Obama: Change comes to Washington

August 29, 2008

Barack Obama adds a creative twist to his message of change. In his acceptance speech for the Presidential nomination he insists that America will change. But change will not come from Washington, he insists, it will come to Washington

It was a speech deliberately echoing the “I have a dream” speech of Martin Luther King. King’s dream was of the community of races within America.

Obama also echoed John F. Kennedy, who insisted that Americans ask not what their country can do for them, but what they can do for their country.

But these echoes from the past reinforced Obama’s message for the future. In a creative leap, he turned the more simplistic change message on its head. Yes, America would change. But not because a new leader and administration in Washington would change America, but because America would change Washington. ‘Change comes to Washington’ he insisted.

This was the Obama combining policy with personality. The Obama avoiding what he has demonstrated in the past, avoiding burning bright intensifying the charisma of the leader. If anything, he seemed to be deliberately holding back for much of the speech lest the message was lost in the dazzle of full-wattage Obama.

There was plenty of yes and about the speech. Senator McCain? We are all patriots. That should not be an issue. [I remembered briefly the call by David Cameron, the newly appointed leader of the Conservatives to avoid Punch and Judy politics. Would the fine words last longer on this campaign than they did in the UK?].

But the dream was an old dream fulfilled rather than one freshly imagined

It is that promise that has always set this country apart – that through hard work and sacrifice, each of us can pursue our individual dreams but still come together as one American family, to ensure that the next generation can pursue their dreams as well.

The context of change was spelled out

Unlike John McCain, I will stop giving tax breaks to corporations that ship our jobs overseas, and I will start giving them to companies that create good jobs right here in America.
I will eliminate capital gains taxes for the small businesses and the start-ups that will create the high-wage, high-tech jobs of tomorrow.
I will cut taxes – cut taxes – for 95% of all working families. Because in an economy like this, the last thing we should do is raise taxes on the middle-class.

And for the sake of our economy, our security, and the future of our planet, I will set a clear goal as President: in ten years, we will finally end our dependence on oil from the Middle East.

[On Foreign Policy] As Commander-in-Chief, I will never hesitate to defend this nation, but I will only send our troops into harm’s way with a clear mission and a sacred commitment to give them the equipment they need in battle and the care and benefits they deserve when they come home. I will end this war in Iraq responsibly, and finish the fight against al Qaeda and the Taleban in Afghanistan. But I will also renew the tough, direct diplomacy that can prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons

Did it work?

I don’t know. As an outsider, recently I have struggled to understand the impact of the politics of Scotland’s governing party as it seeks independence from England. What chance do I have of assessing the impact of Obama’s performance on his prospects of election as President?

One thing is clear. Barack Obama is an exceptionally creative leader. He is offering a clear choice for change, by invitation rather than exhortation. His message is that change comes from the people: encouraged but not dictated by its leaders. It is still a message requiring the audacity of hope for its full-hearted acceptance. And it is an invitation that captures the principle that we create the leaders we deserve.

Postscript

This post deliberately avoided replicating views of other observers. As I listened in cosy darkness, I did not pick up the context and visual impact of the speech. As Google listed around 1000 news reports on Obama this morning, there are plenty of reports available to chose from.


Creative Leadership is Linked to Team Effectiveness

August 28, 2008

Researchers at Manchester Business School have established a clear link between effective leaders and their skills at encouraging creative change. They propose an explanation based on the introduction of benign structures which help shape team behaviours and innovative results

Since its inception in the 1960s, Manchester Business School has been engaged in applied studies into creativity and leadership. The School provides an unusual laboratory for studying leadership behaviours. Its approach, known as The Manchester Method, is one in which teams of business students engage with real-life business projects for an organizational client.

The Project Team Studies

Over the period 1980 to 2000, approximately 4500 participants, in 700 teams have been studied. From this work, a general principle of creative leadership emerged. Year after year, the tutors found three levels of project team performance, which they traced to a team’s leadership.

A small proportion of weak teams (‘teams from hell’) struggled to reach any effective result on the project. The majority of the teams (‘standard teams’) achieved the goals set them to the satisfaction of the client. Only a minority of teams performed beyond expectations (‘dream teams’).

What Constitutes a Dream team? Establishing Benign Structures for Change

Researchers Tudor Rickards and Susan Moger concluded that the dream teams they had observed were characterised by a capacity to go beyond the project brief in a creative way which added unexpected value for the client. They documented their findings in Handbook for Creative Team Leaders.

