The death of Ian Paisley

September 12, 2014

Ian Paisley died today at a time when Unionism, the cause of his political life, faces its most recent challenge in the Scottish Referendum. For decades he was the ‘big man’ of politics in Northern Ireland who was to make a remarkable transition as a supporter of the Good Friday peace process. The perceived change clinching the Northern Ireland peace process symbolized by the handshake with a loathed adversary Martin McGuinness which was to lead to an unlikely and warm working-relationship, and friendship.

In his time, he was as divisive as Margaret Thatcher, and her equal in unshakably rigid beliefs, vehemently expressed. According to friends, the two leaders shared a softer private side, some would say a shadow-self, beneath their blustering public persona.

The mix of charm and menace used to remind me of other physically formidable charismatics such as Tiny Roland and Conrad Black.

To go more deeply

An earlier LWD post looked at the period of the transformation to elder statesman and peace broker.

Netanyahu, Obama and the masks of command

May 21, 2011

Dennis Ross

When leaders speak publically they often have to address more than one audience. This explains why they have to wear the mask of command. Even more complicated is when leaders meet to discuss the fate of nations

The meeting

The BBC reported the meeting this week [May 19th 2011] between the Prime Minister of Israel and the President of the USA.

Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu has rejected US President Barack Obama’s call for peace with the Palestinians based on pre-1967 borders. After tense talks at the White House, a defiant Mr Netanyahu said Israel was prepared to compromise but there could be no peace “based on illusions”.

The video clearly shows each leader wearing a (metaphoric) mask of command. Their words said one thing. The body language of each suggested something different.

Beyond the masks of command

Beyond the masks of command were two humans struggling to deal with dilemmas requiring superhuman efforts. The complexities are evident. The issues are simplified even if wrapped up in a label such as the Israeli/Palestinian peace process. Mr Obama speaks to those advocating a tougher line with Israel, and those opposing such a line. Mr Netanyahu could be seen as addressing somewhat different audiences, including those in and beyond Israel supporting a policy based on the pre-1967 borders, and those opposed to any such changes. Sometimes the simplification is made into hawks and doves, but who are the hawks and who are the doves?

Among the key players: enter King Abdullah and Denis Ross

Other key influences were revealed at a meeting this week addressed by King Addullah of Jordan. The New York Times reported that

King Abdullah II of Jordan gave his assessment of how Arabs view the debate within the Obama administration over how far to push Israel on concessions for peace with the Palestinians.
From the State Department, “we get good responses,” the Jordanian king said, according to several people who were in the room. And from the Pentagon, too. “But not from the White House, and we know the reason why is because of Dennis Ross” — President Obama’s chief Middle East adviser. Mr. Ross, King Abdullah concluded, “is giving wrong advice to the White House.” By almost all accounts, Dennis B. Ross — Middle East envoy to three presidents, well-known architect of incremental and painstaking diplomacy in the Middle East that eschews game-changing plays — is Israel’s friend in the Obama White House and one of the most influential behind-the-scenes figures in town. His strategy sometimes contrasts sharply with that of a president who has bold instincts and a willingness to elevate the plight of the Palestinians to a status equal to that of the Israelis.

Easy for journalists to campaign

The highly respected English journalist Robert Fisk writing in the Independent has dismissed Obama as duplicitous and weak for failing to act decisively over the fate of the Palestinians. But it is easy for journalists to campaign as if there were no dilemmas of leadership. They do not have to offer strategies within the complex and extended processes involved in diplomacy and military adventures.

A more balanced view of the complexities of the situation was provided by Al Jazeera, quoting Mr Fisk as providing one strand of the argument.

Symbolic Leadership and the Queen’s Visit to Ireland

May 18, 2011

The Queen’s visit to Ireland has been widely described as a historic moment of great symbolic significance. So what is symbolic leadership?

This month (May 2011) has already marked two events redolent in symbolism. The first was the celebrity royal wedding of William and Kate Wales. The second event will have more of a foothold on history.

The State Visit

The Daily Telegraph put it in these terms:

Yesterday when the Queen arrived in the Irish capital for the start of her historic tour, she laid a wreath at the Garden of Remembrance, which honours all those who died for Irish freedom in the early part of the 20th century … [Today] The Queen will make probably the most significant visit of her tour when she goes to Dublin’s Croke Park, the site of a British massacre of Irish civilians which turned public sympathy decisively against the Government.

The symbolic significance was not lost on those still claiming to be heir to the revolutionary struggle for a United Ireland. There were thwarted terrorist incidents in London and Dublin. Security in the Irish capital was so tight that the general public could hardly glimpse the visiting Royal.

