Warren Gatland: Rugby’s effective answer to charismatic leadership

June 26, 2013

Warren GatlandThe Lion’s tour of Australia has thrust their coach Warren Gatland into the media spotlight. His appearance and actions demonstrate that effectiveness in a leader does not necessarily require a charismatic style

Warren Gatland has appeared in literally hundreds of news items during the Lion’s rugby tour of Australia. Dozens of commentators have offered their views of his strategic decisions. I have not come across any that have implied he is a charismatic leader. Nor had I come across severe criticism of the effectiveness of his decision-making in the areas of team selection and match preparation and tactics until the announcement [2nd July 2013] of the team to play the final and series-determining test match.

Effective and non-charismatic

That leads me to conclude that he is widely perceived as both highly effective and non-charismatic. Someone surfing the Leaders We Deserve site recently was searching for evidence that Gatland might be transactional in leadership style. He can show both transactional and transformational elements in his comments about players and their motivations.

His low-key press performances suggest that he is has an uncomplicated way of understanding the needs of his players which avoids the dangers of showing favouritism. This was important, because Gatland had coached the successful Welsh squad to success prior to the tour, and will resume duties after it. Journalists from the other Rugby playing countries England, Scotland and the combined Irish territories might have hinted at favouritism in selection. Gatland’s frank press conferences may have contributed to avoiding that criticism. The evidence is that he has largely addressed the dangers of demotivated ‘second class citizens’ playing only in the provincial games. This has bedevilled earlier tours including the one coached by [Sir] Clive Woodward.

Kicking out the box

I don’t like to capture leadership style as a fixed and unitary trait. Style is better (in my judgement) treated as a description of an important pattern of behaviour that may change with circumstances. That incidentally is the basis of situational leadership theory which suggests just that, offering style as variable according to circumstances or contingencies. Beware of boxing people into one fixed style of behaviour.

Level five leadership

I have written in the past about level five leaders in sport, a term attributed to Jim Collins. The theory is that charismatics have powerful influencing skills, but tend to be tripped up by their own ego. Level five leadership has been described as demonstrated by those who show fierce resolve with less intrusion of personal ego. Which may suit what we have seen of Warren Gatland recently. But I hope that assessment is not the same as putting him into a conceptual box.

I write this still uncertain if the Lions will win the three match test series. The outcome will not impact on the evidence of Gatland’s effectiveness or style.

Hero to zero?

The Warren Gatland story hit the headlines internationally through his selection decisions for the final test. The series decider took place after a one-point loss by the Lions in the second match. Gatland made several changes. These would have been controversial as the starting XV contained no Scottish representatives and ten players from Wales the country Gatland now coaches. But the most shocking omission was that of BOD (Brian O’Driscoll) Irish legend who would have been playing in hist last Lions test match. Gatland, it is worth noticing, was a successful coach of Ireland’s national team in the past. He had noticed and nurtured O’Driscoll’s great talent.

The selection was widely criticized, provoking bitterness and anger in the judgements of such authorities as Sottish commentator Ian Robertson, and by former Irish commentator Keith Wood. I found the hundreds of comments in web-discussion sites both depressing and enlightening. Fury and anger was directed towards Gatland. The most widespread comments were that he was an inept decision-maker, following a dubious strategy which involved picking his ‘own’ Welsh players. (Gatland is from New Zealand, incidentally, the country most fiercely competitive against Australia.). One more balanced comment reminded us that Gatland is notoriously unsentimental in his decision-making. At the start of the Lion’s tour he left behind Sean Edwards, his [English} coach to the Welsh team’s backs. Edwards Felt ‘gutted’ about the decision.

The most revealing comments indicate that Gatland should be judged on whether the Lions win the final test. I have explained above why I think that is a poor way of assessing a leader’s capabilities. But I welcome comments from LWD subscribers.


Dawkins re-interprets memes and offers a creative tautology

June 25, 2013

Reviewed by John Keane

Rickard Dawkins continues his Odyssey in search of scientific truth against the forces of superstition. In the sponsored advertising video Just for Hits he raises interesting questions about the logic behind his reasoning and the hint of tautology in that logic

What lies at the core of this eight-minute glossy video? Its title hints at it. At one level it is Just for Hits. That which is designed is designed for a purpose, he declares. If designs are fit for purpose they survive and spread.

