On shaking hands and creative leadership in the John Terry Wayne Bridge saga

February 27, 2010

A sad sporting leadership story shows how creativity can be a leader’s secret weapon

Every tale of leadership offers opportunities for learning. “How would I deal with that decision?” is a good question. In the over-publicised case of John Terry and Wayne Bridge, there is also the question “What would I have done to avoid getting into mess in the first place?” For anyone not interested in football, you need to be aware that John Terry was recently stripped of the Captaincy of the England football team. He had been involved in an extra-marital affair with the former partner of former team-mate Wayne Bridge. Public interest is fueled this week by the news that Bridges has decided not to take part in the up-coming world cup later this year.

Leaders we deserve has advocated the merits of creative leadership. How might this play out in practice? Take the critical incident being anticipated today [February 27th, 2009]. Chelsea and Manchester City are due to play a football match. John Terry will be expected to lead out Chelsea (he retains the captaincy of that team). He will be expected to shake hands with members of the opposing team. So there we have a dilemma of leadership. What to do if the handshake is spurned? Oh, yes it’s only a handshake. But for ‘only a hand-shake’ why is the story taking on huge signficance, at least for journalists? That’s another story, and one about symbolism and leadership.

How might creative leadership come into this?

We can start with the assumption that dilemmas often result in either/or thinking. Break the ‘either-or’ and you have a chance of escpaing the dilemma. I’ve also written about this as knight’s move thinking. Edward de Bono would probably say it’s where Lateral Thinking is needed.

The locked-in thinking presents the story as simply one man shaking hands with another. Suppose we pose it as “how to arrange the pre-match handshakes between Chelsea and Manchester City differently (in view of the unusual circumstances surrounding the event)”. I can think of several things that might happen. My thinking has switched from ‘what Wayne Bridge must do’ to ‘what might Chelsea and Manchester City captains, players, and maybe supporters decide to do’. And, that is a matter of co-creativity, and distributed leadership.

Whatever happens this afternoon at Stanford Bridge will be an opportunity for considering ‘what might have been’.


At the start of the match, John Terry offered his hand to Wayne Bridge. Bridge rejects the proferred hand. Chelsea fans boo Bridge enthusiastically throughout the game. But another story was to supplant the hand-shake one. Chelsea lost at home 4-2. Two of their players were sent off by the referee. And I didn’t notice a lot of creative leadership. The ‘fake shake’ gave the tabloids a few headlines the following day.

Who Owns the Manager in Football Today?

September 6, 2008
I'm in change

I'm in change

Three football stories from the Premier League this week raise the question of football governance. Super-wealthy new owners are inclined to establish a henchman, leaving the manager figure with an ambiguous role, perhaps approximating to that of a head coach

This arrangement creates tensions, but is arguably a decision that owners are entitled to make, for better or worse. A case of paying for the leaders they deserve.

Dominic the Blue had hardly taken up duties as Leaders we deserve insider on the Man City front when the club was thrown into the turmoil of a takeover.

Many fans were enthralled at the prospects of a conversion of the club into Middle East Land (horrible pun on their shiny new Eastlands stadium). Dominic still has the wary caution of the Blues season-ticket holder. A seasoned campaigner (end of horrible puns for the moment).

‘Who is in charge of buying players these days?’ he asked. ‘Who is the leader/manager in this respect? This is a big issue now, what with the situation at West Ham, Newcastle, as well as City. You can’t say leadership is the preserve of the Manager any more, with all the implications this has’

He has a good point

The turbulence of a week in English football was summed up by the BBC.

Keegan’s departure from Newcastle comes in a tumultuous week for English football.

On Monday, Manchester City – backed by prospective new owners the Abu Dhabi United Group – broke the British transfer record to complete the £32.5m signing of Robinho from Real Madrid from under Chelsea’s noses.

On Wednesday, Alan Curbishley beat Keegan to become the season’s first Premier League managerial casualty when he resigned from West Ham only three games in. A lack of control over transfer policy was also behind Curbishley’s decision.

Anyone but Curbishley

At West Ham it seems to as easy as ABC – [Anyone but Curbishley] as a possible replacement.

Leaders we deserve tracked the roller-coaster ride for West Ham Fans a while ago.

Remember those flirtations with relegation? The bizarre Tevez transfer arrangements? The sacking of one manager, and the arrival of the popular Curbishley? Whose popularity, it must be said, had not been matched since by on-field success. But he did snatch survival from near-certain relegation, and three weeks into a new season is a strange time for a board to decide that enough is enough.

Is there a pattern in the football dramas unfolding?

A popular view increasingly expressed, goes something like this. Football is big business. English Premiership clubs have been increasingly acquired by Foreign businessmen insensitive the cultural heartbeat of English football.

Somewhat askew to this starting point is the view that the new mega-wealthy owners are emotional and ego-driven, too inclined to interfere with operational aspects of the club’s management in search of glory and self-esteem.

The owners, in short, are falling short in terms of governance responsibilities. The result is an erosion of the role of manager to that of a coach. Leadership duties are more distributed, often with the owner’s henchmen (Dennis Wise at Newcastle, ‘undermining’ Keegan. Ironically (in view of later events at Chelsea) Avram Grant at Southampton has a similar role, to the fury of Harry Rednapp at Southampton.

I’m not so sure the story is as simple as all that. At Newcastle, the now highly unpopular owner seems to want to be loved by the fans and seen as a working man on the terraces, shirt and all. At West Ham, the egregious Eggert of Iceland fame is as emotional as Abramovitch at Chelsea is restrained. At City …well we have to wait and see. Will they seek out a celebrity coach with risk of a bust-up and clash of egos? If they can afford the world’s most expensive players, who will coach them?

Distributed leadership

In principle, the idea of splitting the roles of manager and coach can be defended according the theory of distributed leadership.

An intelligent debate can be found on the BBC webpages, which concluded

There’s an ownership and a belonging to their clubs and communities that goes way beyond the role of mere manager. This is the very essence in fact of the intense passion felt by thousands of supporters about their club, week in, week out. And certainly why there is so much fury in Tyneside at Keegan’s demise.

Well said. There will be much for Dominic and Eric to worry about, as they provide background to the City saga this year for Leaderswedeserve.