Rachel Reeves and the BBC Gaze

September 27, 2022

I allow my thoughts to wander as I watch the BBC News live feed of the Labour Party Conference

Tuesday 27 September, 2022

Keir Starmer delivers his keynote speech at the Labour conference. His opening remarks capture the disarray of the Govt and the need for a Labour government.

A round of applause, choreographed as they always are at party conferences. Too lengthy for the neutral observer. But BBC News rose to the occasion. The cameras focussed on Rachel Reeves. Because she wasn’t applauding enthusiastically? 


Because she was replicating the state of rapture perfected recently at PMQs by Nadine Dorries during the applause gaps in one of Boris Johnson’s  oven-ready set pieces? 


A suspicion crosses my mind. Rachel Reeves delivered a stunning speech yesterday. The BBC gaze was searching for evidence of overweening ambition, perhaps disloyalty towards a leader (perish the thought). The everyday creativity of a brand under construction. Yesterday’s triumph was too good to be true. Surely she should have avoiding being good enough to be see as a pretender for the No 10 job. By which I mean the No 1 job,

The speech continues. At the next pause for applause, the BBC Gaze moves on to another possible pretender. It is Angela Rayner, already more than a match in public exchanges with the recently-departed Boris Johnson. But the applause this time was briefer was briefer, as was Angela’s moment in the BBC’s gaze.

Starmer builds up for a crowd rouser. Promises a new future, a new corporate entity, Great British Energy, all green and job creating, then the punchline, and will be publicly held. For the people, owned by the people. He nails it. Standing ovation. The BBC gaze takes in the scene panoramically briefly, then unerringly focuses down to Rachel (fortunately applauding as gamely as ever).

The speech is beginning to run on empty. I wish he’d made it shorter. It dribbled to an end, with me shouting at the screen, you’ve got them. Say something rousing and get off. But he doesn’t do show-biz. 

He said something about being the Government in waiting which seemed to confirm the new-found confidence around the hall. Confidence in their future, in the latest opinion poll putting Labour on course for a comfortable majority. Confidence in the astrological arrangements that produced the arrival of the new look Government with policies being blown off course just in time for the autumn conference season. Or Christmas arriving in October, as one delegate put it, barely concealing his glee.

The post was also turned into a Buzzsprout Podcast, A version can also be found in the Everyday Creativity WordPress Blog

Garry Kasparov on the leadership of Mikhail Gorbachev

August 31, 2022

Mikhail Gorbachev who died August 30, 2022 presided over the break up of the Soviet Union, with the subsequent  monumental political changes in Europe over the last thirty years. As such, his life deserves the attention it is receiving.

His obituaries at the west are glowing, a reformer who brought freedom to a continent. 

Boris Johnson, in one of his briefer and more thoughtful comments, noted that Gorbachev changed the world for the better and  paid the price in his own career.

In Russia, many still see him as an instigator of changes that have reduced Soviet power, and indirectly led to the thinking that resulted in today’s conflict in Ukraine 

One of his best-informed critics is Garry Kasparov, one of Russia’s most famous emigrés, advisor to American presidents, and ranked among the greatest chess players of all time. Kasparov has emerged as an influential critic of the political path followed by his country of birth,

His immediate reaction to Gorbachev’s life is to tweet a passage from his book, Winter is Coming, adding that he will comment soon, but the cited paragraph still sums up his thoughts, namely that Gorbachev was obliged to embark on perestroika (restructuring of reform) as a last gasp to save the USSR and socialism. Gorbachev became an accidental hero in the West for failing.

Reflections on creativity and leadership

Creativity is sometimes described as an interaction between the person, the product, process and environmental conditions.

Leadership, an equally complex topic is also better when an assessment accepts the interactions between the person, the products (achievements, good and bad), the process (political reform or peristroika, and the context, broadly the Cold War conditions of the time),

The circumstances leading to the rise of Gorbachev saw before him the rise of tyrannical leaders preserving near absolute powers, and subsequently to the emergence of Vladimir Putin. In my writings about leaders we deserve, I argue that leadership as a process is always shaped by prevailing circumstances.

