Steve Cram: “We appoint the leaders we deserve”

November 12, 2015

Steve CramNearly ten years ago, the first Leaders We Deserve post was published. Steve Cram suggests its relevance to the current problems of international sporting institutions

Hours after the monumental Press Conference and publication of WADA’s report [9 October 2015] Steve Cram gave his views on the crisis in sports management globally. He was asked why the whole situation had been allowed to go on unchecked. He replied that he was over fifty years old and had been living with drug doping since he was a young (and world-beating) athlete. We are all involved, he added. Media, athletes, administrators … we appointed them, we get the leaders we deserve.

Steve Cram gave a video interview [10 October 2015] in which he elaborated on his earlier remarks:

Cram says “we are all to blame” for allowing people “not up to scratch” to get into powerful positions in world sport, but believes that IAAF president Lord Coe is the man to enact change within athletics.

For those interested, the ABOUT box on our home page traces the conversations with subscribers since the blog started in 2016 and introduces its basic ideas:

The concept behind the Blog’s title is that leadership can be treated as a social concept. We create our leaders, and to some degree build them up and destroy them. In that sense, we are responsible for the influence that leaders exercise over the rest of us. If we understand more about this, we may better understand and mediate the behaviour of leaders (In very early discussion thread, someone rightly pointed out the importance of clarifying ‘who are the ‘we’ in all this).

My previous studies had been mainly of business leaders, but I could see how there could be some similarities, and some differences, in the leadership stories in other fields, such as politics, military and sporting endeavours.

 


Tensionitis and Performance Anxiety

October 9, 2015

Eva AsderakiThe recently completed US Tennis Open provides excellent examples of the tensions and anxiety that reduce performance. We look at the stories and what the top players do to overcome the problems of ‘tensionitis’, and suggest relevance to business leaders.

Let’s start with the stories that emerged as the tournament unfolded, before looking at the  tensions which might have been important as factors in their outcomes.

First, there was talent and courage of the players which gave so many moments of high drama.

The Serena slam story did not have the intended fairy-tale ending. Instead it had a quirky, unexpected and delightful conclusion.

The clash of the titans when Novak and Roger met was as heroic as might have been expected.

The Big Serving Guys (BSGs)

The Big Serving Guys (BSGs) such as Eisner and Anderson did a lot of damage in earlier rounds, putting out seeded players including Kai Nishikori and Andy Murray.   But the BSGs all eventually stumbled out to the very top players.

In this respect I wanted to reserve the classification of BSGs for very tall players using their greater height to produce unreturnable serves. (‘unreturnable serfs’ as my predictive text put it, sounding slightly Scandinavian). Federer had a great serve which wrought havoc. But he fits into the rare category of a more normal-sized player with an exceptional serve.

The conclusion reached is  that BSGs have developed a style of play which gives then advantages over the games in a set until a tie break is reached. In tie breaks the advantages are balanced out by their inexperience in the pressures of having to avoid dropping any point, particularly against top players who have been learning about the serving patterns of the BSG. This means BSGs win slam events more rarely than might be expected.

Tensions and performance anxieties

When we look more carefully, we find examples of how tensions influenced performance in numerous matches starting from day one to the finals of the last two days. No player was completely immune. Even Serena had been showing unusual signs of fragility under the great pressures of closing out the Serena slam.

The great struggle between Federer and Djokovic in the final  again showed that even the greatest players have to deal with nerves as critical points approached. In that final, both the players mostly showed astonishing skills at what has been called Thinking Clearly Under Pressure (‘TEA CUP’). But  clarity of thought is always fighting against more emotional processes. Put another way, as the sports psychologist Jim Peters puts it, we all have our inner chimp to control.

Some points for reflection

Point 1.   However Godlike we treat them,  even the greatest players have to deal with the tensions of the moment. They may just have exceptional control over them rather than being controlled by them.

Johanna Konta and Simona Halep each could be taken as an example of a player who overcome performance anxiety. In the past, each of these of these young players had suffered from serious problems of inconsistency which were holding back their potential. Joanna chose to work with a ‘mind coach’ who specialized in reducing anxiety pressures of financial managers. Her story became more widely noticed as she beat several top twenty plates as she built up a winning streak of eighteen winning matches. Simona’s story is even more remarkable. She turned to a new coach partly to develop her serve into a powerful weapon. She also confessed she needed help as she had lost all confidence under pressure. Under her new coach, Simona moved up to World No 2.

Point 2. Performance anxiety is deep-rooted but can be controlled. The player may find it easier with a new mental approach introduced by a new coach.

