Graeme Smith, a greatly underestimated leader of South African cricket

March 6, 2014


Graeme Smith is rarely mentioned among lists of the great cricket captains. This is mostly a matter of style over substance

Graeme Smith announced his immediate retirement from international cricket this week [6th March 2014]. The timing of the announcement was curious,and appears to have been a shock to his closest colleagues. I want to return to this, but my main interest is why he has not received far more recognition for his achievements.

His track record as captain starting as a 22 year old is outstanding with numerous achievements. His 109 tests as captain far exceeds that of second player Alan Border, and his batting average of nearly 50 is only surpassed as an opening bat in Test Cricket by the great Sunil Gavaskar.

He has been a particular success over England with team and personal displays that have contributed to several retirements of his English counterparts.

His curious departure

There have been rumours over the last few years that he was becoming disenchanted with his lengthy time as captain. Changes in his personal life contributed recently. Even so, to announce his retirement as his team were struggling in series-determining match against Australia goes against the principles of a leader putting his team above personal considerations. It suggests considerable internal conflict or a cranky individualism of another controversial South African, Kevin Pietersen whose defections to the ranks of the England team and then out of it are infamous to English and South African cricket lovers alike.

Why is he rarely hailed as an all-time great captain?

The only explanation I can think of is that he is the antithesis of a stylish player. His personality verges on the dour and anti-charismatic. Cricket is a game that loves the effortless style and flamboyance of players such as David Gower and Ian Botham. You can see more psycho-analytical ramblings on leadership style, Geoffrey Boycott and Kevin Pietersen in an earlier blog post


FIFA – gatekeepers to our beautiful game

February 6, 2014

FIFA logoPreparation for the Brazil 2014 FIFA World Cup Finals may well be causing anxiety for some, but there is evidence of greater challenges within FIFA.

by Paul Hinks

According to FIFA’s website, the FIFA World Cup is the world’s most widely viewed sporting event. An estimated 715.1 million people watched the final match of the 2006 FIFA World Cup held in Germany – the 2010 event in South Africa was broadcast to 204 countries on 245 different channels.

June 2014 will see Brazil host the next World Cup Finals – a country synonymous with carnivals, rich culture and ‘samba’ football – but also struggling in terms of economic progress.

Ethical Leadership versus Financial Motivations

As PWC report, the World Cup Finals will provide Brazil with investment and an opportunity for commercial success – a credible legacy for FIFA and the host nation.

However as The Guardian noted, challenges are evident in the preparation for the tournament. The Economist noted that workers are now scheduled to work around the clock in an attempt to meet the fixed deadline; there have also been fatalities when a crane collapsed in São Paulo’s new football stadium. Deeper concerns remain that Brazil cannot afford to host the World Cup Finals and that the investment should have been spent on hospitals, basic sanitation, housing and other more fundamental needs.

Brazil as a template for success?

Exploring the rationale behind FIFA’s decision making process deserves closer inspection – preparation for the Brazil 2014 FIFA World Cup Finals may well be causing anxiety for some, but there is evidence of greater challenges within FIFA.

There are accusations that the selection of venue for the 2018 and 2022 World Cup Finals were unfair – allegations of vote rigging and bribing were reported by the BBC in 2010 when Russia was awarded the 2018 finals; Forbes are amongst credible sources who echoed similar concerns about the successful Qatar 2018 bid.

The selection of Qatar for the 2018 finals appears even more confusing, given that traditionally the World Cup Finals are held in summer – in Qatar the summer temperatures would expose teams to temperatures of more than 40c – even today’s highly conditioned footballers cannot expect to excel for 90 minutes in that heat. Then there is the deeper analysis of how FIFA are attempting to correct the situation – prompting closer inspection of Sett Blatter’s tenure as President of the FIFA organisation.

Internal disruption within FIFA

The Telegraph reported (on 09 Jan 2014) that all may not be well within the FIFA hierarchy:

The row at Fifa over the timing of the 2022 World Cup intensified on Thursday after Michel Platini accused Sepp Blatter and Jerome Valcke of disrespecting their own executive committee.

