When leadership matters. The case of the Chilean miners

August 27, 2010

Sometimes leadership matters in an obvious life or death way.  The Chilean miners are a case in point. Anyone brought up in a mining community will know why

Tudor Rickards

The stark facts of a human crisis have been told around the world.  One journalist confronted the possibility that his own profession might look for the greatest possible human interest angle in the story, as in the classic Billy Wilder movie.

The story hardly needs embellishing. A mining accident occurs half a mile underground.  At first, the local community fears the worse while hoping for the best. Families of miners have memories of the outcomes of earlier disasters.  In South Wales when I was growing up, the mine’s alarm bell was as significant as the tolling of a church bell or a trumpet-call in other communities. Our poets and writers helped create and recreate our images of fear and heroism.  When you start from that understanding you also begin to understand how miners can survive psychologically  after days or weeks on entombment. You can also understand a little why miners have such a strong social bond, and a bloody-minded determination to keep fighting to the bitter end in an industrial dispute.

All in a day’s work

A ‘normal’ day’s work occurs under conditions hard to imagine with experiencing some analogous claustrophobia-inducing conditions.  But that normality has already helped a group of 33 men come to terms with what has happened.  Stark realism and conditioned responses come together, and maybe keep in denial being overwhelmed with dread.  Maybe, just maybe, a group of experienced potholers would be the closest approximation of skills and attitudes of survival value.   Another might be sub-mariners.  A Radio 5 news item intelligently seized on that possibility. Yes, there are similarities, their interviewee said, but at least we had volunteered to be together in a confined space for weeks on end.  But so have miners, if we set aside the level of free choice in a mining community to be either a front-line miner of part of the support staff.

Situation report

The rescue plan is fraught with difficulties, but a clear overview was provided by the BBC:

The plan to rescue the 33 men trapped 700m (2,300ft) underground in the San Jose copper mine in Chile is a complex undertaking that could take engineers until the end of the year to achieve.

In a similar operation in 2002, American rescuers spent two days drilling a hole just wide enough to fit a man to rescue nine miners trapped underground. The Americans had to drill down just 74m. By comparison, the plan to rescue the 33 men in Chile nearly three quarters of a kilometre underground is a much greater challenge. But, says John Urosek, who took part in the 2002 Quecreek mine rescue in Pennsylvania, it is not “mission impossible.”

“I would put this at the tough end of things. It’s not mission impossible but it’s a difficult mission,” says Mr Urosek who is now chief of mine emergency operations for the US Mine Safety and Health Administration. The key to the operation is the use of a specialist drilling machine, designed to bore deep narrow holes through any rock to a depth of just over a kilometre.

There are numerous uncertainties and requirements for precision-engineering. The technical side has echoes of the on-going BP attempts to ‘drill and fill’ the well in the Gulf of Mexico. Leadership above and below ground will be vital.  Above ground all the skills of project management will need to be deployed.  There are additional ‘interface skills’ already evidenced in the supplies provisioned through the tiny bore-hole, and communication systems being set up.  Underground, the leadership influences will be revealed over time.  It is likely to have a strongly emergent and distributed aspect to it.

Hossam Hassan, Egypt’s football legend who aims to became a successful coach

August 25, 2010

The greatest footballers often aspire to become great coaches. Maradonna is but the latest to try his hand in a leadership role. One who is setting out on that path is Hossam Hassan. The Egyptian legend became the most-capped and highest-scoring player in African football history (83 international goals and 170 appearances over 21 years with the Pharaohs). Hassan joined Cairo’s prestigious Al Ahly in 1985 and forced his way into the national team not so much for technique as for what FIFA described as “the steely resolve that would become his trademark which ensured that he was soon enough established as his country’s first-choice forward.”

Successes and setbacks

In 1988, Mahmoud El Gohary took over the Pharaohs reins for the first time and steered the team to their second FIFA World Cup appearance two years later. Hassan found in El Gohary a mentor.
After a spell in European football Hassan returned to a struggling Al Ahly, and helped them regain their former status. But he suffered a setback when he was released (together with his twin brother) under a disciplinary storm. He then moved to Al Ahly’s great rivals Zamalek and duly led them to several titles. He also continued his international playing career (there are some similarities with David Beckham) and in 2006 at the age of 40,  he was part of the Egypt team that regained the Africa Cup of Nations in 2006.

