Playing in the zone: Examples from the French Open

May 31, 2009
Novak Djokovic

Novak Djokovic

When Novak Djokovic and Rafa Nadal crashed out of the French Open, their opponents were said to have played in the zone. But what does that mean? And how does it come about?

[Stop Press: Nadal lost in one of the upsets of modern tennis today to Swede Robin Soderling. The story has much in common with one I prepared following a less spectacular upset which occured a day earlier (and is published below). Both stories deal with the mysterious effect of playing in the zone.]

I don’t know how I did it

I don’t know how I did it, the delighted Kohlschriber said afterwards. He had just emerged from three hours of overwhelming tennis. Commentators said he had been paying completely in the zone. But what does that mean, and how does it happen?

To say an athelete was playing in the zone is partly another way of saying he or she played out of their normal routines, keeping to an unexpected level of excellence, minimizing mistakes, and perhaps producing one or more flashes of brilliance.

Kohlschreiber needed to be in the zone for an entire match to have chance of beating Novak Djokovic. He was certainly that.

I watched with growing interest, as at first I was mildly interested, having little expectation of a tight game [May 30th 2009] . The in-form Djokovic was a bit more erratic than usual. His opponent, from the start, was metronomic.

“Good technique” I told myself. “Good baseline strengths with forehand and backhand. But a bit too predictable”

Predictable like Nadal

He went on being predictable for three hours. But it was predictable like Nadal is mostly predictable.

Nadal’s opponents now pretty much know what is coming, but just can’t so much about it. Cricketer Shane Warne liked to say much the same about the effect he had when bowling. You might know what I’m going to do, but you still have to deal with it.

Today, Novak increasingly knew what was coming, and could never deal with it.

In the zone

There is an excellent on-line article by Matthew Krug on the theory of being in the zone . He suggests that being in the zone is akin to the concept of creative flow, noting

The zone is the pinnacle experience. It represents the absence of all that we dread in life. No fear, no worry, no problems. The individual feels at peace, one in body and mind. Individual movements that took years to master flow together in an amalgamation of body and mind that comes and goes like a thief in the night. Researchers study the experience and our knowledge of the phenomenon increases over time.

I’m not sure we understand it as deeply as we might, but the theory has considerable possibilities for further testing.

It suggests that skill execution involves differing kinds of mental activities which usually are mutually inhibiting. That is to say, we let one set of performance needs interrupt necessary delivery of another set of needs. The need to attend to signals of what the opponent is doing will often be blocked by the need to devise or stick to a strategy.

The more pressure there is under competitive conditions, the harder it is to avoid ‘beating yourself’ before letting your opponent do so.

There is much still to be learned about being in the flow, as there is about creative leadership, and as with other creative processes, it’s easier to recognize than to understand.

Technical Note

The article by Matthew Krug is a valuable contribution to understanding the theory of flow, an makes a good easy to understand starting point for sports scientists and athletes.

The article deserves a deeper critique than I can offer here. I would mention that the notion of flow as presented in the article differs from interpretations offered by creativity researchers. I feel that the ‘two-by-two’ model (external/internal; broad/narrow attentional span) needs a little more careful handling to provide convincing explanations of behaviours that sustain flow and ones that contribute to its breakdown.

Nadal v Soderling

Nadal’s defeat by Soderling would have been an equally good example of a lower ranked player pulling off an upset and playing to an utterly unexpected level. I leave that to anyone interested enough to ‘stay in the zone’ and complete the analysis …

Magna emerges from shadows as deal for GM Europe unfolds

May 30, 2009

GM Europe Russelheim

Few people around Europe will have heard of Magna until this week. Now the venture capital giant emerges from the shadows in a proposed bid for GM Europe

The jobs of auto-workers in England and Germany are regional concerns as a deal is thrashed out to rescue GM-Europe from insolvency.

On Friday [May 29th, 2009] a deal was nearing completion after the customary last-moment surprises

Magna is close to signing a memorandum of understanding with parent company General Motors after gaining the advantage [over Fiat] in the race to acquire its European divison by offering to plug a short-term funding gap.

Lord Mandelson said he would seek an meeting as soon as possible with Magna to secure “cast iron guarentees” about the future of Vauxhall’s 5,000 jobs in the UK. He has already met Magna bosses face-to-face to secure assurances they will maintain production in the UK, but accepts jobs will be lost because of GM Europe’s excess capacity.

