Eddie Jones and why leaders over-reach

March 15, 2018

Eddie Jones

A video of England rugby coach Eddie Jones addressing a group of sponsors has reached the public. It makes an interesting case of a successful leader setting himself up to fail.

 

Background

The video was recorded several months ago. Eddie Jones is currently the coach of the England (male) rugby team. His appointment in 2015 was controversial. The premier national teams of the northern hemisphere have increasingly selected from coaches the most successful rugby nations. In practice this means coaches from New Zealand and the other Southern Hemisphere countries Australia and South Africa.

After a period of relative under-performing, England chose Eddie Jones, a colourful character of Australian, Japanese and American origins.
Jones played rugby to state level in Australia.. He then embarked on a coaching career mostly with spectacular successes, but not without the occasional setback. As coach of Australia he stared well but a series of successive losses ended his contract. His last loss was to Wales, a point which may have some further relevance.

He achieved success again as national coach to Japan. In rugby-playing terms, Japan is a minor nation. It also lacks an adequate supply of monstrous players in a game which has evolved to require high bulk and mobility. His style is a passionate one, invoking pride in his teams of national and cultural values. Rather than import hefty Samoans, he introduced a fearless flyweight style of play which brought shock wins and delighted spectators during the World Cup of 2015.
This track record, and Japan’s showing resulted in his appointment as England coach.

His initial impact was spectacular, and the team began to show potential to become a serious challenger for the next world cup. At the time of the video Jones could point to a remarkable turnaround of fortunes in results. His leadership impact was clearly a significant factor.
A run of twenty three matches was ended by a firy Irish team, which was also progressing well including a win over the near invincible New Zealand All Blacks.
In this summary I draw attention to the loss to Wales which coincided with Jones losing his Australian post, and then to the recent loss to Ireland which ended his winning streak.

The video

In the video, Jones is heard lauding his own success in converting Japan into an exciting new force in world rugby. He then turns to the defeat by Ireland.

“We’ve played 23 Tests and we’ve only lost one Test to the scummy Irish,” he told his audience. “I’m still dirty about that game, but we’ll get that back, don’t worry. We’ve got them next year at home so don’t worry, we’ll get that back.”

Jones was also recorded discussing Wales in the context of Japan Under‑20s losing 125-0 against their Welsh counterparts shortly after he took over as the Japan head coach in 2012. “Wales. Who knows Wales? Are there any Welsh people here? So it’s this little shit place that has got three million people. Three million!”

Dilemmas of leadership
Another dilemma of leadership. When a leader starts believing his or herself-constructed story. It has contributed to the aura around the leader. Some might call it the evidence of charisma. The leader flushed with success, acts out the self-image in terms which become dismissed as bluster or dismissive of others.

Remind you of any other leader?

Do these words remind you of another leader, often in the news for his provocative statements?

“I’m still dirty about that game, but we’ll get that back, don’t worry. We’ve got them next year at home so don’t worry, we’ll get that back.”

If so, what more general conclusions can we draw from the case of Eddie Jones? And is it coincidence that his team plays that “scummy team Ireland” this weekend, a team which has already won the six-nations championship from England this year, regardless of the result?


Wales v Japan: surrogate revenge against Jones the coach?

November 19, 2016
Wales rugby ball
Today there is a festival of sport to enjoy. One of the highlights in our household is the rugby match at the Millennium Stadium, where Wales take on Japan
 We are a mostly harmonious sport-watching household, with affiliations to Wales, Scotland, and more than a smidgen of affection for Ireland, and New Zealand after a blissful sabbatical at Christchurch, since much battered by dreadful earthquakes.
England v Australia
In far too early a start, the morning [Saturday 19 NOvember 2016] begins as England briefly promise  to rescue a hopeless situation against India, in Cricket. At lunch, as I write this post (6am GMT), they are still tantalizingly close to avoiding the following on (the humiliation forced on a test team outplayed by 200 runs in the first innings battle).
Man U v The Gunners
There are several fixture clashes. The afternoon starts with one of those crunch games in football, this one between Manchester United and Arsenal. A veritable nine pointer. (Sorry, three points to the winner.  Easy to get carried away).
Murray v Raonic v Djokovic  
Then overlapping events. Andy Murray sets out to reach the final of the Tennis World Championships, trying to hold on to his recent status as world No 1 singles player. His brother Jamie achieved to same lofty status, and not for the first time,  just a day ago in doubles. Later, Novak Djokovic also competes to win back his crown.
The battle may be resolved in a monumental clash tomorrow.
Wales v Japan at Rugby
And Wales play Japan at rugby. Until recently, this would have been regarded somewhat patronizingly in the land of my fathers.then there was the World Cup when Japan became everyone’s favourite second team for their courage and skill. Their coach  Eddie Jones was an instant celebrity. Was he Welsh, we wondered, before discerning that his Mum was Japanese. Maybe his Ozzie Dad had some Celtic blood from somewhere, Old rather than than New South Wales, perhaps? We had a captain once called Eddie (Butler).
The Jones boy goes From Hero to Villain
Then the reason for his fall from grace. He left his coaching appointment in Japan to become chief of an ailing England team.  Need I say more?  He began a run which currently stands as ten successive victories.  England are heading for the top in world rugby.  Wales may struggle against Japan.
At least, in the language of the wretched US presidential campaign, we have a surrogate to disapprove of, as the gallant Japanese run on to the green green grass of home.

