Sir Alex Ferguson’s protective side

November 30, 2010

Adeola Ogunleye

by Adeola Ogunleye

According to a notable and international news agency, Agence France-Presse (AFP), as reported in a Fifa news item

Sir Alex Ferguson will take his Manchester United side to the Reebok Stadium on Sunday [September 26th 2011] concerned about how Wayne Rooney’s personal life is starting to affect his form. The United and England striker has been hit hard by recent revelations that have seen media scrutiny into his life increase tenfold. Rooney has scored just twice so far this season, whereas last term he already had six goals to his name by this point and there seems little doubt that he is struggling to cope with his new-found infamy.

“I don’t believe he has a confidence problem, but the boy is starting to realise finally, without any question, what kind of focus is on him as a human being. He is realising what it means to be at the centre of media attention for non-football-related questions. I don’t think the boy can turn a corner at the moment without a camera on him.”

“Is charisma enough?”

Over the past 36 years, Sir Alex Ferguson, who has mostly been portrayed as a charismatic leader, has a bevy of achievements as proof of his undeniable talent and outstanding expertise as a football coach and sports leader. Fergie as he is widely called is also known for his mind games and bullying methods in and out of the dressing room, even with the press, the English FA and match officials. These, to my mind bring to bear the fact that unlike a Barack Obama charismatic type that involves a functionalist or action approach, the situation of a sport leader is slightly different and though charisma may be important at the initial stages of a coach’s career, it is not enough.

Leaders on and off the pitch

In the case of action teams (like a football team) participants have to perform on the pitch with the coach watching on from the sidelines. The leadership type needed becomes more complex. According to leadership author Gary Yukl, ‘Leaders influence and are influenced by the specific situations they are placed in’. Transformational leadership, a modernist version of charisma, requires that a leader elevates the levels of maturity, achievements and well-being beyond that of narrow (‘transactional’) self interest.” It therefore behoves a sports leader to identify and display a style which matches his of her prevailing predicaments or dilemmas.

Here we see Ferguson refraining from his sometimes autocratic and usual ‘lash-out at the press’ style to a more subtle way of sharing the blame of Rooney’s poor scoring form in recent times between the player’s error of judgement and unrelenting media attention. In this situation he displays a protective leadership side for the young player to help him through this patch and severally insists that he is not worried about Wayne Rooney’s scoring abilities to boost his confidence and keep the dressing room morale.
Ferguson again confirms that differing situation require an assortment of styles in order to meet expectations. He must indeed manage this Rooney situation tactfully as current and potential injury may result in a selection dilemma for the United Manager in the near future. Ferguson’s approach appears apt following mixed reactions and a poor outing at the recent World Cup tournament, in the wake of Fabio Capello’s handling of the John Terry versus Wayne Bridge saga.

No “one-size fits all”

According to Dr Sue Bridgewater in her book ‘Football Management’, the particular context in which football managers work plays an important part in their success. She argues that for football managers, success is contingent on doing the right things for the circumstances which surround them. This is supported by House’s “path-goal” theory of leadership which discusses different leadership styles which might work for different types of task and with different types of followers.

Her proposal suggests that there is no “one-size fits all” approach to sports leadership. Football is a results-oriented business. However, football managers are no longer judged only on the actual performance of their teams but also on all-round management, including their stewardship to club owners, maintaining fan support, media appeal, and dressing-room morale amongst other things.


Link to creative commons image

On a Royal Wedding, Breeding and the Feckless Poor

November 28, 2010

The announcement of a Royal Wedding in England accompanies debates on breeding at both ends of the class spectrum

This week [Nov 2010] has seen a resurgence of attention to ancient issues of breeding and class consciousness in England. One long-awaited story burst into life with the announcement that Prince William, second in line to the throne, was to marry his fiancé Kate Middleton. The event was marked with much attention to the fact that Ms Middleton was of humble origins. This was, we learned, a further step towards a modern Monarchy, with language of Royal blood and the implications of intermarriage between royalty and commoners.

A turbulent priest?

A bishop weighed in with a republican perspective. The Bishop of Willsdon commented on facebook that media coverage of the engagement was “fawning deferential nonsense”. His quoted remarks were intemperate, including mention of a dysfunctional family (William’s not Kate’s) and added his doubts about the long-term viability of the marriage. Bishop Pete [sic] was summarily removed from official duties.

