I’m one of those ‘big tournament’ football fans.  I pay scant attention to the beautiful game most of the time – but come  the Euro’s or World Cup and I become an instant expert.

Underdog1In my youth I was a regular as Barnsley FC, never missed a home or away game, but I felt the soul drained out of the game as the money poured in.  So it’s natural that I still root for the plucky underdog, winning by dint of sheer effort and team spirit.

Yes I’m all for the underdog.  But actually as an impartial observer I prefer a bit of excitement and flair, watching 11 defenders dourly defending a 0-0 scoreline soon bores.

And flair and excitement is all right until I have something invested in the game. Then I want the reliability of steady, assured results. Solid and unremarkable keeps my stress levels down. Once I can rely on the result then a bit of flair is welcome, even encouraged, but get the result first.

Last season saw Leicester City win the Premiership.  A lot was written about team spirit and the lack of ego’s.  They worked as a unit and reaped the success.  But I suppose being owned by a Thai businessman who has invested heavily in the infrastructure can’t have hurt.

At the Euro’s Iceland are confounding the pundits.  A nation with a population the size of Coventry, a ridiculously harsh climate and no professional football clubs may yet get through to the knockout stages.  An Icelandic male has a 1 in 2000 chance of making the team.  Talk about plucky underdogs, proudly representing their nation and playing with heart and soul as a team.  But I suspect that a 15 year long programme of investing in all weather pitches and professional coaching has also had a lot to do with it.

Passion alone is not enough and as some of the more established Nations demonstrate neither is talent. Talent has to apply itself to deliver great results. To be successful you need both, along with a third catalysing ingredient – Leadership.  Football knows this well, which is why managers are so regularly hired and fired.  A change of leader changes the culture which changes the results.  For better or worse.

Yes, you need TLC.  Talent, Leadership and Culture.  Invest in the infrastructure and your people to grow Talent.  Invest in Leadership to create and role model the Culture that engages talent and together delivers great results.

And on that basis you’ve always got to fancy the Germans.


Kill me if you dare, hold my head up everywhere
Keep myself right on this train
I’m the underdog, live my life on a lullaby
Keep myself riding on this train
Keep myself riding on this train

Love in Technicolor sprayed out on walls
Well, I’ve been pounding at the pavement till there’s nothing at all
I got my cloak and dagger in a bar room brawl
See the local loves a fighter, loves a winner to fall

Feels like I’m lost in a moment
I’m always losing to win
Can’t get away from the moment
Seems like it’s time to begin




Who the F#ck are Arctic Monkeys?


Last week I watched the Brit awards on television.  For those of you not in the UK this is the UK’s version of the Grammy’s.  Over the years it has morphed from a shambolic industry only affair into a big glitzy evening with a large public audience held at the O2 in London.   Sadly it just isn’t cool.

James Corden as compere gamely plugged away at his script.  Unfortunately it felt like he was reading the autocue and was embarrassed at the awful jokes he was inflicting on us.  A succession of bored looking celebs trooped up to the stage to give and receive awards and read out bland acceptance speeches.  A series of artists performed and some, like the Arctic Monkeys, were very good, but even then the audience reaction seemed muted especially amongst the industry guests.  Presumably they were all struggling with the dilemma that they wanted to make it clear that they were way too cool to enjoy this stuff but not that cool they hadn’t come.

I can remember when music was the single most important thing in the world. Discovering new bands was so exciting.  My favourite bands spoke directly to me, to my very soul, in ways that my parents could never understand.  Music wasn’t just fun, it was important. Where was this passion now? Surely the kids don’t accept this?

Then the Arctic Monkeys won the final award of the night for best album (A.M. and it is a pretty good album too) and despite having had a good go at drinking the bar dry, frontman Alex Turner gave a proper rock star acceptance speech.

