Felix Magath joins Fulham and illustrates the limitations of tough leadership

February 22, 2014

Felix MagathFelix Magath’s career trajectory illustrates the principle that a business or a football club often gets ‘the leader it deserves’

THIS POST WILL BE UPDATED REGULARLY AS THE STORY OF FULHAM’S APPOINTMENT OF MAGATH DEVELOPS

The appointment of Felix Magath as manager at Fulham this week [February 2014] has been greeted in the media with articles with a shared assumption that he will achieve short term results through his legendary tough leadership style and that this will end in his departure after a subsequent decline in team performance and morale.

The historical evidence

The historical evidence is unequivocal. The BBC article gives a historical account There is a clear pattern of Magrath’s behaviour which involves ferocious training regimes and tough personal relations. In animal terms he is a horse breaker rather than a horse whisperer.

Fans of Felix Magath liken him to a demon headmaster. One of his former players claims he was more like Saddam Hussein. Another one dubbed him “the last dictator in Europe”. But it was as a firefighter that Magath made his name. Indeed, Magath was to German football what Red Adair was to the US oil industry, a man who never came across a blowout he could not quell. Having led Hamburg into the Uefa Cup, Magath was sacked the following season. This is a recurring theme of Magath’s career – recovery, boom and bust. After Hamburg, Magath took Nuremberg from bottom of the second tier to the Bundesliga. After a row with Nuremberg’s president – he has a lot of those – Magath landed at Werder Bremen, another club he managed to drag clear of danger.

After a couple of years with Frankfurt, whom he also saved from the drop in his first season, Magath took over at Stuttgart. He transformed them from relegation strugglers to Bundesliga runners-up, delivering them Champions League football for the first time. As a footballer, Felix Magath won the Bundesliga three times with Hamburg between 1978 and 1983, and won 43 caps for West Germany, winning the 1980 European Championship and playing at the 1982 and 1986 World Cups, appearing in the final at Mexico ’86

“I would never want to treat human beings like he does,” said Bayern president Uli Hoeness last week, “If you want sustained success, he’s probably not the right man. But he might turn out to be a viable short-term option for Fulham. They’re already bottom of the Premier League table, so it can’t really get much worse for them.”

Magath might just be the man to quell all that rattling and shaking going on down at Craven Cottage. Just don’t expect those smiles to last too long.

The style is effective at removing those unwilling to accept his methods. He symbolizes what used to be called theory X management, leadership by fear and bullying.

The strong leader and the last dictator?

Magath appeals to those who believe that dictatorial leadership can be the method of last resort, a short term fix. At Fulham, the board has a reputation for tough action, prepared to hire and fire rapidly. It is hardly surprising that they might believe that failure on the field is as a result of weak leadership. Ergo, find a stronger leader. If the results continue to be poor, then the leader could not have been strong enough, The board has a vision they pursue single-mindedly. It is to hire the strongest – because toughest – manager they can obtain.

Transformational it isn’t

The style is ultimately transactional, the limited method of punishment and reward. Fulham has acquired the leader the club’s board deserves [maybe under pressures from financial backers].

The leader the fans deserve?

There will be a proportion of fans vociferous in their support of a tough leader. They too will be acquiring the leader they deserve. Other fans will not have their anxieties so quickly addressed. As results settle down, each setback will be seen as evidence of the folly of the board’s decision to appoint the man likened to Saddam Hussein in his leadership style.

What you see is what you get

One aspect of such a style is that what you see is what you will get. Magath has no hidden dark side of his leadership persona. It is up there for all to see.

Beyond charisma?

Other tough leaders are also often described as charismatic. The great Brian Clough comes to mind. In my preliminary searches I have yet to find the term charismatic applied to Magath.

Situational leadership

There is some evidence that a situational leadership ‘map’ might be helpful in interpreting this story. A leader such as Magath is most likely to achieve results with a compliant workforce. The extreme circumstances facing the players contribute to desperate efforts. This is the ageless story retold in the movie The Dirty Dozen. The tough leader offers a last chance for redemption.

Some media reactions

Hell fighter could be perfect fit for Fulham

Magath accuses Rene Meulensteen of destabilizing Fulham

23rd February

First game showed ‘immediate but limited’ impact’ through team performance in 1-1 draw away to West Brom.

