 2015

Sam DavisNotes on a rugby match, half-time motivational talks, and executing a change from a Plan A to a Plan B

The match features The Ospreys of Wales playing Connaught of Ireland. The game is as important as any league clash, but hardly one in which the result is career-changing.


Ospreys have the more glamorous internationals and reputation. Connaught have more local players, although they are catching up on the other Irish regional teams. Home advantage to Ospreys. Connaught are on a good winning streak and Ospreys are recovering from the donation of key players to Wales for the World Cup. Ospreys expect a tough match but as home team are favourites. Their home record against Connaught is very good.

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The Rugby World Cup 2015. How Wales beat England with a little help from Japan

September 27, 2015

Wales rugby ball

September 26 2015 Wales 28 England 25

The statistics suggest it was a close match. It was more than that. It produced a tale of a glorious last minute triumph by a team cruelly depleted by injuries and facing exit from the World Cup

[This post is updated for the duration of the Rugby World Cup of 2015]

I might one day be able to write a balanced evaluation of the match, if only for discussion about the leadership lessons contained in it. For the moment I can only put down first impressions.

Four years ago, a young Welsh team battled to the semi-finals of the Rugby World Cup. Their captain Sam Warburton made an instinctive impetuous tackle against a French opponent which led to his instant dismissal from the field. Wales lost narrowly. France lost easily to the New Zealand all blacks in the final.

The Group of Death

Four years later the core of the Welsh team, now more experienced, found themselves playing in the 2015 competition, hosted by England but with a small number of matches played in Wales. They had been drawn in what was in sporting cliché terms the Group of Death, with three strong teams, Australia, England together with Wales, as well as two weaker (or at least lower ranked) teams Fiji and Uruguay.

The all play all format among the five teams meant that one of the favourites had to be eliminated at the end of the pool stage. From the moment the draw was made, the match between England and Wales was seen as potentially crucial.

The England team had showed promise in the run up to the tournament. They also had the advantage of playing in their national stadium at Twickenham. Australia also arrived in good form and was seen as one of the top three teams, behind World Champions New Zealand, and a powerful South African team from a country that had already won two world cups. Wales were regarded as strong enough to cause trouble, but likely to be eliminated unless they were able to beat one of England or Australia.

The Welsh preparation campaign under the wily chief coach Warren Gatland had stuttered with injuries to several key players. Then in a warm-up match a few weeks before the tournament, the loss of more players, including their world-class goal kicker Leigh Halfpenny.

The England team had also suffered injury withdrawals from their first match against Fiji. The coaching team led by Stuart Lancaster had to find a plan B against Wales. The decisions inevitably aroused criticisms. Lancaster had selected the highly talented but inexperienced Burgess, a recent recruit from Rugby League. For understandable reasons, Lancaster also decided to start with a specialist goal kicker replacing one of the team’s more imaginative playmakers.

The match begins

The evening match was played before a capacity crowd. England was seen as favourite to win even by Welsh rugby supporters and commentators.

The match itself was tense partly for its importance to the teams, and partly because it was close, and with errors from both teams. England seemed physically stronger and edged ahead. A defensive error from Wales, and England powered over the line for a slick well-executed try. Then Wales sustained more sickening injuries. Liam Williams at full back replacing Halfpenny was stretchered off. Several more replacements were needed as backs and forwards were battered out of the game.

At half time, England had a  ten point advantage, and had nearly stretched the lead further. England just have to stick to their plan, Sir Clive Woodward declared, speaking from the commentary box. His reputation as as a coach was earned for his success with England’s famous World Cup winning team of 2002. I supposed he was right, even if it he did sound a bit smug. Had he lost that sense of the danger that might come from a wounded and desperate opponent?

The England team did not quite stick to what they were doing. In the second half, England substitutes were brought on to finish off the depleted Welsh team. Then a sneak attack from Wales and a try not unlike England’s first half effort. Wales were clawing their way back.

With time running out, it became clear that Wales were fighting harder. England were not exactly holding on, but seemed inclined to protect their narrow lead. As happens, defense is not always the best form of attack. Another flurry of penalties and Wales actually grab a three-point lead.