Meanwhile, the popular press and The BBC offered unqualified enthusiasm for the match. They largely cast Kate Middleton as a Cinderella figure who had escaped from the evil grip of her background. There were hints that her parents would serve as additional figures in this reworking of the pantomime. They were portrayed as masking their time as employees with British Airways through a display of wealth acquired subsequently. A more salacious tale about Kate’s grandmother also earned a brief airing. It is hardly surprising that I found the stories on the web categorised under entertainment.

A Commoner?

Public opinion seemed largely in favour of the match. One phone-in caller captured the view that the Prince should be allowed to marry any young unmarried woman sane of mind and healthy of body. There was little evidence of nuances regarding the religious or prior marital status of the chosen bride (or even of her nationality or ethnic origins, come to think of it). The main point was “Why not? Times are changing.”

There appears to be widespread public approval of a commoner marrying into the Royal family, and the possibility of an eventual Queen Kate. There was some muttering about terms being used such as breeding stock and commoners? In this, there was little acknowledgement that the status of commoners and the house of commons were hard won-rights in the reformation from an absolute monarchy towards one that is constitutionally negotiated.

More on breeding and the blood royal

There has been wide acceptance (from folk experience of working on the land as well as owning it) that a thoroughbred line within a species needs to avoid the dangers of excessive in-breeding. Extending the analogy, Brits have tended to accept the virtue of a little out-breeding even to the blood royal. So welcome to the club, your new highness, and here’s to an infusion of helpful genes for the future.

Coincidentally, the week also saw another public figure in hot water with his political masters after remarks about breeding. This story involved Howard Flight, who remarked in an Interview to The Evening Standard

“We’re going to have a system where the middle classes are discouraged from breeding because it’s jolly expensive. But for those on benefits, there is every incentive. Well, that’s not very sensible.”

His observations put at risk his elevation to the House of Lords as a Conservative peer, news of which was only recently announced.

What to make of all this?

The stories conceal complex sets of beliefs which have to be examined more carefully to detect the various currents flowing into popular consciousness, helping form the national psyche. The English through the views expressed in the media have sets of beliefs around much-cherished freedoms. One is freedom of speech, and perceived restrictions imposed by those powerful enough to silence a republican bishop or a conservative peer. Another freedom is preservation of a kind of robust egalitarianism. This accepts the notion of a Royal bloodline while recognising as benefits what National Socialists referred to as its mingling with that of an inferior caste.

The other Prince of Wales

And for the record, The Prince of Wales and his first-born William are considered by some to be usurpers of titles rightfully bestowed upon the heirs of the ancient Celtic chieftain Owain Glyndwr. Owain’s attempt to become King of Wales failed in the rebellion of 1400 B.C.

Will the Tractor Boys steam ahead with Roy Keane in the Driver’s seat?

November 26, 2010

Story by Ken Scully

When Ipswich Town reached second place in the Coca Cola championship recently, it was felt that the Tractor Boys could steam ahead and gain promotion to the Premiership. With Roy Keane in charge you wouldn’t doubt it. Or would you?

As a player, Roy Keane is synonymous with the great Manchester United teams of the 1990s and early 2000s. He played with United for 12 years and was club captain for eight. For the record, he won seven English league titles and four FA Cups with them. He was also part of their 1999 Treble winning team that conquered England and Europe.

Cult status

Any football fan will tell you that Keane was an inspirational leader for United on the pitch. To this day, he retains cult status with United’s fans. So what was is it about Keane that made him such an effective and inspirational leader on the pitch? Can it be assumed that such a leadership style will work for him as club manager of Ipswich Town?

Many remember Keane as a tough, uncompromising player. He was driven to win. Even referees felt his wrath – all in the cause of winning. He seemed detached in his dealings with the media. But I’m not sure that he fits the charismatic style associated with a Clinton or a Kennedy. [Or even a Mourinho? Ed]

Is Keane charismatic?