The global dimension of regional problems

The complexity of such deals unfolds as the public learns of key players around the world. In England, the story is how to protect jobs on Merseyside and Luton plants.

In Germany, according to the usually well-informed Der Speigel

The future of troubled carmaker Opel has become a key political issue in Germany as election campaigning begins. Many politicians favor a proposal by the Austrian-Canadian auto parts supplier Magna, but the plan involves massive risks …

The regional struggles have themselves been heavily influenced by decisions in America over the future of the extremely ailing parent company General Motors which is widely reported to be days away from filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy.

GM, which has lost nearly $90 billion since 2005, is expected to file bankruptcy in U.S. District Court in New York, where rival Chrysler LLC is undergoing a court-ordered restructuring. President Barack Obama also plans to address the nation Monday on GM’s planned court restructuring.

Clearly, deadlines in Europe are connected with an Obama rescue plan in the States. His political strtegy itself is struggling to deal with political opposition.

Back to Magna

LWD has kept an eye on the happenings at Magna International since 2007.

Our earlier interest focused on the attempt by Magna to take over Chrysler, and the potential influence of Magna’s backing from Russian billionaire Oleg Deripaska.

So the global reach of the story being discussed in pubs in Luton and Liverpool now can be seen to extend to America and Russia.

What happens next?

Watch out for more interest in Magna’s rather unusual corporate governance arrangements.

Mr Stronach emigrated to Canada in the 1950s, and built up a successful auto-business. One of its interesting features is its Governance structure. According to the company web-site,

In 1971 Mr. Stronach introduced his management philosophy, known as Fair Enterprise, to Magna. Fair Enterprise is based on a business Charter of Rights that predetermines the annual percentage of profits shared between employees, management, investors and society, and makes every employee a shareholder in Magna. These rights are enshrined in a governing Corporate Constitution

These considerations may not have been as important as the financial arrangements being brokered at preseent, but may well find favour among the European players in this complex matter.

How Murray the Map-Maker is figuring out clay

May 30, 2009

Andy Murray French Open

Murray squeaks through the first week of the French Open. But he is a quick learner as his post-match interviews show

LWD believes that leadership requires skills at figuring out what to do under tough conditions. Sport offers plenty of examples of how a player reacts to adversity and learns from it.

One way to go ‘behind the headlines’ to see whether you can detect a player’s skill at ‘reading’ a situation. I’ve taken one of Andy Murray’s post-match interviews during the French Open to show what can revealed about his map-making (sense-making) skills.

Murray v Tipsarevic

The match was interesting, if a bit ugly to watch. Tipsarevic came out determined to ‘out-ugly’ his opponent. Murray is himself building a reputation for winning ugly, maybe something he developed while working with earlier coach, Brad Gilbert, who wrote a book on the subject

In this match, the big-swinging Serb attacked powerfully enough to seize the initiative in the first set. At one stage winning rather easily. Error counts were high on both sides. Murray dug deep, and eventually won the set on a tie-break.

The mysterious momentum effect had kicked in. Murray looked a very likely winner. The end came more quickly than expected. His opponent retired after medical breaks at the end of the second set.

How did he do that?

Murray had toughed it out. He had shown similar skills in the previous round, when he turned around another match after appearing to be heading out of the tournament. So what can we learn from the performances?

The winning ugly bit was summed up by a Guardian reporter who had watched Murray train with Gilbert

As a player Gilbert’s approach was – and, as a coach, is – all about strategy, following a game plan, burrowing away, undermining the opponent’s game, getting him to unravel. In a way, though, he has fallen victim to the sound bite popularity of the book’s title, Winning Ugly. It’s not about winning by cheating or trying to gain unfair advantage, but wining despite not being blessed with a naturally beautiful game.