1st March

Loss to Chelsea forces Magath to admit defense must strengthen. Signs of reality creeping in?

8th March

Headline says it all after Fulham lose to relegation rivals Cardiff City. Magath believes players not responding enough to tough leadership.

2nd May

Fulham relegated. First criticism that Magath is the wrong man to return Fulham to the Premiership


Musical conductors and surgeons share leadership skills

May 19, 2013

Eye SurgeryThe leadership skills required of musical conductors and surgeons are highly situational and yet applicable to many other leadership roles

This idea is not particularly novel, although I have not come across it in the introductory leadership textbooks prepared for business executives. The closest is an infrequent reference to improvisation, or creating within accepted principles or rules.

Distributed leadership

LWD subscribers may have noticed recent posts mentioning musical conductors. I also interviewed the promising young conductor Duncan Ward a few years ago.

Overall, the impression I received of musical leadership was of a form of distributed leadership. The conductor symbolizes and ‘orchestrates’ the performance, and coordinates its execution, assisted by the contributions of the leaders of various musical sub-groups within the whole.

The surgeon

More recently I had direct experience of a highly skilled surgeon at work. My contribution to the performance was as his patient, but was able to witness the procedure to some degree because of the absence of a general anaesthetic.

Distributed leadership as a non-zero sum game

The surgeon was clearly the leader of a team. However, again there were sub-groupings each with a formal leader. Distributed leadership again. This not the simple splitting up of the tasks as was made famous by Adam Smith’s distribution of labour or Henry Ford’s efficiency concept of a production line. Power is not asserted top-down as in a zero-sum game. The conductor or surgeon creates within constraints imposed by the situation and its interpretation. The other lead players and ‘team members’ are not de-skilled (as they are in the classical model of a modernist business production line) but enabled. In other words, it becomes a non-zero sum game.

Footnote

A similar metaphor was used by footballer Robin van Persie in an interview. he talks of football training as being in an orchestra with the coach as conductor.


Katherine Garrett-Cox faces Leadership Challenges at Alliance Trust

April 9, 2012

Challenges facing the Alliance Trust bring back memories. Investment Trusts in the UK have been popular since their creation in the 19th century, as an alternative to stocks and shares for the investor of limited means and experience

The image of Investment Trusts retains the virtues of prudence associated with the stereotyped Scottish banker, and so valued (at least in principle) by former Prime Minister Gordon Brown. The format took a blow in the early 20th century through financial innovations which almost wiped out the industry, as entrepreneurial competitors found riskier and more profitable ways of capitalisation. One of the innovating firms which became subject to a government enquiry was Aberdeen Asset Management which re-enters the story this week [April 2012].

The current head of Alliance Trust, Katherine Garrett-Cox is one of the most successful bankers of her generation also known as the ice-woman, superwoman and Katherine the Great. It may or may not be coincidence that one of her earlier jobs in a glittering career was at Aberdeen Asset Management.

Background

Bill Jamieson of The Scotsman provides a background analysis:

Katherine Garrett-Cox is head of Alliance Trust, one of Scotland’s largest companies by market capitalisation. It can certainly claim the largest private shareholder following: investment has been its business for generations. But now, as if the eruption of a public row over performance and stewardship – the second in two years – is not sufficiently concerning, the prospect of a hostile approach from rival Aberdeen Asset Management (AAM) compels wide attention.
Laxey Partners, an investor activist group speaking for 1.7 per cent of Alliance’s shares, has accused Garrett-Cox and the board of lacklustre performance and misleading shareholders about the expenses of the business. It has tabled a motion for the annual meeting on 27 April calling, inter alia, for the board to concentrate on improving performance and to consider outsourcing the fund’s investment management.

How has a £2.1 billion investment trust, famed for its defensive, conservative approach to equity investment – qualities that have swung back in to favour in recent years – found itself under such attack? And why has a trust with an impressive record of sustained dividend growth [for forty five years] has failed to rally support among the industry analysts and commentators who set such store by long-term dividend performance?