Two minutes to go. England has to score to even out the match. They are awarded a kickable penalty which would have drawn the game. The England captain Robshaw picked the ball up and gestured to the referee and to his goal kicker to go for the corner flag with possibility of a subsequent last-minute try bringing victory.

The crowd is roaring England on to victory as their forwards advance to within five meters of the Wales goal line.  From the lineout, England secures the ball and prepares to batter their fatigued opponents out of the way as they advance over the line. But the the attacking move as the Wales players hurl themselves ferociously into the maul and drive players and ball  into touch. Wales have only seconds to secure the ball from their lineout throw and the game is won.

The ball is thrown, and is cleanly held by Wales. Time now plays its relativity trick, but the electronic scorecard moves remorselessly on. The referee blows for time. England have found a way of losing. a game that they were winning, and a minute earlier could have drawn. What had been witnessed was sheer anger and fury uncorked and directed against not England but against injustice and cruel fate.

Those players still standing sink to the ground, before the red-shirted ones find enough energy to revive and celebrate.

Déjà vu

Let me have a moment of sheer speculation. This was not the match that this World Cup will be remembered for, outside Wales and perhaps England. That had taken place when the Japanese team won an incredible game against the mighty South African team.

Two minutes to go, and Japan had a penalty award. Kicking it would result in a draw. Or the Japanese captain could elect to go for the win. The situation was similar to the one that changed the result of the England Wales game.

Here is my speculation. The Japanese captain won global respect for his courage in risking a loss seeking the win. Might Chris  Robshaw have been thinking about that glorious moment, as he made his own fateful decision? Does he even know himself?

Can’t believe what I saw

The ITV cameras switched to the studio. Outside, various bodies could still be seen recovering on the floodlit grass. Sir Clive Woodward and his greatest warrior Jonny Wilkinson stared glassy-eyed into space. What do you make of that Clive, the presenter asked. Sir Clive struggled for words. Shocked, he eventually replied weakly. Can’t believe what I just saw.

You will, Sir Clive, you will eventually.

Updates start here

Wednesday September 30
Wales will suffer from the injuries occurred against England.
The squad named for the next game against Fiji on Thursday October 1 includes three forced changes, and more players out of position.

Fiji has lost its two initial games but have completed well. Also, they have a brand of power play that might produce even more injuries. The one consolation for Wales is that Fiji has lost their most potent rampaging player, 20 stone Nemani Nadolo, banned for foul play against Australia.

Saturday October 3

After losing to Wales, England’s woes continue. They become first hosts to crash out of the World Cup of Rugby at the pool stage.

Sunday October 18

Australia narrowly beat Scotland with controversial late refereeing decision.

Saturday October 31

All Blacks defeat Australia to retain World Cup in memorable style.

The Syrian crisis: Study leadership decisions not leadership styles

September 16, 2013

The complexities of leadership make assessments of a leader’s style less effective than assessments of a leader’s most critical decisions and dilemmas

The story of Syria’s internal conflicts and external attempts at intervention remains complex and obscure. I want to advocate its analysis through a study of leadership dilemmas and decision-making.

My executive students are familiar with the principle through applying it to current leadership cases. Here is how the approach may be effective in understanding some of the complexities of the Syrian crisis [as of September 2013].

Media treatments

Media treatments are arriving at a narrative or interpretive story of events in Syria. In the narrative, the Syrian leader Bashar al Assad faces increasing attempts to overthrow his regime by a complex set of internal interests. The American President Barack Obama would like to intervene, preferably with support from the international community. The Russian President Vladimir Putin argues that the forces opposing Assad are waging war against a legally constituted leader.

The nature of narrative

Narrative by its nature is interpretative. It implies a belief in a story. I like to think of the story as a map or interpretation of a real-world reality. The Russian, American and Syrian maps differ. The real-world events involve thousands of people being killed, millions being displaced. If the narratives are maps, the conflict is the territory represented in the maps.


News stories provide us with the maps. One way to examine them is to consider evidence of the most important dilemmas facing leaders. That way we glimpse the leadership processes better. For example, an excellent analysis in the Wall Street journal [updated and uploaded 15 Sept 2013] gives a Western map of current events. It also suggests the dilemmas facing President Obama.

