Leadership Bingo: How to assess leadership performance in the General Election debates

April 6, 2015

QueencerseiIn their attempts to appear authentic, political leaders ‘leak’ information about their leadership styles. Here are some signals which help you play a game of Leadership Bingo during the General Election debates

I examined the great ‘seven leaders’ debate of April 2nd, in search of leadership styles.

Using my notes, I began to work out a more comparative analysis of the leaders combining their performance on the night with more general patterns of leadership behaviour to be found in the literature and in popular culture (Game of Thrones candidate above).

A jumble of leadership styles

My first efforts resulted in a jumble of leadership styles which began to connect what I had observed with more general concepts:

Charismatic style [CS]: (induces belief in those around without need to use statistics or reference to other evidence of authority. Offers hope (vision) for future}
Democratic style [DS] (Distributed leadership: Let’s share leadership responsibilities)
Empathic style [ES]: (I share your pain)
Heroic Warrior style [HWS] : (Lone Ranger: This dude has something special in a tough fight)
Level 5 style [L5S] : Modest but with evidence of determination (‘fierce resolve’)
Nurturing style [NS]: ( I’ll look after you)
Servant leader style [SLS]: (I am an instrument to help you achieve your goals)

The leadership bingo card

So there you have it: the political wonk’s bingo card for use alone, electronically, in the classroom or in the pub (suited for UKIP gatherings).

Fill in the card for each speaker. Needless to say, the winner is the bingo player who can identify every speaker with a leadership style line.

In the case of a tie, the winner goes to the player who has identified the most additional styles on the card.DSCN0938
Make your own cards for other leaders you are interested in. Here is the card I used

Let me know (comments) if you like Leadership Bingo.



Mark Hughes, Leadership and Governance

December 21, 2009

Mark Hughes’ dismissal as Manchester City Football Club coach appears to have come as a shock to him. The manner of his dismissal offers a case example of leadership and governance issues

This story can be treated as a local level but also one with a global dimension. It has much to do with sport, while at the same time has to do with wider international issues of globalization, and governance of global organizations.

The local story is of a venerable Premier league football team in Manchester England, with its tribal fan base of loyal supporters. Over the years ‘City’ has enjoyed periods of success, which have provided comfort in longer periods of relative lack of it, made worse by the increasing success and wealth of its neighbour, Manchester United.

The Club began to change managers with increasing speed. Heroes from their playing days at the club came and went. Outsiders also came and went, sometimes by mutual consent. Mark Hughes was one such outsider, following the charismatic but ephemeral leadership of Kevin Keegan and Sven Goran Ericsson.

Hughes was considered a promising if inexperienced manager, who had been successful with limited resources at Blackburn and before that as national coach for Wales. His status as a much-loved player at rivals MUFC was only an initial talking point, and he began to earn the respect of the fans after his arrival in 2008.

The takeover

Then an event took place which plucked City out of the also-rans of the Premier league. It was taken over by a Middle-Eastern consortium promising to back the club with unrivalled wealth. The fans, if not the incumbent manager, rejoiced. Hughes went on a spending spree to fufill the ambtions of the new owners.

A Chelsea Rerun?

The story was seized upon as a rerun of the take over of Chelsea, by multi-billionaire Roman Abramovitch. Like City, Chelsea was a club rich in tradition but lightweight in financial backing. Chelsea made it clear that the takeover was to lead to it becoming a super-club which would compete with the world’s glamour elite, Real Madrid, Inter Milan, Barcelona, and of course Manchester United. The outcome for Chelsea has been spectacular improvements in performance at national and European levels. Another outcome has been a managerial roller-coaster including the arrival and departure of the self-styled ‘ Special One’ Jose Mourinho as head coach.

But the City story differed in several respects. Mr Abramovitch is an extremely hands-on owner and football enthusiast. City’s new masters were cooler, more distant. Their regard for City as a symbol of prestige was less blatent. And they signalled intentions to leave their young manager in place.

The Drama unfolds at City

The drama unfolded. Hughes spent big, but failed to attract the very best footballers in the world. In hindsight, Chelsea’s wealth had succeeded more in acquiring an entire squad of strong international figures, rather than super-stars. And Chelsea had a stronger base of such figures to build around in the first place.