Symbolic Leadership

Just what is Symbolic Leadership? The Danish Leadership theorist Ingo Winkler defined it as leadership which refers to, and is based on interpretation of meaning, which becomes tangible and therefore can be experienced in the form of symbols. The concept assumes that reality is a social construction, with leadership being a part of this reality.

Those Symbolic Acts

The State Visit has been thoroughly planned for its symbolic impact. So was that royal wedding. Those symbolic acts have a message to communicate to the widest of international audiences. The Queen’s visit has a further message for audiences in Northern Ireland, The Irish Republic, and the British mainland.

An Irish View

A Irish blogger captured one view from Dublin:

I watched the Royal Wedding last month; I enjoyed it immensely but I didn’t shed a single tear. I cried today as I watched The Queen stand in front of Áras an Uachtráin (Irish President’s official residence) and listen to a band play God Save the Queen followed by the Irish national anthem. A moment imbued with significance and symbolism; peace in our time in this often troubled island. [Note; the very blurry image above was shot from my television screen from RTE’s coverage of the Queen’s state visit to Ireland].


To Just Add Attitude for that ‘very blurry image’.


I was struck by the Churchillian prose of the Queen’s speech. It was a brilliant piece of writing for a momentous moment. Worth studying by any student of leadership, along with the Martin Luther King classic.

Peace One Day: The Adidas Puma Story

September 20, 2009

Peace One Day

The charity Peace One Day plays a part in peace initiatives around the world. On September 21st, among those symbolic actions were those taken by Puma and Adidas, two firms whose existence reflects a long-lasting family feud within a small Bavarian township

A news item this week [Sept 17th 2009] tells of the origins of the international sporting equipment firms Puma and Adidas. The point of the story was that the firms have been bitter rivals since splitting, over sixty years ago. Now, leaders of the rival firms were to make ‘a historic handshake’ as one of the Charity’s events planned for 21st Sept 2009.


Peace One Day (POD) was founded by film maker Jeremy Gilley in 1999. He was to became a publicist for and then partner in peace initiatives around the world. By 2006 he and POD wereassociated with various high-profile events with world leaders such as Kofi Annan, the Dalai Lama, Shimon Peres, and Mary Robinson.

Considerable praise has been heaped on both charity and the humanitarian leadership of its founder.

The organisation has survived critical setbacks: one high profile documentary filmed at the United Nations in New York lost much momentum as it took place as the twin towers disaster was unfolding a few miles across town.

The unique marketing concept of POD is the focussing of its events on the same day [September 21st] each year. There is no specific significance of the day historically.

The Adidas/Puma event of 2009

Herzogenaurach, Germany, 17 September 2009 – It will be a historic hand shake: In support of the peace initiative PEACE ONE DAY the two sportswear companies adidas and PUMA will shake hands for the first time after six decades. As a sign of amicable cooperation, employees of both companies will play football together on Peace Day, 21st of September, and subsequently watch the movie “The Day after Peace” by Jeremy Gilley, director and founder of PEACE ONE DAY. These events will be the first joint activities of both companies since their founders Rudolf and Adi Dassler left their shared firm and established Adidas and PUMA.

The Adidas Puma story seems right for a Hollywood movie. In the 1920s, two brothers grew up and worked in the laundry shop owned by their mother in the 1920s. They stared out together in business togther with a shared idea which created the marketing of clothing exclusively for sporting activities. In the 1930s they equipped Jesse Owens for the 1936 Olympics in Berlin [a story in itself]. But the brothers rarely agreed over anything, and sibling rivalry must have contributed to the split into two firms, still operating in close proximity in a little township in Bavaria.
The family rift is said to have deepened during the war, when a remark about “the B********s returning” during an air raid was taken as cruel rejection of members by one side of the family as others scrambled for the safety of an air raid shelter. It was later claimed the remark referred to a returning flight of Allied aircraft not to family members fleeing for their lives. Whatever, the story tells of a feud which was to split family and employees in the little village of Herzogenaurach for decades afterwards. Today, the old rivalries are mostly muted and symbolic. The Day of Peace celebrations confirm existing practical realities of life in the township.

Leadership Issues

The story introduces a range of leadership issues.

What strategy is suggested which might be of interest to establishing a not-for profit organization charity?

Might founder Jeremy Gilley be an example of servant leadership?

How important is symbolic leadership in establishing such an organization, and why?

What contribution might such efforts make to wider humanitarian efforts against war and towards peace processes?

