The Royal Wedding and The Invasion of the Body Snatchers

April 30, 2011

A Royal Wedding brings together the worlds of performance art, fantasy, creativity, design, and entrepreneurship. One little-explored theme is the back-engineering going on centred around the design of the bride’s dress by teams of creative copyists intent on bringing their products to the market within days.

Teams of designers were in place. This is much the same as what happens in the world of product development with design teams anticipating the shape of things to come in the next Apple launch, or the latest twists and turns in tennis gear. From the first glimpses of the new designs, together with years of study, the designers discern the essence of the creative leaps involved. The possibilities for sincere flattery are assessed and enacted. Issues of financing, sourcing of materials and supply-chains mulled over

Intellectual property?

An interesting point. What are the guidelines. One designer told the BBC [Sunday April 30th 2011] that was alright as long as she just didn’t copy it too closely. That’s a new interpretation of the complexities of IP legislation for me. Yet the creation of the bride’s dress was never intended to produce a prototype for subsequent marketing.

Invasion of the body snatchers

I need some journalistic licence here for the connection between the main story and that other much-loved piece of art, the 1956 movie The Invasion of The Body Snatchers. Are the designers of copies of the dress to be compared to aliens, hatching their lookalike creations from plant-like pods? Or are there deeper symbolic possibilities. The original film, set in California, was reviewed as a critique of alienation and suppression of human rights under McCarthyism.

The lacking

And yes, this tale of The Royal Wedding and The Invasion of the Body Snatchers has another curious difference from other stories of the Royal Wedding. I leave these matters for LWD subscribers to mull over. Why not let your imagination loose on them?


Do leaders make a difference? Alan Hansen thinks that Alex Ferguson proves the case

April 29, 2011

Alan Hansen

Theorists continue to puzzle whether leaders make much difference to performance. That great football theorist Alan Hansen is in no doubt. He cites Sir Alex Ferguson’s impact on the performance of the current Manchester United as a case in point

Alan Hansen has become an intelligent commentator on the game he once graced as a player. He is opinionated and risks being remembered for his famous remark some years ago that you can’t win anything in football with kids, before Alex Ferguson’s young team at Manchester United proved him wrong. Hansen learns from his mistakes, and thinks deeply about the game.

He has reached the conclusion that the latest Manchester United team is succeeding despite being relatively modestly-equipped with great players. He bases his case on the contribution of their manager Sir Alex Ferguson. In an article for the Telegraph [26th April 2011] he notes:

Ferguson’s current United side are not a bad team, but they are an average one when judged by the club’s high standards. There is no doubt that they are a distant third in comparison, but the defining quality of the class of 2011 is purely and simply the driving force of Ferguson as manager. Had he been in charge of any of the top four clubs in the Premier League this season, then that club would have gone on to win the title.

Good journalism, good scholarship

He is referring to Ferguson’s Manchester United, Chelsea, Arsenal, and Manchester City. Each has a well-respected manager. Chelsea and more recently Manchester City have great financial assets through their wealthy backers. Chelsea’s wealth has propelled them to a major force in the Premier league, but has had managerial departures, allegedly over conflict with its ambitious Russian owner. City has not yet converted its financial support into national or international success, although that is widely considered to be only a matter of time. Neither Arsenal and United are in the same financial league, and United’s debt burden is among the grievances of its fan base against its unpopular American owners. Arsenal’s manager Arsene Wenger is rated for prudent financial management and for the development of teams playing beautiful football. But Arsenal has not succeeded in winning trophies. (Too many kids, maybe?).

What differentiates United?

Put these facts together, and one factor which differentiates United from the other three teams may well be the contributions of the manager. There seems to be some good journalistic sense in what Hansen has written. His basic comparative analysis is not without scholarly merit. But it would be interesting to get more deeply into the why. What is necessary for a leader/manager to outperform expectations? Are there other factors to consider? Historically, Ferguson survived in his early time when at another club he would have been fired for under-performing. A Premiership manager needs corporate support for longer than is often granted (compare turnover at Chelsea or Manchester City). He is shrewd tactically, and his substitutions and game plan often merit the description creative and unusually imaginative. His wider strategic activities are also admired. He gets some decisions wrong, although that is inevitable for judgement calls. He also has had several “great buys” . This year Chicharito (Javier Hernández Balcázar) is a fine example. His selection of staff around him has also been impressive and has spun-off various high-quality managers such as Mark Hughes and Steve Bruce, both outside bets to replace Ferguson eventually.

Reasoning from the obvious

If there is one point which weakens the impact of the Hansen analysis, it is its tendency to reason back from the obvious, namely that Ferguson is obviously identified with success, and it is not difficult to find an explanation for success in hindsight. It remains difficult to dig more deeply for causal links between leaders, their actions, and the perceived consequences of those actions.