Later, the work was reported in several scholarly articles outlining the theory , and practical findings.

The key findings were summarized an article in The British Journal of Management

We propose that theories of project team development and of creativity can be integrated into a new conceptual framework. The framework proposes two structural barriers that bear on team performance, and modifies the well-established team development model of Tuckman. Creative leadership is suggested as an important means of breaching the barriers. Its differentiating feature seems to be its effectiveness in establishing protocols that sustain the creative efforts of team members. We have designated the protocols `benign structures’. Empirical evidence is provided from a range of studies of project teams in industrial settings.

Benign structures: An explanatory metaphor

A physiotherapist identifies that you have developed unhelpful ways of sitting in front of your computer. Your standard procedures can be improved. She suggests a series of procedures or rule you can follow to break old habits and develop ones that are more beneficial for your health.

She has introduced you to benign structures, which if you accept and follow will improve your future behaviour and health.

Benign Structures in Teams

In project teams, benign structures can again be thought of as procedures or rules introduced by the team leader. As with the structure provided by the physiotherapist, these also increase chances of improved performance and team climate or health.

How does a Leader Provide Benign Structures? The Two-Barrier Explanation

For many years, Organisational Behaviour texts describe a theory originally proposed by Bruce Tuckman, in which all teams develop progress through a series of stages labelled forming, storming, norming, and performing.

The Manchester researchers suggested a modification to this theory. They propose two barriers to team effectiveness. The first barrier defeats the poorest teams, probably at the storm stage of team development. Standard and dream teams progress beyond the first barrier but then the second barrier arrests progress of the majority of the residual teams.

The second barrier is at the norm stage of team development. Only by breaking out of its accepted norms is a team able to establish new norms. Then we have the conditions in which team is able to exceed the expectations of its corporate sponsor, but also its own assumptions about the project.

This modified theory has now been studied in Russia, Taiwan, Saudi Arabia, Brazil, and the United States as well as in the United Kingdom.

Leadership, team barriers, creativity, and benign structures appear to be a universal feature of effective leadership practices. The results have been found far beyond work in the business-school projects.

Benign Structures take a team ‘Out of the Box’

It has become a business cliché to describe creativity as out-of-the-box thinking. The cliché takes on more specific meaning if we relate it to the process whereby the dream teams successfully challenged their project briefs. Their creative outputs were novel, unexpected and yet relevant.

Development of Creative Team Leaders

The studies offer ways of developing creative leaders, and supporting the production of benign structures. Within the MBA courses, various possibilities for benign structures are introduced. These include a creative problem-solving approach developed from the well-known Parnes-Osborn treatment. Another structure draws on Edward de Bono’s celebrated Lateral thinking methods, including Six Thinking Hats .

Other ways of structuring creativity include ways of dealing with unconscious rejection mechanisms towards new ideas in teams. The team leader is sensitized to the importance of developing a positive ‘Yes And’ approach to replace a negative ‘Yes But’ one.

On-going Studies (1999-2008)

A long-running project now approaching its 10th year is tracking the progress of highly successful business leaders for their creative leadership characteristics. One of the findings is the identification of a process described as Network Activation.

Conclusion

In the past, creativity may have been considered distinct from the skills needed for success as a leader. This view is likely to be revised in the future, as leaders are recognised as achieving added-value through the introduction of creativity-supporting interventions (benign structures) which help groups overcome self-limiting assumptions, in a wide range of social and economic contexts.


It should be Team Scotland for London2012. Or should it be Team GB again?

August 26, 2008

Scotland honours its Olympic athletes, and the SNP raises more political questions. Alex Salmond argues for a Team Scotland for the London Olympics, and for an independent Scottish Football team at the Games

In the wake of the Beijing Olympics, Gordon Brown returns to the old story of a UK football team for London 2012. But the issue is complex. The story runs simultaneously with the wider story of whether team GB should be dismantled, so that the home nations can perform in their own identities, as happens in the Commonwealth Games.

The BBC reported [August 24th 2008] that

The Scottish Government has repeated its calls for Scotland to have its own, separate team at the Olympics. Ministers said it would be good for Scottish sport. The SNP wants to hold an independence referendum in 2010 – two years before the Games in London.

The case for a GB football team at the London Olympics is believed to put at risk the benefits of the national teams competing individually in other competitions, and particularly the World and European Cups. For Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland, these internationals are pragmatically the sole rationale for their survival.

Gordon Brown sees the benefits to the 2012 games of an Olympics team GB, and of a football team GB as well. Rather audaciously, he would like to see Sir Alex Ferguson in charge of said team.