John Isner had won 108 service games without one loss in this year’s and part of last year’s US Open. But when Federer took him to a tie break and unleashed another service winner of his own, Isner abruptly hit the wall and could not make a first serve. Performance Anxiety or the dreaded ‘Yips’ had taken over his play.

Point 3. When a playing strength which has brought success is not working successfully, the tensions mount. An automatic pilot action is interrupted and the player starts thinking, so ‘staying in the zone’ becomes increasingly difficult.

During the tournament, several players found ways of reducing tension often involving self-harm. Murray is well known for smacking himself in anger. Interestingly, having now dispensed with her mind-calming coach, has reverted to self-abuse slapping her sole vigorously. Kyrgios sulks, pretends to give, and calculates fines for racquet abuse. Coco V destroyed a racquet with such enthusiasm, that a U Tube of the violence went viral

Point 4 Violent physical action is a widely-found mechanism for tension release. There may be diminishing returns on such approaches though the effect known as habituation. The press is essentially defined as a decline in response for a specific applied stimulus.

Rafa Nadal is a case study of tensions nearly overwhelming a great athlete. The symptoms are easier to identify than to remedy. After a period of near invincibility on clay courts, Rafa sustained serious injuries and time out. On returning to tournament play he was clearly no longer invincible. While this period of recovery was to be expected, but other players realised they had a chance to beat him. His loss on the clay courts of The French Open helped as the French say to ‘encourager les autres’

Nadal had slumped to No 8 in the rankings in the US Open before losing to the unpredictable Italian Fognini. At the press conference he showed his awareness that he had to his mind overcome his nerves even if he had lost the match

I fighted until the last point all the time, good attitude. Not enough to win today. I lost a couple matches this year like this. But the good thing is my mind allows me to fight until the end as I did during all my career. Sometimes this year I was not able to do that. So I am happy with that. I enjoyed the crowd. Was amazing support out there. Just very special feeling be out there with that support. I enjoyed that. I tried to fight until the last ball. I believe I did, but was not enough today.

Point 5 Rafa knew he had to overcome mental as well as physical problems in returning to the top table of the game. He seems to draw comfort that although he lost, he lost not because of nerves. However, this may not of itself be enough to deal with the problem. He has to date remained loyal to his ‘Uncle Tony and coaching staff. Maybe he will have to take the tough decision that Halep, Murray and others took to make progress.

Discussion welcomed

Discussion is welcomed on the issues raised in this post.

 

 


The Twitter Manifesto

April 23, 2015

ManifestoGood morning and welcome to the launch of the Twitter Manifesto. I speak on behalf of our great spiritual leader Stephen who is fasting for forty days as a gesture of his humility

He has trusted groundlings such as myself to capture his will (if not his incomparable wit) in presenting our Manifesto to the world.

Today is a further step forward to millions of tweeters who until now have no representation in any Parliament outside the twittersphere. Our pledge is to work towards a referendum for an independent Twittersphere.

The digital click

We seek a poll  based on a simple digital yes or no click, on the question:

Should The Twittersphere be granted complete political and economic independence from any outside influences?

Our Manifesto outlines the overwhelming case for a yes vote, and the steps we, The Twitter Nationalist Party, intend to take, to secure such an outcome

Our triumphal journey

First, I would like to indicate the enormous strides taken by twitter as the dominant global communication movement over the last ten years. Since our inception in 2006 by founding fathers Jack Dorsey, Evan Williams, Biz Stone and Noah Glass we have gained worldwide popularity.

The ecstatic formation

The conception took in a pronged day of ecstatic frenzy held by board members of the podcasting company Odeo. Within months, the enlightened ones had formed Obvious Corporation and acquired Odeo, together with its assets.

By 2012 our 100 million users were posting 340 million tweets every day. EVERY DAY. Now, at the start of 2015, we are proud to report that number has grown to an incredible 500 million users, over half of whom are dedicated and serial tweeters.

From Larry to Twitter Bird

In that year, we unveiled the replacement to the beloved Larry the Bird with an updated icon we have called “Twitter Bird” .

Our triumph over naysayers

In 2014 we triumphed over a cynical world of naysayers who doubted that we had a business model, and launched our glorious Initial Public offering.

Over a tumultuous decade, we  have overcome many setbacks. Vicious and spiteful individuals attempted to abuse our high moral intentions with outbursts of malicious trolling.