Glencore and invisible leadership

April 26, 2011

The Swiss Commodity traders Glencore has avoided much of the hype centred on successful businesses and their leaders. So when they announced an initial public offering (IPO) of shares for next month in London and Hong Kong [May 2011] a very interesting story began to emerge

At first the news was mostly on the scale and timing of the IPO. The company offering of $11 billion shares set a corporate value of around $60 billion. The risks of commodities trading as well as its rewards are more well-known, although as one commentator put it

“They have been a private-run company and made a truck-load of money and you’d have to think that these guys would have more market intelligence than most”

The IPO documentation alerted journalists to remuneration paid to its cadre of top traders. I couldn’t help thinking of the advertisement to be seen as you arrive at Geneva airport “Money talks but wealth whispers.” The Swiss have developed a well-justified reputation for financial discretion.

History

Glencore [global energy commodity resources] changed its name from Marc Rich & Co. after a management buy-out in 1994. Mr Rich has been described as a former fugitive U.S. financier. [He was indicted in the United States on federal charges of illegally making oil deals with Iran during the Iran hostage crisis. He was in Switzerland at the time of the indictment. He subsequently received a presidential pardon from U.S. President Bill Clinton on his last day of office. One report described The Rich Boys: “an ultra-secretive network rules independent oil trading. Its mentor: Marc Rich”. The network includes former ‘Rich Boys’ who spun off and founded Trafigura, the company at the heart of a superinjuction story in 2009].

More stories developed

More stories developed. Some were about the company’s avoidance of public scrutiny. More was made public of interesting remuneration statistics.

According to financial data from Glencore Energy, a wholly owned subsidiary of Glencore UK, its 32 traders earned a total of $US41.5m. In addition, traders are understood to be paid substantial performance-related share awards. The remuneration packages of Glencore’s traders dwarfs the average payout by banks to their star employees. For example, Glencore’s London-based oil traders earn almost four times the average paid to Barclays Capital’s investment bankers.

Simon Murray

Another story produced unfavourable comments on the uninhibited views expressed by its new chairman Simon Murray
Ruth Sutherland of The Mail online noted

Say what you like about Simon Murray, the veteran Hong Kong entrepreneur appointed to chair Glencore, but he cannot be accused of dullness. The choice of a 71-year-old polar adventurer and former French Foreign Legionnaire as chairman of Glencore always promised to be entertaining and so it has proved. Murray created a furore with his views on women in the boardroom, making it clear he wouldn’t be rushing to recruit any.

In contrast, someone who was appointed a director was Tony Hayward, the man at the centre of the BP oil-spill disaster. However, the BBC’s top business commentator Robert Peston was forced to retract a story that Lord Browne, Haywood’s mentor and former boss at BP, was to become chairman of the new floated company and at the same time revealed the appointment of Simon Murray. According to Peston, Lord Browne was rather too keen on conforming to corporate governance guidelines.

Leadership lessons

I hesitate to offer more than a few tentative questions at this stage of the unfolding story. Glencore has rarely been held up as an example of effective corporate leadership, preferring to avoid publicity. Its current chairman is quickly labelled as an old-fashioned charismatic frontiersman impatient with conventions of political correctness. Lord Browne, himself once seen as someone prepared to take risks in the interests of corporate growth, is cast as the prudent upholder of corporate governance principles. Is the polar explorer a perfect match for the once discrete corporation? Will its wealth now not so much be whispered about, but shouted in business headlines? Will Goldman Sachs, who was not invited to the IPO party, be shown right in its reservations about the whole business?


Schubert on Julia Gillard

April 24, 2011

Jeff Schubert examines the behaviours of Australian Premier Julia Gillard and asks whether she fits the psychological profile of an irrational authoritarian.

In an article on 23 March in “The Australian” newspaper, journalist Paul Kelly commented on the attitudes and values of Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard – and on her apparent contradictions and back-flips on policy. Kelly wrote:

“She warned Kevin Rudd (the former prime minister, whom she deposed) against pricing carbon and then seized this policy. She campaigned against a Big Australia (population growth) and then dropped the rhetoric. She partly re-regulated the labor market and then paraded as pro-market reformer … She appears too much as a work in progress. The reason is obvious – Gillard is a Prime Minister under construction. She is engaged in self-discovery, sorting out not just her policy framework but the convictions for which she will live or die. She is not fully formed as a political persona because she got the job too early.”

Yet, there is possible a more basic – and psychological – explanation. On the face of it, Gillard seems to have many of the personal characteristics of someone who has a fear of failure rather than a need to achieve (in comparison, Tony Abbott, the Leader of the Opposition, has many of the characteristics of the latter category). The difference was extensively explored by Professor Norman Dixon many years ago in his book, “On the Psychology of Military Incompetence”.