Alex Salmond sees it differently.
He tells the BBC

Mr Brown must be “seriously out of touch with Scotland”.
“The whole concept’s ridiculous and only could be put forward by somebody who’s seriously out of touch with Scotland,” he said.
There has been no British Olympic team since 1960, partly because of fears it could jeopardize individual sides.

The Prime Minister, who has suggested that Manchester United boss Sir Alex Ferguson could manage the side, has been speaking with World Football’s governing body, Fifa, to reach an agreement on establishing British football teams. He said he would be surprised if there was not a team from the country which invented football competing on home turf in 2012.

Mr Salmond is remarkable shrewd in judging a popular cause. Maybe he continues to strengthen his political aspirations over this issue.

Maybe.

It is hard to assess the implications of his proposals. The rights of the four home countries to autonomy in world football is subject to the political machinations within Fifa, and the European football authority UEFA.

The concerns of the home nations are not without justification. That Prince among diplomats, Sepp Blatter offered one of his headline catching statements recently. His remarks hinted at a view that maybe indicated troubles ahead for the four home football unions:

Fifa president Sepp Blatter says a Great Britain football team at the 2012 Olympic Games should feature only English players.

“If you start to put together a combined team for the Olympic Games, the question will automatically come up that there are four different associations so how can they play in one team… If this is the case then why the hell do they have four associations and four votes and their own vice-presidency? “This will put into question all the privileges that the British associations have been given by the [Fifa] Congress in 1946.”

Unpopular but not without merit

My own views are those of someone of Welsh origins long domiciled in England. As in Scotland, the media in Wales have been keeping a proud count of the athletes of Welsh origin in team GB.

On balance, I rather like the idea of a supporting an Olympics Team GB. Despite reservations about obsessing over gold medal counts I was swept up into the counting game. I don’t feel that in 2012 I would have as much enjoyment keeping track of the overall Welsh medal tally.

That is a relatively trivial point but the feel-good factor this time around does seem a lot to do with the metrics showing Team GB had done better than might have been expected, and as an added bonus for some, outperformed that yardstick of sporting envy, The Australians.

But suppose Mr Salmond has to position his party as rejecting involvement in building on the achievements of Team GB in 2012, seeking an independent Team Scotland, foiling efforts at competing for football medals?

If so, Mr Salmond for once may be backing an idea that is likely to be unappealing to a proportion of his target electorate. Not too damaging of itself perhaps, but it may offer political opponents opportunities to cast doubt on Mr Salmond’s growing reputation as an agile and sure-footed leader.

In general, I found commentaries in the English press which largely supported the view that Alex has perhaps been less sure-footed than usual. A similar view could be found in Scotland on Sunday in which Kenny Farquharson described the First Minister’s position as churlish and petty.

On the other hand, the respondents to Farquharson were overwhelmingly on the side of Alex (Salmond not Ferguson). So who is to say whether Salmond has once again been able to deep-dive into regions where other politicians do not go?

Acknowledgement:

Image from emsee Bristol


Tessa Jowell and Boris speak as one: London 2012 is to be the austerity games

August 24, 2008

As the 2008 Olympics reaches a climax, interest turns to the London games of 2012. Tessa Jowell, wearing her hat as Olympics minister, and Boris Johnson, mayor of London, both send a similar austerity message. We examine the rationale for these actions

According to the BBC

According to the BBC

Olympics Minister Tessa Jowell has told [the BBC] that there will be no extra money beyond the £9.325bn already allocated to the 2012 London Games

In the same week, her message was echoed by Boris Johnson, who also promised that the games would run to budget. A brave claim, which seems to me to risk offering a hostage to fortune.

The messages have the merit of being clear and unambiguous. This government is not going to risk overspending the 2012 budget. But unless communicated carefully, the impression is left that the primary concern of the government and the Mayor is to avoid any doubts of being imprudent regarding the financial implications of the 2012 Games.

Raising their game: a bit of this, a bit of that

Perhaps politicians, like Olympic athletes have to raise their game to achieve the highest accolades. The statements for me, needed a bit more ‘yes and’. A bit more acknowledgment that at present many people are interested in how London 2012 will take British sporting achievements to a level that will continue the upsurge of pride in the sporting achievements in Beijing 2008.

In other words, the leader has to be more creative in handing the concerns of an intended audience, as well as getting across a message from the leader’s perspective. A bit of ‘this is what I want you to understand’. And also a bit of ‘I understand what you are really worried about, and this is what I intend to do about it’.

