Olympic Protests and Leadership Issues

August 7, 2008
Dali Lama

Dali Lama

Update

The post was written in 2008. It retains relevance as the Sochi Winter Olympics of 2014 draws to a close.

The Beijing Olympics is launched amid a flurry of political stories. The old dilemma is a dilemma no more. It seems that sport and politics can not be kept separate. But there may be ways of them co-existing, with the help of creative leadership

The Financial Times suggested that it was always a pious hope that politics and sport could be kept apart at Beijing.

On the eve of the Olympic Games, Reuters news agency reported that

More than 40 athletes competing in the Beijing Olympics have urged China to peacefully settle contention over Tibet and protect freedom of religion and opinion, rights groups said, raising pressure on the Games host ..The Games participants are among 127 international athletes reported to have signed a petition to Chinese President Hu Jintao, bringing sports and human rights together in a way that Beijing has often rejected as “politicising” the Olympics.

Meanwhile, human rights protesters at Liberty Square, Taipei call for an alternative ‘Peace’ Olympics.

The signs became obvious as far back as February 2008 when Stephen Spielberg announced his resignation as a high-profile artistic advisor to the Games.

His political purpose was to draw attention to the continued humanitarian crisis in Darfur. Spielberg,claimed that China was
not doing enough to pressure Sudan to end the human suffering in the troubled western Darfur region in the five-year conflict.

The Darfur issue has been kept in the headlines by Team Darfur
in a longer-running campaign by athletes concerned over the Darfur situation.

The rationale of Team Darfur is to make a difference politically in Darfur, through the publicity gained by the support of high-profile athletes.

This week we learn that a member of Team Darfur would be carrying the Olympic flag in the opening ceremony. The story was that of child rescued from Darfur who became a US citizen.

A day after China jerked the visa of former Olympian Joey Cheek because of his high-profile support for Darfur, the U.S. Olympic team announced it had voted a former Sudanese refugee the honor of carrying the American flag into the stadium for the opening ceremonies. the selection of Lopez Lomong, a 1,500-meter runner who became a U.S. citizen 13 months ago, contains almost as much provocation as poignancy.

The Olympic Flame and its Political Journey

The run-up to the Olympics has been simplified into a story of civil rights which was sustained because of the highly symbolic journey of the Olympic flame around the world. The focus of the story increasingly became the political conditions in Tibet.

Maybe it seemed a great gesture in the planning stage. But as we have been reminded, much of the ceremony and its political potential was anticipated in Hitler’s Berlin Games of 1936.

Then there’s President Bush

The President has been increasingly down-staged by the momentum of the Presidential race in recent months. This week he had to re-enter the limelight, perhaps reluctantly. His position presents a classic dilemma of leadership. Actions (going to the Games) or non-actions (staying away) are likely to bring tricky political repercussions.

Bush decided to go to the Games, while reserving his criticisms of China’s political position for speeches en route to Beijing.

The Leadership Issues

Start from the perspective of leadership as a process of influencing people towards the achievement of objectives. Negotiating, selling, threatening, and protesting, represent behaviours with leadership connections.

From such a broad perspective, we can recognise the various inter-related leadership activities within the stories connected with the Beijing Olympics.

Try as we might, it is hard to bracket out those elements which are ‘purely’ sporting. The Olympic movement has lofty aspirational goals. Even these are increasingly under threat from commercial interests of sponsors. Can we conclude that the decisions to grant the Games are being made simply on sporting considerations?

The structures around the Olympic movement are as complex as any found in global organisations of any kind. Its members influence and are influenced by the political and economic elites of the countries they represent.

This is a major way in which sport and politics mix. But then there are the multiple constituencies who oppose the policies of those in power are the world. There are constitutional as well as revolutionary oppositions.

The various demonstrations that are occurring around the Olympics are no more than the slightest of confirmations (if confirmation were needed) that we are a long way away from a Utopian world of Olympian ideals and universally shared values.

So What?

So what, you may well ask. Because the next few weeks offer a chance to take part in events that will touch almost every one on the planet. Each of us will be prompted to make decisions for ourselves. Watch the games, forget the politics? Take direct action in support of some cherished cause? Give what you can to Darfur, or Tibet, or a more local cause.