Hughes began his first season with an agreed target of success including win/loss figures understandable to any sales director of a retail consortium. The team continued to improve, but a run of drawn games was producing speculation of how long Hughes had at the club. This week in spectacular fashion the answer was revealed.

The Succession Plan

In the manner of big commercial interests, the owners of MUFC had a contingency plan which was being put in place. According to Hughes, while his team were slightly off their agreed points target, its owners had covertly reached an understanding with another manager. Shortly before or after Saturday’s thrilling 4-3 win, [December 19th 2009] Hughes learned his fate. His successor Roberto Mancini was said to be in the crowd.

Disgraceful, unethical, or what?

I have written quite a lot about Mark Hughes in LWD. Recently he seemed to have been under strain in public. Mostly, however, he confirmed a view that his leadership style was non-charismatic but that of a so-called fifth-level leader, of ‘quiet but fierce resolve’.

His statement shortly after his dismissal noted

“Notwithstanding media coverage to the contrary, I was given no forewarning as to the club’s decision … At the beginning of the season, I sat down with the owners and it was agreed that a realistic target for the season would be sixth place in the Premier League, or in the region of 70 points.”

The general view expressed in the media was that The City Board had been hasty and even unethical in their treatment of Hughes. They had not even secured a ‘Special one’ although a highly promising young figure. I leave the matter open for comment.

Arsene Wenger and Mark Hughes: Even Fifth-level Leaders can be Petulant

December 4, 2009


I have tended to think of football managers Mark Hughes and Arsene Wenger as good examples of Fifth Level Leaders. But that doesn’t make them perfect

The thought struck me after this week’s spat between two men who have earned much respect in their managerial careers as football managers. Wenger can hardly appear on our domestic TV screen without Susan declaring her unshakeable approval of Father Abbot. My admiration for Mark Hughes goes beyond the fact that he would have been a most successful Manager for Wales if the country had been a tenth as rich as Arabia.

Some while ago I nominated Wenger and Hughes as examples of fifth level leaders after the concept advocated by Business guru Jim Collins. My admiring comments included the following appreciation:

I would say that the style of the fifth-level manager has most obviously been exhibited, over an adequate time period, by Arsene Wenger of Arsenal, who has been rightly admired for creating teams that are built to last. For many years, he has displayed the fifth-level style, which is partly that of an absence not a presence. The absence is of behaviours that appear to be driven by personal ego, sometimes to the detriment of the short-term consequences. As we saw above, fifth-level leaders were not aggressive, not self-promoting and not self-congratulatory.

Among the younger managers, I would nominate Mark Hughes of Blackburn Rovers FC as a fifth-level leader in the making. If I am right, he epitomizes the absence of what might be termed ‘aggressiveness in the service of the ego’. As a player, aggressiveness was the hallmark of his style, although he had a far gentler inter-personal style off the pitch.

Public Petulance

Anyway, this week, the two men had a very public display of petulance on the touch-line of the Man City v Arsenal FC cup tie. Mark Hughes’ Manchester City won rather easily. Wenger’s policy of playing his brilliant emerging players backfired. I haven’t found out what it was all about, but it all ended with Wenger losing gracelessly, stalking down the tunnel apparently making a big gesture of not shaking hands with Hughes. Hughes gesticulated angrily at the retreating Wenger.

The Perfection Myth

Big deal. The Media made much of it.

Arsenal manager Arsène Wenger recorded another touchline bust-up after Arsenal’s 3-0 Carling Cup defeat, adding to his more infamous tirades against fellow managers.

Childish. Well, yes it was a bit. But why all the fuss? I can’t help thinking it is because the myth of the Great Leader still lurks behind the cool rationality of a more modern age. We still seek perfection in our attempts to understand what makes a good leader great. So, one more time, you don’t have to imitate slavishly all the behaviours of successful managers. You don’t have to rant and rave at players who are not performing. Maybe the ranting and raving has a short-term effect in the heat of battle. Maybe it’s sometimes valuable. Maybe it’s a style which tips over into uncontrollable ranting, or other regressive behaviours.

The style of a fifth level leader tends towards a controlled approach in which quiet determination is linked to fierce resolve. But self-control stores up other psychic pressures. It may lead to the occasional outburst in frustration and disappointment. It is at odds with our views of how great leaders perform. It’s time we came to terms with the myth of perfection.