Janusian thinking
Creativity is often manifest by a process which puts together two sets of ideas. Arthur Koestler called it bisociative thinking. Others have referred to Janusian thinking, implying a capacity for looking in more than on direction at once.

Images of Janus suggest the process is looking in two different and contrary directions. This matches well with the notion that the creativity of a leader involves bringing together rational and emotional messages.

The evidence is that Tessa is less able to manage such two-way thinking than is Boris.


Tessa Jowell sends a leadership message for London 2012

August 20, 2008

As the 2008 Olympics reaches a climax, interest turns to the London games of 2012. Tessa Jowell, wearing her hat as Olympics minister, sends an austerity message. We examine the rationale for this leadership action

According to the BBC

Olympics Minister Tessa Jowell has told [the BBC] that there will be no extra money beyond the £9.325bn already allocated to the 2012 London Games

Now that seems to me rather strange. The message has the merit of being clear and unambiguous. This government is not going to risk overspending the 2012 budget.

However, it also is so direct as to present the primary concern of the government as to confront any doubts about its prudence, and about it being in control of the financial implications of the 2012 Games.

Credit to Tessa Jowell for providing a clear message.

On the other hand …

Perhaps politicians, like Olympic athletes have to raise their game to achieve the highest accolades. The statement, for me, needed a bit more ‘yes and’. A bit more acknowledgment that at present many people are interested in how London 2012 will take British sporting achievements to a level that will continue the upsurge of pride in the sporting achievements in Beijing 2008.

In other words, the leader has to be creative in handing the concerns of an intended audience, as well as getting across a message from the leader’s perspective. A bit of ‘this is what I want you to understand’. And also a bit of ‘I understand what you are really worried about, and this is what I intend to do about it’.

Creativity is often manifest by a process which puts together two sets of ideas. Arthur Koestler called it bisociative thinking. Others have referred to Janusian thinking, implying a capacity for looking in different directions at once. For shorthand, I sometimes refer to it as Yes And thinking.

Perhaps the creativity required of a leader involves communicating in a manner which brings together rational and emotional messages. A lack of empathy is even easier to detect than a lack of a logical strategic case …


Woolworths woes continue

August 17, 2008


Troubles come not singly but in battalions. The adage might be applied to Woolworths at present as it faces financial decline, a hostile take-over bid, and a new leader due to arrive next month

In June, [2008] Leaders we deserve reported on the enthusiasm with which Mr Trevor Bish-Jones took his golden handshake and departed the company.

Since then, the company has seen further deterioration in its trading position reported in July

The replacement for Mr Bish-Jones former Focus DIY chief executive Steve Johnson was recently announced as joining the firm in September

But before Mr. Johnson could get his feet under the table, the company faced its latest challenge in the shape of a takeover bid. Which it promptly rejected.

Troubled retailer Woolworths says it has rejected a bid for its network of 815 stores, calling it “unacceptable”.
Woolworths confirmed reports that the boss of the Iceland frozen food chain, Malcolm Walker, had made an offer to buy its retail division.
However, the company’s board said the proposal undervalued its assets and involved a complex restructuring, which was not achievable.

What happens next?

In the various posts on leadership reported here, there have been a number of stories of takeover attempts. The case for takeover is easier to make if the target company is demonstrating leadership problems together with financial difficulties.

The arrival of a new leader may help signal a fresh approach. It worked magnificently in the famous case of Stuart Rose arriving at Marks and Spencer to thwart to attention of predator Philip Green.

Will the arrival of Steve Johnson increase the survival chances for Woolworths in its present form? In the M&S case, Rose quickly helped put an imaginative new strategy in place.

Maybe Mr. Johnson will also provide creative leadership at a time of Corporate crisis. The initial statement from Woolworths (according to the BBC) suggests that such a possibility is the hope of the organization.

Mr Johnson said he would be focusing on “value creation for all stakeholders” when he joins the firm in September.

The retailer said it was “delighted” that Mr Johnson was joining the company.
“His strong background in both retail and consultancy, together with his particular experience in achieving a turnaround at Focus, he brings the strategic and operational skills that the Group needs to help it move to the next stage of its development.”

But what will happen between now and September? Will the battalion of its woes be successfully kept at bay?


BA: Musings on mergers, marriages, partnerships and takeovers

August 16, 2008

BA announces a new partnership with American Airways and Iberia. It raises the old question of the nature of business alliances

BA has cooperated for some time with American Airlines. Any joint venture seems likely to tick one important box, namely that the partners seem comfortable with one another. So there is at least the possibility that the cultural chemistry is not going to be a problem.