Dynamic leadership has situational aspects

Jamieson concentrates on two factors contributing the problems at Alliance. The first seems to be a clash of values between a deeply conservative corporate culture at Alliance and a more dynamic culture at AAM. The second and related issue is the leadership style of Ms Garrett-Cox. He notes that

Alliance may now be running out of time [although some investors] would look askance at a boarding party raid from a 1.7 per cent-owning group based in the Isle of Man and the possible entry of AAM which nearly broke the investment trust industry in the split capital trust debacle [a financial innovation for Investment Trusts] investigated by the Treasury a decade ago. AAM’s Martin Gilbert said then he wanted out of the retail investment business. But amnesia among stockbrokers is an occupational hazard.

If you are seeking to build a high-volume fund management platform you need a galvanizing leadership and love of profile. Recent non-executive board appointments have been drawn in the main from the [worlds of] governance, compliance and regulation, rather than front-line investment experience. All this, and Garrett-Cox’s ice maiden persona, has worked to turn Alliance from being a radiator into a fridge.

Patterns of behaviour

The story illustrates the dangers of adhering to a traditional culture in changing times, and the merits of dynamic leadership. However it may also be taken, as Jamieson suggests as the capacity for ‘amnesia among stockbrokers’ verging on what has also been called wilful blindness and a refusal to learn the messages of the past decades of financial turbulence. There is a strangely old-fashioned feel to a narrative of a buccaneering leader operating out of a tax haven. Nor does a simple reading of the story capture the more innovative skills which were a part of Garrett-Cox’s career under different circumstances.

Acknowledgement

Image from Opitslinkfest blog


Mick McCarthy sacked: The case examined from a situational leadership perspective

February 14, 2012

Mick McCarthy is dismissed as manager of Wolves football club after a run of poor results, and a crushing defeat to local rivals. LWD examines his case from the perspective of situational leadership

A Guardian report briefly summarised the demise of Mick McCarthy:

Mick McCarthy has paid an almost inevitable price for Wolves’ dismal run of form, with the Midlands club announcing the sacking of their manager on Monday morning [Feb 13th 2012]. Despite earlier support from the boardroom, McCarthy’s position appeared untenable as Wolverhampton Wanderers slumped to a 5-1 home defeat by West Bromwich Albion on Sunday

“Wolves have today announced that manager, Mick McCarthy, has left the club with immediate effect. The board took the difficult decision to terminate Mick’s contract after a run of form which has seen Wolves pick up only 14 points in the last 22 league games, culminating in yesterday’s 5-1 defeat at home to West Bromwich Albion. Mick joined Wolves in July 2006 and led the club to the Championship title in the 2008-09 campaign, before keeping the club in the Premier League for the past two seasons. The board would like to place on record their sincere thanks and appreciation to Mick and he leaves with the very best wishes of everyone connected to the club. The club will be issuing a fuller statement in due course.”

As fans stepped up their displays of dissatisfaction with McCarthy a few months ago, he reacted angrily afterwards. I noted in an earlier post [Oct 28th 2011]:

At the post-match interview, the manager was visibly angry. He chose not to reveal the origins of his anger. This of itself was unusual. He has earned a reputation of the almost stereotyped no-nonsense, blunt-speaking Yorkshire man.

Checking back I found another post recounting a famous confrontation with team captain Roy Keene, when McCarthy was manager of Ireland’s world cup team. These and numerous other reports suggests that Mick McCarthy’s leadership style is seen as uncompromising, committed, and confrontational.

Credit where credit is due

As McCarthy’s fate became discussed, commentators made the reasonable case that McCarthy had succeeded well with the resources at his disposal, including those successes in gaining and securing promotion to the Premiership for his club [2006-2009].

Situational leadership

The case can be studied applying the notions of situational leadership, still a popular form of leadership development courses.
The approach takes participants beyond the idea that there is one best leadership style. It was an advance over a century-long search for traits of effective leaders. Situational leadership suggests that “it all depends” on situational factors including the maturity of the people involved (the football team or squad in this example).

Four basic situational styles

S1 directing
S2 directing and supporting (coaching)
S3 supporting (with lower level of direction)
S4 delegating (reduced leader interventions of support or direction).

At its core, situational leadership courses suggest that as a team develops in maturity, the leader needs to place emphasis on differing combinations of task focus and people focus.