Through mixed messages, miscalculations and an 11th-hour break, the U.S. stumbled into an international crisis and then stumbled out of it. A president who made a goal of reducing the U.S.’s role as global cop lurched from the brink of launching strikes to seeking congressional approval to embracing a deal with his biggest international adversary on Syria, Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Mr. Obama saw the unintended outcome as better than the alternative: limited strikes that risked pulling the U.S. into a new conflict. It forestalled what could have been a crippling congressional defeat and put the onus on Russia to take responsibility for seeing the deal through. U.S. officials say the deal could diminish Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s chemical stockpile more effectively than a strike, though it leaves Mr. Assad and his conventional arsenal in place…

[D]uring a news conference in London on Sept. 9. Secretary of State Kerry, in response to a question, ad libbed that Syria could avert a U.S. attack if it gave up its chemical weapons.

Minutes later, his Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov, called him. “I’d like to talk to you about your initiative,” Mr. Lavrov said from Moscow, where he was hosting a delegation of Syrian diplomats.


Before I can assess or ‘map-test’ the ‘rightness’ of decisions, I need to ‘map-read’ thoroughly. The story suggests a critical dilemma. Mr Obama [it says] wants to reduce the U.S.’s role as global cop, but finds himself ‘lurching into launching a strike against Syria’. The dilemma, and the Presidential decision-making start to resolve with ‘the unintended outcome’ of the public remark by Secretary of State John Kerry and the reaction by his Russian counterpart.


This interpretation of events can be tested. Kerry’s statement is the most public. That it was ad-libbed and not offical policy is a piece of map-making or interpretation by the WSJ. Mr Lavrov’s reply is reported but not public. Subsequent events give it, and the narrative or map some plausibility.


The events may have helped President Obama re-make his map to increase the chances of a non-military approach to Syria. The debate continues whether this is ‘true’; whether it was influenced by the decision of the Parliament of the United Kingdom to withhold support for military action; whether The Russian position and that of President Bashar al-Assad are to be trusted. But these become speculations. By sticking with dilemmas and decisions we avoid the morass we find ourselves in when dealing with such speculation.

I have chosen to examine the dilemmas facing President Obama. A richer picture (or map) emerges only after examination of other maps, other decisions, other leaders.

Charlotte Hogg appointed hew Chief Operating Officer at the Bank of England

June 21, 2013

Charlotte Hogg, new COO of the Bank of EnglandMark Carney, the incoming governor, has appointed Charlotte Hogg as Chief Operating Officer of The Bank of England running all day-to-day management functions.

The news this week [June 19th 2013] suggests evidence of changes accompanying the arrival of the new governor of the Bank of England.

Whenever a banker is appointed or leaves, the public is avid for further evidence of the cupidity our financial leaders. In this case, the figures speak for themselves. She will work for the same salary, £260,000 salary p.a. and benefits as the Bank’s three deputy governors. Last year she is reported to have earned, with bonuses, £2.5m in her senior post in Santander

According to the BBC

Charlotte Hogg, who like Carney studied at Oxford and Harvard, started her career at the Bank before moving to McKinsey in Washington. She has also worked at Morgan Stanley, before joining Experian as head of its operations in the UK and Ireland.
Hogg is descended from one of Britain’s most high profile political families. Her mother is Baroness (Sarah) Hogg, a senior adviser to Sir John Major when he was prime minister. Her father is Viscount Hailsham, the former Tory cabinet minister Douglas Hogg, who gained notoriety when he stepped down as an MP after claiming £2,200 expenses for cleaning the moat at his 13th-century country estate. Her paternal grandfather was Lord Hailsham, a former lord chancellor. “You can have too much of a good thing in one family,” Hogg once told her local newspaper.

Paul Tucker, the Bank’s deputy governor for financial stability who lost out on the top job to Carney, announced his intention to leave the Bank last week. Prior to Charlotte Hogg, the most senior woman at the Bank was Rachel Lomax, who served as a deputy governor from 2003 to 2008.

One small step for Charlotte …?

November 2014

The move to redress inequality in top financial posts is likely to be of limited impact. The proportion of women entering the Economics profession remains low.