Our achievements

Twitter has been used to organize protests, sometimes referred to as “Twitter Revolutions”, which include the Egyptian revolution, (2011) The Arab Spring, (2009–2010) and other outburst of e-activism. Twitter has proved itself as an effective emergency communication system for breaking news. For example, The Boston Police tweeted news of the arrest of the 2013 Boston Marathon Bombing suspect through our services.

Today, Twitter is used in scientific studies to track epidemics and acts to signal natural disasters such as bush fires.

Truly, Twitter is the global political movement of the future, and I commend it to all for your support in achieving our noble goals.

And now for your questions

Thank you. And now for your questions, (in no more than 140 characters, please).


Andy Murray v Yuri Bhambri : Cave-man tactics and their limitations in sport and maybe in business

January 19, 2015

Caveman

When a qualifier meets a top seeded tennis player, sometimes caveman tactics result. We review Andy Murray’s march with Yuri Bhambri, and consider the implications of all-out aggression in other sports and in business

The start of the Australian Open, the first major of the season. Somewhat against my better judgment, I get up in the small hours in the UK to see how Andy Murray is doing. His opponent, Yuki Bhambri, is a qualifier and ranked 317 in the world.

1st set

Half an hour into the match. Bhambri’s aggression is impressive. Murray breaks Bhambri’s serve but failed to capitalise, being broken himself, ringing the first set to a tense four games all. Murray then breaks and holds to take the set 6-4.

Both players are making excellent winners, but both are rather prone to unforced errors..

2nd set

Bhambri serves first and holds. A discordant but enthusiastic chant rises up from tee-shirted Murray supporters. In the next game, good defense from the Indian draws errors from Murray, but the Scot’s resolve helps him survive; 1-1.

Bhambri continues with his aggressive style of play and wins service after more winners and errors. Murray replies with a love game bringing it to 2-2. Bhambri is still the aggressor and seems to be benefiting from winning though three rounds of qualifiers Murray breaks, then holds, making it 5-3.

Take out the errors…

Minus a few errors from each game, the quality of the match is more suited to be a second week tie. An edited film would be misleading. The commentators suggest Bhambri is playing like a top fifty player.

Defend Rally Attack

Murray continues to plays rather defensively with flashes of brilliance. I remember the coaching maxim: Defend Rally Attack. Murray too inclined to defend and Rally; Bhambri too inclined to go from defend to attack. This is evident again as Murray moves to 40-15. In returning, the all out attack opens up court, higher risk [one attacking return forces Murray to attack not rally, and he hits winner down the line. Murray wins serve reasonably easily and takes the set.

0nce the pattern is seen, it becomes clearer. Bhambri does not rally enough. I think of chess. All-out attack is the weaker player’s weapon which too often accelerates defeat, although the infrequent wins reinforces the pattern of ‘cave man’ play. [which suggests another idea: the infrequent upsets against seeds more obvious in first rounds, more chances for the cave man play to succeed.

Third set

A good example in first game of third set, when Bhambri grabs an ad point then a net point for him wins game and a break. Murray continues to rally and wait for errors. The pattern for me seems to persist but Bhambri wins and extends lead to 4-1. Murray wins own serve. 4-2. Pattern persists, and Murray breaks back. 4-4 and eventually into tie break.

Prediction for tie break

My prediction is that failure to Defend Rally Attack more dangerous in the tie break Murray goes to 5-2 then 6-2 and 6-3 but two then Murray closes it out as Bahmrhi ballons out a return.

Murray’s verdict

Opponent is a junior world champion, but injury explains his low ranking.

Notes

Caveman chess was a popular term among British chess players to refer to violent attacks often unsound but always unsettling.

Rather than show an image of one ‘caveman’ chess player I had in mind, I choose the image from Wikipedia Commons.

Also thanks to Conor for helping in the editing process.


How Kazuo Inamori revived Japan Airlines

January 12, 2013

Kazuo Inamori

NOTE TO SUBSCRIBERS: THIS IS AN UPDATABLE POST

When Japan Airlines nearly went bust three years ago they called for an eighty year old who had no experience of running an airline. He is now hailed for his results and for his manner of delivering them

Kazuo Inamori had already earned great respect in Japan for his entrepreneurial and leadership skills. These were demonstrated three decades ago when he founded the DDI Corporation (now KDDI), which become a leading telecommunication services provider in Japan. Two decades earlier in 1959 he had created Kyocera, now a multinational electronics and ceramics business.

