There’s no ‘I’ in team

In this month's column for Elite Franchise, Ian Christelow talks about the importance of putting collective glory ahead of personal gain.

There’s no ‘I’ in team

In this month’s column
for Elite Franchise, Ian Christelow talks
about the importance of putting collective glory ahead of personal gain

There have been few more surreal moments in my life than when former England captain Andrew Strauss asked me for advice about star cricketer Kevin Pietersen.

At the time, Strauss was in the frame for being named England’s director for cricket by the governing body ECB.

It was Thursday, April 23rd, 2015, and I was attending the business excellence awards dinner at a 5-star hotel in Portugal.

I was sitting with two of our forum’s headline speakers, Andrew and Dr Mark Bawden, who was the Great Britain team’s Head Psychologist during the London Olympic Games.

Then Andrew turned to me and said: “If I get the England job, what should I do with Kevin Pietersen?” Five years on and I still have to pinch myself!

For those of you who don’t follow cricket, Pietersen was England’s most talented batsman of his generation and one of the best in the world. A run machine and match winner, he was hardly ever out of the spotlight.

But with him came challenges, and one such occasion was in 2005 when car manufacturers Jaguar agreed to sponsor the England team ahead of that year’s Ashes series.  The England & Wales Cricket Board (ECB) negotiated a deal that would provide every squad member with a brand new Jaguar to drive that summer, which was a huge coup 15 years ago. The ECB broke this exciting news to the players, only for Kevin Pietersen to say he didn’t want one, insisting he’d continue to drive his Range Rover and, by doing so, jeopardising the entire deal. Fortunately, it didn’t, but hopefully everyone now understands management’s predicament.

To illustrate my answer to Andrew’s question about Pietersen, I took a napkin and drew Jack Welch’s 2×2 performance-values matrix. Jack was chairman and CEO of General Electric for 20 years, up until 2001. When he retired, he received a severance payment of over $400m – the largest in business history.

And this was his approach when it came to dealing with high-ranking personnel at General Electric.

The first quadrant is easy: With a High
and a High Cultural Fit, the answer is this: Look after them of course.

The second is easy too: For a Low Performer and a Low Cultural Fit, you ‘sack them.’ Not even worth pondering over.

It then becomes more of a conundrum. For a Low
with a High Cultural Fit, the sound advice is to give them a second chance. Either train them up or move them into a role that they’re better suited for.

And so we arrive at the ‘Maverick Quadrant’: This being a High Performer but with a Low
Cultural Fit
. At the time, Pietersen was one of the highest performers and one of the lowest cultural fits in the team. Jack Welch’s advice is to sack them and let everyone else in the organisation know why you’ve sacked them. This has the effect of giving the team a lift and tends to lift everyone’s game when it comes to living the company’s culture.

Andrew tucks the napkin safely away in his pocket and says ‘thanks.’

Andrew Strauss did get the job and set about making changes, which included dealing with Pietersen who never represented England again.

As an outside observer, I believe England’s famous victory at the 2019 World Cup is a legacy of Strauss’s direction and management.

Another example of was the philosophy captain Billy Bremner and manager Don Revie instilled into the Leeds United squad during the 1960s and early 1970s, perhaps best summed up by the words on Bremner Square ‘SIDE BEFORE SELF, EVERY TIME’. 

The late, great Norman Hunter (sorry about another name-drop) told me on Boxing Day last year, they used to train on Christmas Day, and that they were happy to do so because it gave them a better chance of winning.

Sadly, it all went pear-shaped at Leeds in the 40 years that followed Revie and Bremner’s time, as illustrated by three examples of gross mismanagement:

1: When Revie became England manager in 1974, the Elland Road board appointed an ego maniac by the name of Brian Clough to replace him. He arrived in Yorkshire without his trusted, grounded and emotionally intelligent sidekick Peter Taylor who opted to remain in Brighton. Almost immediately, to use a well-worn football phrase, ‘he lost the dressing room’. A string of terrible results followed, and he departed after 44 infamous days. Check out the book and movie called ‘The Damned United‘ which depicts Clough’s two months of turmoil at Leeds.

2: Peter Ridsdale’s high risk gamble, on a budget which was dependant on Leeds qualifying for the Champion’s League, bankrupted the club almost 20 years ago. Leeds, semi-finalists in 2001, agonisingly failed to qualify for the following season’s elite European competition by two points. Twelve months later they finished fifth in the Premier League, one position too low for a second successive season. A consortium led by former Chelsea owner Ken Bates bought the club from the receiver for just £1.5m. Less than six years later Bates would sell the club for £52m to a Middle East-based private equity group. By this time they had been relegated. Ask any fan about Bates’s reign and you won’t hear one good word. Bates’s wife later proposed, on the club’s website, that a fundraiser be held to raise money to build a statue of her husband ‘to recognise how he had saved the club’. Not surprisingly, this idea never got off the ground.

3: In February 2013, wannabe rock star Massimo Cellino was arrested for ‘attempted embezzlement and fraudulent misrepresentation’, regarding the construction of the stadium at Italian club Cagliari. The case remains unsolved. Yet, in January 2014, he took control of Leeds United. You just couldn’t make it up. Lowlights of his time at the club include the appointment of an out-of-work non-league football manager as head coach. He also punished the fans for protesting against him, by introducing a compulsory £5 ‘pie tax.’ He was successfully sued by club stalwart Lucy Ward for unfair dismissal and sex discrimination. The club lost goodwill, a £290,000 legal battle and a former star player who was influential in the development of James Milner and Fabian Delph. To quote Brad Sugars: ‘The fish stinks from the head down.’ In April 2015, six players who Cellino recruited declared themselves unfit for an away match at Charlton Athletic. It was an action described by Leeds legend Trevor Cherry as ‘disgraceful.’ To quote the father of Brad Sugars: ‘You get the people you deserve.’

Decades of disappointment, scandals and being the laughing stock of football finally ended in 2017.

Cellino sold his controlling interest to entrepreneur Andrea Radrizanni who appointed Angus Kinnear as managing director – having tempted him to travel north from West Ham.

And it was Kinnear who, in turn, persuaded top coach Marcello Bielsa to take over the running of the team. Bielsa’s integrity, intelligence and management skills shone through when he explained to the press why he had appointed run-of-the-mill footballer Liam Cooper as captain.

He said: “A captain has to be a good person. The values our captain transmits are summed up by the fact that Cooper is more interested in the collective well-being of the team, than his own personal well-being.

“Our captain is generous to help his team mates and also has humility. If you combine generosity and humility, it makes him an example for all of us. We always have to take into account examples of people who are better than us.”

The moral of the story is to ‘hire people better than yourself and not ‘non-league’ personnel you can manipulate. Hire those who raise the bar and demand the best, and those who buy into the common goal.

For Leeds United, the aim is to end many years of exile from football’s top table. Whatever the intended target, it must not be about your own personal glory, but about inspiring your team members.

Many top performers have rough edges. So, in a team game like business, how do you know when to accommodate a maverick and when to move top talent out of the building? 

I discovered the answer to this question from Frank Dick, who was a leading athletics coach during the 1970s and 1980s, and is now a motivational speaker. Frank coached decathlete Daley Thompson, a winner of two Olympic gold medals.

Here’s my take away from Frank’s internal training session for our franchise partners: “If the rough edge hurts the team, the player has to go. It’s more about the name on the front of the football shirt, than that on the back.”

Meanwhile, the apparent good news for Leeds United fans is that, after 16 years out of the Premier League, they appear to be within touching distance of the top table once again – but please don’t hold your breath, just yet.

Ian Christelow
Ian Christelow