Murray did not get on with Gilbert, and eventually sacked him in favour of a less-qualified bunch of less abrasive acolytes. I suspect Murray is more interested in playing beautiful tennis than he would admit. On clay the beauty at the moment often comes out of desperation when he improvises outrageously when in trouble

The post-match interview

Immediate on-court interviews bring out the laconic worse of Murray. But give him time to reflect, and more interesting ideas are revealed. Here’s an interview made after the Tipsarevic match. I have added comments about Murray’s map-making or analytical skills in the interview:

It was Tipsarevic, 24, who took the initiative with some powerful hitting as Murray struggled with unforced errors in the early stages. The unseeded player broke twice in succession to move 5-2 clear but twice failed to serve out .. It came down to a tie-break and Murray dominated, sealing it with a cross-court backhand winner.
Murray broke at the start of the second set [and] Tipsarevic then called for the trainer to receive treatment on his left thigh. In a match that lacked any real rhythm the world number three immediately handed the break back, but then moved ahead again ..
The increasingly forlorn Tipsarevic now called for the doctor and swallowed some pills at the changeover but was unable to threaten as Murray, still not at his very best, did enough to wrap up the second set. That proved enough for Tipsarevic, who approached the net and shook Murray’s hand after one hour and 51 minutes.

Murray’s analysis

“I didn’t see much wrong with him in the first set. He maybe slowed down his serve a little bit. It’s one of those things that can be tough sometimes when you don’t know how bad someone’s problem is or if they’re going to come out firing.”

[LWD: Murray wonders why he didn’t notice T’s injury, and why he didn’t capitalize more efficiently when it became obvious. ]

“You just fight and try to come back.. and it’s much easier on clay, you get into more rallies.

[LWD: Most players can’t or won’t offer more than a well-worn cliché. Murray ‘reads’ and ‘tests’ the map of how to recover on clay, and finds an explanation for himself, i.e. he is making his own map on winning on clay.]

“One of the things is not to panic if you go behind. One break is nothing – you can always find ways to come back.”

[LWD: more map-making. Maybe earlier matches were lost because he panicked when going behind, and didn’t have a way back, didn’t have a decent map. Now he is sketching out his own map. And it’s personal. And positive. And there is the logic that he, Murray, can find ways back because he has more ways of playing ugly, and more ways or producing the beautiful winner while doing it]

Map Reading, Map Testing and Map Making

I have been fond of the Map Making as a metaphor for Sense Making for some while. Quite a bit more can be found in the book Dilemmas of Leadership.

This example may go some way to explaining the processes applied to the development of sporting leaders such as Andy Murray and the influence of earlier map-makers such as his mentor Brad Gilbert.


Image acknowledged from the tennis blog by Paulo Cleto

Mersey Care Health Trust: An example of distributed leadership

May 28, 2009
DIY Handbook for Action Learning

DIY Handbook for Action Learning

Mersey Care NHS Trust is developing an international reputation as a creative organization through a range of innovative projects. It also serves as an exemplar for distributed leadership processes

Mersey Care is a major National Health Service (NHS) Trust serving the sprawling region of Merseyside in North West England, and incorporating Liverpool as its major city.

Chief Executive Alan Yates realised a few years ago that a creative organisation needs more than one creative leader. In formulating and implementing a strategy for one of the country’s largest NHS institutions, he realised he would need to find ways of stimulating creativity across the organization, and out into the community. Rather that setting up a formal structure, he encouraged informal networks, giving special responsibilities to Assistant Chief Executive Mandy Chivers. Senior figures at the Trust such as Medical Director David Fearnley were to offer considerable support as the creative initiatives grew.

Liverpool: European Capital of Culture

The trust recognised special opportunities with the regional efforts to promote Liverpool as the 2008-9 European City of Culture. By working closely with other community organisations, Chivers identified a like-minded group of people interested in stimulating creativity with focus on mental health and well-being.

Julie Hanna was quick to see the benefits of such a collaboration in her role as manager for health and well-being programmes:

Creativity, arts and culture are positively impacting on people’s health and well being. Liverpool, as European Capital of Culture 2008, has acted as a catalyst bringing together artists, cultural partners, health and care practitioners. There is a willingness to explore and develop possibilities of working in partnership in a pioneering spirit of “seizing the moment” of Liverpool’s cultural significance. This is another story to tell underneath the large and crowd-pulling events. Through culture and the arts we can find meaning, make sense of our experiences, express our thoughts and emotions, make and sustain relationships, discover skills and qualities in our selves and others. These experiences provide an opportunity to integrate body, mind and spirit; to learn and to make changes in lifestyle

The work included a variety of local and regional events, and an international partnership with Stavager in Norway.

The Creativity Network

Chivers began to find like-minded individuals in and beyond her own organisation, and encouraged a range of creative initiatives grounded in the professional activities of the trust. With strong leadership from Judith Mawer, an informal creativity network developed through which individual efforts were encouraged and supported. In the period of a few years over fifty people became associated with the informal network, sharing ideas, and offering various public events.