Riggio (2010) identified elements of personal charisma including emotional control and social sensitivity. Does Keane possess such qualities? Based on the above, it could be argued that Keane is not charismatic. However, further analysis suggests that he is. Weber (1947) identified heroic devotion as an element of charismatic leadership. Of relevance to Keane the player, is the concept that heroes should fight and be successful in bringing “benefits” to followers. Could Keane pass this test? Of course he could. His playing career is littered with heroic endeavours and success. Therefore it is not surprising his team mates put their absolute trust in him and regarded him as their leader. In analysing Keane as a leader with Manchester United, we must not forget that he was a player on the pitch and part of a team.

Sir Alex Ferguson was (and still is) the undoubted team manager and leader of the club, on match-day Keane was the leader on the pitch. Ferguson and Keane are similar in many respects, single-mindedness being one of their similarities. It could be argued that Ferguson encouraged Keane to be single-minded in the confines of the pitch. Maybe we should identify Keane’s leadership style as a player as being charismatic within a broader fraemwork of Distributed leadership.

Now he is a manager

As a club manager, his leadership responsibilities are now broader than that those of a playing club captain. He is expected to lead outside the confines of a football pitch and to lead various consituencies of stakeholders, not just footballers. Ipswich Town, a provincial English club, is no Manchester United, a leading global sporting brand.

Does Keane have previous club management experience? He does. He was manager of Sunderland but walked out on them in controversial circumstances. It has been suggested that charisma can be associated with obsession which eventually proves dysfunctional. There have been claims that players lived in fear of Keane when manager of Sunderland. (As a player at United we certainly saw him verbally attack team mates over poor work ethic for example.) Fear may be just about tolerated by followers in the confines of a match, but not something that is equally acceptable to those wider audiences.

Another possibility is to consider what has been called adaptive capacity i.e. the ability to change one’s style and approach to fit the culture, context, or condition of an organisation. If Keane adapts his style, my view is that his success as a leader could be enduring.

Tractor Boys to ‘Steam Ahead’

So can the Tractor Boys steam ahead with Keane leading them? Of course they can, but don’t be surprised if the wheels fall off, with the blame falling on the Tractor driver.


The post was developed by invitation from an assignment written by Ken Scully [October 2010] for the Global MBA programme at Manchester Business School .

The Dragon Heads West

November 22, 2010

China’s economic power is revealing itself with increased numbers of takeovers of Western firms. The Economist takes a straw poll of the consequences

“Buying up the world: The Coming Wave of Chinese Takeovers”. The lead article in The Economist [Nov 13-19 2010] indicated the significance this global issue. Its sub-title was even more dramatic: “Being eaten by the Dragon”.

Even before the article was published, the Western business press had become aware of the takeover of the Volvo car operations by the emerging Chinese giant Geely [August 2010] . The near-iconic Swedish auto-maker had already experienced one trauma when it was acquired by Ford.

In the takeover process, Geely also acquired Stefan Jacoby, the former chief executive of Volkswagen Group in America. He became the new CEO for Volvo. Geely-Volvo’s Chinese headquarters, research and development center, and production base will be located in Shanghai International Automobile City.

Long-term planning in China: The “Go Out” slogan

The Economist study recalls a long-term policy conceived at least a decade ago through which Chinese companies were encouraged to become more international, under the slogan “Go Out”. The consequences are now becoming clearer. China’s need to invest keeps up the pressure for such ventures. Still growing, China’s largely state-controlled firms already account for over 10% of global stock market value.

Qualified awe

Western executives reported to the Economist of their qualified admiration and :

“Awe at China’s ambition and technical skill and a more qualified assessment of the companies’ abilities to run international businesses. Emotion and trust matter because authority [appears to be] opaque.”

Culture shock

Other executives reported culture shock at the diverse representation involved in discussions. The Government plays a role, but the Western executives at present appear to be unclear precisely how. The most senior commercial person may be present but leaves was often perceived to be there in a symbolic role, “to keep protocol” while more technically versed executives take the lead. The impression is that much goes on “off stage” which remove many potential hurdles to the planned takeover. At that stage, access to finance and other needed resources becomes easy.

Every MBA student knows much about the organisational structure and strategy of the classical Western-style business organization. The knowledge is grounded in the vast information base to be found in popular and scholarly texts, and libraries of case-studies. In contrast, the workings of firms originating in other cultures are far well-distributed. To be sure, International Business is now becoming an important part of the MBA curriculum, but the maps are very much of relatively unexplored territories. Contrast this with the history of General Motors, which was documented from its earliest days not least by a famous book written one of its most influential leaders. The dominant theory of the modern firm has even given us the expression Fordism to capture the idea of a modern production form of organisation.