Platini, the Uefa president and Fifa vice-president, condemned the latter’s president and secretary general for their repeated public pronouncements indicating the tournament in Qatar would be moved to November or December.
The latest of those was delivered on French radio by Valcke on Wednesday, prompting an angry response from Fifa’s British vice-president, Jim Boyce, who insisted the decision over any switch lay with the governing body’s ExCo.
Platini, who could stand against Blatter for the Fifa presidency in 2015, was even more nonplussed, telling L’Equipe: “When the executive committee was held in early October, it was decided to launch a major consultation of all football and no decision would be taken before the 2014 World Cup in Brazil. It was also agreed not to talk about this before then.”

Leadership challenges within FIFA

FIFA need to retain their credibility as an organisation that operates ethically and also to the expected high standards – the recent global banking crisis illustrates just how quickly the public loose trust in institutions where those in positions of influence operate with self-interest and guile.

Football is unquestionably a global sport – it transcends geographies, providing an opportunity for supporters from different cultures and backgrounds to mix on equal terms, exchanging opinions and creating debate – in some ways it provides a common language which can bridge political and cultural differences. Those entrusted as guardians of the ‘beautiful game’ need to demonstrate an authentic style of leadership – one which engenders trust.

There remains an interesting dynamic around who is leading and who is following in this increasingly powerful industry – power plays are evident both internally within FIFA, and also externally beyond the boundaries of FIFA’s organisation. FIFA and Sepp Blatter deserve credit for how football has prospered on the global stage in recent years – the rich diversity of footballing talent from different nations in our domestic leagues and competitions is just one metric of success.

However, if FIFA is to remain a highly respected organisation, perhaps it’s time for improved governance and more transparency around how key decisions are made.


In Chess, Carlsen keeps mum. In Cricket, Cook tells all?

November 14, 2013

In the build-up to the chess world championships Magnus Carlsen refuses to reveal who his support staff are. In Cricket, Australian captain Clarke says England’s captain kindly revealed his Cricket team to him. What’s all that about?

Two little stories about leadership, one from Chess, one from Cricket.

In India there are two sports stories this week about all-time greats. Sachin Tendulkar is playing his last international cricket match; and Viswanathan [‘Vishy’] Anand is defending his chess crown against the new chess prodigy and Norwegian ‘pawn star’ Magnus Carlsen.

Chess trends on Twitter

Yesterday, the official website of FIDE, the international chess organization, announced that chess had become the number one news item of all stories trending on Twitter. The rise of Indian chess owes much to Anand, who has help five world championships (if you include rapid play ones). Carlsen is being hailed as a mega-star who is bringing attention to chess globally .

Magnus keeps mum

At a pre-match press conference, the players were asked out their support teams. Vishy spoke glowingly of his back-up team who help in preparing openings and in studying the play of his opponent. The twenty two year old Magnus thanked him for the information but politely declined the invitation to respond.

Cook tells all

Half way around the world, Australia is hosting their fiercest cricket rivals England. In a remarkable press conference Australia captain Michael Clarke says England’s captain Alistair Cook has revealed the England team to him a week in advance of the test.

What’s all that about?

Vishy says that the players ‘exchanged information’ only after playing the first game. The rest could be no more than mis-information. The same might be true of whatever Cook did or did not say to Clarke.

Was Cook [or Clarke] being a silly billy?

We seem to be entering the region of mind games. Chess is the more obvious mind game, but more many athletes and sporting coaches have gone in for psychological warfare. I have trouble believing the headline that Cook told Clarke the names of the team for the forthcoming test.

Maybe Clarke is trying to make Cook look like a silly billy.


The America’s Cup 2013 and the Ainslie effect

September 27, 2013

America's Cup 2013The victory this week by the American team Oracle, in the prestigious America’s cup yachting competition was hailed as one of the all-time great sporting recoveries. It coincided with a leadership intervention. It is tempting to see a simple cause and effect relationship.