The Action Learning Initiatives

Externally, links with Universities were strengthened, and projects sponsored. The focus was to achieve learning through doing, innovative achievements as well as spin-off staff development gains.

The involvement with the Liverpool Year of Culture projects enhanced the strategic efforts both of the trust and the Culture initiative itself.

A similar mutual reinforcement occurred when Mersey Care became involved in another regional initiative, this time around action learning. The heirs to the work of action learning pioneer Reg Revans had being trying to establish a Revans Institute. The trust was to play a major part in the formation of the institute through the efforts of an international network of action learning practitioners which established a home base at Manchester Business School.

Chivers had obtained her doctorate within an active action learning group at nearby Salford University which still houses extensive archives of the papers of Reg Revans. The Trust helped advance the cause of Action Learning substantially, and has produced a practical handbook to initiate action learning efforts.

As indicated on the Mersey Care website:

Action Learning is a simple but powerful approach and a discipline that supports transformational change. It is an effective way that people can learn with and from each other. Groups or sets as they are sometimes called, work through questions and challenge to understand and develop insight in order to take actions that progress complex issues [applying] a rigorous blend of critical thinking, questioning, practical action and emotional intelligence. It does not work instantly or because of something clever outside of ourselves, but because we commit to this discipline and take personal responsibility to act.

Creativity, Health and well-being

The multiplicity of activities under the creativity initiatives were captured in a document by Judith Mawer which lists no fewer than seventeen projects each demonstrating creativity being applied within the context of health and well-being.

Among them, LWD was particularly fascinated by the therapeutic applications of creativity such as the work with Judith of Lynn King and Julie Hannah. The powerful image of a treasure chest as a means of capturing creative ideas is one particularly vivid illustration of a creative methodology.

The creative organization and its leadership

Can we learn something from Mersey Care about the creative organization and creative leadership? Something interesting and rather special is emerging there. The close links between action, innovation and learning mirror the case reports of the celebrated creative organization Ideo.

Both Mersey Care and Ideo have informal structures (as well as the necessary formal ones, required by Health Service statute in the Mersey Care case) . The informal activities enable individuals to introduce creative changes within their individual professional responsibilities, from clinical dispensing innovations to imaginative ways of delivery of service care

Overall, the work of The Trust is increasingly and rightfully being recognised internationally, winning awards, and earning recognition for Mersey Care as a creative organization.

Football confronts its Clockwork Orange tendency

May 27, 2009
Football violence

Football violence


Updated [Jan 2011] to link with the story of Andy Gray’s dismissal by Sky Sports for inappropriate behaviours.

Original Post

In Coleraine, in Northern Ireland , a mob of so-called football supporters beat up and murder a community worker in an unprovoked attack. In Rome, a city braces itself for violence in advance of the UEFA Champions League cup-final. Football’s Clockwork Orange Tendency persists

One week. Three events. An artistic treatment of football hooliganism. A sectarian murder. A city-wide ban on drinking during the period in which thousands of fans of Manchester United and Barcelona arrive in Rome for what has been described as the dream final to Europe’s premier football competition. Is it simplistic to link the three through the theme of football violence?

A Sectarian Murder

In Northern Ireland, Kevin McDaid’s violent death [Sunday May 24th 2009] was described by the police as a sectarian murder.. Mr McDaid was a social worker known for his commitment to reconciliation among the catholic and protestant communities. The mob of youths appear to have been watching and then celebrating Glasgow Rangers’ triumph as Scotland’s Premier League.

The Film

Awaydays which premiered this week [May 22nd 2009] is a film centring on Liverpool and its football culture.

The film was praised by critic Frank Mark Kermode [BBC Five Live] who considered that other commentators had wrongly considered it primarily as an account of working-class deprivation and football hooliganism. He pointed to the film’s ‘homo-erotic relationship’ between the two youthful protagonists. I couldn’t help thinking of the influence of the violently creative Clockwork Orange.

The Champions Cup Final

In Rome, in advance of the Champions’ league cup-final, [Wed May 27th 2009] the city police anticipated a repeat of the violence that has accompanied recent international matches including a recent bloody affair at a game involving Manchester United.