Western style democracies can hardly claim a more successful process producing effective leaders. Donald Trump and Boris Johnson are recent examples, demonstrating the malign outcomes of the leaders we vote into office.

England Cricket re-enters the stone-age

August 19, 2022

As homo-sapiens developed, our ancestors learned increasingly smart ways of surviving, which give them an edge over their predators. We became evidence of the theory of natural selection and survival  of the fittest. Sometimes, an individual would flourish by a sort of regression to an earlier pattern of behaviour with temporary success. I write with one example of stone-age behaviour on my television screen, showing the new approach from the England cricket team. 

The new captain, Ben Stokes, is at the crease, surviving, but in full twenty-twenty cricket mode. His team is facing almost certain defeat by their South African opponents. The plan is going seriously wrong.

The plan involves attacking ferociously regardless of conditions, including the skills and tactics of the opposition.


Stokes pursuing his plan lashes the ball to a waiting fielder. England are on the brink of a humiliating defeat.

What went wrong? I search my memory banks for other examples. I remember a well-known chess player who was accused of playing cave-man chess.

The romance of the caveman remains. For example, there is a whole school of chess today with followers learning about the approach


The initiator, Kevin Bachler, explains the origin of the name

The nickname Caveman and the concept of caveman chess was thrust upon Kevin in 1981. At the time he was an Expert, working to become a National Master. Kevin had just finished playing fellow Expert Jack Young at a tournament at the College of Lake County – a college that held a number of chess tournaments in the 1970’s through 1990’s.

Jack and Kevin were doing a post-mortem analysis, and FIDE Master Albert Chow walked up and was watching. The game was fairly tactical in nature, and Jack and Kevin were both willing to explore ideas that were “off-the beaten path”.

After a few minutes of watching, FM Chow shook his head and said to Kevin “You play stone age chess. You play like a caveman!” Of course, Kevin’s friends immediately ran with this and the nickname “Caveman” was born.

However, my own recollection, from this side of the Atlantic, is of an English caveman, Michael Basman, a contemporary of mine, who went on to become an international master, and one of the most imaginative players of his time. I can do better than quote the Wikipedia summary of his unorthodox style.

He is a prolific writer, who has made many contributions to the field of chess openings, and is particularly known for frequently choosing bizarre or rarely played openings in his own games, including the St. George Defence (with which English Grandmaster Tony Miles once famously defeated the then World Champion Anatoly Karpov), the Grob (for Black and White) and also The Creepy Crawly

You get the basic idea. Kevin and Michael were opponents of playing following conventional rules. They did so by developing ingenious ways of defeating the conventional. 

Turning back to cricket, the analogy partially holds. In an earlier published podcast, I suggested cricket leadership often followed as sequence in which a more radical leader replaces a more traditional one, only got the sequence to repeat itself. Perhaps, I suggested, it is a pattern to be found in the appointment of Popes.

In chess, at least, the caveman tactics can be assessed for its effectiveness. In overview there was an early epoch in which even the strongest chess players aimed for all out attack, whether playing white or black, and regardless of the strength of the players.

But in time, the strongest players established the benefits of balancing attack and defence. A few remained to delight other chess players with their romantic approach, but the best results went the the players repaired to stick to the principles they were discovering.

In short, the current plan of the English cricket team is the relic of a bygone age. Romantic, enjoyable to watch, but ultimately in need of serious rethinking.


As I write, the last England wicket falls. Sky fills in the time with transmission of the 100, a new form of cricket which is regressing to an earlier romantic form, a hybrid of cricket and baseball.

Leaders: Myths and Reality

November 26, 2018

General Stanley McChrystal and co-authors explore contemporary beliefs on leadership. They do so by assessing leaders and leadership through a series a case examples, some ancient, some modern. 

