Role Model for Obama, McCain and myself

Statue of Liberty by Andy WarholWe all need a role model. Call it a (Wo-)Man’s Condition.* I have found this true for me in life as well as in work. Among other things, a role model or icon helps to inspire you and shape your response to unknown situations; and it is in those moments that people can become bigger than life. But, for me, my icon is somewhat fragmented. Depending on the subject (spiritual, leadership, sports…), sometimes it is one singular person, sometimes it is a composition, and sometimes it is fictional. And what is true for the ordinary layperson is also true of the big leaders, corporate, humanitarian or political: we all need a role model.

Any politician that is wanting to make a name for him or herself normally will have identified a few icons to look up to. These icons can serve as models for behaviour, benchmarks for how to construct a career, make a speech or set an agenda. And there is no dearth of choice of big name leaders in the past.

Teddy RooseveltMoving to the US Presidential campaign, for Senator McCain, you tend to think he is anti-iconic to the extent he is the maverick, not that there has never been a maverick before. All the same, McCain apparently takes stock from Teddy Roosevelt (see this article by Jill Zuckman from

I have been wondering, meanwhile, at the comparisons drawn between Senator Obama (D) and President Abraham Lincoln (R). Certainly, there are many articles, blogs and chat rooms that have taken up this story. The fact that Obama made his coming out speech (announcing he would run for President) in front of the Old State Capitol where Abraham Lincoln served as a legislator has no small part in beginning this thread.President Abraham Lincoln

Here is recap of the similarities between Obama and Lincoln:

* they both came from humble backgrounds in Illinois
* both were lawyers
* served 8 years in the Illinois State Legislature
* 1 term in Congress
* neither served in the military
* and race is clearly a defining part of their Presidential campaign.

This television report from CBS, with an interview of Professor Daniel Weinberg from Illinois, discusses some of the similarities between Obama and Lincoln.

However, this NYT article by Michael Cohen prefers to compare Obama to Frederick Douglass, the abolitionist leader (not to be mixed up with Stephen Douglas, Lincoln’s opponent in the 1860 election campaign). Douglass, ironically, was more commonly known as a critic of Lincoln, although, as Cohen writes, Douglass, in the latter part of his life, also openly lauded Lincoln.
There are two lines that I wish to reproduce here from Cohen’s article. He writes that, what may define Obama’s presidency if he wins, is: “one campaigns in poetry but governs in prose.” And, secondly, I also enjoyed the last line of Cohen’s article: [If Obama wins in November, he will likely look to] “…prove the elder Mr. Douglass correct by seeking out the proper balance between what is right and what is possible.”

It is interesting to note that Douglass was nominated as VP of the first ever woman US presidential candidate, Victoria Woodhull in 1872. Douglass refused the nomination. It should also be said that there is controversy as to whether Woodhull was actually a legitimate candidate (age, not on the ballot, etc.).

Lord Henry Temple Palmerston, 3rd ViscountIn any event, if I were to choose my own political icons, in no particular order, I personally would cite Prime Minister Winston Churchill — the right person for a difficult time. Secondly, I would view NY Mayor Michael Bloomberg as a good maverick icon to look up to — anyone that brings ethical business sense to politics is good news. Thirdly, I would like to mention Rudy Giuliani for his leadership pre- and post-9/11. Fourth, I would have to cite Mahatma Ghandi — proof that a single individual can move a mountain. And lastly, going further back in time, I am inclined to think of Prime Minister Lord Palmerston, the master of brinksmanship. But, in each case, what they stand for is hugely contextual. You need to find the right pitch for the times. Not that I am running for President (I cannot as I was born overseas), but it is a good exercise to stop and think over who your role model(s) is (are).

And who are your role models in business, politics or life?

*Not to be mixed up with Malraux’s La Condition Humaine.

Winning The Boat Race – Lessons in Leadership & Teamwork

The Oxford Cambridge Boat Race 2008Leadership means getting the team to row in the same direction!

In Time Magazine’s December 3, 2007 issue, I read with great passion the article “Ready All, Row” by Thomas K. Grose (so much so that I cut out the article and am still keen to blog about it many months later). In this article, Grose talks about what it takes to win THE Boat Race. This 4-mile boat race is fought between two eights of Cambridge and Oxford universities every April on the ThSt Catherine's Oxford 1st Eight 1977ames River. Among the many rivalries in the world, this is of course one of the most historic, dating back to 1829. The training, the hype and the race itself are extensive and intensive. Nearly 8 million people in the UK tune in, with millions more overseas. And, believing that sport is a perfect training ground for business, I am always on the lookout for lessons in leadership.

I often put in opposition two images of leadership style: (1) where theRowing Lessons of Leadership individuals in the boat are driven to excel and the direction sought of the boat is absolute perfection; and (2) where the focus is on team chemistry and individual expression where synchronization is more important than direction. Of course, neither path is necessarily at the exclusion of the other. However, as a matter of course, I tend to prefer the second orientation, putting an emphasis first on teamwork, especially when you don’t always have access to the best talent. Knowing how to extract the best out of the personnel you have allows for the greatest leverage — and people with talent will tend to gravitate to you. Key to success is the ability to galvanize the team around the same values and objectives. And, as the TIME article suggests, the interplay of the personalities is critical to gaining the extra insights, effort and results.