The final has been billed as the dream match between Manchester United, and Barcelona, the champions of the English and Spanish premier leagues, and clubs famed for their commitment to imaginative and attacking football. The travelling fans of the clubs are not considered to be particularly noted for their violence although from time to time there have been problems internationally, and Rome would be a potential hotspot for a continuation of earlier troubles.

The Clockwork Orange tendency

Is there an inherent streak of violence permeating football culture? Surely it was co-incidence that Glasgow Rangers so-called fans were as involved (at least by association) with the brutal subsequent sectarian murder, and in events that turned violent in Manchester after an important international cup-match some while ago? LWD reported on those because of the coincidence of space. I happened to be a bystander who witnessed some of the scenes.

And so we construct our story. Football provides a ritualised set of opportunities through which testosterone and alcoholfuelled young men direct their aggression towards symbols of their resentment, be they standing as representing authority systems, temporary enemies from an opposing club, or representing more permanent enemies from differing religious groups.

And if that makes sense, you arrive at the conclusion that The Clockwork Orange tendency is deeply instilled in football culture.


“Football provides a ritualised set of opportunities through which testosterone and alcohol fuelled young men direct their aggression towards symbols of their resentment”. Much later, [January 2011], LWD reported on a case in which not-so-young men directed their aggression towards symbols of their resentment (women referees).

Righteous Indignation and Leaders we Demand

May 26, 2009
Righteous Indignation

Righteous Indignation

The UK political scene has been rocked by daily revelations in the Daily Telegraph of inflated expenses of MPs, including those of Government ministers. The episode is having profound damaging consequences for politicians of all parties. Will it prove a tipping point for political change?

The build-up to all this had been earlier stories of malpractice among MPs which had already prompted a Government enquiry, which was due to report later this year [July 2009].

The Telegraph appropriated (well, OK, bought for a rumoured £300,000 according to the Guardian) the leaked and unexpurgated information made available to the official investigation.

The Guardian was later to set aside its moralistic tone and offered a more generous account of the Telegraph’s coverage and of its young editor Will Lewis

The Daily Telegraph’s young editor has the scoop of the decade with the revelations about MPs’ spending. He has kept a low media profile, but he could go down in history as the man who shook Parliament to the core.

MPs speak of a suicidal atmosphere in Parliament, the Speaker has resigned, several political careers have come to an end and more may follow, and there is talk of wholesale constitutional change

The expenses furore

An excellent briefing by the BBC explained the expenses furore, and noted

There is genuine concern among MPs that Parliament has never been held in lower regard by members of the public. Even MPs who have done nothing wrong are reported to be considering quitting as they are considered “crooks” by the public. Some [commentators] fear that Parliament may take years to recover from the furore, while others warn that voters may take out their anger with the main parties by backing fringe and extremist parties at next month’s local and European elections.

MPs take their medicine

Those MPs who speak out, do so out from painful necessity. They seem to be addressing what is regarded as general mood in the public regarding all MPs as self-seeking scoundrels. A few MPs ’fessed up to their constituents and took the pain with some hope of being granted a second electoral chance (Michal Gove was one). Other attempts in public meetings, such as that by Andrew Mackay, merely served as lightening conductors discharging the wrath of the electorate and party leaders.

The people are speaking

It is hardly surprising that MPs, if they can not remain invisible to media attention, are finding ways to demonstrate visibly as possible their inherent decency. The exceptional cases of defiance appear to show how misguided is such lack of displays of repentance.
The people are speaking, and MPs have somehow to show they are listening.

A similar gesture to popular opinion by Harriet Harman recently suggested that judgment at the court of public opinion was needed for dealing with morally abhorrent cases (she was referring to Fred the Shred’s pension arrangements.

Public outrage in the UK, a month ago directed at anyone implicated in the credit crunch, has been partially redirected toward the new villains, our own appointed parliamentary representatives.

Public reporting, informing, and guiding

The process of capturing the mood of the public is one of the roles of the mass media. The journalistic device of encouraging interviewees to reveal their emotions is ubiquitous, although too easy to extend into intrusion on private grief. (‘How did you feel when the police rang on your door at 1 am in the morning with news of the terrible accident? …What sort of little girl was your daughter?’).

Over time, a shaping process takes place. Interviewees are unconsciously conditioned to supply a rather narrow range of responses. Righteous indignation is one.

This social reinforcement of convergence of accepted behaviours can be detected in style and of ideas expressed in letters read out in ‘points of view’ broadcasts, letters which begin ‘why, oh why…?’, read out in tones of genteel frustration.