Jim Cassell’s Leadership Signature at Manchester City’s Football Academy

July 29, 2009
Jim Cassell

Jim Cassell

Jim Cassell helped create the highly successful Football Academy at Manchester City. His work helps us understand the nature of fifh-level leadership

News that Micah Richards had contacted Swine Flu while on holiday, [July 10th 2009] concerned his former mentor Jim Cassell, head of Manchester City’s Football Academy.

A few hours before the flu news news broke, I had interviewed Jim at his Platt Lane office in advance of a presentation he was planning for The Manchester International Festival. He was preparing for his talk on identifying and fostering talent, subjects in which he is highly qualified.

Micah was one of the talented young players who had been at the Academy, and Cassell talked proudly of him, and other emerging stars such as Stephen Ireland, and of his team which won the youth-cup in 2008, beating Chelsea’s top-dollar stars in the final legs of the competition.

The Cassell story

A Times reporter captured the Academy’s achievements [Oct 14th 2007]

Plenty of Premier League academies are more salubrious, many have annual budgets in excess of Platt Lane’s £2m, several boast better facilities, more recruits, bigger staffs. But none can compete with the output of this place.

“We’ve never won a national trophy and yet we have produced more first-team players than any other academy,” says Cassell. “We sacrifice our teams sometimes because the priority is the development of individuals. If after 10 years we had four FA Youth Cups but no players, we wouldn’t have done very well, but we’ve brought through 25 to the first team, 24 of whom are still playing with us or in league football. Six are internationals. We’ve recouped £31m in transfers and, if you add Micah Richards, Michael Johnson, Nedum Onuoha, Kasper Schmeichel and Stephen Ireland, provided another £40m-worth of players for the current City squad.”

Manchester City supporters have been fulsome in their praise of the contribution made by Cassell, who is quick to share credit with his small team of senior coaches.

A former book-keeper and local government officer, Cassell’s playing career lasted only two games [at Bury, a nearby regional club] in the mid-1960s.

One report explains why:

After doing some scouting work [for Oldham, another local club] he was appointed chief scout at City under Joe Royle [English International and then Manager of Manchester City].

When Royle brought him to City in 1997 Cassell set about re-organising the youth set-up. In Blue Moon: Down among the dead men at City, author Mark Hodkinson describes him as ‘thoughtful and shrewd, candid and friendly, immaculate in a suit and tie and wire-framed glasses, the original Gentleman Jim’. The following summer he presented a 51-page dossier to new chairman David Bernstein and the board. According to Hodkinson, it revealed ‘a club run by people without real job specifications, where the hierarchical structure was muddled and essential facilities had to be borrowed, or were missing altogether’. Bernstein spent £500,000 to implement the reforms, which might be the shrewdest investment the club has ever made. Cassell’s first coup was picking up a 15-year-old Shaun Wright Phillips, who had been released by Forest, and he is responsible for signing Micah Richards from Oldham’s youth academy aged 14.

Cassell’s leadership methods

Cassell leaves a consistent impression on friends, colleagues, and journalists who have turned up at Platt Lane to report on the Academy and its founder. It is reflected in the interviews quoted here, and in my own meetings with him. You could say that he has a consistent leadership signature, authentic and hard to simulate.

Signature leadership is becoming part of the leadership development vocabulary. In absence of a more thorough survey, I would attribute its growing popularity to derive from the work of the Sloane School (MIT) and its Four Capabilities Framework.

This framework is also a good starting point to the related ideas of distributed leadership. It claims that it can:

… help leaders discover their unique Change Signature – the leader’s credo and characteristic way of creating change. Each leader’s signature draws upon his or her values, skills, experience, tactics, and personality in order to build trust, respect, and authenticity.

The fifth-level leader

I was also reminded of a famous quote about fifth-level leaders, who are becoming recognized as more successful in building effective organizations than the turbo-boost results and ego-driven efforts of many charismatic leaders. Probably it’s a coincidence that Leaders we deserve identified Manchester City’s manager Mark Hughes as a fifth-level leader before he joined the club. His style has seen him survive serious corporate turbulence which would have hastened the departure of a manager with a more volatile style and a more abrasive relationship with the owner and board.