International Business and Emerging Capitalisms

The emerging global issues are challenging these hallowed maps. We are beginning to see how business has to be studied as a complex set of inter-dependencies between firms and institutional structures. The question is being raised whether capitalism itself has to be rethought. Should we be exploring the emerging dragon as an illustration of a new economic form?

Into the future

The mini-study concluded that the current conditions will place pressures which will require considerable management change, and perhaps more institutional transparency. “The next generation of Chinese executives…[are likely to] prove more far more effective …the old guard has taken a rusting industrial base and made from it gleaming corporate giants. Yet if these firms are to achieve their full potential abroad, their creators may have to relax their grip”.

To go more deeply:

See also observations of the problems of cultural differences experienced recently by BP and Toyota.


Chairman Li Shufu speaks during a news conference after a signing ceremony to buy Ford Motor Co.’s Volvo Cars in Goteborg, Sweden. Image from Christian Science Monitor.

The release of Aung San Suu Kyi is Burma’s Mandela Moment

November 15, 2010

The release of Aung San Suu Kyi in Burma inevitably brings to mind the release of Nelson Mandela from prison in South Africa. Should we see this as Burma’s ‘Mandela Moment’ and a step on its long road to political freedom?

The overwhelming similarity found in examining the cases of Aung San and Nelson Mandela is the sense of how non-violent opposition may successfully threaten a powerful and oppressive regime. But as Mandela presciently noted, the road to freedom is a long and hard one.

Idealised influence

Students of leadership will recognise the power of charisma at work. Both leaders project an overpowering sense of destiny and service to a higher ideal than that their own aspirations. They become icons and their influence is said to be idealized. For followers, they can do no wrong, a powerful responsibility to place on any human’s shoulders.

Political realities and chess playing

I have noted how political strategy has some things in common with a complex game of chess. The release of Aung San may be seen as a chess move by the military rulers in Burma. If we continue the chess-playing metaphor it follows their move a few weeks ago to hold elections. That move was widely dismissed as dubious gambit, offering a spurious promise of freedom. Tthe Generals will have assessed the situation subsequently. The gambit presumably was considered not to be working calling for another move.

The Telegraph analysed the situation:

The military regime which released Ms Suu Kyi is nonetheless confident it has control of the levers of power after the recent elections. The Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) won and was founded by Thein Sein, who resigned as a general to become prime minister. The only credible opposition, Ms Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) was split by the poll. Elements of the party disagreed with her call to boycott the election and split off to form the National Democratic Force (NDF). But NDF leaders have said they would join forces with the NLD if Ms Suu Kyi was released. Her stated willingness to work with all democrats seems likely to heal any rift.

One of the greatest obstacles to Ms Suu Kyi – an ethnic Burman – building an effective opposition, inside or outside the system, could be the ethnic minorities that make up 40 per cent of Burma’s population. There is a widespread assumption across Burma that the military will take the opportunity, now that the elections are out of the way, to crackdown on the troublesome ethnic minorities. That might leave Ms Suu Kyi in an uncomfortable position as she tries to build bridges with the military regime yet not anger groups already antagonistic towards her.

Power Plays

Too direct a confrontation may produce yet another return to house arrest and her removal from direct political influence. Yet the power is not completely with the ruling Generals. To continue the chess metaphor, the release move was made not because the Generals wanted to do it at this moment in time. Rather it was a forced move, made because it had become the least-worse next step. It may well also be the first move towards an endgame promising a more democratic system in the country.

Mo Ibrahim: “A good African boy who did not forget his people”

November 12, 2010

Posted By Frances Nicholls

The Sudanese-born British entrepreneur, Dr Mo Ibrahim, founder of the African mobile phone operator Celtel, philanthropist and self-made billionaire was asked in a CNN interview what legacy he would like to leave. He replied smiling that he would like to be remembered as “A good African boy who did not forget his people”

In a global context, the only African “boys” who grab the headlines in western media are generally not the “good” ones. “Good” implies an ethical approach to leadership. So can “good” boys or girls succeed in leading Africa? The example of Mo Ibrahim shows they can.