He has already borrowed the metaphor of a virus. Concepts intended to spread are fit for purpose if they spread. I rather like to concept of a meme spreading through imitation. It offers a description (but not necessarily an explanation) of the processes of cultural replication. I am the sort of person who likes to examine possible mechanisms in search of explanations. The principle behind a design, if you like.

The Darwinian principle of natural selection

The Darwinian principle of natural selection is a very satisfactory one which fits observations and permits predictive trials. I prefer it to other wide-range explanations, as does Professor Dawkins. The mechanism is elegantly captured in the notion of blind variation and selective choice.

‘As if’

At very least, I believe that the concept captured as blind variation and selective choice ‘works’ in the natural world. It offers what most scientists would consider a robust basis of an explanatory theory. Its scientific respectability can be examined in various ways. One way is to assess its success as if it describes what results in the variety of the world, the survival of genetic material or natural selection. It works as if the world operated according to its beautifully elegant principles.

The whiff of tautology

I am not the first to be troubled by a whiff of tautology in the concept of natural selection. I struggle with the argument that ‘success’ in evolutionary terms arises because the successful are more equipped to succeed.
Many years ago, before I had heard of Richard Dawkins, I asked a distinguished Professor of Cell Biology whether a gene was a material entity or a metaphor. He told me that was a good question, which I came to suspect was polite way of saying he would have trouble providing an answer.

For the hits

The whiff of tautology is stronger in the concept of a meme. The closest I get to the memetic replicator is that humans have a deeply-embedded inclination to imitate. Well, yes. So viral messages ‘go viral’ because they have something which triggers the imitative response. Their purpose is to exist.

Creativity

Dawkins suggests that creativity may be part of the story. He reinvents (or knowingly imitates) a mechanism for creativity examined by scholars such as Dean Simonton. Pithily, it is a version of the natural selection mechanism of blind variation and selective choice.

The ghost in the machine

Arthur Koestler was another deep thinker about the act of creation. He offered the wonderful metaphor of the brain as a machine, with creativity as the ghost in the machine. This recognizes the mysterious nature of the creative principle. Professor Hawkins has written about his own sense of awe at the evolutionary principle. Koestler would probably agree, although perhaps favouring the aha moment of creative discovery. Another of his books was called The Sleep Walkers which examines the way progress is ‘stumbled upon’

Acknowledgement

To Andrew Brown who drew my attention to the tautology in his comment piece about Richard Dawkins’ meaningless meme.


The Obamas speak peace in Northern Island

June 23, 2013

Barack and Michelle Obama address the achievements and challenges facing Northern Island.

I was not intending to blog yet again on a speech by a leading politician. As I listened to the context of the speeches and introductions [17th June 2013] I became more intrigued about the political messages and composition of the speeches. President Obama had taken the opportunity of meeting with an audience of mainly young people prior to the G8 summit being held this week. Here are my immediate notes:

A sixteen year-old introduces the First Lady. She speaks clearly with clear yet well-crafted words of hopes and demands of young people.

Michelle Obama speaks. Her words are also clear and well-crafted. Here is someone who believes in a future guarded by the aspirations of young people. It spoke to Northern Island but she could have been speaking in any of a hundred other countries. The message is partly clear because it is uncluttered.
See introduces her husband with well-received gentle irony.

Barack speaks. At first his message is not clear and well-crafted. Its local references do not quite work. The jokes do not quite work.

He moves almost hesitantly to his main point, his key metaphor. Much has been achieved in fifteen years since The Good Friday agreement but there is still much to do. He spoke of walls keeping communities separate. Now his speech was clear. Northern Island continues to remind the World that there may not be peace but we must hold to the promise of peace.

Fifteen hundred young people and battle-hardened politicians were still applauding after the Obamas had left the hall.

Footnote

The speech by President Obama appears to have been made in relatively relaxed mood the anticipated difficulties of dealing with the Syrian conflict at the G8 meeting. President Putin was sending vigorous signals that the West was calamitously wrong in its emerging policy towards arming the insurgency in Syria.


Charlotte Hogg appointed hew Chief Operating Officer at the Bank of England

June 21, 2013

Charlotte Hogg, new COO of the Bank of EnglandMark Carney, the incoming governor, has appointed Charlotte Hogg as Chief Operating Officer of The Bank of England running all day-to-day management functions.

