Tag Archives: Leadership

10 Leadership Lessons: Moyes, Ferguson and The Salvation Army

26 Apr


Alex Ferguson in my opinion was the greatest football manager there has ever been. He was Manchester United manager for 26 years winning 38 trophies including 13 Premier League titles and 2 European Cups. But his successor David Moyes was sacked this week after only 10 months in the job.

As Manchester United search for the new ‘chosen one’ the transition from Ferguson to Moyes has got me thinking about leadership particularly when you follow someone who has done so well.

So I have come up with 10 lessons I think we can learn about leadership.

1)   Succession Planning is vital when a departing leader is successful

Moyes was picked by Alex Ferguson to be his successor and you could see why as he appeared to be almost made in Ferguson’s image!

The Salvation Army has a much greater capacity for succession planning with local leadership positions than with the officers who run corps (churches). This is because officers are normally appointed from service elsewhere in the organisation rather from within a certain corps or department. However, I believe succession planning should be given more consideration when a departing leader has been successful over a long period of time.

2)   Give the successor time

Ferguson’s lengthy tenure as manager was always going to impact the early years of his successors tenure. I respect Manchester United’s leadership succession strategy but wish they had stayed true to their original beliefs and given Moyes more time.

It is the same in The Salvation Army and maybe where you work. Even when people expect results immediately people need time. I have heard time and time again in my training that often it is not until the 4th or 5th year of an appointment that things really start. I appreciate that this might be too long in other spheres of life but remember Alex Ferguson’s first trophy for Manchester United came after 4 years!

3)   Be careful what you change

When taking up leadership Moyes changed some of the key backroom staff. If his previous successor had left after a period of inertia then fair play, change the staff, but because the club had just won the league then maybe he should have kept them on. Why fix what is not broken? Furthermore, the club also lost their Chief Executive at the same time as Alex Ferguson.

If we focus on a successor alone without considering other changes that are taking place within the management team this will provide an incomplete picture of the subsequent effect on the performance of the organisation.

Again there may be reasons for ringing the changes in a workplace, but after a long period of success the philosophy does not need changing. The foundation is there so be careful what you change.

4)   What you do change needs to work and make sense

Moyes only made one signing in his first summer and it was not one that improved the squad in my opinion. He did not get the other star players he wanted.

Knowing what to change when you take over leadership must be a difficult task. I think it all depends on what kind of circumstances you take over from but the things you do change need to make sense.

5)   Responsibility lies with players/members too

While Moyes ultimately takes responsibility for the team, I think the Manchester United team need to also. They did not play well; made far too many individual mistakes and really only their goalkeeper improved his game this season.

I believe The Salvation Army is only as strong as its membership. The Salvation Army is known for many things such as ‘Faith in action’ and ‘Christianity with its sleeves rolled up’. However, we are not known for incisive thinking, academic ability and for developing members and leaders in a strong ‘thinking culture’. I am not suggesting we all become intellectuals and know all the theories but we need a vibrant ‘thinking culture’ across the whole movement so we can engage with God’s word and the challenges in the world. This is not just down to leaders.

6)   The role of luck

I think Moyes has been unlucky with injuries and crucial game changing moments this season. That extra bit of luck might have saved him his job.

Although I do not believe in ‘luck’ per se the successor does need a period without things persistently stopping their leadership momentum. There will be things we can control and things we cannot. Some people believe in fate and many Christians have a strong belief in the providence of God. However, I believe chance is at work in our world but it is not the all that is at work in our world. Maybe I will come back to that topic one day!

7)   The importance of Sabbath or rest

Manchester United and Bayern Munich both had manager changes after successful trophy winning seasons. Bayern Munich not only got a manager who had experience at winning at the highest level but they also got a manager who had just taken a year off resting. He came in fresh and won the league for Bayern in record time.

Salvation Army officers all too often burn as it is not a 9-5 job, it is a lifestyle. Interestingly too, it is compulsory for Methodist ministers to have a 3 month sabbatical every 7 years. Salvation Army officers are allowed to apply for a sabbatical, but it only available once you have served for at least 15 years. Maybe that is something that can be improved.

8)   Vision needs to be clear

Ryan Giggs, the new caretaker manger of Manchester United, has outlined the vision of how he wants the team to play; with passion, speed, courage, imagination, a strong work ethic and to put the smiles back on the fans faces. Incidentally this encapsulates the philosophy of the team from the last 20 years bar this year.