Born in Sudan 1946, Mo Ibrahim, an electrical engineer by profession, worked in the UK for BT before starting Celtel in 1998. Following the sale of Celtel to MTC of Kuwait he started the Mo Ibrahim Foundation, committed to promoting and encouraging ethical leadership and transparency in a region characterized by corruption and poor leadership. The Ibrahim Index which rates African countries on governance and the Ibrahim Prize (worth more than the Nobel peace prize), are the organisation’s most publicly known initiatives. They have received criticism and praise they have received, as well generating discussion on leadership issues in the region.

Another Change Master?

Many a political leader can be said to have abused the word “change”. Only time can tell whether a vision becomes reality or not. Whether running Celtel, or leading his foundation, Ibrahim is a change agent and his leadership is characterized by encouraging others to believe in his vision. Not only can he be described as taking an ethical approach to leadership, he is transformational. He involves his team by allowing his vision to become their vision. He tackles both the West’s tendancy for negative and patronizing approachss to Africa as well as Africa’s own dilemmas of ethical leadership. Indeed for the last 2 years, no leader has won the Ibrahim Award because, as he states himself, there has been no leader in Africa who has deserved it.

Walking the Talk

Even before the idea of the foundation had come into being, back in Celtel days, Ibrahim was leading by example. Any transformational, and indeed ethical leader needs to be able to sell themselves first before selling their ideas to others. Even the journalist Michela Wrong, well known for her success in uncovering yet another African saviour turned despot, was uncharacteristically positive in her write-up. Importantly, Ibrahim’s own story is an inspiration to others showing that big business can be done in the region ethically. His ethics in leadership goes further than “tokenism”, but comes from an internal belief in a cleaner way of doing business and importantly he actually puts this belief into practice.

Through the systems he developed at Celtel, Ibrahim made it very clear to employees and the government that bribing was not their way. Ethical in his approach, he also achieves this in a way that echoes the concept of transformational leadership through inspiring the moral beliefs and behaviour of his employees.

The foundation

Ibrahim was able to put his personal charisma and well-earned cash to good use to further promote and encourage clean governance in Africa. His ‘team’ or his agents for transformation are no longer just confined to a company or organisation, he is influencing the public and business community at large in Africa and also the international community. Indeed the foundation, run by his daughter Hadeel, boasts of members such Mary Robinson, ex-President of Ireland and former UN High Commissioner. Robinson says it was Ibrahim’s vision that inspired her to become part of the foundation.

When talking about people’s response to the prize, his daughter Hadeel notes,

“People responded partly to the notion of the prize, but also to my father as someone who will get things done…. He is consumed by the desire for excellence in all he does.”

By leading by example, and through articulating his vision clearly, he not only espouses transformational leadership qualities, but he has opened many minds to how ethics and success in Africa can help achieve change.

Social Media and One-way Traffic Systems

November 8, 2010

Public Service institutions may be sticking too closely to old assumptions about communications as they start using social media channels. There is evidence of too much metaphoric one-way traffic, in situations which cry out for two-way systems

This is a local story (although it may have wider interest). Regular subscribers will know that I work in the Manchester metropolis. Recently, [Nov 3rd 2010] something struck me about the way local authorities involve in social media as evidenced by their Tweeting activities.

The Manchester Police get it

I was most impressed last week when the Greater Manchester Police decided to have a 24-hour period tweeting everything that was happening on the beat. Great, I thought. Leaders of our thin blue line have got the idea of social media. Fast friendly communications. Well done.

So what about the local authorities?

Then Twitter suggested I might like to follow the tweets of Manchester City Council. Why not, I thought? If the police are starting to experiment with Twitter, maybe the regional politicos are at it as well. So I got on to the Manchester Council Twitter Site to find out. I rather liked the personal tone of some of the messages. But there was something not quite right. I had a growing feeling that a lot of the traffic was a bit ‘one-way’. That is to say it was sent out into the internet without a great attempt to connect up with the audience. I had noticed the same sort of thing in the operation of celebrity twitter sites.

So I looked at the sites of a few more local authorities. The sense of one-way traffic systems persisted. As a matter of fact Manchester turned out to among the sites which did provide more personalised messages which inviting two-way traffic. However, I began to think of a way of measuring the amount of one-way traffic around any paarticular site.