International ambitions

He remains a controversial figure, although he retains ambitions of international coaching leadership: “I hope one day to take charge of the Egyptian national team…and I believe that I will achieve that very soon.”


Image from the Zamalek webpage. Also to the student in Dubai who introduced me to the name of his sporting hero. If he reads my post and gets in touch I will be pleased to add his name to the acknowledgements here.

Martin Clunes, Horsepower and Leaders we deserve

August 23, 2010
In thanks for her encouragement to write the b...

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ITV 1 Review by Tudor Rickards

Martin Clunes and a lot of horses share top-billing in ITV’s Horsepower mini-series. The first hour left me wondering what Richard Dawkins or David Attenborough might have made of it all.

They would undoubtedly have admired the beauty of the creatures on display, including the greater Clunes, an apparently gentle beast with a capacity to love  horses great and small, and a natural and endearing manner when confronted by humans.  Dawkins Attenborough and Clunes are high priests of an ancient cult, members of which worship the majesty of nature.  Dawkins and Attenborough are on the scientific wing, Clunes more towards the scientology end.

Mysteries of the horse-human bond

In the programme, Martin gets to visit a lot of locations scattered around the world to witness to marvels and neo-religious mysteries of the horse-human bond. He meets other high-priests, including the incomparable Monty Roberts, the original horse-whisperer, and another charismatic whose work with horses has also charmed millions of humans including, according to legend, the Queen and The Queen Mother, some years ago.

The mysterious capacity of large potentially dangerous animals to charm shone through the programme.   Ismene Brown of the artsdesk perceptively noted this by combining her review of Horsepower with one of a programme of mountain gorillas.

I’ve been charmed by horses, and by the possibility that the horse-human relationship can teach us about human-human relationships.  Monty Roberts, and his English associate Kelly Marks have both made contributions to the idea of trust-based leadership.  The horse, they argue, is a flight animal, and needs a leader to reduce the anxiety genetically inbred to escape predators.  The language of leadership is beyond rational communication and speaks to that deep need.  Which is maybe how charismatics have such a hold over their human followers, who get the leaders they need (if not deserve).

Love yourself first

So charmed I was, to have been witness to the programme. I particularly liked the scene in which Martin plus psychologically damaged horse was penned up and scrutinised by a group of apparently friendly psychoanalysts outside the railings.  The message: the horse won’t love you more until you love yourself more.  Translate to human/human relationships as you wish. I may have mistranslated a bit, as I missed the start of the scene for a comfort break.

Which reminds me. None of the horses in the programme peed or dumped steaming loads of uknownwhat.  Now that’s interesting.

Sweet and Sour Sun at Jimmy Reid’s Funeral

August 21, 2010

Jimmy Reid’s funeral ceremony was a fitting mix of sadness and affectionate nostalgia. Even The Sun, no friend of left-wing politicians, offered a warm and respectful account of the ceremony and the man

It was one of those ironies. I watched part of the ceremony playing out silently above me,  on a flat screen in the Cafe Bar area of Manchester Business School.  Homage to a one-time communist leader, silenced in what might be regarded by many of Jimmy’s admirers as a bastion of capitalism.  Saw Alex Ferguson  full but muted cry. The camera shot cut to the funeral card held by a mourner, capturing an echo of perhaps Reid’s most famous words.

“The family request that during this celebration of Jimmy’s life there will be no bevvying…”

As The Sun pointed out in a remarkably warm piece on the funeral, that was a reference to Reid’s “There will be no hooliganism, there will be no vandalism, there will be no bevvying” speech prior to the 1971 Upper Clyde Shipyards work-in that saved 6,000 jobs.

Working Class Hero

Social identity theory suggests that we form our impressions of leaders through our personal constructs of leaders. Alex Haslam talks of leaders as entrepreneurs of identity. The theory implies we repeatedly monitor information about leaders we have tucked away in the same cognitive filing cabinet. For me, Jimmy Reid will be remembered alongside two other working class political leaders of his day, Arthur Scargill and Neil Kinnock. I suppose they come out of my filing cabinet of left-wing charismatic leaders. All three became hate figures of the political right and its media supporters. Jimmy maybe transcended the vilest of the smears that Arthur and Neil suffered. As the Sun pointed out, Reid’s finest hour was to end in political victory. Scargill and Kinnock were to rise and fall politically, as Margaret Thatcher’s revolution advanced across the land.