The authors acknowledge that the structure can be traced to Plutarch’s Lives, no longer the best-seller it once was. 

Plutarch hit on the wheeze of comparing the recorded acts of the great leaders. Both the method and foundation myth of the Great Man leader persists today, as McChrystal points out.The demise of The Great Man myth has been predicted for long enough, but even the increasing announcements of its decline may prove premature. Arguably, the more interesting question is what permits its survival? I am reminded of the century-long search for the essence of leadership, when trait theory guided popular and scholarly beliefs alike. The American theorist Stogdill is widely regarded as weakening the long-established belief in a trait-based essence of leadership. 

Modern textbooks point to the weakening of trait theory (interestingly, not mentioned by McChrystal), but we are still saddled with a candidate for the essence of leadership, in the charismatic leader. I have argued the dangers of unchallenged belief in the charismatic leader, in Dilemmas of Leadership, particularly in later editions of the textbook, and in the monograph about the charismatic football manager Jose Mourinho.

My own interest in leadership was quickened by the writings of the British academic John Adair, who also drew on his understanding of classical leadership accounts. 

McChrystal’s contribution adds to the genre, and stands above many pot-boilers which continue to be churned out.

Leading through challenging times

September 8, 2017


Leading through challenging times: Can the voluntary sector respond to the wider crisis of political and civil society leadership?

Thursday 23rd November 2017, Milton Keynes

Call for papers

We warmly invite contributions to the next VSSN Day Conference, which is being hosted by the Open University Business School. The conference will provide a diverse and critical engagement with questions such as:

What do we mean when we talk about leadership, and why does it seem to be salient at the moment?

Is there a leadership deficit in the sector, as some think, or is this a distraction from the real issues?

What theories and concepts of leadership should voluntary sector scholars be engaging with?

How could leadership be strengthened, if we agree it should be? Are there examples of leadership practice and practical initiatives that scholars should pay more heed to?

What is distinctive (or not) about leadership in the voluntary sector compared to other sectors? Does size make a difference?

We welcome proposals from researchers, academics, doctoral students and practitioners, from a broad range of fields. Empirical, theoretical, methodological, practice or policy insights are welcome.

Abstracts of roughly 250 words should be sent to james.rees@open.ac.uk by 26th September 2017.

For the full call and information about VSSN click here

New Leadership Events at Sunderland Business School

June 12, 2017

15th June:  David Land, Director, Drive 2 Business will be speaking about  Leading through Supply Chains in the Automotive Sector

6th July:   Emma Walton, Head of People (Operations) will be speaking on Responsible Leadership and Social Impact

Sunderland Business School is pleased to announce its second series of the popular Business Breakfast Seminars, which began in January and will run until July 2017. All of the award-winning businesses invited to lead these events represent different facets of the core theme which is Leading with Impact. Not only do they represent a clear alignment with the core values of our Strategic Plan, the award-winning businesses leading these free events have been carefully selected as aligning with the core values underlining our new strategic plan: inspiring, innovative, collaborative, inclusive and excellent.

Leading with impact

Leading with Impact a reflects our commitment to developing excellence in leadership and management development as one of our strategic growth areas.  The seminars provide a learning and networking opportunity where award winning business leaders share their experience and expertise on the major challenges facing organizations today. This is a great opportunity for business leaders to start the working day with some with some time out to learn from their peers, share experiences, reflect, and engage in lively dialogue about the best ways of addressing key strategic challenges.

Participants are also able to take advantage of a light business breakfast and an opportunity to make initial introductions and network. During the seminar itself, speakers will leave plenty of time for an interactive dialogue and debate on the lessons learnt from their experiences.