While I think organisations need a vision, my feeling is that values are every bit as important. However, people need to buy into the vision/values and therefore it is crucial that the vision is not chosen merely because it matches the leaders strengths.

9)   Grooming potential leaders

One thing Moyes did do was he appointed two of ‘Fergie’s fledglings’ Ryan Giggs and Phil Neville to the coaching staff. I think it is great that leaders come through the system. Grooming potential leaders is a process that takes years and needs to be planned for.

I think the challenge for The Salvation Army is to bring through leaders in an environment that encourages differences of opinion. Unless we want to develop ‘yes men and women’ we need to give future leadership room to engage with decision-making.

10)  Supporting the leader

The Manchester United fans never stopped supporting their team when they could have turned on them.

Organisations such as The Salvation Army and the leaders within it need all the support they can get. Many people and organisations support us in our work. But internally when the going gets tough people need to rally around their leader although inevitably every situation will have its own merits for how long this is the right thing to do.










God’s Cadets – Leadership, Calling and Stepping Out!

11 Jan


Many of you will now have seen the documentary God’s Cadets on BBC4 which follows the honest stories of cadets at The Salvation Army’s UK Training College. There are refreshing moments where people speak about faith and doubt in the same breath –  perhaps a bit of a no go area to the baby boom generation. There were some uncomfortable moments when comments could be construed as being held by all but then I remind myself that they are edited comments after all. This discomfort was compounded as the camera panned to images that humorously yet awkwardly paralleled the Army with Harry Potter, Star Wars, Star Trek and medieval fighting! However, there were also profound moments when the essence of The Salvation Army was portrayed in the passionate concern for society’s forgotten people: the homeless, prostitutes and the victims of trafficking amongst others.

People are talking about the programme. A close friend of mine who is an atheist was in awe of what he saw the Army doing. He was deeply impacted by the poignancy of talking about doubt and said he’d become an officer if he didn’t have to do the ‘religion bit’.

For me the documentary’s focus highlights the challenges of stepping up to leadership today. After almost 150 years of history of The Salvation Army in the UK we stand on the brink of spiralling into an increasing irrelevance or rising again to be a prophetic voice in communities across the land and in the arenas of public life that affect the marginalised. (When I write ‘prophetic’ I mean the ‘calling out truth’ kind rather than the ‘predicating the future’ kind). To do this:

We need leaders now and to come who will lead the Army to understand its own social evolution. What has become a largely middle class Army (membership) has never been so economically far away from the people who we promise to have a bias in serving.

We need leaders now and to come who interpret the biblical narrative with discernment and understand culture with equally huge portions of wisdom and insight.

We need leaders now and to come who are able to recognize the strong entailment of Army history on the language of our mission and practices without making that history a definitive model.

We need leaders now and to come who are capable of breaking open stale ideas, bring their ingenuity and obedience to God to the table.

We need leaders now and to come who understand mission in the 21st Century, have their heads screwed on and their hearts full of wanting the best for others.

We have many of these leaders  around (you met some in the programme) but we need many, many more.

My dream is that every Salvationist (and others?) would ask themselves whether God is calling them to be an officer. It is not for everyone and is not a higher calling than another kind. But I’m convinced if people opened their heart to engage with the question of calling then more people might make the seemingly outrageous decision to offer themselves.

Our training college should include some our the most gifted intellectuals, passionate teachers, reformed drunkards, young and middle-aged, mature and maturing Christians, men and women, successful individuals from the private sector, black and white….maybe even you! Why not? Yeah, why not you!? I mean most leaders in bible had something wrong with them to start with – murderers, liars, cheats, the mute, the comfortable, the not so special – you name it they’re all in there.

Stepping out to be a leader and then leading will be not easy (you’re not off the hook though, it’s just something you need to know!). Maybe you think the opposition and challenges are inevitable, but rarely are they unbeatable. There may be many silent supporters as well as the many vocal detractors.

Tony Blair once wrote that the Labour party created a situation for itself where ‘normal’ people felt inclined to walk away, leaving the manically ambitious and the weird in their stead (now it’s also been said that no-one sane every changed the world!). But it is just so important that this generation brings through obedient, capable and teachable leaders (amongst other things) who continue their adventure in the Army for God’s kingdom.

We can change our systems and structures but if we lack the people, we really should be fearful. I think God’s Cadets showed us some of the courage, humanness and reality of people engaging in the privilege of servant leadership.  Whether you liked it or not, just ask yourself ‘could I be called?’. Yeah you!