Many years ago I spent a year working in New York at a time of National upheaval over the political implication of its military policy in Vietnam. I found it difficult to square my sense of being a guest in a foreign land, not at all clear about the broader context, but someone whose friends were mostly urging me to join them in their anti-war protests. But their arguments were less convincing than their commitment to the anti-war cause.

Later, back in the UK, there were echoes of this dilemma in my ambivalence about the arguments in favour of the CND movement.

I wish I had been able to realize then that there was no right or wrong answer based on the evidence available to me. I was trying to work out what to do, when faced with values apparently pointing in different directions.

A More Creative Stance

To take a far more significant example, the Dali Lama found a resolution to the issue. He has consistently made it clear (a leadership task) what he intends to do regarding the Beijing Olympics. He welcomes the opportunity presented to the Chinese people, and will do nothing to diminish it as a sporting event. This permits him to work as he always has for the rights he seeks for Tibet.

Maybe he illustrates the creativity needed to deal with an apparently intractable problem. In which case we have a modern version of an ancient paradox resolved by rendering unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, without compromising commitment to another and higher authority.


What is 3e Leadership?

August 7, 2008

According to a new leadership book, 3e stands for envisioning, engaging and executing. The concept can be traced back to earlier work on Funky Capitalism by the book’s Swedish celebrity-economist author

Around the heady days of the new millennium, a lively book on an old subject emerged from the Financial Times business series. It dealt with the new business world of creativity and ideas. Capitalism, it proclaimed, was transforming itself along the lines of popular culture.

The spirit of the book was captured by a reviewer

Oh dear–a book called Funky Business by two Swedish academics. At first glance it has all the allure of Benny and Bjorn’s (from Abba) sadly never released concept album about life as a middle manger in a multinational conglomerate.

There is something very earnestly hip about the way that Kjell Nordstrom and Jonas Ridderstrale of the Stockholm School Of Economics present themselves. “They do gigs not seminars. These gigs sell out. They have shaved heads and wear black”, says the blurb.
But that’s what makes Funky Business worth reading. It’s not so much the novelty of its argument–which boils down to the idea that in an oversupplied world, ideas are what separate successful companies and successful individuals from the failures. It is the vitality of the argument and, dare I say it, the rhythm of the language that make it so compelling.

Now Ridderstrale has linked up with Brit Mark Wilcox to form an Anglo-Swedish team. They offer a more traditional treatment, delivering a how-to-do-it programme for business transformation. The mood-music has become more earnest, evangelical, and executive-friendly as it extols the principles of 3e leadership.

3e leadership

The shift from Abba to Abbey Life can be detected in Wiley’s blurb to Re-energizing the Corporation:

Re-energizing The Corporation is built on the groundbreaking 3e leadership model which makes sense of the three Es of Envisioning, Engaging and Executing. By understanding and following the model, you will be able to create compelling pictures of the future of your organization; build a following of individuals committed to getting the vision into reality; and maximize team performance to deliver on your dream.

That’s all right then. Nothing too funky to scare the suits. Indeed, the sparking prose which was so hailed as so much a feature of Ridderstrale’s earlier gigs seems to have been heavily censored.

In defense of the authors, you can’t read too much from a marketing blurb. There are unreconstructed marketing folk out there, even at the heart of the creative industries. They collect information from authors on their next year’s titles, and then convert the ideas into marketing business-speak for the catalogues and assorted publicity media. ‘Avoid clichés like cutting-edge’, I was advised, when undertaking this duty for an up-coming book. So I did my best. Then my cliché-lite suggestions were still rewritten as o a cutting-edge book for all proactive leadersor some such mangled version of what I had proposed.

Don’t get confused

3e leadership is easy to confuse with similar-sounding corporate offerings. For example, 3E is a Californian firm specializing in environmental issues. 3e is the Wilcox and Ridderstrale approach to corporate transformation. You can kind more on their website whch includes a very MBA-like three-D chart.

I missed the pre-launch publicity, and came across it only after I received a request to run a workshop on 3e leadership. (Thanks, but no thanks, Peggy. I’ll pass on that, if only because I have overdosed for some while on promises to help organizations envision engage and execute.

Jonas and Mark may well be on to something. But it’s a competitive market. You’ll have to read the book and decide for yourself.

There’s a case example in Dilemmas of Leadership (The Departure Lounge Dilemma) on having to evaluate the merits of a book which has captured the attention of your boss.

Me? I’m off to find a copy of the earlier Abba version to be found in Funky Capitalism.