The seminars will take place between 8-10am on Thursdays at Sunderland Business School, the Reg Vardy Centre, St Peter’s Campus, St Peter’s Way, Sunderland SR6 0DD

Contact us via engage@sunderland.ac.uk

Posted by

 Dr Rob Worrall BA (Hons), MA, MSc, PhD, SFHEA, FCMI, FRSA, ACIPD Principal Lecturer, Faculty of Business,  Law and Tourism Tel: 0191 515 3060 | M: 07748 334 833 | E: rob.worrall@sunderland.ac.uk

Rainieri fired: A toxic default mode in football and other businesses

February 24, 2017


Less than a year ago, Claudio Ranieri crowned a successful and graceful career by leading Leicester City Football Club as their manager to the greatest upset in football history. At enormous odds , Leicester wins the premier league title. There is talk of a movie being made of the feat

The board of Leicester joins in global recognition and joy at the team’s astonishing success. A month ago, after half a season of disappointing results, the board gave him their full backing. Two days ago, his team again showed fighting spirit.  A day ago, the same board fired him ‘in the long-term interests of the club’.

Actions have consequences

It is a symptom of leadership failure often associated with abuse of power, and a lack of appreciation of long-term consequences of such actions.

A toxic default mode

The lessons from the past suggest it can become a toxic default mode in football. Aston Villa (‘deadly’ Doug); Newcastle (a hereditary flaw in a great culture); even Chelsea (whisper it, Roman Abramovich); and now last year’s local and global heroes Leicester.

‘Sad’ (As another well-known businessman, entertainment show host and would-be politician   likes to tweet).

Sad. Toxic. Rarely effective. Weakness masquerading as strength.

A top crime-writer looks at leadership

July 5, 2016


Patricia Cornwell has rightly earned her reputation for her crime-novels, and in particular the series starring her forensic heroine Kay Scarpetta

Her stories are procedural but with flashes of creative insight. I found one such observation in a recently published (2015) novel, Depraved Heart.

A Special Ops team arrives to support forensic scientist Kay Scarpetta and her loveably crude sidekick, detective Pete Marino.  The author muses on what makes these action men (and women) so special? Here’s how Cornwall sees it:

When they shift their weight or move they are subtle and silent. They’re agile and non reactive. They’re disciplined, stoical, what I consider the perfect hero blend of selflessness and narcissism. You have to love yourself if you’re going to fight gloriously and bravely..

Selflessness and narcissism

Cornwell is commenting on the heroic person, and what sets them apart.

The only named member of this group of special people in the book is Ajax. After a little checking, I remembered that Ajax figured in Greek mythology as a heroic figure. (So did Hero, another point worth remembering). Let’s just say Cornwell knew what she was doing. Ajax was a warrior with magical powers. Homer’s Ilead leaves Ajax alive, but in the nature of Greek tragic drama, Ajax eventually over-reaches himself, carries out an unworthy act of violence, and commits suicide at the disgrace it brings on his name.

When Cornwell nods

I found Depraved Heart rather plodding, one of the weakest of the Kay Scarpetta novels.  My view is shared by other reviewers, but even when Cornwell nods, she is capable of flashes of insight.  She concludes the episode involving super-agent Ajax and team with an oxymoronic comment on the nature of heroism, which  might apply to notions of the great leader.

It’s a contradiction.  It seems illogical.  It’s not a stereotype or a cliche when I say that special ops aren’t like the rest of us.


Beware of stereotypes, she is telling us, they are too one-dimensional.

John Whittingdale: The BBC bites back

April 13, 2016

The culture minister John Whittingdale is embroiled in a story about his relationship with a consort considered unsuitable for a minister of the crown.  It is tempting to link his story to that of the affair of the hapless John Profumo, many years ago

 The context to this story is the febrile political atmosphere in the UK, where there is an appetite for political mischief in the run-in to the EU referendum.

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The story of FIFA: Update on a permanently failing organization?

April 8, 2016


FIFA is where National Ground Hog day meets Inspector Clouseau. The mega leaks from The Panamanian sieve, aka Mossack Fonseka, have already brought about the downfall of Iceland’s President, and considerable embarrassment to numerous other powerful figures. It was more inevitable than surprising that FIFA would have a bit part to play in the drama.

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