Growing with the team

It seems likely that some leaders can ‘grow with the team’. It may be that McCarthy had considerable talents at directing (style S1) perhaps finding it difficult to work comfortably with complex situations requiring more flexible ‘individualized attention’ of team members.


If God sends a hurricane, what should you pray for?

August 29, 2011

As Hurricane Irene headed towards the Eastern seaboard of the United States, President Obama cut down on his customary symbolic delivery of his message to the people facing the storm. It was a time of practical action ahead of religious observations

I was listening to a radio interview three thousand miles from the action, a few hours before the anticipated arrival of Hurricane Irene on America’s eastern seaboard. President Obama had spoken gravely of the historic dangers facing some 55 million Americans. His instructions were urgent and precise. Prepare. Evacuate vulnerable low-lying areas. Treat the instructions from local and State officials as mandatory.

An Obama speech is typically crafted to contain a rational message and a style or signature which signals his emotional commitments. The imagery implies his religion, love of country, and his cultural roots. In this speech, the rational substantially outweighed the symbolic.

Meanwhile on Coney Island

I would not have noticed the way the speech addressed the situational rather than the emotional factors in play, if I had not then heard the words of the Pastor of a Coney Island church. The name brought memories of a rattling train ride out to Brooklyn, NY for its famous Atlantic beach and amusement centers, and later a minor league Baseball team appropriately enough known as the Brooklyn Cyclones. Now I was listening to the words of a community leader preoccupied with the practical. Yes, Coney Island faced particular problems being geographically and socially vulnerable. People were preparing themselves, clearing out their cellars, boarding up, leaving their homes if necessary.

But what about prayer?

There was a pause which was filled when the reporter asked “what about prayer?” The question caught me by surprise. Maybe it caught the pastor by surprise as well. His hesitation was palpable. Yes of course. God answers our prayers.

What I heard got me thinking. President and pastor were focused on the immediate and practical needs of their people. You could say that it was a nice example of situational leadership. Thanksgiving and spiritual nurturing comes afterwards.

And I also wondered, if God sends a hurricane, just what should you pray for?

Acknowledgement

Image from internet reporting site Cleveland.com shows NBC reporter Peter Alexander attempting to broadcast from Coney Island boardwalk as Hurricane Irene passes close by


Nadal beats Murray on clay. No surprise. Confirmation Murray needs to unlearn some play patterns

April 17, 2011

Nadal continues his astonishing winning streak on clay. It is no surprise to anybody that he beat Andy Murray in the Semi-finals at Monte Carlo, although romantic British commentators on Sky spoke briefly of momentum when Murray won a set.

Update

The semi-final of the French Open chapionships [June 3rd 3011] saw a replay of this contest …

Even winning a set against Nadal on clay is an achievement for any tennis player. Particularly so for a player such as Andy Murray, who has had such deep swings in his playing performances over the last two years.

A thought from leadership research

One thought from leadership research: the leadership maps remain unclear as to how easy it is for a leader to switch behavioural style according to circumstances. Behaviours can be consciously modified. For example, someone comfortable with a task-oriented style can recognise when people skills are needed, and act accordingly. However, under pressure, the tendency is to revert to the habitual and preferred style. High-level sports contests in general, and Murray’s performances as a specific example, confirm this general principle.

A pattern of setbacks

In January 2009 Murray played great tennis in the Australian open before losing in the final. The loss triggered a dismal series of further losses over a period of months. In January 2010 he again reached the final of the Australian open. Once again he lost without winning a set. Once again the loss was followed by a miserable run of form which extended to this week’s tournament at Monte Carlo.

Meanwhile, Murray continues to seek a coach that will help him make a step up to become a serious contender for Grand Slam titles. At present he is (again) ‘between appointments’.

If you always do …

If in trouble in a match, Murray often switches play and more often than not goes on to extricate himself from trouble. That being said, There are patterns to his play which together with natural talent make him one of the strongest players of his era. Yet in sport, as in strategy, there is no such thing as an absolute strength. Stylistic strengths have what are sometimes called ‘allowable weaknesses’. Murray is a great counter-puncher. This can sometimes be favoured and he is acc used of being unwilling to attack powerfully enough. His skill at breaking back lost serves may have contributed to his persisting difficulty in developing a reliable first serve.