Background:

The BBC account [September 26 2013] recorded the astonishing comeback:

Sir Ben Ainslie’s Oracle Team USA sealed one of sport’s greatest comebacks when they overhauled an 8-1 deficit to beat Team New Zealand [The Emirates, Nexpresso] in the America’s Cup decider in San Francisco. The holders won eight straight races to triumph 9-8 after being docked two points for cheating in the build-up. Oracle surged to victory by 44 seconds to retain the Cup they won in 2010.

The Kiwis won four of the first five races, making Oracle modify their boat and call Ainslie from the warm-up crew. The British sailing legend, 36, a four-time Olympic champion, was drafted in as tactician in place of American veteran John Kostecki and was instrumental in the US outfit’s resurgence.

“It’s been one of the most amazing comebacks ever, I think, almost in any sport but certainly in sailing and to be a part of that is a huge privilege,” said Ainslie, who combined superbly with Oracle’s Australian skipper James Spithill and strategist Tom Slingsby, another Australian who won Laser gold at London 2012, to drag the syndicate back from the brink in the most remarkable turnaround in the event’s 162-year history.

The New Zealanders, with impressive early pace upwind and slicker boat handling, opened up a seven-point lead (six to minus one) as Oracle’s crew and equipment changes took effect. But the US outfit, bankrolled by software billionaire Larry Ellison, were soon up to speed and won 10 of the next 12 races to lift the oldest trophy in international sport.

The Kiwis, led by skipper Dean Barker, came within two minutes of glory in race 13 in uncharacteristic light winds before organisers abandoned the race because the 40-minute time limit had elapsed. In the decider on San Francisco Bay, Team New Zealand edged a tight start and beat Oracle to the first mark. The Kiwis stayed clear around the second mark but lost the lead to the Americans early on the upwind leg. After briefly retaking the advantage, the Kiwis then watched as Oracle stormed ahead with remarkable upwind pace and remained clear for a comfortable win.

The ‘Ainslie and momentum’ story

One story is that faced with a deficit of 8-1 in a first to 9 match, the Americans called for Ainslie, and Oracle won eight straight races. Ainslie described how ‘momentum’ had swung in favour of the Oracle team during the fight back.

An alternative analysis

After four straight losses, the Oracle team introduced a whole series of changes, including serious technical modifications and personnel adjustments. Increased competitive performances followed, but another four races were lost. Then a win, almost certainly seen as a consolation before eventual capitulation. Even with an edge in performance, Oracle would have to survive all literal and metaphorical ill-winds for all eight remaining races. The team was close to losing the match in race 13, which was abandoned, boats becalmed, with their opponents well ahead. That would have ended the beautiful story of a glorious fight back.

In this alternative analysis, a series of changes both of technical and behavioural kind resulted in a significant improvement in performance. There was no identifiable tipping point, although one seems likely to be created in hindsight as the appointment of Ainslie.

Implications

Beware of simple causal explanations of change processes. Test theoretical explanations based on terms such a a tipping point or a momentum swing against the evidence of what happened in practice. In the UK the team has been regularly described as Ainslie’s team. The notion of distributed leadership has a long way to go.


The fight for the ashes: A tale of two Captains

August 13, 2013

The 2013 cricket matches between England and Australia showed two different styles of captaincy. It could be argued that the England had the better team and won, Australia had the better captain and lost

Monday 12th August 2013, approximately 6.30pm local time A cricket match in the scenic little town of Chester le Street in Durham was well into its fourth day, with Australia in control. The most likely outcome was an Australian victory sometime in the afternoon of the following day. England were leading with two victories and a draw. Australia could still draw the series by winning the match and then the final contest the following week. The match was running later that the scheduled finish time for the day to make up for time lost through rain in the afternoon session.

Thoughts turned to dinner and to catching up through a highlights programme of the penultimate day’s play a few hours later.

Monday 12th August 2013, approximately 8.30pm local time Returned from delights of Pepperoni pizza in downtown Bramhall. Astonished to find that the match was over. Jubilant players were mingling with jubilant supporters. Australia had collapsed. England had won the series.