P.S If you haven’t yet seen the programme it will be on BBC iplayer until the 21st January 2014 (Click here to watch UK only)

P.P.S Picture is Nick Poyntz

8 Leadership Tips from Nelson Mandela

2 Jul

As I watch the news items about Nelson Mandela’s declining health my mind often returns to one thought – We need more like this man.

I read most of Mandela’s autobiography Long Walk to Freedom lying on a beach in Southern India. I couldn’t put the book down as I was captivated by his philosophy, leadership style, his cause and an exceptional analytical ability. I was so into the book that I didn’t realise that the tide had come in caught me by surprise leaving me frantically scrambling for my scattered floating possessions. Unfortunately, my copy of Long Walk to Freedom was lost to the Indian Ocean and I never was able to finish the remaining chapters.


So this week I went to my college library to find the book I’d lost so I could finish it. In my search I came across his famous speech entitled “An ideal for which I am prepared to die”. The title caught my attention and I began to read it.

This speech given in 1964 – with its dignified exposition of the tribulations of black South Africans under apartheid – was given at the dock in Mandela’s trial on charges of sabotage.

The speech was an important point in his fight for a non-racial socialist democracy and fortunately he did not have to die for his ideals. If he had, South Africa would have been deprived of a perhaps the most important in its history and the rest of us of rare world statesman.

I think we can all learn something from him, especially today’s politicians, activists and even Salvation Army Officers!

What ideals would we defend or indeed die for?

I also came across some leadership tips from Mandela, which I hope, will be interesting and helpful. The ideals for which Mandela was prepared to risk his life became in the most part a reality because of the pragmatism of his leadership. The list, which I’ve condensed, is from Richard Stengel who spent a lot of time with Mandela working together on the autobiography I carelessly lost to the Indian Ocean. So all credit to him.

1. Courage is not the absence of fear — it’s inspiring others to move beyond it.

Prisoners who were with him said watching Mandela walk across the courtyard (in prison), upright and proud, was enough to keep them going for days. He knew that he was a model for others, and that gave him the strength to triumph over his own fear.

2. Lead from the front — but don’t leave your base behind.

For Mandela, refusing to negotiate was about tactics, not principles. Throughout his life, he has always made that distinction. His unwavering principle — the overthrow of apartheid and the achievement of one man, one vote — was immutable, but almost anything that helped him get to that goal he regarded as a tactic. He is the most pragmatic of idealists.

3. Lead from the back — and let others believe they are in front.

The chief’s job, Mandela said, was not to tell people what to do but to form a consensus. “Don’t enter the debate too early,” he used to say. … The trick of leadership is allowing yourself to be led too. It is wise to persuade people to do things and make them think it was their own idea.”

4. Know your enemy — and learn about his favourite sport.

“As far back as the 1960s, Mandela began studying Afrikaans, the language of the white South Africans who created apartheid. His comrades in the ANC teased him about it, but he wanted to understand the Afrikaner’s worldview; he knew that one day he would be fighting them or negotiating with them, and either way, his destiny was tied to theirs.”

5. Keep your friends close — and your rivals even closer.

Mandela believed that embracing his rivals was a way of controlling them: they were more dangerous on their own than within his circle of influence. He cherished loyalty, but he was never obsessed by it. After all, he used to say, people act in their own interest. It was simply a fact of human nature, not a flaw or a defect.

6. Appearances matter — and remember to smile.

When Mandela was running for the presidency in 1994, he knew that symbols mattered as much as substance. He was never a great public speaker, and people often tuned out what he was saying after the first few minutes. But it was the iconography that people understood. When he was on a platform, he would always do the toyi-toyi, the township dance that was an emblem of the struggle. But more important was that dazzling, beatific, all-inclusive smile.

7. Nothing is black or white.

Life is never either/or. Decisions are complex, and there are always competing factors. To look for simple explanations is the bias of the human brain, but it doesn’t correspond to reality. Nothing is ever as straightforward as it appears. Mandela is comfortable with contradiction. As a politician, he was a pragmatist who saw the world as infinitely nuanced. Much of this, I believe, came from living as a black man under an apartheid system that offered a daily regimen of excruciating and debilitating moral choices: Do I defer to the white boss to get the job I want and avoid a punishment? Do I carry my pass? …. Mandela’s calculus was always, what is the end that I seek, and what is the most practical way to get there?