Two forms of motivation

Dixon, stressing that he was concerned with primary motivation, rather than secondary motivation, wrote:

“The crucial difference between the two sorts of achievement – the healthy and the pathological – may be summarized by saying that whereas the first is buoyed by hopes of success, the second is driven by fear of failure. … The former is associated with the possession of a strong ego and independent attitudes of mind, the latter with a weak ego and feelings of dependency. Whereas the former achieves out of a quest for excellence in his job, the latter achieves by any means available, not necessarily because of any devotion to the work, but because of the status, social approval and reduction of doubts about the self that such achievement brings. Although these two sorts of achievement motivation may bring about rapid, even spectacular, promotion, their nature and effects are very different. The first is healthy and mature, and brings to the fore those skills required by the job at hand; the second is pathological, immature, and developing of traits, such as dishonesty and expediency.”

If we go by the terminology used by Dixon in his book, Gillard would be described as an ‘irrational authoritarian’.

To go more deeply

Jeff has studied the motivation of leaders deeply. He writes regularly for Leaders we deserve. You can read more of his work on his blog site.


Colin Talbot on Health Policy

April 22, 2011

Professor Colin Talbot comments on a recent Leaders We Deserve post discussing political leadership and health policy.

Colin is Editor-in-Chief of the International Journal of Public Administration, and blogs through his whitehallwatch site.

He responded to the recent post in LWD which discussed a meeting called by Prime Minster Cameron. The meeting appeared to be an attempt by David Cameron to retrieve the reforms planned for the NHS. In the post I noted:

A major policy initiative always risks initial resistance at least part because of the difficulty in communicating more than a few broad elements to a wide set of audiences with different concerns. As we have seen, the dilemma is how to accept that plans have to be modified without appearing to ‘flip-flop’ (an accusation aimed at politicians who are seen as changing their intentions). Dilemmas crop up when leaders face hard to resolve decisions. Creativity is often called for to avoid the most obvious and unpalatable actions. David Cameron may not have found enough creativity to go with his undoubted conviction politics on this occasion.

Professor Talbot’s reply

“I agree that this does point to a frequent dilemma. In this case, I think the issue is rather more about Cameron’s flip-flopping leadership style vis-a-vis delegation. He started out not wanting to engage with detailed policy and leaving that to ministerial teams, but as soon as the political going gets tough (e.g. forests, and now the NHS) he suddenly jumps in and takes over, often quite brutally.

I think this is a good example of doing the right things at the wrong time. He should have been involved at the start, making sure the health policy was right, and then left Lansley to get on with it and backed him all the way. Instead he left Lansley to it and it’s clear that Cameron was unaware just how radical the plans were until it was too late. Initially he tried to throw some political capital behind them (his speech in January) but then he realized it was not going to work and now he’s had to jump in with both feet and effectively take over the policy. Lansley is now so badly damaged few expect him to survive a summer reshuffle. And the political damage to the Coalition, and especially the Tory brand, is considerable.”

We are also listening

As ever, subscribers to LWD are invited to join in the discussion.


Captain Scott’s story survives the potential hazards of a BBC documentary treatment

April 18, 2011

TV Review by Tudor Rickards

The epic and tragic story of Scott’s Antarctic expedition was retold in a BBC documentary a hundred years later. Unlike Scott, the story just about survived a potential disaster.

A classic adventure story was retold on BBC2 [The Secrets of Scott’s Hut, April 17th 2011]. It concerned the ill-fated ‘race to the pole’ by Captain Scott. Or I might have been watching the story of a contemporary preservation project at Scott’s base hut which now involves a team of scientists retrieving the hut and its contents in a multi-million pound rescue mission.

In any case, the programme was conceived as a vehicle for a celebrity treatment which involved Ben Fogle on his own journey of discovery. The documentary started badly for me, perhaps because it assumed that I knew the story of Mr Fogle better than I knew the story of Captain Scott.

Remorseless cheerful Ben

Remorselessly cheerful Ben began by explaining how he was privileged to visit the preserved relics of Captain Scott’s famous expedition. It reminded me of those Blue Peter adventurers setting off to thrill their audience of schoolchildren by abseiling down Blackpool Tower or whatever.

Mashed up story lines

Despite its uncomfortable start and mashed-up story lines, the programme contained much of interest. The contemporary story of the renovation of thousands of articles of historic interest was itself worth documenting. The older story of Scott retains enormous emotional appeal. It interests students of leadership at various levels. The dilemmas under uncertainties: the logistics of getting to the South Pole; the reactions to news of Amundsen’s approach recognised as superior almost immediately; even (in today’s terms mission creep). The beginnings of fund-raising through brand placements, and Scott’s flair for managing history by taking along the brilliant photographer Herbert Ponting.