Patterns of play can be broken. A great player, and Murray deserves such an accolade on various counts, can overcome weaknesses. It is not an impossibility that Murray will reach the final of a grand slam event several more times; winning one is not beyond the bounds of possibility. However, (and it is a big however), without some radical developments in his game, he may well remain one of the nearly greats who nearly achieved greatness in the eyes of the sporting world. He will remain an example of the maxim If you always do what you’ve always done you’ll always get what you’ve always got.


The Battle for British Airways

February 4, 2010

Willie Walsh

Willie Walsh was brought into British Airlines with a justified reputation as a tough negotiator. His toughness has been met with robust rejection by the UNITE union. What’s going on at BA?

The global credit crunch has affected every international business. While there are strategic opportunities, threats are easier to see. According to a recent Business Week report:

Some observers question whether BA will shutter or try to sell (good luck in this environment) the BA OpenSkies subsidiary, which runs flights from Paris and Amsterdam to the U.S., just a year after it was created.

Further stoking investor fear, Virgin Atlantic founder Richard Branson said that he had looked at making a bid for BA but that “the airline wasn’t worth much anymore.” Branson then urged the British government not to intervene to save BA. “It would be better to wait for its demise,” he told the BBC.

At first sight, the news seems unfathomable. It seems that an e-mail had gone out to 30,000 UK employees [June 17th 2009] asking them to volunteer to take up to a month’s unpaid leave, or unpaid work. Such an appeal for loyalty seems unlikely to succeed in a situation where the leader’s style is noted as a rather enthusiastically confrontational one.

The story followed news of a personal gesture by Mr Walsh to work for a month unpaid. But this is too easy to dismiss by workers as being alright for someone like their well-heeled leader. Nor would the new offer be helped by the news that an offer to pilots has been made of shares in the company for a new deal.

According to the BBC

Mr Walsh said BA’s drive to save cash was part of a “fight for survival ..I am looking for every single part of the company to take part in some way in this cash-effective way of helping the company’s survival plan

Strikes averted, strikes threatened

The tough stance cut no ice with the unions. A strike over the Christmas Holiday period was overwhelmingly supported, and narrowly averted through a High Court action by BA. But the Unions continued to plan strike action, probably for the next major Holiday period in the Spring of 2010. In February, The company response was again to take a tough line.

In a ­letter to BA’s 38,000 staff, Walsh offered the opportunity to become “volunteer cabin crew”. He said: “I am asking for volunteers to back BA by training to work alongside cabin crew who choose not to support a strike, so we are ready to keep our customers flying as much as we possibly can if this strike goes ahead.” BA is confident that staff can be trained and certified by the beginning of March 2010, which is the earliest possible date for a cabin crew walkout if, as expected, about 12,000 employees vote for industrial action over staffing cuts.

Discussions between Unite and BA have failed to reach an agreement so far and both sides broke their silences today to cry betrayal. BA said Unite had misled the airline by organising a strike ballot while holding peace talks while Tony Woodley, joint general secretary of Unite, said BA was attempting to break a walkout with “scab labour who have had minimum training”.

A leader’s bid for cooperation

When a leader makes a bid for cooperation, reputation is likely to play a part in its reception. An earlier post in LWD was highly critical of the BA leadership style under Willie Walsh. The outcome may help throw light on the old question of situational leadership.

Creative ideas needed

As often happens, a crisis can drive creative thinking out of the window. But are there opportunities for trying out new ideas to avoid the company sliding into further decline?


Robert Benmosche: New leader, old leadership style?