Displays of ‘friendly’ bonfires to mark Northern Ireland’s marching season

July 11, 2009
Northern Ireland Bonfire BPA

Northern Ireland Bonfire BPA

The bonfires of Northern Ireland have long been part of the rituals of the marching season. Now efforts are being made to convert the symbols into affirmation of the peace process

The marching season in Northern Ireland comes each July with a host of symbolically and culturally significant actions which reinforce historic loyalties.

The challenge for leadership is the management of the meaning of such actions and images. This has become increasingly recognised since the publication of an influential article by Smircich and Morgan in the 1980s.

Leaders of the peace process rightly worry about the impact of symbolism and associated violence. But it is hardly surprising that efforts are being made to avoid counter-productive reactions by too direct action against such symbols.

The BBC reports a more subtle approach this year [July 2009]

Traditionally, bonfires are lit the night before the Twelfth of July and the aim is to make them as big – and as brutal – as possible. Over the years, for many loyalists the fires were not complete without an Irish flag, a Glasgow Celtic shirt or a Catholic emblem on the top for a ceremonial burning.

In the past, there have been so-called ‘shows of strength’ when hooded gunmen appeared from the shadows and fired bullets into the night air.

If all goes according to plan, a very different scene will be witnessed this weekend in loyalist parts of Belfast. The centre piece will be a custom-built beacon. Although technically bonfires are illegal, Belfast City Council is taking a pragmatic approach and trying to manage them rather than get rid of them.

The council’s Good Relations Officer, David Robinson, explained: “People might say that bonfires are never going to be environmentally friendly, but this is about as close as we’re going to get.”

Communities willing to work with the new system will be eligible for a grant towards a street party.

Action and Reaction

Maybe the initiative will trigger opposition. Bribery, cry some. But whatever happens, the sensitive management of meaning will remain in important aspect of any leadership within attempts to influence the processes of social and cultural change.


Image from The Guardian publicizing Unseen, issued by The British Press Photographers’ Association from unpublished images from its members’ back catalogue [ISBN 978-0-9561801-0-0] .

Leading Behind the Scenes: Martin McAleese nudges the peace process forward

June 30, 2009
Martin McAleese

Martin McAleese

Working quietly away from the media spotlight, Martin McAleese has been persuading Ulster Loyalists to engage more fully in the peace process

Another step in the peace process in Northern Ireland seems to have taken place. Unconfirmed reports gave the first indications that the Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) has destroyed its arsenal of weapons in the presence of the disarmament leader Gen. John de Chastelain and other independent observers, and the Ulster Defense Association has initiated a similar process.

The news overshadowed another report that the process has been assisted by other workers for peace. According to the BBC [Saturday June 27th 2009]:

Martin McAleese, the husband of the Irish president Mary McAleese, was working behind the scenes as the largest loyalist group, the UDA, [Ulster Defense Force] dealt with the weapons issue. He helped persuade hard line Belfast loyalists like Jackie McDonald that they had nothing to fear from the peace process in general, and the Dublin establishment in particular.

The two men not only talked at great length, they reportedly played golf together. It was an unlikely combination – an Irishman and an Ulsterman, a Catholic and a Protestant – swinging golf clubs rather than punches. In recent years, Mr McAleese has worked quietly in the background, seeking progress rather than publicity.

The Belfast-born dentist is more used to negotiating pain-barriers than political barriers, but he displayed sensitivity and a steady hand in the murky world of loyalism.

Martin McAleese appears to have all the hallmarks of a fifth-level leader whose own ego does not intrude into his actions and their impact on others. I suppose I was particularly intrigued about the role-reversal here. The high-profile President of Ireland, and the behind-the-scenes influence of her husband. [Just to avoid confusion: I’m not suggest that Mary McAleese is particularly ego-driven, and I’d like to get something in Leaders we deserve on that remarkable leader as well].

The BBC article suggests that there are varied motivations behind the activities of the various groups still committed to violence. Most commentators have considered that there was far more than undiluted sectarian zeal behind the operations on both sides of the sectarian divide as turf battles extended into protection rackets, drug scams and assorted abuses of power.

What’s Interesting

What’s interesting from a leadership perspective is further evidence of the benefits of non-charismatic modes of leadership in tough conflict-resolution processes. I’ve picked up the story of Martin McAleese, but the wider story includes other leaders, some charismatic some not so.

The Northern Irish Peace Process over a period of decades has been marked by the multiple influences of people some more obviously charismatic, others of a more self-effacing kind.

The roll of honour includes the long-suffering John Major who as British Prime Minister constantly struggled to emerge from the mighty shadow cast by his predecessor Margaret Thatcher. Major was stereotyped as the ultimate grey man, and anti-leadership leader.