I am pretty sure that at that point many viewers were thinking ‘what a pretentious load of drunken rubbish’ but for real fans it was the talking point of the show.  At last here was a rock star speaking to his fans.  Speaking to, and for, a generation in a way that made them feel special and unique.  He wasn’t trying to conform and be nice and safe.

The first time I saw the Arctic Monkeys live they lacked stage presence.  Great music but lacking the swagger of a true rock act.  There is part of the ‘Rock Star’ job description that demands eccentric behaviour, arrogance, pomposity and living a life of excess.  Rather like a promising young employee Alex was more than competent and diligently ticked all the boxes yet lacked a little self belief.  Now he has grown into his role and looks confident.  Alex is no longer just writing great lyrics, he is a proper front man, fully carrying out all aspects of his job description. When I saw them on the last tour they were the real deal.

At the Brit’s Alex was simply doing his job in a way that few of the preceding acts had done.  And it was clear that the problem with the Brit’s was that they fall into an uneasy middle ground: too corporate and nice for Rock and Roll yet too ‘naughty’ to be truly professional.  In short they fail to be authentic in any meaningful way and look like a cynical money making machine.

A few months ago the Arctic Monkeys cancelled a gig at the last minute. When it emerged that the band had been at an awards do the night before and had been seen out very late, conclusions were drawn.

If you want your rock stars to stick it to authority and conform to the job description then you have to expect the consequences.  Bands know that they get paid to perform and cancelling gigs is just not acceptable.  It’s a fine line between the expected mayhem and professionalism and sometimes young bands, like young employees, will slip.

Not Alex though, he knows what parts of his job description are non-negotiable.  It turn’s out he was hospitalised with laryngitis.

I for one am looking forward to more of the authentic Rock Star – roll on Reading Festival. Let’s hope Alex develops enough to be considered for promotion.

We all want someone to shout for 
Yeah, everyone wants somebody to adore 
But your heroes aren’t what they seem 
When you’ve been where we’ve been 
Alex Turner

Who the Fuck are Arctic Monkeys?

Good People


I was lucky enough to have lunch with James Caan recently.  Let’s not get carried away here, he was speaking at a lunch I was at and in fact he turned up after we’d had our lunch.  But still the first sentence is so much more compelling isn’t it?

No matter, the thrust of James’s little speech was that we are all too conservative when hiring staff.  James made his fortune from the recruitment business.  He argued that we all tend to hire for particular roles once we have actual vacancies.  James advocates hiring brilliant people then working out what to do with them, or rather what you can do for each other.  Sometimes you have to take a chance on an unknown – assess the risk and take steps to mitigate it.  By hiring only as and when forced, to a tight job specification we find people who are good at the job on offer but maybe have limited potential and conversely great people get turned away as over qualified – the fear being they will not want to get into the nitty gritty, get bored and just move on.  Certainly I have seen too many businesses that do not create a pipeline of future leaders.

At another similar lunch Richard Reed of Innocent argued that ‘A’ grade leaders and managers hire ‘A’ grade staff and B’s hire C’s.  I’ve often thought that real talents look to hire great people to help them perform.  Weaker performers like to keep control and don’t want the risk of hiring ‘threats’.

All very interesting.  Most of us would worry that we’d be increasing costs by hiring talent with no role or overqualified (and so more expensive) staff.  If you think about the actual risks compared to your overall budget and profit it is usually insignificant.  What’s the upside too? If they deliver more, stop you needing to hire a consultancy now and again or turn out to be perfect for that bigger role that just came free their costs can be easily covered.

On the other side of the coin candidates could take a risk too.  Why not offer to take a short term contract on a lower package to prove your worth?  Offer to do a little consultancy so that you get to know the business before you commit?

So next time you are looking to hire or be hired ask yourself if you are acting like an A or a B.

 Where’d all the good people go?

I’ve been changing channels

I don’t see them on the TV shows

Where’d all the good people go?

We got heaps and heaps of what we sow

 Jack Johnson