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.


Strauss resigns as England Captain as pundits duck the tough questions

August 29, 2012

England cricket captain Andrew Strauss resigns after a series defeat and yet more off-field controversies. For several weeks, multiple former captains now turned into pundits adverse comments. They also rarely mentioned the decisions of the selectors who had first appointed Andrew Flintoff and then Kevin Pietersen in advance of Andrew Strauss

There are too many armchair pundits of cricket and I don’t want to add myself to the list. I feel a bit more comfortable in examining what has been said and written by those who have themselves played for and captained the England cricket team.

An unlucky General?

Over his three years of captaincy Strass led his team to the top of the international rankings, including wins over the previously near-invincible Australians. He has also been beset with off-the-field controversies which were outside his control. They included match fixing, accusations of ball-tampering, and much bad temper between England and Pakistan cricket authorities in particular. Napoleon might have said he had been an unlucky General.

Pressure mounts

As pressure mounted on out-of-form Strauss, the commentators began to dwell on his batting failures. Then, recently [Aug 2012] Pietersen (a South African by birth) was forced out of the England team after his disrespectful texts about Strauss to members of the South African team, the current opponents who were well on the way to replacing England as the highest ranked team.

Don’t scare the horses

The Pietersen affair produced a switch of tone from the commentators who seemed to avoid the slightest of adverse comments on Andrew Strauss’s capabilities. No one wanted to spook the selectors by remarking on the weaknesses of his captaincy. In real-time, the commentators had often said or implied his on-field decision-making was cautious and unimaginative. Now they were lining up to say he was one of the best England captains of recent times.

Why? The comments suggest that he was articulate and calm while dealing with the press (better than Flintoff or Pietersen). He had the confidence and loyalty of the players. (Except for the rogue horse Pietersen). He had also forged good relationship with coaches and administrators. Not bad, but are they necessary and sufficient criteria for success as a captain?

How to assess a captain

This evidence supports the view that Strauss was a quiet and rather uncharismatic individual, perhaps fitting the profile of a level five leader who is ‘modest but of fierce resolve’.

Such leaders are often only noticed in hindsight, and tend to be overlooked in selection processes which favour the gifted, the extraverted, and the charismatic. In other words, people like Andrew Flintoff and Kevin Pietersen.

Learning from practice

It seems likely that the selectors have learned from the earlier appointments. The new captain Alistair Cook is closer to Strauss in temperament than to the cavaliers of yore mentioned above, and was being groomed for the job.


Gary Speed RIP

November 27, 2011

Gary Speed

Update [Dec 3rd 2011]

After his tragic death, there was a surge of acknowledgements of the life and achivements of Gary Speed, both within and beyond the football world. The original post [below] captures the mood in the first 24 hours, as the news spread around the world

Gary Speed died suddenly on November 27th 2011 at the age of 42

The Wales Manager Gary Speed was promising a bright future for Welsh international football. His young team was gaining in confidence after three consecutive wins.

A premature death

In the days that followed his death, there were tributes from around the world. The picture from countless friends that repeatedly emerged was someone who had transcended the egotistical danger of fame.

Here is a video of BBC radio bulletin which was broadcast a few hours after news of his premature death. It includes the silent tribute paid to Gary Speed at the start of the Swansea City:Aston Villa match which turned into spontaneous applause.

Modest but of fierce resolve

In the vocabulary of Leaders we deserve Gary Speed might be seen as a version of the Level five leader (modest but of fierce resolve) . Others might see elements of the the charismatic figure from whom friends and colleagues wanted approval. The more recent ideas of authentic leadership also come into the picture.

Press discipline

The media respected the wishes of the family for respect to be shown without intrusion. Perhaps the publicity being given to the on-going Leveson inquiry into press standards was an influential factor in this.

On the day of his inquest, web stories begin about the contribution of tabloid media to Speed’s death. The Sun is showing great interest in the emerging story and has provided stunning (but non-exclusive) coverage.

The Tributes

Among the many tributes, one of the most imaginative was from Leeds fans

Earlier this week Leeds fans chanted Speed’s name for 11 minutes from the 11th minute of their match against Nottingham Forest in honour of their former number 11.