A tale of two Captains

If we are to take the media reports seriously, Australia were a relatively weak team captained with panache and skill by Michael Clarke. England had the stronger team captained by the inexperienced Alistair Cook. Clarke repeatedly found imaginative ways to unsettle the England team’s batting efforts, and ‘led from the front’ almost winning the previous game, only thwarted by bad weather. Cook’s captaincy was criticized for putting safety first, waiting for the Australian batsmen to self-destruct. In several matches this eventually worked, only after Australia had worked their way to winning positions.

If we don’t take the media reports seriously …

There is a dilemma of leadership here. In tightly contested matches, you might expect better captaincy to swing the matches in favour of their teams. Possibility one is that Cook’s captaincy was not as bad as some pundits opined. Possibility two there were other apparently game-changing factors. Home advantage might have been one, for example.

What the papers say

I have refrained from reading what the newspapers say until after completing this post. They may tell the story as a tale of two captains, or the brilliant final bowling spell of England’s Stuart Broad, or the fine batting of Ian Bell which more than compensated for the batting of Australian captain Michael Clarke.

Next series

Cricket continues on its remorseless way. In less than six months, it will be Australia on home grounds against England. Another series to enjoy and create the leaders we deserve?

Follow up news on captaincy

The crude ‘good captain/bad captain debate continued. I haven’t found adverse comments on Clarke’s captaincy. The original comments on Cook’s performance have been rejected by several team members and coaching staff. Ian bell wrote of Cook’s outstanding skills at leadership when crisis loomed – calming the team and encouraging them to perform better. Coach Andy Flower was even more effusive in praising Cook’s leadership skills The issue may not be unconnected with the England Captain’s apparent drop in batting form in the series

Which suggests me that the criticisms of Cook may reflect leadership decisions mostly tactical on the field; that he is respected and liked in the dressing room; that the views of coach and players may capture aspects of his leadership style perhaps influenced by a desire to react to criticisms of Cook’s captaincy. AS so often, the evaluation of a captain’s capabilities defies simplistic polarity into ‘good Captain/bad captain.


Strauss resigns as England Captain as pundits duck the tough questions

August 29, 2012

England cricket captain Andrew Strauss resigns after a series defeat and yet more off-field controversies. For several weeks, multiple former captains now turned into pundits adverse comments. They also rarely mentioned the decisions of the selectors who had first appointed Andrew Flintoff and then Kevin Pietersen in advance of Andrew Strauss

There are too many armchair pundits of cricket and I don’t want to add myself to the list. I feel a bit more comfortable in examining what has been said and written by those who have themselves played for and captained the England cricket team.

An unlucky General?

Over his three years of captaincy Strass led his team to the top of the international rankings, including wins over the previously near-invincible Australians. He has also been beset with off-the-field controversies which were outside his control. They included match fixing, accusations of ball-tampering, and much bad temper between England and Pakistan cricket authorities in particular. Napoleon might have said he had been an unlucky General.

Pressure mounts

As pressure mounted on out-of-form Strauss, the commentators began to dwell on his batting failures. Then, recently [Aug 2012] Pietersen (a South African by birth) was forced out of the England team after his disrespectful texts about Strauss to members of the South African team, the current opponents who were well on the way to replacing England as the highest ranked team.

Don’t scare the horses

The Pietersen affair produced a switch of tone from the commentators who seemed to avoid the slightest of adverse comments on Andrew Strauss’s capabilities. No one wanted to spook the selectors by remarking on the weaknesses of his captaincy. In real-time, the commentators had often said or implied his on-field decision-making was cautious and unimaginative. Now they were lining up to say he was one of the best England captains of recent times.

Why? The comments suggest that he was articulate and calm while dealing with the press (better than Flintoff or Pietersen). He had the confidence and loyalty of the players. (Except for the rogue horse Pietersen). He had also forged good relationship with coaches and administrators. Not bad, but are they necessary and sufficient criteria for success as a captain?