The debate over charismatic and fifth level leaders will continue, as there is a need for more and more careful studies of context, leadership styles, and effectiveness.


Thanks to Olivia Day, World Academy of Sport for arranging the interview with Jim Cassell. To The Manchester International Festival and The Executive Centre at Manchester Business School for the opportunity to discuss identification of talent with Jim and other distinguished panellists from industry, academia and government.

Leading Behind the Scenes: Martin McAleese nudges the peace process forward

June 30, 2009
Martin McAleese

Martin McAleese

Working quietly away from the media spotlight, Martin McAleese has been persuading Ulster Loyalists to engage more fully in the peace process

Another step in the peace process in Northern Ireland seems to have taken place. Unconfirmed reports gave the first indications that the Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) has destroyed its arsenal of weapons in the presence of the disarmament leader Gen. John de Chastelain and other independent observers, and the Ulster Defense Association has initiated a similar process.

The news overshadowed another report that the process has been assisted by other workers for peace. According to the BBC [Saturday June 27th 2009]:

Martin McAleese, the husband of the Irish president Mary McAleese, was working behind the scenes as the largest loyalist group, the UDA, [Ulster Defense Force] dealt with the weapons issue. He helped persuade hard line Belfast loyalists like Jackie McDonald that they had nothing to fear from the peace process in general, and the Dublin establishment in particular.

The two men not only talked at great length, they reportedly played golf together. It was an unlikely combination – an Irishman and an Ulsterman, a Catholic and a Protestant – swinging golf clubs rather than punches. In recent years, Mr McAleese has worked quietly in the background, seeking progress rather than publicity.

The Belfast-born dentist is more used to negotiating pain-barriers than political barriers, but he displayed sensitivity and a steady hand in the murky world of loyalism.

Martin McAleese appears to have all the hallmarks of a fifth-level leader whose own ego does not intrude into his actions and their impact on others. I suppose I was particularly intrigued about the role-reversal here. The high-profile President of Ireland, and the behind-the-scenes influence of her husband. [Just to avoid confusion: I’m not suggest that Mary McAleese is particularly ego-driven, and I’d like to get something in Leaders we deserve on that remarkable leader as well].

The BBC article suggests that there are varied motivations behind the activities of the various groups still committed to violence. Most commentators have considered that there was far more than undiluted sectarian zeal behind the operations on both sides of the sectarian divide as turf battles extended into protection rackets, drug scams and assorted abuses of power.

What’s Interesting

What’s interesting from a leadership perspective is further evidence of the benefits of non-charismatic modes of leadership in tough conflict-resolution processes. I’ve picked up the story of Martin McAleese, but the wider story includes other leaders, some charismatic some not so.

The Northern Irish Peace Process over a period of decades has been marked by the multiple influences of people some more obviously charismatic, others of a more self-effacing kind.

The roll of honour includes the long-suffering John Major who as British Prime Minister constantly struggled to emerge from the mighty shadow cast by his predecessor Margaret Thatcher. Major was stereotyped as the ultimate grey man, and anti-leadership leader.

It also included the anxiety-ridden David Trimble, whose every move towards peace weakened his own power base, contributing to the political rise of the Reverend Ian Paisley, feared by the catholic minority for his fiery renditions of the Protestant no-surrender message were seen as a major block to the peace process.

Later, there was widespread approval for the fact that Ian Paisley as leader of the Democratic Unionist Party had consented to sit in the same room with Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams.

Paisley was subsequently to form a warm working relationship with Martin M, another former Sinn Fein leader . This was the same man whom Dr Pasiley used to describe as a Sinn Fein IRA terrorist,

Tony Blair, the charismatic leader, and Bertie Ahearn, whose lower key style was more akin to that of John Major, had also played important roles in the eventual signing of the Good Friday agreement.

Clearly, the process is not a simple linear advance inspired by one leader’s vision. Few would expect it to be so.

Lewin’s magnificent contribution

Over have a century ago, the great social scientist Kurt Lewin made one of the most important contributions to our thinking of how major changes takes place. His idea was that social systems, like scientific systems, have inherent stability. There are a set of forces which hold the system in stable equilibrium. An action which might change the system has the effect of activating what amounts to ‘an equal and opposite reaction’ (Newton’s terminology). The result is a perturbation after which the system eventually returns to its stable position. Lewin’s Force Field theory is stronger on stability than on change. (Although on management courses it is presented as suggesting the merits of addressing those reactionary forces opposing change. The theory helps us understand why attempts to achieve political goals will not be simple cause-effect chains.