Trust the Sun

I don’t think I have written particularly enthusiastically before about The Sun’s approach to journalism. Over the years I have been intrigued at how their very bright political journalists translate their ideas into Sunspeak. It was with some relief that the old Sun ethos remained elsewhere in the paper. UK Invaded by giant rats read another headline.

Lula’s Gaffes Lead to Educational Innovation in Rio

August 18, 2010
Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, 35th President of t...

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Brazilians are proud of their President’s rise from humble beginnings. Even his famous grammatical lapses may have contributed to an educational innovation in Rio

The following is edited from a BBC story:

Correspondents say Brazilians are sensitive about making grammatical errors, which are often associated with a lack of education. Now Rio de Janeiro state has set up a grammar hotline to help people who have difficulties using Portuguese. Experts will field questions about topics such as spelling and the use of accents.

The issue has been highlighted during the presidency of Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, whose frequent grammatical errors are considered a source of embarrassment by some Brazilians, although others consider it a source of pride that he was able to become head of state despite not learning to read until he was 10 years old. The Rio service is modelled on a similar hotline in the Brazilian city of Fortaleza, which was set up three decades ago.

As an educationalist, I find it a moving story.

Golf, Business and The Environment

August 17, 2010

Tudor Rickards, Susan Moger, and Leigh Wharton

Golf means big business. Around the world, from Dubai to Scotland to Singapore there is great competition to hold top tournaments as part of a regional development leisure strategy. But new golf courses also pose environmental challenges calling for innovative solutions.

In Scotland, the ancient home of golf, an initiative by Donald Trump met with protests for several years, although his proposals always promised to bring much-needed employment to a region in Aberdeenshire facing a decline in its fishing and North Sea Oil business. A BBC report noted:

Aedan Smith, head of planning and development at RSPB Scotland, [Royal Society for Protection of Birds] commented
“RSPB Scotland is surprised and extremely disappointed at this decision, which we believe is wrong both for Aberdeenshire and for Scotland. The development will cause the destruction of a dune system, with its precious wildlife, on a site which is protected by law and should continue to be available for future generations to enjoy.”

Trump lands in a bunker

Two years later [August 2010] the plans were still being contested bitterly. The Independent reported:

The billionaire Donald Trump last week clashed with protesters opposed to his controversial plans to build the “world’s greatest golf course” near Aberdeen. Quarry worker Michael Forbes, who is refusing to sell his property which adjoins the £750m scheme, claims Mr Trump’s workers unlawfully annexed his land. The clash is the latest skirmish in an increasingly bitter battle to prevent Mr Trump from developing the site. More than 7,000 local people have signed up to join the “bunker”, co-owners of an acre of land sold by Mr Forbes [a local land-owner] to disrupt the US tycoon’s plans. The philanthropist and co-founder of the Body Shop (Gordon Roddick) and Green MP Caroline Lucas are the latest to join the campaign.

Meanwhile at The Mull of Kintyre..

Meanwhile, in an equally beautiful part of Scotland, another venture was claiming to support economic regeneration. A multi-million pound luxury golf resort is set to boost a wider regeneration of Argyll and Bute, one of the most beautiful but poorest parts of the Scottish Highlands. The Machrihanish Dunes Golf Club is near the southern end of the Mull of Kintyre, made famous in a song by Sir Paul McCartney, the former Beatle who has a farmhouse on the peninsula. The course, which opened last year, lies beside the old Machrihanish Golf Club, which was built in the 1870s and regularly features as one of the world’s top-100 venues. Massachusetts-based Southworth Developments, the private company owned by David Southworth, a US property developer, took a controlling stake at the time. To date [Aug 2010] opposition seems far less than was received by the Trump project.