What does it take to create a well synched boat or team? The team needs superior communication skills (listening and sharing). It helps to have gone through some tough times together (and survived). And then, there is the alchemy that allows the team to be “in the zone” (or the groove), especially when it counts most. When these elements are suitably brought together, the fact that the team may have chosen the wrong lane at the start, been slightly off course at certain moments or hit an unexpected wave will more than likely be overcome.

For the record, the 2008 Race, this past April, was won by Oxford for the sixth time in this young 21st century–and yet with the slowest time clocked since 1947. Cambridge still holds an overall edge 79 – 74 with one dead heat. And, for one of the more eccentric reviews of this year’s race, try Mark de Rond’s piece (Cambridge Judge Business School) on, “Why Cambridge Won the Race and Why It Nearly Lost It,” written while intoxicated. I will be looking out for de Rond’s book to be published this year, “Subjectivity of Performance,” as he delves into business learnings from the world of THE boat race.

Philadephia Flyers’ Losing Streak Continues

Philadelphia Flyers 2008Well, Philly fans, here we are in the midst of another stinging Philadelphia Flyers’ losing streak. The Philadelphia Flyers are now winless in a franchise-tying 10 games in a row, have lost the services of LW Simon Gagne (“A”) for the season and now have lost their star center and leading scorer Mike Richards (2nd “A”) for 3 weeks. These injuries come on top of Lupul and Downie (RWs) and 3 defensemen, including tall lumbering Rathje and ex-Captain Hatcher. In all, 8 players are injured at the time of writing.

After getting 2 points in each of 14 out of 19 games (with 2 Overtime loses and 3 regulation losses) in the span Dec 22 until Feb 5 and rocketing into first position, the Flyers switched gears and have since plummeted into the dark depths of a streak where nothing goes right, including this last loss against the Panthers where they conceded the tying goal in the last 4 seconds of regulation time. They now lie in 9th position, below the last available playoff spot and tied with the New York Islanders.

If it is any consolation, the league leading DETROIT RED WINGS are presently accompanying the Flyers in their horror trip, as the Red Wings have lost 8 of their last 9 games. Yet, they still lie in first place overall in the NHL, with 89 points, six points ahead of the 2nd place Dallas Stars, and 11 points ahead of the Eastern Conference leading Senators. Doesn’t actually make me feel any better; but, the feeling in the locker room must start to feel like the feeling in the Flyers’ locker room with one big difference: no matter what happens, the Red Wings will still make it into the playoffs, even if they are also suffering from a large contingent of injured players, including the supremely talented Lidstrom.

When a team hits this type of losing streak, even as professionals, they must figure out how to get out of the funk, without the team starting to snap at each other…and the blame game getting in the way of lucidity. A team in the midst of such a streak needs to stay cohesive, look for and build on the small wins, even in the losses. The team needs leadership. The challenge they will have, at least over the next couple of days, is knowing that the composition of the locker room is probably about to shift radically.

With the trading deadline about to fall (Feb 26 at 3pm EST), you can only imagine that the Flyers will be active in the market in an effort to stay in the playoff hunt. What of the future of Daniel Briere who has managed to take his career -5 +/- rating coming into the season to a frightening -28 (-23 this season thus far)? Even if Coach Stevens says Briere cares, it is tough to look beyond the statistics and the $52MM package. Darren Pang talks here on Fox NHL of how he expects the Flyers to be shopping, including trading the now-injured Richards. It would be a shame to throw away talent needlessly for this season which started out so promisingly. Not that the Flyers are ready to build a Stanley Cup team, but with Gagne’s career hanging in the balance, I believe that the salary cap restrictions and regulations make the options limited for any quick fix.

Living in Paris, I miss the ability to watch the games live and to share the stories with my old colleagues with passionate hockey players and fans in Montreal. A trip through Montreal at the end of month will be very welcome, once I get over the ribbing of the drubbings the Habs have dished out to the Flyers this season.

Rugby as a (role) model for competing

Rughy as role modelSportsmanship & CompetingIs rugby the best role model for competing? I believe so. I may be entirely biased since I played rugby (union) for more than fifteen years of my life, but I have established a personal credo that says that when I encounter another rugby player I am very probably going to be able to get along with that person under virtually any conditions. Despite the vast pressure, the demonstrations of team spirit and good sportsmanship post-match thus far at the RWC have been sterling examples for how sport should be played. Yes, there have been altercations and some nasty boots and tackles. That’s part of the war-like environment in the heat of the match. Yet, the vivid emotions after the match were testament to the intensity of the game. The upset favorites (All Blacks and Wallabies)handshake - role model totally in dismay. The underdog victors (France and England) in ecstasy. And yet, the teams shook hands with solid displays of good sportsmanship. No gloating by the winners. No sour grapes from the losers. Good natured winning and dignified (if still incredulous) losing.