January 3, 2010

Robert Benmosche was appointed as a tough guy to do a tough job at AIG. Is such a job ‘situationally’ right for such a leadership style? To address the question, we have to take a fresh look at an old leadership theory

According to The Financial Times

Robert Benmosche has the toughest task in corporate America – keeping AIG afloat while finding some $80bn (£50bn, €56bn) to repay US taxpayers and free the insurer from government ownership. Since taking over in August , Mr Benmosche has clashed with government officials over executives’ pay, threatened to resign and halted the “fire sale of the century” – a plan to sell large chunks of the once-mighty insurer that had been blessed by the federal authorities after they first bailed out AIG in September [2008]. Mr Benmosche believes that his aggressive management style has helped stop the rot at a company that was heading for liquidation and was being lambasted by politicians for paying bonuses with federal money. He predicts it will take at least two years for AIG to sell businesses and earn enough profits to repay the government and persuade it to sell its 80 per cent stake. The authorities are not as confident. Tim Geithner, the US Treasury Secretary, recently told Congress he did not believe the government [would] be fully refunded for its largesse towards AIG. The Government Accountability Office has estimated that taxpayers will end up losing more than $30bn on the insurer.

The recent crises in financial institutions have revealed that many were led by charismatic and dominant individuals whose style in hindsight was often associated with narcissism and worse psychological characteristics. [Mandrill Management, as it has been called in earlier blogs]. There is much to be said for a direct and forceful style in times of crisis. Mr Benmosche has a chance to provide a more positive exemplar for such a style. We will follow the case carefully.

Robert Benmosche’s background

Born: 1944, Brooklyn, New York
Education: New York Military Academy; BA in Mathematics, Alfred University, NY
Career: Truck driver for Coca-Cola; two years as a lieutenant in the US Army Signal Corps. ; In 1966 worked in technology at consultancy Arthur D. Little
before joining Chase in 1979; Between 1982 and 1995 he was at Paine Webber, the brokerage house, working variously in marketing, finance, operations, human resources and sales; Moved to MetLife in 1995 as its chief executive, before retiring
in 2006. Appointed CEO of AIG in August 2009 after the corporate upheaval of the credit crunch. Hobbies: “I need to find the time to go beyond learning wine-making and jogging.”

A Note on Situational Leadership

Students of leadership will still come across the venerable theory of situational leadership. The textbook Dilemmas of Leadership traces the concept to an influential article in Harvard Business Review from the late 1950s, reprinted as a classic 25 years later. Prior to the 1950s, trait theorists had assumed there was a ‘one right way to lead organizations. By the 1950s, the older trait theories were being replaced by theories which suggested there was still a ‘one right way’, by that the ‘way’ would be influenced by context. Contingency theories have a family resemblance to situational theories. They don’t take contrasting positions. Any confusion is due more to historical differences. Contingency theories came from broader studies iof organization; situational leadership as its label implies has been limited within leadership studies, and subject to ‘appropriation’ by consultant-academics such as Hersey and Blanchard.

Situational Leadership was a movement away from earlier full-blown trait theories of ‘what leaders are’ (fixed traits) to ‘what leaders do’. There is no simple way through the ‘contingency/situational’ jungle. Rickards and Clark (Dilemmas of Leadership) suggest that any leadership theory can be studied for exploring the dilemmas which any leader has to deal with. For example, situational leadership suggests that a leader who adapts to situations may produce anxieties and lack of trust and confidence in others regarding his or her ‘authenticity’. This is a dilemma of trust in seeking the appropriate behaviours to exercise leadership influence or control.


Ramos is situational leader of the month

December 1, 2007

juande-ramos.jpg
Update [February, 2008]

On Sunday February 24th 2008, Tottenham Hotspur won the Carling Cup Final at Wembley against a much-fancied Chelsea team. Juande Ramos received plaudits for the transformation achieved at Tottenham since his arrival earlier in the season.

Original Post:

Does a sporting leader make a difference? Sometimes. At a micro-level a coach can change the course of the game by a substitution which sets up a different pattern of play. An illustration of a positive effect can be found in the actions of new coach Juande Ramos, during the game between Tottenham Hotspur and Aalborg in the Uefa cup.

The Tottenham Aalborg match took place on Thursday 29th November, 2007. According to the BBC,

A storming second half from Tottenham overwhelmed Aalborg as Spurs put themselves on the brink of qualifying for the next stage of the Uefa Cup. Thomas Enevoldsen’s 22-yard strike put the visitors ahead before Kasper Risgard bundled in from close range. But a tactical reshuffle by Spurs boss Juande Ramos saw Dimitar Berbatov poke home and Steed Malbranque power in an angled far-post shot to level. Darren Bent grabbed the winner when he tapped in a cross from Aaron Lennon.