How to assess a captain

This evidence supports the view that Strauss was a quiet and rather uncharismatic individual, perhaps fitting the profile of a level five leader who is ‘modest but of fierce resolve’.

Such leaders are often only noticed in hindsight, and tend to be overlooked in selection processes which favour the gifted, the extraverted, and the charismatic. In other words, people like Andrew Flintoff and Kevin Pietersen.

Learning from practice

It seems likely that the selectors have learned from the earlier appointments. The new captain Alistair Cook is closer to Strauss in temperament than to the cavaliers of yore mentioned above, and was being groomed for the job.


Golf, prejudice, and a small step towards the 21st century

August 23, 2012

News of the week. Augusta golf club admits Condoleezza Rice to membership. The move may be less about more enlightened attitudes, than about pressure for golf to become more inclusive in order to fulfil the ideals of a sport now included in a future Olympic Games

A few years ago, I was astonished to learn from close friends that golf clubs in England and Scotland were effectively barring women, people of colour, and of non-Christian beliefs and various other minorities from membership. For example, the distinguished President of a Ladies section of a Belgian club told me how she had offered hospitality to an English guest at her club. When he subsequently invited her to return her courtesies, he was forced to operate within ‘get round’ rules which made her an ‘honorary male’ of club to which he belonged.

What about Ginni Rometti?

Returning to the Auugusta story, The Australian suggested that the admission was the consequence of the tradition in the club of offering membership to the CEO of IBM, one of its main sponsors of the Masters event held at Augusta each year. This presented a problem when IBM recently appointed its first female CEO, Ginni Rometti.

A dilemma of tradition

It is tempting to speculate that within the club a strategy emerged, perhaps designed to placate IBM and the growing pressures being exerted on the institution from several libertarian pressure movements. Why not appoint a major female figure with sound political credentials and who is also black? And we can head off the IBM issue by inviting a local business woman, Darla Moore.

This glass ceiling is now expected to be smashed in the autumn, by the sight of Ms Rice and Ms Moore wielding their drivers. If Augusta National can move into the 21st century, then what about the Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St Andrews in Scotland? Formed in 1754, the world’s most prestigious club has yet to open its doors to women. It has about 2400 members and is showing no sign of changing its all-male policy.

Then there are the Olympics

Another pressure point may be coming from the Olympics committee which has accepted Golf as a sport for the 2016 Games in Rio. [I have not been able to find any specific reference to back up this idea, and welcome comments from LWD subscribers: Ed].

Why bother to join such clubs?

Private clubs have to right to exclude anyone they choose. Groucho Marx famously and ironically noted, that he wouldn’t want to belong to any club that would let him in. It reminds me of a twist to another favourite saying of mine that golf clubs get the members they deserve and the power they can preserve.


Mick McCarthy sacked: The case examined from a situational leadership perspective

February 14, 2012

Mick McCarthy is dismissed as manager of Wolves football club after a run of poor results, and a crushing defeat to local rivals. LWD examines his case from the perspective of situational leadership

A Guardian report briefly summarised the demise of Mick McCarthy:

Mick McCarthy has paid an almost inevitable price for Wolves’ dismal run of form, with the Midlands club announcing the sacking of their manager on Monday morning [Feb 13th 2012]. Despite earlier support from the boardroom, McCarthy’s position appeared untenable as Wolverhampton Wanderers slumped to a 5-1 home defeat by West Bromwich Albion on Sunday

“Wolves have today announced that manager, Mick McCarthy, has left the club with immediate effect. The board took the difficult decision to terminate Mick’s contract after a run of form which has seen Wolves pick up only 14 points in the last 22 league games, culminating in yesterday’s 5-1 defeat at home to West Bromwich Albion. Mick joined Wolves in July 2006 and led the club to the Championship title in the 2008-09 campaign, before keeping the club in the Premier League for the past two seasons. The board would like to place on record their sincere thanks and appreciation to Mick and he leaves with the very best wishes of everyone connected to the club. The club will be issuing a fuller statement in due course.”