More recent attempts to understand social and organisational change change have focused on tipping points and chaos theory .

Lehman Bros and the Limits of Leadership

September 17, 2008

Dick Fuld

Dick Fuld

Lehman Bros collapses as the Fed refuses the bank a bale out. To what degree might more inspired leadership have avoided this?

This week I changed my mind about an important aspect of leadership. I now believe I have been on the wrong track and asking the wrong sort of question. It is not a particularly good question to ask ‘did Lehman’s fail because they had a bad leader?’. Absence of Dick Fuld, another leader favoured for the same kind of things would have been in place. Lehmans, as with the other financial giants, acquired the leaders judged best in the wider financial marketplace. They got the leaders they deserved.

Background to a global financial crisis

September 15th 2008 marked the signal that the credit crunch turbulence had turned into a full-scale tsunami, almost a year to the day after of the collapse in confidence at Northern Rock hit the UK headlines.

Today, financial markets around the world plunged. There was a remarkable degree of consensus among informed commentators. Earlier predictions of the scale of the crisis were now believed to have under-estimated the likelihood of a shock of such magnitude.

One of the trigger events was the decision of the US Federal Bank to withhold funding to Lehmans. The US Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson said that the US was “working through a difficult period in our financial markets right now as we work off some of the past excesses”.

A more general view has the following elements. The global economy will suffer into the foreseeable future. The financial conditions are worse than any since the great slump of 1929. Maybe, just maybe, the economic consequences will not be as awesome, but they are almost certainly going to be from unpleasant downward for most people on the planet.

I will leave financial analysis to others, and pick up the leadership story. The hero to zero game is in full swing. The leaders of the greatest financial institutions in America stand charged with greedy foolishness. Cupidity and stupidity, as someone put it.

So what can be made of the leadership or lack of it among the biggest players?

In the glory years, Lehman Bros seemed to have had inspiring leadership. Or, at least, winningest leadership from Dick Fuhl. Inspiring but scary, earning him the label of the Gorilla, the scariest man on Wall Street.

A lifer, he joined the company as a young man nearly forty years ago. According to The Times, he left a career as an air force pilot after brawling with a commanding officer. His progress in the Bank was then upward, but always characterised by a pugnacious edge that would involve more brawls and near brawls.

Under his stewardship, Lehmans became more and more successful and in 2006, Institutional Investor magazine named Mr Fuld America’s top chief executive. Companies clamoured for his services, and he took positions on everything from the Federal Reserve Bank to the Robin Hood Foundation, a New York antipoverty group. His activities brought him billionaire status

He was also acknowledged as someone who offered generous rewards to staff who met his demanding targets. Say what you like about Dick, he looked after his people. Well, yes, up a point. And that point was sometime in the last few months. The Times continued:

Some say that the countless accolades encouraged Mr Fuld to take more and bigger risks, in particular piling into high-risk mortgages. Over the past few months he refused to acknowledge that Lehmans was in difficulty – despite frequent warnings from leading analysts. Had he acted sooner, he would have been able to avoid bankruptcy. A series of interested buyers surfaced in recent months, but Mr Fuld would not sell at the prices offered. By the time he appeared to face up to the situation at the end of last week, it was too late: Lehman was past the point of no return. Lehman staff say that Mr Fuld is broken and shell-shocked. He has lost a fortune, but for such an ambitious man, the biggest loss is to his pride.

Was Fuld’s a bad leader?

When I thought a little harder I had to admit that such a question is unanswerable in any covincing way. Why? Because it presupposes a set of criteria which identifies what a bad leader is or does.

Mr Fuld was by repute a bully. But that doesn’t make him a bad leader, of itself. His aggression may have been an asset to his organization for the better part of forty years, if he is judged on corporate performance.

Was he greedy? Not in the sense judged unacceptable to many of his peers, and compared to other leaders documented in earlier blogs.

Was he competent? In terms of delivering results, yes again.

So what went wrong?