Why England Rugby may have found their ideal coach

February 29, 2016

Eddie JonesEddie Jones could be the ideal coach for England, according to one theory of leadership. But a Clive Woodward he ain’t

In the words of Monty Python, England rugby needed something completely different, after its nightmare of a World Cup last year. The selectors reacted by sacking the rather school-masterly Stuart Lancaster, and replaceinghim with the pit bull terrier that is Eddie Jones, and mastermind of Japan’s World Cup heroics.

Leaders Member Exchange theory

I base my case on a theory of leadership known as Leader Member Exchange or LMX. It is not as fashionable as charismatic leadership, which anyway is revealing its dark side in the US Primaries at present. But LMX has been subjected to a fair level of academic scrutiny.

LMX and Eddie

The classic paper on LMX by George Graen and Mary Uhl-Bien is now twenty years old. However, it has withstood the test of time and is still a good starting place for anyone wanting to make a serious study of leadership.

An update can be found in Dilemmas of Leadership (2015) and in The Sage Handbook of Leadership.

The key point about LMX is that a leader’s impact becomes clearer if you can tease our characteristics of the relationships between leaders and followers. This requires understanding of various levels of interaction including ‘one on one’ and ‘one on group’ levels. After twenty years, there is still a lot to go at.

[Incidentally, in re-reading the Graen and Uhl-Bien paper I found a sophisticated treatment of ‘leadership making’ as followers contribute to the ‘making’ of’ a leader, the rationale for Leaders We Deserve.]

In this post, I borrow just a few ideas from LMX to comment on Eddie Jones the coach as leader, and his impact on individuals and the England team performance. I make no attempt to test the validity of LMX theory.

Effective leadership resides in developing mature trust-based relationships between leader (in this case Jones) and followers (the squad). I mention the squad not the team. There have been examples of disastrous and immature relationships between the elite first-pick team and the mid week team, for example, on Lions tours. The trust placed in the leader from the first team (the in-group) is rnot found among members idesignated as reserves unless the social identity of the players is handled sensitively.

The theory has contributed to thinking about how in-groups and out-groups form. Jones has to deal with that, as does any other coach. The tricky problems of trust development are believed to be important. In football, the terminology for trust breakdown is ‘losing the dressing room’. A simple specific example was the situation (dilemma) facing Jones’ predecessor Stuart Lancaster over the selection of the son of one of his coaching staff.

Everyone hates us …

We are getting some clear messages from Jones about his beliefs, and those he would like to instill into his players. They have included the old in-group and out-group motif. He insists that England is hated by the other five nations and the team has to deal with that.

The selection of the tempestuous Dylan Hartley as captain is consistent with the combative style Jones seeems to be aiming for.

When questioned about targeting Ireland’s gifted but injury prone Sexton of Ireland, this week, Jones said he expected to play to any weakness in an opponent.

It is a kind of ‘nobody loves us but we don’t care’ style.

Gentlemanly values, ungentlemanly conduct

Whereas Mourinho’s football teams were as tough as any, The Special One preferred to pretend they always were superior players dealing with the unjustified assaults of inferior opponents.

In the past, England’s rugby coaches have been English and tended to approve of gentlemanly conduct. The taste for muscularity was still there, revealed in the fondness for a preference for selecting for forward dominance, and use of a vocabulary in which massive was the adjective of choice for general performance and physicality.

Clive Woodward, coaoch of England’s world cup victory had his favoured enforcers, but would rarely celebrate violence openly.
Somewhere between the two extremes of concealed and overt encouragement of in-play mayhem was the approach of the great coach Caewyn James who years ago urged his Welsh team to get their retaliation in first.

Expectations are high in England

Early days. Will Eddie Jones lift England to their expectations of competing with the Southern Hemisphere teams? He has one advantage. The current squad has potential to do better than they have been doing.

Maybe, like Trump on the stump, he is giving voice to an approach his players already approve of.

It may all end in tears. But there is a great potential waiting to be unlocked in the current England squad. And Jones may be just the man with the key to unlock it.

If I have read LMX theory accurately, the challenge will come as the squad develops, and different relationships are called for between a coach, his captain (or her) and players.

[drafted before the England Ireland match , Feb 26 2016]