Golf and Environmental Responsibility

Recent visits to Dubai and Singapore have revealed similar recognition of the potential for golf to support plans for economic development. But the environmental debates do not go away. Letters in The Straits Times for example discussed the demands placed on precious water supplies. owever, the leisure industry has become sophisticated in acknowledging its environmental responsibilities. Singapore hosted an international conference in 2008

In his opening remarks, Col (Ret) Peter Teo, general manager of Singapore Golf Association, supported the need for courses to be environmentally and socially responsible. He suggested that Singapore could take the lead in golf excellence. Such a positioning, which would require multi-shareholder involvement by the clubs, government agencies, NGOs and the private sector, would show that Singapore cares deeply about nature conservation and that every stakeholder can participate.

Business, Leisure and the Environment

Business, leisure, and the environmental considerations have become intimately mixed. Students of leadership may find it instructive to consider what principles of leadership help in the evaluation of such global issues.

Tennis watch: Andy Murray development update

August 16, 2010
Andy Murray of Great Britain wins the Cincinna...

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Andy Murray’s progress is followed in the build-up the US Open 2010. The notes have been prepared for students of leadership, coaching, and personal development.

Sunday August 21st

Murray v. upbeat about Cinci defeat. Thinks conditioning gained was pefect for Open. The Guardian was not as convinced

Friday August 19th

Murray’s run at Cincinnati ends in quarters. Loses tight game to Mardy Fish. Murray’s plea for a match outside the heat of the day is turned down. He is clearly worried by the heat. Hits physiological wall after winning tight first set tie break. My medical advisor says quitting court for cool comfort break may have made things worse as he needed medical attention soon afterwards for dizziness. Also reported assorted twinges. Possibly good break for a couple of weeks before Open. But will we need a Murray Knee Watch next?

Thursday August 18th

Murray sneaks past Gulbis in 3rd set tie break. Looked fatigued in heat (and slumped in chair afterwards). Win in doubt as Gulbis big-hits way to first set and then until final breaker. Next up in quarter finals Mardy Fish who beat Murray in last two match ups.

Wednesday August 18th

And so on to Cincinnati masters event.  Bye in first round. Second round M played a bit hot and a bit flat looking troubled for a while when Chardis attacked rather wildly.  Said he found surface difficult and needed practice later in the day before round three against tougher Gulbis.

Monday August 16th 2010

Andy Murray had defended his title at Toronto by beating Nadal in the semis and Federer in the final. At the start of the tournament his play and his longer-term plans seemed in disarray. He retains the tag as the strongest player around who hasn’t won an open championship. Admired aspects of his play include considerable natural talent, wide range of responses to opponents shots, and good fitness level (despite natural physical weakness of the knees, and earlier suspect fitness levels).

Earlier in the week I suggested that progress should be judged against longer-term patterns of on and off court behaviour. Murray’s play reveals high-level of performance competence repeatedly mixed with lapses of concentration. Losses to more aggressive powerful players have been too frequent. In play, a pattern of scrambling brilliance has sometimes failed to compensate for weaknesses in serve and a preference for counter-punching. Off-court he has had uneasy relationships with coaches. He recently parted company with his coach (but retained the other members of ‘Team Murray’. At 23, he has reduced displays of truculence on court.

My recent comments were that under stress, older patterns of action come to the surface. In tterms of a well-known personal development adage, “if you always do what you’ve always done you’ll always get what you’ve always got.” Under stress Murray may revert to a rather timid style that will cost him important matches.

I watched David Kelly’s evidence to the Parliamentary Committee

August 14, 2010

My recollection is that Dr David Kelly was under extreme stress while giving his evidence the the Parliamentary committee. I also recall on learning of his death that I was not surprised that the circumstances at the time pointed to suicide

Time plays funny tricks on memory. My current recall may be more based on TV replays of snippets of the original broadcast I had seen. I later became interested in the accounts of the ‘sexing-up’ of the ‘dodgy dossier’ and the unprofessional standards of journalism at the time which led to severe criticism of the BBC’s reporting and of their reporter Andrew Gilligan at the time.