The news this week [June 19th 2013] suggests evidence of changes accompanying the arrival of the new governor of the Bank of England.

Whenever a banker is appointed or leaves, the public is avid for further evidence of the cupidity our financial leaders. In this case, the figures speak for themselves. She will work for the same salary, £260,000 salary p.a. and benefits as the Bank’s three deputy governors. Last year she is reported to have earned, with bonuses, £2.5m in her senior post in Santander

According to the BBC

Charlotte Hogg, who like Carney studied at Oxford and Harvard, started her career at the Bank before moving to McKinsey in Washington. She has also worked at Morgan Stanley, before joining Experian as head of its operations in the UK and Ireland.
Hogg is descended from one of Britain’s most high profile political families. Her mother is Baroness (Sarah) Hogg, a senior adviser to Sir John Major when he was prime minister. Her father is Viscount Hailsham, the former Tory cabinet minister Douglas Hogg, who gained notoriety when he stepped down as an MP after claiming £2,200 expenses for cleaning the moat at his 13th-century country estate. Her paternal grandfather was Lord Hailsham, a former lord chancellor. “You can have too much of a good thing in one family,” Hogg once told her local newspaper.

Paul Tucker, the Bank’s deputy governor for financial stability who lost out on the top job to Carney, announced his intention to leave the Bank last week. Prior to Charlotte Hogg, the most senior woman at the Bank was Rachel Lomax, who served as a deputy governor from 2003 to 2008.

One small step for Charlotte …?

November 2014

The move to redress inequality in top financial posts is likely to be of limited impact. The proportion of women entering the Economics profession remains low.


Steven Hester: A good leader in a bad place at RBS

June 15, 2013

This week Stephen Hester was removed from his post as CEO of the Royal bank of Scotland. The decision seems more politically than financially inspired

LWD has followed the RBS story since Steven Hester’s arrival in 2010. Steven Hester: Villain, hero, or just an outstanding business leader?. The post is summarized below:

Royal Bank of Scotland took its turn this week as another giant banking institution paying ridiculous bonuses while still in hock to the Government’s bail-out scheme. Its leader Steven Hester is reviled as another fat-cat financial leader insensitive to public opinion. Contrition is a rather hard emotion for a leader to fake. So when one of them appears to be making a good fist of apologizing without appearing a pathetic wimp and maybe a bit of a damp rag as a leader, it’s worth taking a more careful look. The broadcast [March 2010] showed the BBC’s Hugh Pym asked RBS’s CEO Stephen Hester, why were there still such big losses for RBS. In three minutes, Henson left me with the impression of someone capable of a mix of toughness and sensitivity as a leader.

Later

Three years later it was well-known that he had taken a cut in earnings to take on one of the most challenging jobs in the Financial world and that the bank has made an impressive turnaround under his leadership.

The politics of Hester’s dismissal

Chris Blackhurst, Writing in The Independent, offered an explanation for Hester’s departure.
that the Chancellor now needed a more compliant leader in the run up to privatization of RBS. He points out that under Hestor’s leadership the bank improved its balance sheet to the sum of a staggering trillion pounds sterling.

As a result of volunteering, he’d become a public figure, his private life dissected, his country house photographed from a helicopter. A snap of Hester in the garb of his pastime of fox-hunting was wheeled out to traduce him as “another fat cat banker on the make, except this was one who was now being paid by us, the taxpayer”.

Yet, he’d chosen to do it and was sticking with the task. So, why wasn’t I surprised at the announcement of his going? Because his face never fitted. Behind the scenes, Hester could be an awkward customer. Softly spoken and eloquent (for a banker), he was strong intellectually, fully prepared to speak his mind, not prepared to lie down easily in front of politicians and civil servants without banking experience and know-how.
Osborne made plain his wish to be seen to begin the process of privatization in 2014 – in other words, well in advance of the 2015 general election. Hester indicated he would stay until 2015 when the bank was expected to be restored to profitability – after that, though, he was unlikely to want to remain any longer.

Hester’s reluctance has been used to oust him. It’s a fig leaf, as is the notion that while he was good at cutting he’s not someone who knows how to grow a business and he’s not a natural front-of-house salesman of the sort who would persuade [the general public] to snap up the shares. Having steered Hester to and through the door, Osborne must now find a successor. It won’t be easy.

The stock market agreed. This week RBS shares tumbled.