The mother of all crises, arguably triggered by the unintended consequences of the decisions of leaders such as Fuld of Lehmans, Coyne of Bear Sterns, Crux of Morgan Stanley and Applegarth of Northern Rock.

The actions of the leaders of financial institutions have to be studied very carefully to see what might have been done to have made a significant and positive difference.

I am inclined to see a series of dramatic stories in which the leaders are not so much stupid as unable to recognize the risks they were taken. Not so much reckless or greedy as stuck in the comfort zone which was continuing to bring success. Their actions had contributed to the establishment of financial structure and norms of behaviour which worked. Unfortunately, they were not the bountiful and benign structures that they were taken for.

These leaders had made it by a Darwinian process that had selected them, because they were trusted to deliver the numbers. They were the leaders that the financial system deserved. Now it is paying the price.

Can leaders make a difference?

They sure can. These case examples suggest leaders can fail to break out of dominant beliefs about their businesses.

Might there be leaders out there in financial institutions who conform more to the Jim Collins picture of a creator of companies built to last? Who will overcome the overpowering effect of denial? I think so. But I’m not going to name any names.


This week I changed my mind about an important aspect of leadership. I now believe I have been on the wrong track and asking the wrong sort of question. It is not a particularly good question to ask ‘did Lehman’s fail because they had a bad leader?’. Absence of Dick Fuld, another leader favoured for the same kind of things would have been in place. Lehmans, as with the other financial giants, acquired the leaders judged best in the wider financial marketplace. They got the leaders they deserved.

I also believe there has been a consistent prevailing set of conditions in which leaders are judged on operational success to an extent that there has been a splitting of the moral and the operational dimensions. It is similar to the belief about keeping politics distinct from sport, when a moment’s reflection should be enough to show the impossiblity of such a belief translating into the world of human events. (We even forgot the recognition of the short-termism the system was encouraging).

And yes, as my colleague Professor Peter Kawalek has been arguing, business educators risk standing accused of ignoring the banality of the bottom line, as we collude in preparing our graduates to fit into a financial system that has been a significant factor in the conditions that have unleased this economic tsunami around the globe

Avram Grant is a Jim Collins sort of Leader

May 11, 2008

Soft-spoken. Uncomfortable in the limelight. But more successful than many charismatic leaders. Avram Grant fits the description of the fifth-level leader identified by management guru Jim Collins

Got it. I have been wondering about the apparent contradiction between Avram Grant’s success at Chelsea Football Club, and the continued doubts cast on his leadership skills by many people, including Chelsea’s own fans. He fits the description of a successful leader according to a recent theory which I will outline below.

Doubts about his capabilities are mostly attributed to the selection process. Roman Abramovitch is the wealthiest owner of any football club in the world. He has bankrolled Chelsea to acquire some of the best footballers in the world. He even acquired someone of substantial pedigree to manage the club, one Jose Mourinho.

Jose’s tale has been thoroughly reported. The charismatic of charismatics whose earlier successes appeared to be continuing at Chelsea. Jose did well. But in the language of the Monty Python character, what did Jose ever really do for Roman? Did his team win the European cup? No. Did it win the Premier league? Well, not every year. Did it play delightful football like their rivals Arsenal and Manchester United? No. Did Jose show his gratitude when Roman bought him the great Russian striker Shevchenko? Niet.

There’s no mystery about Jose’s departure. Mourinho had a track-record as someone who expects to be in charge, rather than the salary-man of a wealthy owner. At Chelsea there was a great salary, but he was still a salary-man. Furthermore, if Roman wanted somebody different, he could afford to make that happen.

So Jose went. Faithful fans began their period of mourning. But then the story took a surprising turn. Roman had already brought Avram into the club, to ‘help’ Jose. (‘And had Jose been grateful?’ you ask. Enough of that. ) Avram was put in Jose’s place, despite the little difficulty of qualifications.

The Chelsea fans remained mostly in thrall to the deposed manager. The charismatic magic of Jose persisted with them, as with the media commentators who had been capitivated by his telegenic style and amusing quotes at press conferences.

Why did Roman pick Avram?

The popular explanation was that Roman Abramovich brought in a friend, someone he trusted, someone who would not cause trouble. It seemed likely that said friend was a stop-gap until Roman could line-up the best coach that money could buy who wasn’t Jose Mourinho, perhaps at the end of the season.