The routinization of righteous indignation may also be detected in phone ins. ‘I’m boiling mad at what that earlier caller said, Nicky …’. Media and mediated collude towards the performance.

The sanitized protest

Then there are the sanitized protests on shows such as Question Time, in which audiences present themselves as well-screened and bizarrely fragrant bunches of righteously indignant camera-fodder.

A recent BBCTV Question Time show acted out a memorable version of ‘I’m appalled at your hypocrisy and amoral abuse of public funds’ to the MPs on hair-shirt duty. The show was later cited by the BBC as demonstrating the mood of public anger over MPs expenses. An example of co-creating the headlines.

The leaders we demand

I suspect that these are socializing forces currently amplifying feelings of betrayal and encouraging demands for morally superior leaders.

Forces that produce leaders we deserve become overtaken by forces encouraging support for leaders we demand.

What do we want? New leadership. When do we want it, Now.

Note on Righteous Indignation:

The image is a cartoon illustrating the conceit of Righteous Indignation of two [King] Richards portrayed as attacking their literary creator William Shakespeare. I just liked the cartoon, reproduced in Humanities, September/October 2008, 29,5

Lions Watch: Insights from a study of international football managers and team performance

May 22, 2009


Scott Williams applies results from his research into international football teams to suggest insights into the prospects for the upcoming Lions tour of South Africa

Scott, a member of the LWD Rugby panel sends the following post:

My dissertation work at Manchester Business School has been based on a performance analysis of international football teams under foreign leadership. I looked at performance of national teams under national and non-native (exogenous) managers. One of the key results from this was that exogenous foreign were, in the majority of cases, more successful if they were nationals from the most successful football nations. Notable examples illustrating this include (German national) Otto Rehhagel’s record with Greece – which included the trophy winning Euro 2004 campaign; (England national) Jack Charlton’s record with the Republic of Ireland; and (Brazilian national) Zico’s record with Japan. The particular cultural match or mis-match between coach and players did not prove to be significant.

In my study, the managers were dealing with culturally homogenous squads of players (although there were still some cultural variations – for example the effect of club culture, particularly on players from foreign clubs – only 2 out of 22 selected for Brazil’s squad recently played club football in Brazil.

The difference in the Lions’ set-up is that the players are not from one nation, but four. However, it seems at least plausible to consider the implications if we take the results and extrapolate to another sport and another international context.

They suggest that maybe one day the Lions will take the logical step of picking a Coach from New Zealand or South Africa.

A more personal view

Setting aside the results of the study (which is still nearing completion), I can’t argue with the selection of Paul O’Connell as Lions captain, although I did think they’d go for Brian O’ Driscoll (quality and consistency reasons, as well as being generally a big performer in the massive games, for example his Man of the Match performance against Munster in the Heineken Cup semi-final.

I think that O’Connell is a sound choice, although a potential issue is the strength of his opposite numbers. In an earlier post, Paul Evans makes the point about Botha and Matfield, who are regarded as the best lock partnership in the world, and O’ Connell may come out second best. This, I think is important for team performance. For all the leadership qualities held by O’ Connell, if he’s getting outperformed in the line out or in the loose, it is up to others in the team to make up for this, which I don’t think is ideal. On the other hand, O’ Driscoll is much more likely to get one over his likely opposite number Adi Jacobs – a guy not considered to be in the same league .

My experience in football and rugby indicates that the most respected captains lead primarily by example, and that other aspects such as physical stature are secondary to this.

I think it’s very interesting to note the absence of national captains. Steve Borthwick (England), Ryan Jones (Wales), and Mike Blair (Scotland) were excluded from the original squad (though Blair has now been called up to replace Tomas O’Leary). It is understandable based on form – I agree there were better candidates that all three of these players initially, so the fact that they are national captains may be irrelevant. Although it is interesting to consider the impact on a non-captain national team player of having their national leader’s leadership role overshadowed by someone else. For example, how would Harry Ellis feel if it was O’Connell, not Borthwick (if he was selected) who was providing the main source of leadership? One would hope, that given the historical nature of the Lions being “all-for-one” so to speak, that this would not be an issue. This attitude has seemingly been evidenced by senior players Phil Vickery and Martyn Williams, who have outlined that personal egos are secondary to the team ethic of the Lions.