8. Quitting is leading too.

Knowing how to abandon a failed idea, task or relationship is often the most difficult kind of decision a leader has to make. In many ways, Mandela’s greatest legacy as President of South Africa is the way he chose to leave it. When he was elected in 1994, Mandela probably could have pressed to be President for life — and there were many who felt that in return for his years in prison, that was the least South Africa could do. “His job was to set the course,” says Ramaphosa, “not to steer the ship”. He knows that leaders lead as much by what they choose not to do as what they do”.


Lincoln, Leadership and The Salvation Army

7 Feb


I recently saw the film Lincoln starring Daniel Day-Lewis which tells the story of President Lincoln’s efforts to abolish slavery.

In the film directed by Spielberg, there is a scene where the bombastic and powerful House Ways and Means Chairman, Thaddeus Stevens privately debates with the president.  Stevens, a staunch abolitionist, is concerned about Lincoln’s apparent equivocation on the issue of slavery, and urges unwavering adherence to a “moral compass” that points unambiguously toward “True North.” Lincoln counters that this is all well and good, except when your moral compass steers you into a swamp. Your True North doesn’t matter much then. You’re stuck in the swamp.

I don’t know if this debate ever happened or if the credit goes to the scriptwriters. But in any case, the tension between principles and pragmatism is at the root of many dilemmas facing leaders today.

Some leaders simplistically frame this in “either/or” terms: you can either be true to your principles or completely abandon your principles by succumbing to outside pressures. But extraordinary leaders like Lincoln seek a more nuanced understanding by harnessing the dialectical tension—forging solutions that embrace both the principles they hold dear while at the same time acknowledging the real-world factors that are often beyond their control.

Thaddeus Stevens was put to the test when asked to speak in front of the House of Representatives during the critical debate on the Thirteen Amendment that would abolish slavery. Stevens had long argued that slavery should be abolished on the basis of the principle that all men are equal, regardless of their race.  But on this occasion, he is cautioned that a full-throated and candid articulation of his views would be amplified by a fickle press, instigating fear among crucial Representatives, and lead to certain defeat of the measure.

At the moment of truth, Stevens backs down from his purely principled position, softening to the more palatable argument that all men should be treated equally under the law.  While certain radical Republicans were aghast, his more tempered plea was exactly what was called for under the circumstances, and the constitutional amendment passed by a meager two votes.


Stevens could have stuck to his original moral compass, which would have steered him directly into the swamp. Instead, through his struggle, he discovered a new authentic True North voice, one that worked in service of his ultimate purpose, the abolition of slavery.

We all have a moral compass don’t we, some kind of cause we strive for or believe in. The Salvation Army’s True North is to communicate and live out the transforming message of Jesus, bringing freedom and hope into lives of a world of the hurting, broken, lonely and lost, reaching them in love by all means necessary.

The movement has grown and now faces many challenges in the 21st century such as how to be forward thinking as membership rates drop alongside a tendency to live on the glory of the good old days. Ask Microsoft and Apple how difficult it is to remain successful, and not only in one country but many. Today, The Salvation Army is in 126 countries but aspires to be one movement.

It’s not easy to change. As leaders and members of The Salvation Army (indeed any organization), we must be able to recognize the strong entailment of our history on our mission and form without making that history a definitive model. We need to look again at our core beliefs and values, our ‘True North’ and be ready to throw out cultural additions accumulated through the ages that hinder rather than promote our values.

Imagine as General Linda Bond (world leader of The Salvation Army) envisions:

‘a God-raised, Spirit-filled Army of the 21st century, convinced of its calling, moving forward together into the world the hurting, broken, lonely, disposed and lost, reaching them in love by all means with the transforming message of Jesus, binging freedom, hope and life.’

How we avoid the swamp of irrelevancy, of reputation protecting at all costs, and of division is not an easy question. How do we find an authentic True North that serves the vision, but might call upon us to change, which might seem unnatural or risky. Again I don’t have a complete answer.

But I’m reminded in Lincoln that extraordinary leaders like Abraham Lincoln seek a more nuanced understanding forging solutions that embrace both the principles they hold dear while at the same time acknowledging the real-world factors. The Salvation Army was not created to be risk-averse but at the same reckless decision-making and wholesale changes will likely steer us wayward.  Keeping our True North in mind will help us plot our way forward, though at times change may hurt, but ultimately allow us not to end up in a swamp!