There is some logic to the suggestion. Roman is playing a strategic chess game that is more than one-move long.

Note to non-chess players. The most powerful fighting piece in chess is the queen. But the most important piece is the king. A player can sacrifice the queen and still win the game. You can’t sacrifice the king, except in a symbolic gesture of resigning the game. In this game, Jose was a valued player, but could always be sacrificed in the interests of the king.

A moment’s thought would at least suggest that Avram might have chosen someone of considerable competence. Friendship was unlikely to be the only factor in the decision-making process.

Avram gets the full treatment

Time passes. Chelsea fans continue to mourn the departure of Jose. The new manager is utterly uncomfortable in public. In press conferences he is ridiculed for his apparently lethargic style. Can this man motivate anybody? Avram gets the treatment usually reserved for coaches of the England football team.

There was one important difference

There was one important difference in the new manager’s performance at Chelsea (compared with, say Steve McClaren’s for England). Avram’s team continued to win.

You could even say they go from strength to strength. There are a few embarrassing losses in cup-games. Then some journalist starts comparing the team’s results with those under Jose. Not bad. Not bad at all. How much is it not bad? A bit better actually.

In the last months of the season, under Avram, the team had caught up on Manchester United. With one week to go, the two teams had the same number of points, and Chelsea were second only on goal difference. Both Man U and Chelsea had also battled their ways to the European Cup Final. On team results, Avram Grant had confounded his many critics. Pundits begin to say that Avram has been badly treated.

Avram Grant is a fifth-level leader

I was one of those doubting his capabilities. I had just about noticed that Grant had made bold substitutions from time to time, after which Chelsea had gone on to win. But I hadn’t credited the coach much for his excellent decision-making. Like others, I had casually assumed that the glittering stars at Chelsea had stirred themselves and played to their capabilities, perhaps urged on by the formidable personality of captain John Terry.

Then, this morning, [May 10th 2008] Eureka! What had I been teaching on that leadership programme recently? The theory of the fifth-level leader. Jim Collins chronicles the successes of fifth-level leaders, and the limitations in the long-run of leaders showing lower-level characteristics. The term implies leadership success over extended periods, and often in a rather selfless way in achieving something permanent for an organization.

This was the theme of an article in Harvard Business Review which warned of the dangers of ‘the Rambo in pinstripes’.

That’s it. Avram is a classic example of the Fifth-level leader, who is unassuming but effective, and more in control of his own ego than many celebrity leaders (sorry, Jose).

In an earlier post, I suggested that in the Premiership, Mark Hughes was another such leader. Grant, like Hughes, presents himself as modest to an unusual extent. Nevertheless, their actions could be associated with what the theory describes as ‘fierce resolve’.

The limits of Fifth-level Leadership Theory

Being modest does not necessarily make you a fifth-level leader. Winston Churchill was dismissive of more modest men than himself. ‘He’s got a lot to be modest about’ he remarked famously about one political rival.

The limits to fifth-level theory may be seen in the famous Churchillian quip. He was referring to Clement Attlee. There is no doubt where history places Churchill as a leader. But on the Jim Collins scale, Churchill would not fit the bill as a ‘pure’ fifth-level leader. Attlee, ironically, would. Attlee was unassuming and successful. He also was uncharismatic, and under-estimated.

Remember that fifth-level leaders are less likely to become public celebrities than are more charismatic personalities. This suggests that Jim Collins is right to the extent that his fifth-level leaders may shun the limelight and be under-estimated. Avram may just serve an example of this bias, as a result of which we overlook the merits of such leaders.

However, I find myself resisting the stronger claim that fifth-level leaders, as judged by their achievements, have to be self-effacing (like Avram Grant and Clem Attlee) and that egotistical and charismatic individuals like Churchill and Mourinho are positioned below them in some hierarchy of leadership styles..

Put simply, Jim Collins helps us see why Avram Grant might have been under-estimated by many football experts. But the case of Avram Grant may also suggest that a theory which puts leaders into a hierarchy of excellence may be a bit too simplistic to explain the characteristics of successful leaders.

Postscript. What happened next?

A few hour after this post was completed, Manchester United narrowly win the Premier League over Chelsea. Avram Grant’s future at Chelsea remains in doubt.