That is not to say that cross-cultural issues can be safely ignored, just that many of them have been thoroughly tested in practice over a period of two decades by the two airlines.

Even so, a global alliance presents global problems (or challenges as the remorselessly upbeat business speak encourages us to say). Business Schools prepare the new case for analysis. This one has another layer of complication. The deal is the more complex by the presence of Iberia. Hard enough to get a grip of a bi-party deal.

Oneworld

Where to begin? American Airways places considerable emphasis on its role as partner (and co-founder) of the global oneworld® Alliance,

…which brings together some of the best and biggest names in the airline business, enabling them to offer their customers more services and benefits than any airline can provide on its own. Together, its members serve more than 600 destinations in over 135 countries and territories.

Such alliances have increasingly and rather unobtrusively making air travel a little more joined up Less frequent fliers like myself increasingly find themselves going with the flow and discovering that the short-haul or regional leg of their journeys is being managed on behalf of a larger and more familiar name.

The alliances fit with the messier business world in which cooperation and competition co-exist. Incidentally, it is a world which poses further ‘challenges’ for traditional arguements regarding the ultimate economic virtues of competitive markets. It will be interesting to read the take on all this from that intelligent newspaper The Economist.

According to OneWorld

The oneworld global airline alliance has warmly welcomed and strongly supports the application for anti-trust immunity filed on August 14 by its members American Airlines, British Airways, Finnair, Iberia and Royal Jordanian. .. The filing was made as American Airlines, British Airways and Iberia signed a joint business agreement covering their flights between North America and Europe and unveiled plans for further co-operation.

John McCulloch [oneworld spokesman] said: “oneworld has for many years been the only global alliance without the benefit of anti-trust immunity between its key transatlantic partners. This has put oneworld at a considerable disadvantage. We’ve had to work a great deal harder and smarter than our competitors [Our rival alliances SkyTeam and Star] have grown much bigger and the anti-trust immunity they enjoy has been extended far more widely to deliver the alliance services and benefits that our customers have come to appreciate so much.

Richard Branson’s response

Richard Branson leading from the front for Virgin, enters the fray with a typically high-profile response.

Sir Richard Branson went on the attack yesterday against his old adversary British Airways to try to block plans by the UK flag-carrier to join forces with American Airlines and Spain’s Iberia across the North Atlantic. The three carriers, all members of the Oneworld global airline alliance, said they had signed a “joint business agreement” covering flights between North America and Europe.
They intended to co-operate commercially on flights between the US, Mexico and Canada, and the European Union, Switzerland and Norway while continuing to operate as separate legal entities. They would share revenues but not profits.
Sir Richard, president of Virgin Atlantic, said a BA tie-up with AA would “create a monster monopoly that would push up ticket prices and substantially reduce competition on the busiest air corridor in the world”.
But other opponents to closer ties between the two airlines, such as Continental Airlines, are likely to tone down their lobbying efforts, as they await regulatory approval for their own proposed partnerships.
BA and Iberia have recently begun negotiations to merge.
It is the third attempt by BA and AA in 11 years to gain antitrust immunity for their alliance. Heathrow, BA’s global hub and the Europe gateway for travellers from the US, had been opened to full competition for EU and US carriers since the end of March [2008].

This is the way in which Virgin Atlantic has developed such a positive brand identity and reputation.

‘This is not a marriage’

Stephen Beard argues in Marketplace that this is not a marriage.

At a time of crisis in the airline industry, [BA and Iberia] want to huddle closer together. They want to cut costs, coordinating flights and fares, perhaps running a joint frequent flyer program. The two airlines feel at a disadvantage. Lufthansa and Air France both operate very closely with U.S. carriers. BA and American need to be allowed to do the same .. American have tried this before, but failed to win the support of regulators. This time, they believe they’ll succeed, because the Open Skies Agreement has opened up competition in transatlantic air travel.

What happens next?

Some more turbulence of shareprices. Further informal collaboration between the one world partners. Maybe a full- blooded merger between BA and Iberia. (My blink view is rather cold on this one. But whatever happens, I would not rely on a two-second judgment, if I were into BA speculation). Even more Business School attention on the nature of global alliances. Richard Branson in need of more strategic initiatives to protect the future of Virgin Airlines. We will hear a lot more over the next few months [August 2008].

Note: For a full account of Richard Branson’s statement see The Wall Street Journal