It was Ramos’ switch of formation and personnel, as well as his half-time team talk, which reinvigorated the hosts after they had been given an early shock as Aalborg went ahead with just two minutes gone.

The praise for the coach’s tactical changes was widespread in the post-match accounts. However, Ramos also pinpointed what his tactics had been unable to do, namely set up a team with fewer defensive frailties. He acknowledged as much in his post-match conference

“We are making mistakes that could be costly …The most important thing in the team is balance – and we are imbalanced. We are conceding too many opportunities and we have to find a solution to this, because we are not going to score three goals in every game. We have to stop the defence leaking goals. “Unfortunately a lot of the injured players we have at the moment are in the same area of the team. We have King, Gardner, Rocha out”.

In microcosm, then, a coach made a difference to the performance of the team by a tactical decision that was considered imaginative and surprising. I’d say it was a little act of creativity. It is a matter of discussion to assess what proportion of top-level coaches react as impressively, under similar circumstances.

Situational leadership

But should we also note that to make a difference, the team had to be playing less successfully before the change? In which case, the success is balanced by an earlier failure for which the coach also has some responsibility. Closer examination of the play may indicate whether the players had just failed to follow the coach’s plan. In which case, advocates of the theory of situational leadership would put it down to some mismatch between leadership and player actions and competences.

Leadership issues

The simplicity of the example makes it a useful one for study. In what ways might we borrow from the theory of situational management to help other coaches achieve better results? The theory suggests that the level of commitment and competence may vary, and the leader has to modify interventions accordingly. Tottenham’s second string defenders are not displaying the competence expected of Premier League professionals; Ramos finds a creative way of overcoming it, with the old adage that attack is the best form of defence. But the adage is not applied in an automatic way, but under specific circumstances. Ramos also intends to work at more direct ways of protecting his team from defensive errors.

Tentative conclusion

The theory of situational leadership remains controversial as research results appear to be at best inconclusive with respect to results achieved in the predicted directions applying measures of leadership (and follower) styles. Perhaps the football field will be a promising arena to study the theory, and maybe apply it in practice.

Note:

There is a wider issue that should be mentioned. The arrival of Juande Ramos, and departure of Martin Jols is a far more complicated story to untangle. It would be simplistic to suggest that the Board was correct in replacing a leader who had achieved rather unexpected success over five years at the club. That story requires a far more detailed study over a much longer time-scale than the ninety minutes of a football match.

Acknowledgement

Image from the wonderful land of New Zealand.


Bob Nardelli. A good leader for Chrysler in its present plight?

November 4, 2007

bob-nardelli.jpgIf you believe in situational leadership you may feel that Bob Nardelli’s style is an appropriate one for Chrysler, following the Cerberus takeover

The bloodletting at Chrysler is not going to be pleasant. It calls for a special kind of leadership to avoid worse outcomes than might have been possible. There have been business leaders in the past who relished the prospects of being in charge in such a crisis. They had earned their reputations as uncompromising men willing to made the big decisions in a slash-and-burn situation.

Uncompromising men? It’s just that there are fewer stories about equally ruthless business women, because they haven’t had as many opportunities. A few years ago there was Linda Wachner, America’s first Fortune 500 female boss, whose high-handed management style was blamed for the bankruptcy of clothing company Warnaco. And I have little doubt that if Margaret Thatcher had found herself in change at Chrysler at the moment, she would have entered into the spirit of things with her legendary energy and decisiveness.

Heroes and villains

In times of crisis, it is tempting to portray events as dominated by the actions of great villains or heroes depending on your view of capital market mechanisms. The leader as hero rescues what can be saved, and in the process accepts that casualties as a vital part of winning the battle. That might be called the unconditional free-market view. Opposed to that, is notion of the leader brought in to a company in trouble is a villain, a mercenary, a ruthless bounty-hunter contracted to deliver what is required, ‘dead or alive’ in order to earn his own booty on behalf of a powerful rapacious corporate raider. That’s the unconditional anti-capitalist view.