The signal for one-way traffic

The ratio of followers to people being followed may be a crude starting signal. Celeb sites tend to have a ratio showing many people following, to few people they follow. This is one-way traffic. [There are also a few sites which have the opposite ratio of following many people to having few followers. This is a different kind of one-way traffic.]

The follower/following ratio

Whipping on an academic hat, I suspect there will be value in examining more closely the follower/following ratio. It’s tempting but a bit simplistic assume that a ratio of 1:1 will be appropriate in every case.

Manchester City has a ratio of ‘following’ to ‘followers’ of about 1:3, which is higher than most sites I visited. Stockport Metropolitan Borough, in contrast has a percentage of about 1: 200.

There is someone out there

So I sent Manchester City a tweet [Nov 3rd 2010] “@ManCityCouncil Why do public service sites think social media is about sending your message out to a receptive world?”

To my pleasure I got a reply later the same day, which sort of confirms my point about the receptivity of the Manchester Council site. There is someone out there in a two-way traffic system. Stockpost has not as yet replied…

The dilemma of firewalls

The challenge of achieving the full potential of social media is made more difficult by the presence of fire-walls and the concern of ‘leakage’ of sensitive information beyond them. These issues concern many executives in public and private sectors alike. The dilemma is an important one, and calls for leadership, judgement, and creativity.

From reactive to proactive?

The brief experiment helped change my jaundiced view about Manchester City Council’s receptivity to the community based on one set of social media. More broadly, the initial evidence suggests that here is still much that can be done to go from reactivity to proactivity, as one-way become converted to two-way communication systems.

Will Dilma Rousseff have creative help in her Brazilian administration?

November 1, 2010

The run-in to the Brazilian elections showed a range of unusual candidates. Will any play a role in the new President’s thinking?


The post was written as the elections began [September 2010]. It adds an unexpected twist to the eventual victory of Dilma Rousseff as successor to her mentor Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva

Unexpected candidates

In Sao Paulo [September 2010] the students were handing out leaflets in the way students have done in elections around the world. But there are signals suggesting more innovative political initiatives in the build-up to the elections.

Some candidates presented themselves in unexpected and unconventional ways. In the UK we have been familiar with self-publicists such as Screaming Lord Such, founder of the Monster Raving Loonie Party. He appeared in countless General Election Campaigns as did a handful of so-called followers. Such had no real expectation of being elected. It was more like a piece of surreal performance art than that of political leadership. But there was also the mayoral candidate who had been the Monkey mascot for Hartlepool’s football team before running (as the Monkey) for mayor and winning.

Celebrity politicans

There have also been celebrities who have gone on to become successfully elected. Glenda Jackson was a global star who became an effective labour MP. Glamorous pop stars have been successful elsehwere in Europe. Although the biggest celebrity politician of all time in many ways is surely Ronald Reagan, closely followed by Arnie Swartzenegger. These were taken seriously as candidates, as have been the occasional porn-star.

Meanwhile in Brazil political hopefuls of various kinds are appearing in the campaign. Maria Luisa Cavalcanti reported for the BBC that Wacky election candidates reveal problems at heart of Brazil politics

“What does a federal deputy do? Truly, I don’t know. But vote for me and I will find out for you.”

This is one of the political slogans of a man who is expected to enter the Brazilian Chamber of Deputies, the lower house of Congress, in the general election on 3 October with the backing of more than a million voters. If the phrase sounds like some sort of joke, perhaps you will not be surprised to learn that this particular candidate is a professional clown. Francisco Everardo Oliveira Silva, or Tiririca (Grumpy) as he is known, started working in a circus at the age of eight in the impoverished north-eastern state of Ceara, and is now a TV comedian.

Eliane Cantanhede, political correspondent at Folha de S Paulo newspaper points out that candidates get airtime, attracting less-informed and disaffected voters. The open-list proportional representation system also encourages such candidates.

Just some fun at election time?

David Fleischer, professor of Political Science at the University of Brasilia, explains that the celebrity and the eye-catching candidates are promoted by their parties hoping to get two or three less-voted-for candidates into office.

Is it all just some fun at election time, or an innovation whose time has come as a result of new social media? The messages from President Obama’s campaign are still being studied around the world. Students of leadership might do well to consider the implications of “the Grumpy vote” for political leaders in the future, far beyond Brazil.