Read the rest of this entry »


Stuart Rose and the Beethoven Effect

July 9, 2009

Beethoven

Beethoven

When Napoleon took on wider powers, Beethoven rejected his onetime idol. Is Stuart Rose getting the Beethoven treatment at Marks and Spencer?

Stuart Rose has won the acclaim of ordinary shareholders and institutional investors alike as CEO of Marks and Spencers. But his move to take on the powers of Chairman and Chief Executive has not been so widely approved. Is this a modern-day Beethoven effect?

Music lovers are brought up on the tale of Beethoven’s admiration of Napoleon and how it turned to wrath when Napoleon declared himself Emperor of France.

A work originally entitled “Bonaparte Symphony” … was renamed when Bonaparte crowned himself emperor, a move which angered Beethoven. As legend has it, the composer ripped through the title page and later renamed the symphony the Eroica, refusing to dedicate one of his pieces to the man he now considered a “tyrant”.

When Business Leaders fall …

The fall of a Business Leader can also be accompanied by a rapid flip ‘from hero to zero’ , as many case examples in LWD have illustrated. Recently a spate of examples accompanied the fall of failed financial executives such as Fred Goodwin.

The hero-to-zero effect in some ways is a throwback to the days of The Great Leader, a period during which charismatic personality was believed to be the driving force behind transformational change.

The Governance Issue

There has been uneasiness about the joint role since last year’s AGM. However, despite continued turbulent times in the retail sector, Sir Stuart’s track-record as entrepreneurial leader remains relatively intact.

At this week’s AGM he retained considerable support, although the Governance issue will not go away.

Sir Stuart has been under pressure from institutional investors for more than a year over the board’s controversial decision to allow him to hold the roles of chairman and chief executive, which is against best corporate governance.
[One] said if Sir Stuart were to stand down early as chairman, he should consider leaving the board altogether. Sir Stuart’s urbane response was to say he was “a servant of the board. If they wish me to stay I will be here until the latest July 2011.”
The Universities Superannuation Scheme called for Sir David Michels, deputy chairman and senior independent director to be made chairman at least on an interim basis. “If Sir David would become the chairman, and I would become the chief executive, it’s moving . . . back to the past,” Sir Stuart replied. And while Sir Stuart could charm the audience, he could not escape the words of Councillor Ian Greenwood, urging support for a motion for him to hand back [the Chairmanship] “Whatever happens we are not going away.”

The Wider Issues

Students of leadership will recognise the wider issues implied in the ongoing story of Sir Stuart Rose’s leadership. At one level there is the technical matter of corporate governanace. At another level these is the process through which a powerful leader appears to seize greater powers ‘in the interests of the company or country’.

In other words, the Beethoven effect.

Acknowledgement

Close examination of the Beethoven image reveals it to be an ironic comment on the great man’s coiffure, to be found on a blogpost by Charlie White


Who wants to hire leaders of failed banks? More organizations than you might think

June 7, 2009
Andy Hornby

Andy Hornby

Leaders of failed financial institutes have been widely castigated, and their competence challenged. But some remain in high demand. Andy Hornby is a case in point

This week, Alliance Boots was reported to be close to appointing Andy Hornby as CEO of its successful international business.

Alliance Boots is Europe’s largest wholesale and retail player in the pharmaceutical industry and employs 115,000 people. It is currently run by the Italian billionaire Stefano Pessina, who holds the post of executive chairman. “Alliance Boots confirms it is currently engaged in discussions with Andy Hornby, who is a leading candidate for the role,” the firm said in a statement.

Mr Hornby, in charge of HBOS at the time of the bank’s near-collapse last autumn, is among several candidates for the post. Before moving to HBOS he spent time in senior posts at supermarket giant Asda.

If we believe the rumours [June 7th 2009] Andy Hornby is back in fashion.

Hornby, formerly of HBOS, remains be one of the more highly regarded of recently deposed financial leaders.

LWD had reported positively on his leadership style after his interview with the BBC’s Robert Peston a few months before the banking crisis reached its peak (or do I mean trough?).

We had been tracking his story since the time that Mr Hornby had been assessed as one of the high flying British business leaders. He had enjoyed considerable success in his appointments Asda and Blue Circle, and then at the Halifax building society. He had also gained particular credit for the way he handled the Halifax merger with the Bank of Scotland, although his style was seen as less dynamic than that of more entrepreneurial banking leaders.

What’s going on

There are several interesting questions arising from the story of the re-emergence of Mr Hornby as a credible leader. Why should he now be the ultimate choice as its leader by a successful firm such as Alliance Boots? What explanation might be offered for the rumored appointment?