My recollections were further refreshed by the Economist account this week as the story re-opened. That summary fits the standard narrative:

David Kelly was ..one of the world’s foremost experts on nuclear, chemical and biological weapons. He advised the British government on the matter, particularly in connection with Saddam Hussein’s Iraq. He was also one of the main sources for a claim by Andrew Gilligan, then a BBC reporter, that Tony Blair’s government had rewritten publicly-released intelligence to make it “sexier”, in the hope of justifying the Anglo-American invasion of Iraq in 2003. After Gilligan made his claim, Kelly was quickly identified as the source of the leak. A few days after a stressful appearance before a Parliamentary committee investigating Mr Gilligan’s allegations, he was found dead in the woods near his Oxfordshire home. The official account (given in the Hutton Report) was of suicide. Dr Kelly had cut one of his wrists and swallowed over two dozen painkillers.

The current renewal of interest [August 2010] follows a letter published in the Times by a group including medical experts calling for a further enquiry, and picked up widely in the media including including a report in The Daily Mail.
Conspiracies about conspiracy theories

So-called conspiracy theories make good study material for students to practice their own powers of analysis. I have become fond of the idea of ‘map-reading’ (the material) ‘map-testing’ (exploring the merits of the material) and ‘map-making’ (deciding for yourself how you chose to make sense of the story). With experience the map-tester looks for the evidence of motives behind the text. John Rentoul in The Independent, and The Economist, for example, suspect ‘The Murdoch Press’ of the temptation to ‘sex up’ what may be a ‘dodgy story’ (Heaven Forbid).

My own map-testing alerts me to the possibility that any report using the term conspiracy theory is also throwing doubt on the maps of other people… The Mail, and The Times stand accused of supporting a conspiracy theory that Dr Kelly was murdered, probably by agents of the State. Both John Rentoul, and the Economist’s blogger (‘Blighty’) find it difficult to account for the resurgence of the story on rational grounds. They point to the lack of plausibility of alternatives to the official line on Dr Kelly’s sad death. I find their arguments persuasive. However, conspiracy theories have a strength which goes beyond the rational. They can call fourth the response “You can’t be sure…” And we find ourselves engulfed in the complexities of conspiracies about conspiracies.

How reliable are the maps?

I’d rather any reader of my personal reflections to reach a personal conclusion. In a fast-breaking episode within a longer historical story it is difficult but probably advisable to draw provisional conclusions. I’m not sure that anything I write will change the views held by those who seem to have reached a state of total conviction about the affair.

Murray v Malisse: “If you always do what you’ve always done you’ll always get what you’ve always got”

August 12, 2010

At the Toronto Farmers Tournament, an ATP ranking event, Andy Murray and Xavier Malisse both replicated patterns of play familiar to spectators who have followed their careers.

Murray versus Malisse, August 11th 2010. Murray started tentatively, waiting for his opponent to over-stretch, then dropped serve, continued to struggle with first serve percentages, and seemed unable to cope with the weight of the Malisse shots. Malisse, [image above from wikipedia] who had been showing good form in the run-up to the tournament, appeared confident and threatened to overwhelm Murray. Murray scrambled and frustrated Malisse who failed to convert the break and a set-point. Murray grabs the set and starts to play better. Malisse starts to play worse. Murray wins the second set easily to progress to the third round. In statistical terms, Murray has achieved more success as a professional tennis player than Malisse. Currently No 4, he has reached as high as No 2 ranked player in the world. But there are signs that neither player is meeting the expectations either of themselves or of their fans.

Breaking old patterns of play

There are explanations for Murray’s performance. But there is a more disturbing perspective from which it might be concluded that both players will remain with unfulfilled ambitions unless they find ways of breaking out of the old patterns of play. Both are regarded as exceptionally gifted players naturally. Murray is now repeated described as the most talented player around who has not won a grand slam. Malisse is a little like the veteran Tommy Haas, another two promising talents who never quite got to when they should have in Tennis.

Why the expectations gap?

We have examples of players who demonstrate a principle of all viable systems from stable combinations of atoms to stable systems of planets, with stable systems of organisations and humans in between. A viable system replicates actions (behaviours in humans and other animals) which define its functions and relationships with its wider environment. In human development terms we go on doing what we have always done, demonstrating what is meant by personality and competences. Training may help sort out potential distortions to the basic pattern. This in sport as in other walks of life is helped by sensitive coaching.

Nevertheless, under stress, older patterns of action come to the surface. In the homely terms of a well-known personal development adage, “if you always do what you’ve always done you’ll always get what you’ve always got.” According to the adage, and viable systems theory, Murray will under stress revert to a rather timid style that will not succeed enough to win grand slams. Malisse will win some great matches against higher-ranked opponents, but will also struggle to reach tournament finals.