O’ Connell and McGeechan are, in my terms, exogenous leaders for many members of the squad. However, their records in terms of trophies won, and previous Lions experience makes them solid leaders, on and off the field.

Woodward’s downfall
I think Clive Woodward’s downfall was due to the large number of players included in the 2005 squad, which, combined with his extensive backroom staff list (admittedly based on the success of the policy of having so many backroom staff in the England set-up), gives the impression that creating a united Lions players and management team was always likely to be difficult.

Ian McGeechan has recently said this to be imperative for a successful tour . Furthermore, Jonny Wilkinson said in his book that people on the 2005 tour roomed separately, a tactic reportedly not being repeated this time. Combined with a smaller squad size, this should help to recreate the Lions’ cultures of 1997 and 2001, which are the only tours I know much about.

I am generally very happy with the squad selection. Most players have been chosen according to form, and there are also a wide variety of ages and national experience (notably Leigh Halfpenny and Keith Earls). This implies experience and past honours are not necessarily of huge importance, which creates that all important culture of equality in terms of being able to nail down a test spot (Graeme Rowntree has come out and said all 15 places are up for grabs), which should be great for overall team ethos and unity.


This post was prepared by Scott Williams a final year Undergraduate student at MBS, who is studying for a BSc (Hons) in International Management and who is also an avid follower and ex-player of Rugby Union.

The Image of Harmony seemed an appropriate one. You can also down load it as a screen save

Andy VanGundy: Creativity Thought Leader

May 16, 2009
Andy VanGundy (1946-2009)

Andy VanGundy (1946-2009)

Andy VanGundy (1946-2009) was a pioneering researcher and thought leader into the application of creativity techniques in business and business education

Creativity does not fit easily into the Business School curriculum. Andy vanGundy was one of the few academics who succeeded, working out of the University of Oklahoma where he had been a professor of communications for over three decades.

Co-author Linda Naiman has written a moving piece about Andy in her Creativity at Work blog

Linda cites his Andy’s work including

Techniques of Structured Problem Solving This book is considered by many to be the “bible” of problem solving techniques. It was the first comprehensive book on techniques and still is used as a resource book by practitioners in marketing research, new product development, Research & Development, training and many other fields.
[And their book written collaboratively on] Orchestrating creativity at work: Using music, improv, storytelling and other arts to improve teamwork

Over the years I got to know Andy, initially through his work. We met from time to time and naturally discussed creativity and the application of creative problem-solving techniques in business. Andy carried his encyclopedic knowledge lightly, and was always a delight to be with. When I asked him to write a forward to a book on creativity and the management of change, he agreed. I was surprised (I should not have been) when his contribution arrived, which went far beyond the rather automatic celebrity endorsement I had automatically been expecting.

As a pioneer of creativity in business he was indeed a founding father. Through his gentle and insightful style he reminded me of another great American scholar and teacher, Dan Cougar, again someone who managed to combine deep knowledge and humanity in studies of creativity. Like Dan, Andy will be fondly remembered and dearly missed.

Tudor Rickards
Manchester Business School
University of Manchester

May 2009

Corporate Governance and Leadership: The Missing Link?

May 13, 2009

A new e-venture will generate research into Corporate Governance. Will this provide a powerful route to improved leadership theory and practice as well?

A new corporate governance venture has been announced [July 12th 2009] which will examine the intersection of investments with environmental, social and governance issues.

This initiative is supported by the Investor Responsibility Research Center (IRRC). It is particularly welcome at a time when links between business actions and their social, environmental and economic consequences are becoming increasingly salient to us all.

The new venture will be known as The Corporate Governance Network (CGN), and will provide an online community for research in all areas of corporate governance. Its director, is Lucian A. Bebchuk, William J. Friedman and Alicia Townsend Friedman Professor of Law, Economics, and Finance, and Director, Corporate Governance Program, Harvard University.

CGN will coordinate a range of e-Journals, subscriptions to which will be free during its start-up phase [May-October, 2009]. Subscriptions require signing up via the Social Science Reseach Network (SSRN) site.

Of particular interest to Leaders we deserve subscribers may be the e-journal on Corporate Responsibility & Management

This journal distributes working and accepted paper abstracts that deal with all aspects of governance related to the field of management, broadly defined and including general management, negotiations, and entrepreneurship. The journal welcomes research with a focus on how management affects and is affected by corporate governance and on using tools and methods from the field of management to study corporate governance. Topics of interest include, but are not limited to, how corporate governance affects leadership, management, and entrepreneurship within firms, how corporate governance shapes and is shaped by internal firm processes, and case studies of corporate governance.