It also included the anxiety-ridden David Trimble, whose every move towards peace weakened his own power base, contributing to the political rise of the Reverend Ian Paisley, feared by the catholic minority for his fiery renditions of the Protestant no-surrender message were seen as a major block to the peace process.

Later, there was widespread approval for the fact that Ian Paisley as leader of the Democratic Unionist Party had consented to sit in the same room with Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams.

Paisley was subsequently to form a warm working relationship with Martin M, another former Sinn Fein leader . This was the same man whom Dr Pasiley used to describe as a Sinn Fein IRA terrorist,

Tony Blair, the charismatic leader, and Bertie Ahearn, whose lower key style was more akin to that of John Major, had also played important roles in the eventual signing of the Good Friday agreement.

Clearly, the process is not a simple linear advance inspired by one leader’s vision. Few would expect it to be so.

Lewin’s magnificent contribution

Over have a century ago, the great social scientist Kurt Lewin made one of the most important contributions to our thinking of how major changes takes place. His idea was that social systems, like scientific systems, have inherent stability. There are a set of forces which hold the system in stable equilibrium. An action which might change the system has the effect of activating what amounts to ‘an equal and opposite reaction’ (Newton’s terminology). The result is a perturbation after which the system eventually returns to its stable position. Lewin’s Force Field theory is stronger on stability than on change. (Although on management courses it is presented as suggesting the merits of addressing those reactionary forces opposing change. The theory helps us understand why attempts to achieve political goals will not be simple cause-effect chains.

More recent attempts to understand social and organisational change change have focused on tipping points and chaos theory .

Obama seeks peace, Labour party seeks assisted suicide

June 5, 2009


As President Obama seeks to kick-start the Middle East peace process, Gordon Brown’s labour administration seems intent on committing political suicide

I will reserve comment until later on Barack Obama’s efforts on the world stage. Politicians in the UK have a far more important preoccupation, namely self preservation. The instinct mingles with a mood of self-destruction.

Battle for survival

The battle for political survival is reaching a peak in a week of resignations and political plotting against his leadership. Cabinet members and back-bench MPs had no longer any doubt that their political days are numbered unless something drastic happens. They hope for miraculous rescue through a change of leadership and a revival of voter confidence among voters.

Gordon Brown’s reaction is to plan a much trailled and imminent reshuffle of his administation.

A particularly unfortunate combination of events have contributed to the current outbreak of desperate political actions. Polls have continued to head south for the Government to near unprecedented lows. The public obsession over MP expenses in the UK blots out stories even of celebrity reality shows. This applies to the BBC Newsnight programme. Incidentally, that late night show is not normally noted for innovation, but now it has announced plans [June 4th] to present a new format for modelled on the more popular, but equally confrontational Dragons Den format. Maybe the mood of desperate searching for rescue has infected the decisions of the Newsnight programmers.

The crisis intensifies for the Government

The crisis intensifies as first local election results confirm the Government’s gloomy expectations. There was a certain black humour in an early teletext announcement overnight [June 5th 2009]

The early counts were dominated by Conservative wins, but as the night wore on …

there was no solace for Labour. [I.e. the results continued to be dominated by conservative wins].

The resignations

The resignations of cabinet ministers continued, as commentators assessed the nature of the actions. Hopeless individuals wanting out of an intolerable political situation, or a synchronized plot?

James Purnell’s shock resignation [Work and Pensions] on Thursday night follows news that Jacqui Smith [Home Secretary and Hazel Blears [Communities minister] are quitting. The Lib Dems said it was clear the government was in “total meltdown”.
Mr Purnell’s resignation letter – printed in Friday’s newspapers – calls on Mr Brown to “stand aside” to give Labour “a fighting chance of winning”.

Meanwhile in another part of the world

Meanwhile, President Obama has been as outward looking as the British politicians have been introspective. [So why place it to the end of this blog post? Partly because this a story unfolding over a far longer time period. The political frenzy in UK politics is only worth reporting quickly as events crop up with increasing velocity.]

President Barack Obama has said the “cycle of suspicion and discord” between the United States and the Muslim world must end.
In a keynote speech [at Cairo University] Mr Obama called for a “new beginning” in ties. He admitted there had been “years of distrust” and said both sides needed to make a “sustained effort… to respect one another and seek common ground”.

He received a standing ovation at the end of his speech. White House officials had said the speech was intended to start a process to “re-energise the dialogue with the Muslim world”.

Obama is fast becoming the signature figure of a charismatic leader. But his impact while emotionally engaging is also accompanied by intellectually powerfully developed arguments. The combination will be needed throughout his Presidency and beyond.