I believe there is a clue in the information provided above. Whatever explanation you might come up with, it helps knock on the head simplistic beliefs that all discredited banking executives have no further prospects of gainful employment in senior leadership positions.


Cerberus is a Test for Old-style Capitalism

February 2, 2009

cerberus-wikipedia

Cerberus had become a flagship for Private Equity, the dynamic but controversial approach to business success under conditions of old style capitalism. Will it remain an example of a successful business model in the current financial turmoil?

The fate of Cerberus over the next year or so will serve as in indicator of the robustness of what is now seen as old-style unbridled capitalism grounded in financial instrumentation, high risk and high return to stakeholders.

Leaders we deserve has come across two examples of its investments one large and internationally famed (Chrysler) , one smaller and UK-based (Focus DIY).

The secretive Cerberus acquired Focus DIY from Duke Street and Apax Partners two years ago in a £225m deal, which involved it acquiring the home improvement chain’s debt at a big discount and buying its equity for a nominal £1.

This is a drop in the ocean compared with the $7.4bn (£5.4bn) Cerberus spent on a 51 per cent of GMAC, the financing arm of General Motors, or the $7.4bn it used to acquire 80.9 per cent of Chrysler from Daimler in Germany. Cerberus has been forced to go to Washington with cap in hand, seeking a bail-out of Chrysler, which is in talks to sell a stake to Fiat in Italy after receiving $1.5bn of government loans, and GMAC, which received a $6bn lifeline from taxpayer funds

Paying dirty and the supply chain

If there was any doubt that retailing is a cut-throat business, current reports dispel them. The elegant business school models of supply -chains may have to be modified to capture a bit more of the nasties. ‘Dirty money’ another FT article called it.

“We are seeing more retailers shift their risk to the supply side and try to extend terms,” said a direct apparel manufacturer that sells to clothing chains, department stores, and discounters. “It’s been a minefield for vendors,” he noted, adding that the industry is bracing for a record-number of retail bankruptcy filings from February to March [2009].

Focus DIY

Focus DIY is feeling the crunch as its credit insurance dries up. Focus feels this is entirely to do with the seizing-up of the financial situation, and that its primary credit insurer Atradius

http://www.atradius.co.uk/corporate/inside/overview.html [“Our mission is to enable you to achieve more”] .

Focus CEO Bill Grimsey has gone public about his dissatisfaction with Atradius

“I’m not getting anyone not co-operating, it’s just that it becomes hand-to-hand combat for a while. Those conversations are not helping us sell more products.” Mr Grimsey explained that he had written to business secretary Peter Mandleson and had also put together a letter from 20 Focus suppliers to all three political parties demanding an investigation into the Atradius’ business model.

“They are fair-weather friends who don’t go into enough detail, make unilateral decisions with short notice, and jeopardise the future of businesses.”

A spokesperson for Atradius said: “We have been in dialogue with Focus DIY for some time. Ultimately, our duty is to effectively manage the risks of our customers and we only withdraw cover as an absolute last resort.”

The insurer is not alone in withdrawing cover for suppliers to high street retailers. Its actions have been mirrored by two other leading credit insurers, Coface [who withdrew credit to Woolworths, recently] and Euler Hermes.

It’s not just Focus DIY

It’s not just Focus DIY, but an entire business model at risk. Banks will not support uninsured corporates. Our financial correspondent Dr Ismail Erturk writes

There is a good article by Froud et al on the private equity business model. Their view is that PE is not a superior corporate governance model that turns companies around with exceptional managerial skills but a conjunctual opportunity to extract value from cash-rich companies. As the conjuncture which lasted from the burst of dot.com bubble to the burst of housing bubble facilitated cheap leverage finance PE firms benefited. If PE was a truly superior form of efficiency then it should have continued under present conditions where there are lots of companies that need turning around.

Credit for healthy companies is very difficult to get although there is no obvious deterioration of their credit risk. Similarly, banks simply do not lend to almost anyone. If markets were efficient, such credit-rationing should not have happened. Clearly, most assumptions about efficient markets and efficient governance models are falling apart in front of our eyes. Much academic work published in the last two decades were based on these assumptions. So, this is not only a crisis in the material world, but also a crisis of cerebral activity in the mainstream academia on such subjects.

I think we are entering a new phase of capitalism where the balance will shift towards the social from the market. How quickly or how exactly the academic paradigms on markets will shift is another interesting question.

Acknowledgement

You can find more about the work of Ismail and colleagues on their Crest website
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