Is it all pre-ordained?

Now that’s the big question. If it means “will Murray win a grand slam?” or “will Murray ever get to World No 1?” I am not as confident as I was a year ago when he seemed to be ironing out weaknesses in his game. Now I’m not sure I know the answer to either question.

Brazil: Economics, White Elephants and Black Swans

August 11, 2010

Brazil is attracting increasing attention for its economic potential in the decades ahead. Think Tanks suggest its future relies on technological innovation. But will its fate be more to do with white elephants and black swans?

A Guardian report [August 2010] outlines an exciting future for Brazil’s economy:

Dr Gilberto leads Brazil’s National Institute for Space Research (Inpe). His claim turns a piece of standard economic theory on its head. Nations develop their economies by moving up the value chain, away from churning out commodities and towards manufacturing, say the textbooks.

China mass manufactures at rock-bottom prices, with the consequence that over the past two decades the cost of manufactured goods has fallen fast, while demand has pushed up the cost of the commodities used to make the goods. This leads Camara to his slogan: “Brazil – the natural knowledge economy”. He describes this as applying knowledge and technology to commodities to boost their value, and reels off examples: biofuels, in which Brazil leads thanks to its sugar cane ethanol and growing biodiesel production; renewable energy, and climate change – Brazil’s Amazon is vital to the planet’s health. “Brazil’s natural knowledge economy offers more opportunities for internal [national] research than our manufacturing industry,”

The Knowledge Economy

A Demos (think-tank) report argued in 2008 that Brazil is a ‘natural knowledge-economy’ where the intertwining of knowledge, skills and innovation with environmental and other natural assets holds the key to competitive advantage. But in Europe, Brazil’s innovation capabilities are even less well understood than those of its ‘BRIC’ counterparts, China and India. This report assesses the prospects for science and technology-based innovation in Brazil over the next ten years. And it suggests how the UK and Europe can scale up collaboration with its new centres of excellence. This report forms part of The Atlas of Ideas, a research programme on the new geography of science and innovation. The project was conducted in partnership with the Centro de Gestão e Estudos Estratégicos (CGEE) in Brazil.

The Atlas of Ideas

According to Demos,

In May 2007, the United Arab Emirates launched a $10bn foundation to create research centres in Arab universities. In Brazil, a consortium of 80 organisations has teamed up to invest $3 billion in biotechnology. In Qatar, a gleaming 2,500 acre ‘Education City’ is now home to international campuses of five of the world’s top universities. Wherever in the world you look, new entrants are reshaping the landscape for science and technology-based innovation. But what do these changes mean? How should policymakers and business leaders respond? And how do we strike the right balance between competition and collaboration? In early 2007, Demos published a series of reports on science and technology-based innovation in China, India and South Korea, and the prospects for closer collaboration with the UK and Europe. The second phase of The Atlas of Ideas included projects on the future of innovation in Brazil, flows of highly skilled migrants to the UK, low carbon innovation in China, and the development of a landmark study of innovation in the Islamic World.

Technological Change, Think Tanks, White Elephants and Black Swans

Forecasting is difficult, as the old joke goes, especially about the future. Forecasters like other humans have blind spots. Politicians seem open to the promise of technology as a silver bullet for desired change. The realities of technological forecasting is that a gulf exists between the potential and the realization of visionary dreams. That has not prevented strategy gurus from offering prescriptions for regional development. The approach has not been without its critics

Experience with large-scale technological projects is that they often become white elephants (expensive and inconvenient and with little practical value). Sometimes exploration is accompanied by dreadful unexpected consequences of the unpredictable (Black Swans).

More Modest Steps into the Future

Steps towards change require multiple more micro-level actions which mobilise natural resources including people. In the UK, the new government pins its hope on a concept labelled The Big Society, which is about devolving power away from centralized government. Liberating creativity of organisations even of societies seems a promising approach. In Europe examples can be found of ways in which students become their own tutors. Business Schools can work with international organisations to support international goals. There are opportunities as well as threats; tigerish gains as well as elephantine blunders to be made.