Symbolic Leadership and the Queen’s Visit to Ireland

May 18, 2011

The Queen’s visit to Ireland has been widely described as a historic moment of great symbolic significance. So what is symbolic leadership?

This month (May 2011) has already marked two events redolent in symbolism. The first was the celebrity royal wedding of William and Kate Wales. The second event will have more of a foothold on history.

The State Visit

The Daily Telegraph put it in these terms:

Yesterday when the Queen arrived in the Irish capital for the start of her historic tour, she laid a wreath at the Garden of Remembrance, which honours all those who died for Irish freedom in the early part of the 20th century … [Today] The Queen will make probably the most significant visit of her tour when she goes to Dublin’s Croke Park, the site of a British massacre of Irish civilians which turned public sympathy decisively against the Government.

The symbolic significance was not lost on those still claiming to be heir to the revolutionary struggle for a United Ireland. There were thwarted terrorist incidents in London and Dublin. Security in the Irish capital was so tight that the general public could hardly glimpse the visiting Royal.

Symbolic Leadership

Just what is Symbolic Leadership? The Danish Leadership theorist Ingo Winkler defined it as leadership which refers to, and is based on interpretation of meaning, which becomes tangible and therefore can be experienced in the form of symbols. The concept assumes that reality is a social construction, with leadership being a part of this reality.

Those Symbolic Acts

The State Visit has been thoroughly planned for its symbolic impact. So was that royal wedding. Those symbolic acts have a message to communicate to the widest of international audiences. The Queen’s visit has a further message for audiences in Northern Ireland, The Irish Republic, and the British mainland.

An Irish View

A Irish blogger captured one view from Dublin:

I watched the Royal Wedding last month; I enjoyed it immensely but I didn’t shed a single tear. I cried today as I watched The Queen stand in front of Áras an Uachtráin (Irish President’s official residence) and listen to a band play God Save the Queen followed by the Irish national anthem. A moment imbued with significance and symbolism; peace in our time in this often troubled island. [Note; the very blurry image above was shot from my television screen from RTE’s coverage of the Queen’s state visit to Ireland].

Ackowledgement

To Just Add Attitude for that ‘very blurry image’.

Update

I was struck by the Churchillian prose of the Queen’s speech. It was a brilliant piece of writing for a momentous moment. Worth studying by any student of leadership, along with the Martin Luther King classic.


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’.

Postscipt

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.


Peace One Day: The Adidas Puma Story

September 20, 2009

Peace One Day

The charity Peace One Day plays a part in peace initiatives around the world. On September 21st, among those symbolic actions were those taken by Puma and Adidas, two firms whose existence reflects a long-lasting family feud within a small Bavarian township

A news item this week [Sept 17th 2009] tells of the origins of the international sporting equipment firms Puma and Adidas. The point of the story was that the firms have been bitter rivals since splitting, over sixty years ago. Now, leaders of the rival firms were to make ‘a historic handshake’ as one of the Charity’s events planned for 21st Sept 2009.

Background

Peace One Day (POD) was founded by film maker Jeremy Gilley in 1999. He was to became a publicist for and then partner in peace initiatives around the world. By 2006 he and POD wereassociated with various high-profile events with world leaders such as Kofi Annan, the Dalai Lama, Shimon Peres, and Mary Robinson.

Considerable praise has been heaped on both charity and the humanitarian leadership of its founder.

The organisation has survived critical setbacks: one high profile documentary filmed at the United Nations in New York lost much momentum as it took place as the twin towers disaster was unfolding a few miles across town.

The unique marketing concept of POD is the focussing of its events on the same day [September 21st] each year. There is no specific significance of the day historically.

The Adidas/Puma event of 2009

Herzogenaurach, Germany, 17 September 2009 – It will be a historic hand shake: In support of the peace initiative PEACE ONE DAY the two sportswear companies adidas and PUMA will shake hands for the first time after six decades. As a sign of amicable cooperation, employees of both companies will play football together on Peace Day, 21st of September, and subsequently watch the movie “The Day after Peace” by Jeremy Gilley, director and founder of PEACE ONE DAY. These events will be the first joint activities of both companies since their founders Rudolf and Adi Dassler left their shared firm and established Adidas and PUMA.

The Adidas Puma story seems right for a Hollywood movie. In the 1920s, two brothers grew up and worked in the laundry shop owned by their mother in the 1920s. They stared out together in business togther with a shared idea which created the marketing of clothing exclusively for sporting activities. In the 1930s they equipped Jesse Owens for the 1936 Olympics in Berlin [a story in itself]. But the brothers rarely agreed over anything, and sibling rivalry must have contributed to the split into two firms, still operating in close proximity in a little township in Bavaria.
The family rift is said to have deepened during the war, when a remark about “the B********s returning” during an air raid was taken as cruel rejection of members by one side of the family as others scrambled for the safety of an air raid shelter. It was later claimed the remark referred to a returning flight of Allied aircraft not to family members fleeing for their lives. Whatever, the story tells of a feud which was to split family and employees in the little village of Herzogenaurach for decades afterwards. Today, the old rivalries are mostly muted and symbolic. The Day of Peace celebrations confirm existing practical realities of life in the township.

Leadership Issues

The story introduces a range of leadership issues.

What strategy is suggested which might be of interest to establishing a not-for profit organization charity?

Might founder Jeremy Gilley be an example of servant leadership?