Young people around the world learn of their national heroes and traitors in terms rather like these. Cultural forces sustain the views, as part of each culture’s ‘national heritage’, regardless of efforts at history teachers to offer a more nuanced explanation of events and of the impact of individuals.

Many years ago, Thomas Carlisle took the view that great leaders could be excused human flaws. Assuming they have something special which achieves great results, we must beware of belittling them for being all too human. That’s one argument. Carlisle warned against what he called valetism. (‘No man is a hero to his own valet’).

One of various objections to Carlisle’s idea is the way in which heroes suddenly become villains (the hero to zero effect), but in either case are granted exceptional abilities. It anticipated the more technical studies of leadership in search of the right stuff, the essence of leadership.

It took us a hundred years of work to suspect that the impact of great leaders was to a considerable degree based on the perceptions of followers. That’s why I am rather keen to promote the suggestion that we get the leaders we deserve, and that they are to some degree the creation of our collective imaginations.

Remember Chain-Saw Al?

Before returning to Chrysler, it may be worth recalling the rise and fall of other leaders once hailed great, and then trashed. ‘Chain saw’ Al Dunlap comes to mind. Older subscribers will remember Al as hero of Wall Street, the wizard of down-sizing. Al was in demand for a company in need of the slash and burn treatment. Al kept producing the goods, metaphorically. He eventually was found not to be producing the goods literally, and had been engaging in all sorts of creative accounting.

Morer recently, we witnessed had the rise and fall of Sam O’ Neal at Merrill Lynch. Sam had been lauded as Sam the Man who had shaken Merrill Lunch out of its strategic slumbers. He had also presided over the company at the time when it hit the buffers as one of the biggest losers in the sub-prime markets this year. Exit Sam with some $16 million compensation for his efforts during the good years.

Once the performance of Merrill Lynch fell, Mr O’Neal’s contribution, and his leadership style were called into attention. He was autocratic. He would not listen to advice. He could be very difficult to work with. And so on.

Which brings us back to Bob Nardelli

When Nardelli left Home Depot, earlier this year, the consensus was that

Home Depot faces a well-known dilemma. It has long passed a growth phase when its stock was rising in sensational fashion. Efforts to maintain the growth led to a decision to bring in new and dynamic management. When the desired growth was not achieved, the leader was deposed. Nardelli’s demise was made easier by his management style and a skill at extracting extremely favourable personal rewards. It should be noted that this might suggest he was a difficult boss, but not a stupid one

When Cerberus acquired Chrysler, they turned to Nardelli.

Why? Private Equity business deals require leaders to be able to follow a plan, stick to the numbers. They may or may not be ‘good with people’. If they are, it’s a bonus.

Matching the situation and the leader

Situational leadership suggests that different situations call for different leadership skills. In one well-known leadership formulation, leaders are invited to assess situations and seek an appropriate style. In Chrysler’s situation, the temptation for the new owners is to regard a directive style as appropriate. That’s how it’s worked in the past. Hello, Bob, I think we’ve got just the job for you …Yes, a bit like Al., but we don’t want any financial tricks. Remember what happened to Al.

So is Nardelli likely to be a good leader for Chrysler?

There are no easy answers in a case study like this one. Conclusions have to be supported by argument and indications of the assumptions being made. So far, I’ve been putting forward a qualification that it is not possible to put leaders into one of two boxes ‘good or bad’. This is based on the evidence that leaders may have a style that suits them to some circumstances better than others.

The next point to consider is good for what and for whom. In evaluating Nardelli’s impact at Chrysler we may wish to take the broad view that Chrysler appears to be in need of drastic and painful change, and that Nardelli was attracted with a deal in which he is generously rewarded for carrying out the painful operation of change.

I suspect he has some of the characteristics of the tough-minded leader required to meet the short-term financial objectives of Cerberus. I don’t know if he will succeed in the wider challenge of creating something permanent that will be recognised as the New Chrysler. Sadly, among the biggest losers at Chrysler will be tens of thousands of workers who will be without jobs over the coming months. The unconditional free-marketeers will Maybe argue that the alternatives would likely have led to even more job losses at Chrysler further down the line. Maybe a tough approach now will create more jobs elsewhere, than a more ‘humane’ and collaborative approach which fails to bring about changes in market prospects of the ailing corporation.