As fans stepped up their displays of dissatisfaction with McCarthy a few months ago, he reacted angrily afterwards. I noted in an earlier post [Oct 28th 2011]:

At the post-match interview, the manager was visibly angry. He chose not to reveal the origins of his anger. This of itself was unusual. He has earned a reputation of the almost stereotyped no-nonsense, blunt-speaking Yorkshire man.

Checking back I found another post recounting a famous confrontation with team captain Roy Keene, when McCarthy was manager of Ireland’s world cup team. These and numerous other reports suggests that Mick McCarthy’s leadership style is seen as uncompromising, committed, and confrontational.

Credit where credit is due

As McCarthy’s fate became discussed, commentators made the reasonable case that McCarthy had succeeded well with the resources at his disposal, including those successes in gaining and securing promotion to the Premiership for his club [2006-2009].

Situational leadership

The case can be studied applying the notions of situational leadership, still a popular form of leadership development courses.
The approach takes participants beyond the idea that there is one best leadership style. It was an advance over a century-long search for traits of effective leaders. Situational leadership suggests that “it all depends” on situational factors including the maturity of the people involved (the football team or squad in this example).

Four basic situational styles

S1 directing
S2 directing and supporting (coaching)
S3 supporting (with lower level of direction)
S4 delegating (reduced leader interventions of support or direction).

At its core, situational leadership courses suggest that as a team develops in maturity, the leader needs to place emphasis on differing combinations of task focus and people focus.

Growing with the team

It seems likely that some leaders can ‘grow with the team’. It may be that McCarthy had considerable talents at directing (style S1) perhaps finding it difficult to work comfortably with complex situations requiring more flexible ‘individualized attention’ of team members.


Warnock fired, as Football’s naïve owners cling to outdated leadership beliefs

January 9, 2012

Another premiership manager is dismissed as football owners in the Premier League cling to outdated beliefs about the great man who will reverse the fortunes of their clubs

Neil Warnock was dismissed as manager of Premiership club Queens Park Rangers (QPR) yesterday [Sunday 8th of January] . The circumstances are all too familiar. Warnock is a controversial and outspoken character. He has a reputation of demanding the best from players often working with a limited budget. He is only eight years younger than Sir Alex Ferguson. Last year QPR gained promotion with him as their manager.

Events contributing to a sacking

Some of these events seem familiar for cases in which managers are removed from their positions in the premier league.

[1] A takeover after which the new owners take the opportunity to put ‘their’ man in charge
[2] The club does not perform to expectations in the ‘honeymoon period’ for the new owners
[3] A case of success elsewhere after a change of manager is noted by the new owners and the fans.

The Martin O Neill effect

All three factors are evident in the QPR case. Martin O Neill has hit the headlines after a great start at struggling Sunderland recently.

The Great Man Theory

The idea of a leader as hero/rescuer was popular a century ago, but has become increasingly challenged. In business, as in sport, the evidence for a reversal of fortune after introducing a dynamic new manager is contestable. There are other factors including the resources that are made available to the new leader to ‘make a difference’.

Fanciful expectations

Yes, a transformation in fortune will require effective leadership. The owners may well have found Warnock not the kind of manager they would have preferred for a fresh start. However, significant change will also require effective governance and expectations that are not too fanciful. And a Martin O Neill or a Kenny Dalglish is hard to find, and harder to attract without special personal reasons for accepting the challenge.


Coaching in the days of the amateur rugby player

January 2, 2012

In a TV programme discussing the days of amateur rugby [Dec 2011], Welsh legend Gareth Edwards revealed widespread distaste for the notion of a professional coach. He would have been describing the scene in the 1960s

“In Scotland” Edwards recalled “there was no [international] coach. They were referred to then as ‘assistant to the captain’.”

Untarnished advice for free

The suggestion that the international team might have the amateur status ‘tarnished’ through professional advice was too much for the men in blazers (who one suspects were not averse to offering their own words of advice, in true amateur spirit).

Boot money

This was at a time when the same amateur players were allegedly recipients of sums of money which mysteriously found their way into boots before training sessions.


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