How firing a leader may be explained in Keynesian terms

April 1, 2013

By John Keane

The firing of leaders should be clear evidence of rational decision processes. Sometimes it seems driven by irrational expectations

My example comes from the world of football in England, but it could easily be extended to other business situations.

As Easter approached [March 2013] Premier League battles for survival were heating up. Six clubs were considered most likely to supply the three who would be relegated, with serious loss in income. If a boost to performance could be achieved in the final ten games, financial disaster could be avoided. It is considerably harder for a club to fight its way back, as the relegation to the Championship has considerable consequences on recruitment of new players, sponsorship and match attendances.

On firing a leader

The decision to fire a manager seems to be one primarily taken by a powerful owner, who may or may not be influenced by others such as the manager, and (or so the fans would like to believe) the vocal protests of supporters.

One of the most powerful and wealthy owners, Roman Abramovitch of Chelsea, has a track record of removing managers in search of others he approves of more. At present his choice has already been told he is a stop gap to be replaced at the end of the season by the best manager money can buy. This is somewhat different as Chelsea is also able to buy good enough players to win trophies. They are currently European Champions, but the achievement was not enough to save the last manager from being fired.

The candidates for the chop

Managers facing relegation this year included those at Southampton, Wigan, Aston Villa, Reading, Queens Park Rangers and Sunderland. One of these (QPR) acted earlier in the season and appointed Harry Redknapp, one of the most experienced managers capable of helping ‘the great escape’. Reading, Southampton and Aston Villa pressed the trigger later. In these cases the replacement is not obviously a better manager by track record than the departing one. This is particularly the case for Sunderland, who replaced a manager of considerable prior achievements, with a controversial one with less experience.

These sorts of decisions illustrate the Keynesian view that financial decisions are driven by irrational forces and expectations. Or, as Keynesians like to say, the leaders are left trying to ‘push on a piece of string’ [to obtain supply-side wins] to achieve better results than might otherwise have been produced.

Holy Smoke: The symbolic nature of voting processes

March 17, 2013

Pope FrancisThe election of Pope Francis illustrates the symbolic nature of the voting process deployed by the Catholic Church in the selection and election of its spiritual leader. But how different is it to the practices of decision making found in many other Organizations?

In a papal election the symbolism is evident. The conclave of Cardinals assembles in Rome from around the world and its members are prepared for their elective duties. Through dress, location and traditional rituals they are reminded of their sacred duties. The process combines periods of prayer, periods of intense discussion cut off from the ears and eyes of the world. The votes are recorded anonymously, each Cardinal adding a single name to a simple voting slip. these are scrutinized to assess if the required majority has been reached. In either case the slips are ritually burned to provide one of the most famous of signs, the smoke emerging over the Sistine chapel, black for an inconclusive result, white for the awaited news that a new Pope has been elected. [Incidentally, the chemicals now used to achieve the dark and white plumes are pretty noxious…]

Unique and Universal

The ceremony is unique. Yet I suggest it has near-universal aspects which can be noticed in leaders appointments elsewhere. This week, for example, election results were announced in The Falkland Islands and in China.

More symbolism in voting

In each case there was a heavily symbolic component. The Falklands have remained disputed territory between Britain and Argentina which the ‘Thatcher war’ did little to resolve. In the Falklands referendum-type vote, , 98.8% voted to remain British. Three votes were cast against. In China, the electorate voting for President Xi returned an almost identical 98.86%. I will spare you lengthy political analysis. There was one point I found interesting made my commentators in each. On the Falklands, a spokesperson said the result was good because a 100% vote might have seemed suspicious. A Chinese blogger said it was Xi himself for reasons of modesty returned the one vote against, not wanting it be seen as voting for himself.

My unreasonable view of voting

Like many citizens around the world, I value the symbolism of participating in voting. But part of me carries a suspicion that many ballots are more about symbolic process through which a contested election appears to be ‘the will of the people’. Too often, the voting conceals the power behind the ballot box, for example in the choice of candidates or voting procedures. This applies to decisions of corporate boards as much as to those made in the election of a parliamentary representative or a President.

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.


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