Leadership style

Scott’s leadership style offers insights, particularly through comparisons with the styles of two competitor celebrity explorers Shackleton and Amundsen. The Telegraph gives a brief account for those unacquainted with the story

“The main objective of this expedition is to reach the South Pole, and to secure for the British Empire the honour of this achievement,” he said, in an appeal for sponsorship. As every schoolchild knows, he failed in his bid to be first. Arriving at the Pole on January 17 1912, after hauling a sledge more than 800 miles, he was greeted by the Norwegian flag. Roald Amundsen had beaten him by a month.

Leadership students will be more familiar with an earlier expedition led by Shackleton who faced with dangers to his men abandoned his mission for the promise of getting his men home safely. Over time, Shackleton’s leadership has become more admired; Scott’s more disputed. Even bouncing Ben was struck by Scott’s attempts to preserve the necessary distance between officers and men, symbolically captured by the physical barrier in the so-called hut and the gentleman and players toilet arrangements outside.

The heroic leaders of a century ago have mostly had their original status reappraised. I was not surprised to learn that Scott had been given the hero to zero treatment. The BBC and The Telegraph revisited the biography by Roland Huntford, The Last Place on Earth. .

Huntford accuses Scott of being temperamentally unfit for command, an ambitious but insecure man who alienated those under him; a bungler who failed to learn the lessons of previous polar expeditions, lessons that might have saved his men. Amundsen, says Huntford, was more professional than his opponent, who personified all that was worst in the British cult of amateurism.

Leadership lessons

Fogle reflects on the leadership lessons that had occurred to him through the trip. Had Scott’s leadership style contributed to the disaster? This implicitly suggests that the apparently more modern, less autocratic style on an Amundsen or a Shackleton would have been less likely to have contributed to a glorious failure. Does the drama show the increasing interaction between technology, heroism, and celebrity? If so, can we see the time line stretching back as far as Alexander the Great and Julius Caesar, who also were acutely aware of the importance of managing history on behalf of posterity? And is the BBC now locked into ways of spelling out to an audience the sort of emotions they are expected to feel regarding a story, using Ben Foden or some other celebrity presenter?


Nadal beats Murray on clay. No surprise. Confirmation Murray needs to unlearn some play patterns

April 17, 2011

Nadal continues his astonishing winning streak on clay. It is no surprise to anybody that he beat Andy Murray in the Semi-finals at Monte Carlo, although romantic British commentators on Sky spoke briefly of momentum when Murray won a set.

Update

The semi-final of the French Open chapionships [June 3rd 3011] saw a replay of this contest …

Even winning a set against Nadal on clay is an achievement for any tennis player. Particularly so for a player such as Andy Murray, who has had such deep swings in his playing performances over the last two years.

A thought from leadership research

One thought from leadership research: the leadership maps remain unclear as to how easy it is for a leader to switch behavioural style according to circumstances. Behaviours can be consciously modified. For example, someone comfortable with a task-oriented style can recognise when people skills are needed, and act accordingly. However, under pressure, the tendency is to revert to the habitual and preferred style. High-level sports contests in general, and Murray’s performances as a specific example, confirm this general principle.

A pattern of setbacks

In January 2009 Murray played great tennis in the Australian open before losing in the final. The loss triggered a dismal series of further losses over a period of months. In January 2010 he again reached the final of the Australian open. Once again he lost without winning a set. Once again the loss was followed by a miserable run of form which extended to this week’s tournament at Monte Carlo.

Meanwhile, Murray continues to seek a coach that will help him make a step up to become a serious contender for Grand Slam titles. At present he is (again) ‘between appointments’.

If you always do …

If in trouble in a match, Murray often switches play and more often than not goes on to extricate himself from trouble. That being said, There are patterns to his play which together with natural talent make him one of the strongest players of his era. Yet in sport, as in strategy, there is no such thing as an absolute strength. Stylistic strengths have what are sometimes called ‘allowable weaknesses’. Murray is a great counter-puncher. This can sometimes be favoured and he is acc used of being unwilling to attack powerfully enough. His skill at breaking back lost serves may have contributed to his persisting difficulty in developing a reliable first serve.

Patterns of play can be broken. A great player, and Murray deserves such an accolade on various counts, can overcome weaknesses. It is not an impossibility that Murray will reach the final of a grand slam event several more times; winning one is not beyond the bounds of possibility. However, (and it is a big however), without some radical developments in his game, he may well remain one of the nearly greats who nearly achieved greatness in the eyes of the sporting world. He will remain an example of the maxim If you always do what you’ve always done you’ll always get what you’ve always got.