On shaking hands and creative leadership in the John Terry Wayne Bridge saga

February 27, 2010

A sad sporting leadership story shows how creativity can be a leader’s secret weapon

Every tale of leadership offers opportunities for learning. “How would I deal with that decision?” is a good question. In the over-publicised case of John Terry and Wayne Bridge, there is also the question “What would I have done to avoid getting into mess in the first place?” For anyone not interested in football, you need to be aware that John Terry was recently stripped of the Captaincy of the England football team. He had been involved in an extra-marital affair with the former partner of former team-mate Wayne Bridge. Public interest is fueled this week by the news that Bridges has decided not to take part in the up-coming world cup later this year.

Leaders we deserve has advocated the merits of creative leadership. How might this play out in practice? Take the critical incident being anticipated today [February 27th, 2009]. Chelsea and Manchester City are due to play a football match. John Terry will be expected to lead out Chelsea (he retains the captaincy of that team). He will be expected to shake hands with members of the opposing team. So there we have a dilemma of leadership. What to do if the handshake is spurned? Oh, yes it’s only a handshake. But for ‘only a hand-shake’ why is the story taking on huge signficance, at least for journalists? That’s another story, and one about symbolism and leadership.

How might creative leadership come into this?

We can start with the assumption that dilemmas often result in either/or thinking. Break the ‘either-or’ and you have a chance of escpaing the dilemma. I’ve also written about this as knight’s move thinking. Edward de Bono would probably say it’s where Lateral Thinking is needed.

The locked-in thinking presents the story as simply one man shaking hands with another. Suppose we pose it as “how to arrange the pre-match handshakes between Chelsea and Manchester City differently (in view of the unusual circumstances surrounding the event)”. I can think of several things that might happen. My thinking has switched from ‘what Wayne Bridge must do’ to ‘what might Chelsea and Manchester City captains, players, and maybe supporters decide to do’. And, that is a matter of co-creativity, and distributed leadership.

Whatever happens this afternoon at Stanford Bridge will be an opportunity for considering ‘what might have been’.

Postscipt

At the start of the match, John Terry offered his hand to Wayne Bridge. Bridge rejects the proferred hand. Chelsea fans boo Bridge enthusiastically throughout the game. But another story was to supplant the hand-shake one. Chelsea lost at home 4-2. Two of their players were sent off by the referee. And I didn’t notice a lot of creative leadership. The ‘fake shake’ gave the tabloids a few headlines the following day.


Systems Thinking for Curious Managers: Book Review

February 27, 2010

Systems Thinking for Curious Managers with 40 new f-laws, Russell Ackoff with Andrew Carey, Triarchy Press. List price £15, ISBN 9780956263155, publication date, March 2010.

This brief book serves as a memorial to the great systems thinker Russell Ackoff (1919-2009). In style and content it is a marvellously concise insight into Ackoff’s principles of how business systems work.

I only briefly met Russell Ackoff, but for many years his work kept cropping up as I struggled to understand the nature of creativity. Writing in the 1980s, I noted in Stimulating Innovation: A Systems Approach that

“by taking a systems view it is easier for those involved in innovation to avoid getting blocked into a technological ‘mind-set’ or belief system ..or any other partial or biased perspective”.

By that time, I had become introduced to the work of Russell Ackoff by that another polymath, Stafford Beer. Much later, I learned that Beer and Ackoff had been plotting to replace traditional Business School structures at Wharton and Manchester with healthier ones following their emerging ideas of how a viable systems operates. You will find evidence for this in the wonderful Archives of Stafford Beer’s work held at Liverpool University, and on-line.

The Quality of Insight

Systems Thinking for Curious Managers provides a glimpse into Ackoff’s impish and creative genius. In keeping with a systems approach, it manages to avoid the traditional linearity of narrative. Its contents at one level are Ackoff’s epigrammatic business principles or f-laws, each numbered permitting the systems device of cross-referencing and integration. I kept thinking of Wittgenstein’s philosophical investigations, a far more ambitious project to capture the universals of his philosophy. Pity Ludwig made no concessions to supplying those explanatory information feedback loops. However favourably Wittgenstein will be judged by history, it will not be for the clarity of his insights. In contrast Ackoff repeatedly finds ways of enabling his readers to find insights, either as experienced systems thinkers, or as Andrew Carey puts it in his introductory chapter here

Most of his f-laws share the qualities of all good insights – they make you say “of course, why didn’t I see that before, it’s obvious!”.

This is an observation that has been made by various people regarding the essence of leadership.

I don’t have to sell this book. It sells itself. You can make up your mind by checking out the web-site. You’ll find at least one of the f-laws worth sharing with others, and maybe the subversive appeal of systems thinking will have helped produce another convert.

Footnote:

OK, here’s an f-law. Were you hoping I would give an example? I decided to select it at random, using the date when I completed this review, which led me to F-law number 27:

27: There’s nothing that a manager wants done that educated subordinates cannot undo.

And if you can see why picking one of the 123 f-laws at random is a rather good way of making a point, you are probably a practicing or potential systems thinker.