Take me to your Leader


Six days to go. If you’re a cricket fan, you’ll know what I’m talking about. Next Thursday it’s the start of the Ashes – England vs. Australia. More correctly, Australia vs. England, seeing as the first test is in Brisbane and the Barmy Army (if they’ve any sense) will be covered in factor 30.

For me, the Ashes will always mean 2005 – Michael Vaughan, Freddie Flintoff & Co clinching the series at the Oval. Much as Freddie walked off with the plaudits, Sports Personality of the Year and Hangover of the Decade, for me the defining player of that series was Vaughan. Not for his batting – in retrospect he was already on the downslope – but for his captaincy. I’m certain that if you’d switched the nationality of the captains on the morning of the first test it would have been 2-1 the other way – and Fred wouldn’t have been reaching for the paracetamol.

But what makes a good captain? And more to the point where this blog’s concerned, what makes a good leader in business? Are there any similarities? In my view, too many to count – so many that the more I write, the more I’m realising I could write.

Back into the dressing room for a minute. Sometimes your captain has to lead by example. Head bandaged, shirt bloodied, he has to stand defiant. And be seen to stand defiant. But in the very best captains – and business leaders – you need the opposite as well. Sometimes, they’re almost invisible. To quote Lao Tzu:

A leader is best when people barely know he exists: when his work is done, his aim fulfilled, they will say, “We did it ourselves.”

Let me give you two examples of the ‘quiet’ leader. Number one – Andrew Strauss, the current England cricket captain. I think Strauss does a superb job. He took over the captaincy after some fairly spectacular high-profile failures: he leads from the front, he has faith in his team – and he’s not afraid to stand back and let others take the credit.

Christian Horner had that on Sunday. He’s the principal of Red Bull, the F1 team. The previous week they’d won the Constructor’s Championship – now Sebastian Vettel had captured the driver’s crown. Did Horner claim the credit? No – he immediately handed all the praise over to the drivers, the mechanics, “everyone back in Milton Keynes.” Anyone but himself.

And Dave was like that as well. He was my first manager in the drinks industry. He was clear in what he wanted, he was democratic – and crucially, he let me make mistakes. At that stage in my career, I couldn’t have asked for anything more – and the combination of direction and freedom was incredibly motivating.

That’s another thing that good captains and great leaders need – the ability to motivate. As even the most incompetent football manager (no names, the libel lawyers are circling) will tell you, some players need an arm round their shoulders, some need the hairdryer.

It’s the same in business. I’ve always been fascinated by motivation – how do you motivate people? In particular, how do you motivate someone you see Monday to Friday, 9 to 5? There’s a wealth of expertise among my Alternative Board members – I’ll be picking their brains in future blogs.

Let me leave you (for this week) with what I see as the three essentials of captaincy – and business leadership.

  1. I suppose you’d call it emotional intelligence. Captain or boss, you have to communicate – but communication is a two way street. It means listening as well as talking. You’ll never motivate someone if you don’t listen to what they want 
  2. Sometimes being a leader means precisely that – leading. You’ve got to be clear on where you’re heading, and you’ve got to take your team with you – which in turn means communicating…
  3. Above all, a leader needs to be consistent. We’ve all had bosses who didn’t know what they wanted from one day to the next. Who praised you on Monday and threatened you with a warning letter on Tuesday. Consistency is a leader’s greatest virtue: sport or business, you can’t be a great leader one day and opt out the next.

 There you go. That’s my six penn’orth for this week. I sense I could be in for a few arguments, but for now my votes go to Andrew Strauss, Christian Horner and Dave. I’ll leave it with you. Who’s the best leader you’ve ever seen, or ever worked or played with? Sport, business – or any other field you care to mention. The lines are open…

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9 comments

  1. Rich Cadden · November 18, 2010

    A leader by definition has people following. It is the leaders responsibility to communicate the ultimate goal and ensure people are onboard. Essentially making their goal, the teams goal. I see a Captain as a manager as the goal is already established, and the captain can manage expectations and direct strategy from the field of play, which takes me to the Theodore Roosevelt quote:
    “It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”

    In sport, I am reminded of Garry Watkinson, the hooker for the British RLFC Tour of 1988, as the first few notes of the national anthem started to play and as the rest of the team started to sing in meek tones, he bellowed with a guteral roar “SING!!!!!!!”. You could see the passion, desire and emotion….and that was before the game even started!!!!!!

    In business, my rather unwitting and unknowing leader was a guy called Ken Jackson. A 5ft 4 Liverpudlian who had an insatiable thirst for knowledge. He was, and probably still is, a walking encyclopedia of Railways group standards, legislation and the implimentation of these regs. He was the linch-pin of the organisation between the academic theorists and the pragmatic do-ers….he was the one who kept the Directors out of jail!!!!! I told him on his retirement do, who he had been a leader, mentor and figurehead for how I would like to model myself. He really could walk the walk and talk the talk.

    In life…… My dad. He epitomises all of these traits that I have spotted in others, and with my impending arrival on Dec 30th, I hope to be as good a role model as my dad is.

    • edreidyork · November 18, 2010

      Brilliant Rich – particularly like the Garry Watkinson reference

  2. Dick Jennings · November 18, 2010

    Privilege to read your blogs, Ed. Given the effort you must put in to writing them so beautifully, they deserve a much bigger audience.

    The best boss I’ve worked with was Ernest Saunders, at Guinness. It’s a surprise to me that I feel that way: he wasn’t particularly likable, had a tendency to get into scrapes, and as we all know ended up with a jail sentence. But we did all feel, working for him, that together we could walk on water. He was the best marketeer I’ve ever seen. And he did turn Guinness, in less than five years in the mid-eighties, from a small, declining basket case ibusiness nto one of the four biggest drinks companies in the world. I’ll always be grateful I was there.

    Dick

    • edreidyork · November 18, 2010

      That’s very kind Dick! Given I also had a very happy few years selling Guinness to the trade, I think I probably also owe Ernest a debt of gratitude, which does feel a little odd!

  3. Rich Cadden · November 19, 2010

    And I feel honoured to have helped Mr Saunders grow Guiness to what it is today….in my own small way!!!! 🙂

  4. Tom · November 25, 2010

    In football — the late, great Brian Clough
    In cricket — Mike Brearley and (I suspect) Douglas Jardine
    In business — Ed Reid, of course!!

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