Among the strong values in rugby is the lack of glorification around the person doing the scoring. There is no madman running around lifting up his shirt and kissing the sky to the adulation of the fans. Typically, there will be a pat on the back from the teammates and a “let’s get on with it” attitude. A score is normally the result of a team effort. The kicker, for his part, has an assignment.

Another favourite (for amateur rugby at least) is, of course, the famous 3rd half, down at the local pub–once we hit the legal drinking age, ahem–where both sides will meet for a drink’em up/patch’em up get-together.

In the face of the multiple sporting scandals around doping, gambling, rigging of results, is society losing touch with the purpose of sports? In my life, sports have always served as the three E’s: entertainment, exercise and education. For most sports these days, there is just too money circulating it would seem to key a “valuable” eye on the ball.

Rugby sportsmanship isn’t always perfect; nor does it have a monopoly on good sportsmanship. It exists fortunately everywhere. However, among the other team sports that show genuine good spirit after hard combat I would cite ice hockey and lacrosse. And I pay particular attention to these sports where, for the most part, there is not the same kind of money as in other professional sports. Playing rugby comes above all from an authentic passion for the game, not because of a dollar bill waved in the air (although it is of course a professional sport in the big rugby playing countries and the players receive adulation and achieve star status).

To allow a child to play a rough sport at school is often a challenge for the parent. That’s not essential, but the three sports of ice hockey, lacrosse and rugby have my vote for giving the best and most authentic values. Whatever the team sport, learning the camaraderie (as well as the leadership skills) in true team sports is an invaluable lesson for life and business.

I cite some interesting articles and blogs below that I picked up on good sportsmanship.

Great example in football from Leicester City FC (featuring my old friend Tim Davies who is Chief Exec): Leicester City Site which I found about courtesy of Centre of Soccer

For better kids health:
How to teach your kids good sportsmanship

10 ways to be a good sport

From Touching Base magazine (

Some blogs on the topic of good sportsmanship (there are many on the subject)
Vicky & Jen
The Sporting Life

Jobs and Gates D5 Interview – History continues to be made

Taking the cue from my good blogging friend Eric, here is an 8 minute excerpt of Gates and Jobs being joint interviewed at the D5 WSJ Executive Conference. Sterling comments, jabs and complicity.

Two greats quotes (both from Jobs) from the interview:

At Apple, we have a saying of “The ship that leaks from the top…” [referring to management’s inability to keep a secret]

Referring to their relationship and quoting a Beatles song, Two of Us**: “You and I have memories longer than the road that stretches out ahead.” From the Let It Be album, produced on the Apple label of course.

As for the interviewers (Kara Swisher and Walt Mossberg), I felt that at times they were trying to upstage Jobs and Gates. Swisher in particular was a little gauche, although I liked her last question: What’s the biggest misunderstanding about their relationship (led to Jobs’ Beatles quote).

Watch the 8 minute interview.

**duly corrected June 9 after appropriate comment! (thanks Goose)

First impressions of Sweden

As is my wont on any first time in a country, I love to jot down the first impressions that hit me… if only to confirm some generalizations and, probably, regurgitate very obvious observations.

  • First suprise, the “noise free” Stockholm (Arlanda) airport, whereby no general announcements are made and people are very respectful of each person’s [aural] space. In the streets, it is considered gauche to laugh out loud (shows signs of being drunken/disorderly). Even kids seemed to be quieter.
  • Going to get a taxi outside at the airport, we found five taxi drivers with their hand up, standing beside their taxi, not uttering a word. You are invited to chose the driver you want (very egalitarian in a certain sense…) as they each represent different companies.
  • In a showing of equality, passengers will frequently sit in the front seat alongside the taxi driver.
  • At the offices, there is generally a basket of fruit to encourage healthy eating.
  • Women. Aside from the 48% of women in the Swedish parliament, and the fact that men take responsibility for half of the household and child-caring chores (you are just as likely to find a man pushing a pram as a woman), women give systematically very firm handshakes (a true pleasure). Naturally, I avow that the Swedish women were attractive.
  • It is most usual for boys to go out for dinner as a group of boys and girls with girls.
  • There is no [commonly used] word for “please” in Swedish.
  • The Swedes like to be punctual (very appreciated as far as I was concerned).
  • A mile in Sweden is 10 kilometers! Had no idea there was another measurement for a mile (in addition to the nautical mile).

At last, aside from learning a few key words and phrases, I was able to talk about what the word “morsan” means…which is how I have affectionately called my mother since my teen years. Morsan is slang Swedish for “mother.”

The Art of Tennis — the leadership metaphor

Federer - grace and focus

Federer - grace and focus

Two people yesterday spoke to me about an overwhelming link between the mindset of a great tennis player and the mindset of a great leader. Not that I am going to make a definitive analysis here, but a couple of fun, if not provocative, concepts:

  1. [in doubles,] best to pick a parter you respect and get along with, who also has complementary skills.
  2. in warm ups, everyone looks good. It’s when you are pushed wide out of the court and on the run in a game that you see the great players making shots. Under stress, you see the real you.
  3. the best players are always looking to improve. Seek to improve [get the motivation] and your listening skills will follow. Afterwards, there is nothing to replace hard work.