Corporate Governance: Actors & Players

This journal distributes working and accepted paper abstracts that deal with the different types of actors and players in the field of corporate governance. The journal welcomes research with a focus on using tools and methods from accounting, economics, finance, law, management, sociology, and psychology to study how different types of actors and players affect or are affected by corporate governance arrangements and practitioners. Topics of interest include, but are not limited to, studies related to CEOs and other executives, controlling shareholders, boards and directors, shareholders, creditors, employees, and gatekeepers (including lawyers, auditors, financial advisors, rating agencies, shareholder advisers, and the media).

Leaders we deserve welcomes this initiative and encourages researchers to explore it for publishing and networking opportunities.

Rafa Benitez is a great manager: How does he compare with other top coaches?

May 11, 2009
Rafa Benitez

Rafa Benitez

Rafa Benitez had demonstrated considerable managerial skills this year, as his Liverpool team began to fulfil its potential. But how do you evaluate a coach’s leadership qualities? And will he be remembered more for a few outbursts in the media?

Popular culture results in distorted stories of individuals as heroes and villains. Incidents become important elements fixing a personality in our mind. Rafa Benitez was once labelled for his obsessive team rotation. More recently it was for public announcements directed against bitter rivals Manchester United which were dismissed as pale imitations of the mind games played by United’s manager Sir Alex Ferguson.

This strereotyping ignores his other leadership qualities. In this correct that strictly on trophies won, Liverpool FC have had another disappointing season. However, the team has if anything been playing better recently since the public outbursts of Benitez. This in part can be attributed to a return to fitness of key players Gerard and Torres. So how much can be attributed to Rafa’s leadership qualities?

Aren’t managers easy to compare?

Not really. Take the current magnificent four in the Premier League. The top four teams on results have remained the same for over a decade, namely Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool and Manchester United. I have listed the clubs in alphabetical order so as not to distract those who have strong views on the historical and current status of teams. There is little to argue that they have been the most consistently successful Premiership teams since the competition started.

Each of these teams has an outstanding manager. I argue this not just on recent results. The retention of football managers operates on a Darwinian process of survival of the fittest. Survival depends on various factors within the manager, and the external circumstances in which he finds himself. Results are important for survival, but there are further unpredictable factors which need to be considered such as the power relationship between the owner and manager, the financial circumstances of the club, injuries to players, even maybe a single decision in an important game by a linesman or referee.

Sir Alex Ferguson is widely attributed as the architect of much of Man U’s great successes since his arrival. Arsene Wenger has experienced successes with Arsenal, and has a track record of finding and developing great young talent. Gus Hiddink came to Chelsea, the team which can afford any coach available in the market place. His track record elsewhere is impressive, and he seems to have started well. Then there’s Rafa, who has built a Liverpool team for the club which had for several decades been the most successful English team in Europe.

What’s the point of all this?

My main point is how to assess leadership qualities. One way is to try to link recent information with established beliefs of a wider kind. Yes, I’m talking about bringing a little theory into practical affairs. For leadership, over a century of attempts to pin down the qualities of leaders were eventually thrown into disarray. The demise of The Great Man theories had begun. One difficulty was a failure to pin down ‘the essence of greatness’ possessed by the greatest leaders. There seemed to be too much variety.

You can see where I’m coming from for that sub-set of leaders known as football coaches.

All is not lost

That does not mean we should stop trying to understand leadership. There are ways of examining the process which offer more reliability. One such study (on international football managers) is underway and I hope to report on results when they become available.

Asking the right questions

In such a study, it is important to ask questions which offer promise of getting somewhere worthwhile. This is sometimes called finding the research question. Much popular discussion of leadership does not focus on particularly powerful research questions. For me, the questions of sporting leadership would have more value if they were to throw light on how future leaders might act to become more effective. ‘What can we learn from the leadership actions of Rafa Benitez’? What can be learned by ‘comparing and contrasting’ Rafa’s actions with those of other leaders in similar (but not identical) contexts?

‘Facts’ alone are not enough. Which, by coincidence, was a point demonstrated in one of those controversial episodes recently when Rafa read out a series of ‘facts’ about Liverpool and Manchester United to a bemused press audience.