How important is symbolic leadership in establishing such an organization, and why?

What contribution might such efforts make to wider humanitarian efforts against war and towards peace processes?


Olympic Protests and Leadership Issues

August 7, 2008
Dali Lama

Dali Lama

Update

The post was written in 2008. It retains relevance as the Sochi Winter Olympics of 2014 draws to a close.

The Beijing Olympics is launched amid a flurry of political stories. The old dilemma is a dilemma no more. It seems that sport and politics can not be kept separate. But there may be ways of them co-existing, with the help of creative leadership

The Financial Times suggested that it was always a pious hope that politics and sport could be kept apart at Beijing.

On the eve of the Olympic Games, Reuters news agency reported that

More than 40 athletes competing in the Beijing Olympics have urged China to peacefully settle contention over Tibet and protect freedom of religion and opinion, rights groups said, raising pressure on the Games host ..The Games participants are among 127 international athletes reported to have signed a petition to Chinese President Hu Jintao, bringing sports and human rights together in a way that Beijing has often rejected as “politicising” the Olympics.

Meanwhile, human rights protesters at Liberty Square, Taipei call for an alternative ‘Peace’ Olympics.

The signs became obvious as far back as February 2008 when Stephen Spielberg announced his resignation as a high-profile artistic advisor to the Games.

His political purpose was to draw attention to the continued humanitarian crisis in Darfur. Spielberg,claimed that China was
not doing enough to pressure Sudan to end the human suffering in the troubled western Darfur region in the five-year conflict.

The Darfur issue has been kept in the headlines by Team Darfur
in a longer-running campaign by athletes concerned over the Darfur situation.

The rationale of Team Darfur is to make a difference politically in Darfur, through the publicity gained by the support of high-profile athletes.

This week we learn that a member of Team Darfur would be carrying the Olympic flag in the opening ceremony. The story was that of child rescued from Darfur who became a US citizen.

A day after China jerked the visa of former Olympian Joey Cheek because of his high-profile support for Darfur, the U.S. Olympic team announced it had voted a former Sudanese refugee the honor of carrying the American flag into the stadium for the opening ceremonies. the selection of Lopez Lomong, a 1,500-meter runner who became a U.S. citizen 13 months ago, contains almost as much provocation as poignancy.

The Olympic Flame and its Political Journey

The run-up to the Olympics has been simplified into a story of civil rights which was sustained because of the highly symbolic journey of the Olympic flame around the world. The focus of the story increasingly became the political conditions in Tibet.

Maybe it seemed a great gesture in the planning stage. But as we have been reminded, much of the ceremony and its political potential was anticipated in Hitler’s Berlin Games of 1936.

Then there’s President Bush

The President has been increasingly down-staged by the momentum of the Presidential race in recent months. This week he had to re-enter the limelight, perhaps reluctantly. His position presents a classic dilemma of leadership. Actions (going to the Games) or non-actions (staying away) are likely to bring tricky political repercussions.

Bush decided to go to the Games, while reserving his criticisms of China’s political position for speeches en route to Beijing.

The Leadership Issues

Start from the perspective of leadership as a process of influencing people towards the achievement of objectives. Negotiating, selling, threatening, and protesting, represent behaviours with leadership connections.

From such a broad perspective, we can recognise the various inter-related leadership activities within the stories connected with the Beijing Olympics.

Try as we might, it is hard to bracket out those elements which are ‘purely’ sporting. The Olympic movement has lofty aspirational goals. Even these are increasingly under threat from commercial interests of sponsors. Can we conclude that the decisions to grant the Games are being made simply on sporting considerations?

The structures around the Olympic movement are as complex as any found in global organisations of any kind. Its members influence and are influenced by the political and economic elites of the countries they represent.

This is a major way in which sport and politics mix. But then there are the multiple constituencies who oppose the policies of those in power are the world. There are constitutional as well as revolutionary oppositions.

The various demonstrations that are occurring around the Olympics are no more than the slightest of confirmations (if confirmation were needed) that we are a long way away from a Utopian world of Olympian ideals and universally shared values.

So What?

So what, you may well ask. Because the next few weeks offer a chance to take part in events that will touch almost every one on the planet. Each of us will be prompted to make decisions for ourselves. Watch the games, forget the politics? Take direct action in support of some cherished cause? Give what you can to Darfur, or Tibet, or a more local cause.

Many years ago I spent a year working in New York at a time of National upheaval over the political implication of its military policy in Vietnam. I found it difficult to square my sense of being a guest in a foreign land, not at all clear about the broader context, but someone whose friends were mostly urging me to join them in their anti-war protests. But their arguments were less convincing than their commitment to the anti-war cause.

Later, back in the UK, there were echoes of this dilemma in my ambivalence about the arguments in favour of the CND movement.

I wish I had been able to realize then that there was no right or wrong answer based on the evidence available to me. I was trying to work out what to do, when faced with values apparently pointing in different directions.

A More Creative Stance

To take a far more significant example, the Dali Lama found a resolution to the issue. He has consistently made it clear (a leadership task) what he intends to do regarding the Beijing Olympics. He welcomes the opportunity presented to the Chinese people, and will do nothing to diminish it as a sporting event. This permits him to work as he always has for the rights he seeks for Tibet.

Maybe he illustrates the creativity needed to deal with an apparently intractable problem. In which case we have a modern version of an ancient paradox resolved by rendering unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, without compromising commitment to another and higher authority.