The sloppy and amateurish manner in which Hester’s departure was handled cost UK taxpayers dear as the shares tumbled at the market open on Thursday [14th June 2013], down almost 8.5% at one point as investors made their feelings clear at the bizarre turn of events.

Dilemmas

The story makes interesting material for business students interested in dilemmas and interpreting the decisions made by leaders.


We banned TV shows with kids in beauty contests. What about Mensa’s brain contests?

June 12, 2013

TV review of Child Genius Channel four

“This will split the critics” I thought, watching Channel Four’s first episode of Child Genius yesterday evening.

A bunch of very bright per-teenagers were competing in the programme to find Britain’s top child genius. The producers had no trouble sticking to the guidelines from countless quiz and celebrity shows. Mensa , the high IQ society, provided dubious cover for the methodology.

Was the show watchable? Enough to keep our domestic group from voting with the remote. Compelling? In a guilty voyeuristic way for me. Convincing? Only if you believed genius can be measured and ranked. It’s about as convincing as The Apprentice is in identifying business genius.

Hero villains

The parents were set up as hero villains and could have also been ranked on a tiger mother scale. Some were up there in the near crazed obsessional league. One or two looked more bemused than bullying.

Chess and genius

I watched because of the news that Josh, a per-teen chess prodigy , ould take part. My interest in these rare creatures began when I had the fortune to be utterly outclassed in a competitive chess game by English prodigy Nigel Short, who was thirteen at the time. Many years earlier, I had had more success as a schoolboy playing against Brian Josephson, who was already considered the brightest kid ever to have come out of the Welsh valleys, and who later won a Nobel Prize in theoretical Physics.

Chess is a field that reinforced the view of the need for ten thousand hours of study for a child to develop into a grand-master. Josh’s mother is a born again ten-thousand hours acolyte. As often happens, a dominant idea resists scientific evidence that challenges it. So I won’t try, although the notion at very least it could benefit from a Richard Dawkins to provide a contrary explanation of giftedness.

Then there’s Einstein, Newton and Mozart

A thought experiment. The young Einstein, Newton, and Mozart are brought together to compete in the international all-time child genius TV show. What’s that? Mensa flunked them Einstein and Newton before they got into the televised bit, as slow, possibly of low IQ. That’s what their school teachers thought. But, hey, their teachers didn’t have the help of Mensa to identify their potential genius. Mozart, by the way, had been wowing them musically since the age of four, and was given special dispensation to appear.


Edward Snowden, Bradley Manning and the Rise of the Heroic Villain

June 11, 2013


The old certainties of heroes and villains are being swept away in a global world of whistle blowers and spies

This week [June 2013], Edward Snowden, an articulate 29 year old American revealed a story of a vast and secret operation conducted by the National Security Agency [the NSA]. At the same time, Bradley Manning the US soldier in the wikileaks affair stands trial as a traitor.

Snowden and Manning have both been portrayed as dangerous and misguided, while at the same time they have found admirers for their courageous stance against the dangers inherent in State security activities.

The Guardian Newspaper broke the story, which had been volunteered by Snowden

The Guardian, after several days of interviews, is revealing [Snowden’s] identity at his request. From the moment he decided to disclose numerous top-secret documents to the public, he was determined not to opt for the protection of anonymity. “I have no intention of hiding who I am because I know I have done nothing wrong,” he said.

Snowden will go down in history as one of America’s most consequential whistleblowers, alongside Daniel Ellsberg and Bradley Manning. He is responsible for handing over material from one of the world’s most secretive organisations – the NSA.

The Prism program

Reality mirrors fiction in the revelations by Snowden of The Prism spying program.

Apple, Facebook and Google issued strongly-worded denials that they had knowingly participated in Prism, a top-secret system at the National Security Agency that collects emails, documents, photos and other material for agents to review.

The Traitor Hero

In the 1970s, Daniel Ellsberg [mentioned above] leaked The Pentagon Papers which revealed Government decision-making in the Vietnam war. His status as traitor was revised as he received international recognition of his actions. Manning stands trial as a traitor in America. Snowden, currently in Hong Kong [June 2013] believes he will face a similar fate. President Obama struggles to contain the story

Heroes or Traitors? Or both?

Ellsberg has come out in support of Snowden as a hero. Initial press comments are polarized but there is a strong case for accepting a ‘both and’ rather than an ‘either or’ perspective.