Sam Allardyce to run for Parliament?

Posted on 28th September, 2016 in Leadership, Performance, Value

It’s as if it was meant to be.

David Cameron resigns triggering a by-election.  Sam Allardyce loses his job (sorry – my mistake – consciously uncouples by mutual agreement).  The Witney selection committee is surely not required. 

Now I’m going to hold my hand up here.  I don’t know Big Sam personally (Allardyce that is…).  And I don’t really have an opinion on him as a manger.  He’s clearly credible and is was at or near the top of his profession.  All I’ve got to work with is what is in the public domain.  But I don’t think I’m going to run out of material.

For those who have been on NASA’s ‘living on Mars’ experiment for the last 24h, Sam Allardyce and the Football Association (FA) yesterday parted company after it was revealed that Allardyce offered to help undercover reporters bypass the FA’s player ownership rules.  There may also have been some money involved.

One way or another Allardyce fell on his sword and in an interview today described how sad he was that ‘entrapment won’.  As delusional and absence of self-awareness go, this last statement is right up there and is a classic case of what psychologists call ‘actor/observer bias’. The short version is that it’s when people in the thick of the action ascribe failure to the situation, organisation or someone else – anyone but themselves.

The UK did previously suffer a mass outbreak of this phenomenon when a large number of MPs simultaneously convinced themselves that it wasn’t their own fault for claiming excessive expenses – it was the system that was broken.  Allardyce would seem to be perfect for the role – experienced in public life, thick-skinned and natural cultural fit. 

The danger of this unconscious bias is well known to high performance teams and individuals who have a surprisingly rare trait called objectivity.  They seem to find it useful when operating in the real world of results and outcomes.  Simple examples of how they achieve this include:

  • Use data and evidence to inform decisions e.g. Moneyball
  • Use Red Teams (a kind of peer review) to stress test your thinking
  • Lead by example in admitting your own mistakes to the team
  • Build a culture of honest open debriefing
  • Make organisational values actually mean something – non-compliance must have consequences

Ultimately however, there is no real substitute for your own values.  You can put as many systems in place as you like, but if you can’t rein in the ego and urge to abuse power for your own gain, you’re on a slippery slope.  Enron had a set of core values and the guys who ran it didn’t set out to be remembered as they are…

Living in Bolton, Big Sam is not a natural fit for the Chipping Norton set, but I’m sure he’ll get used to the Cotswolds.  As for Westminster, a natural…

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