Northern Ireland

The thieving of a title from the Sex Pistols to remark on leadership is one no doubt that would amuse the group in question. “Johnny Rotten, (a man not shy in filling the space), can I introduce you to the CEOs of Ulster Rugby and the IFA”. One of the most enduring and basic tenets of leadership that undergraduates learn, be it in Sandhurst, West Point or  Harvard will or should be this – ‘Make a decision, right or wrong’. If it is wrong the results will be clear and costly should it be in lives, jobs or money. At least you will learn from it and the thought processes involved. The underlying point is don’t dither because the vacuum gets filled and then not under your control. Taking it back to the military, why do you think soldiers put patrols out into no man’s land for no apparent reason. Yes, information gathering etc…but at the heart of it is the desire to be on the front foot and maintain offensive spirit. In attrition if you can’t dominate the enemy you dominate the next nearest space.

Recent behaviours by the leaderships of Ulster Rugby and the IFA make you wonder who they are advised by, especially in the modern world of communication and PR. I am led to believe both organisations have communications departments. But you wouldn’t be sure would you? The main issues that have thrown these sporting units into the no man’s land of public perception would be the recent respective ‘Ulster Rugby Rape Trial’ and the IFA ‘Cup Final Anthem’ debate. Whilst one can argue that in the former the circumstances were forced upon them, in the latter the circumstances were more an own – goal.

The ‘no – man’s land of public perception’ is that arena beyond the tide mark of their own sporting audience. Any organisation should be wary and careful about how they feed information to their own audience. When a situation spills beyond that it really should be all hands to the communications tower. Once you are in that bear pit then leadership must be alert, brisk and ahead of the game at the very least. In short you have to set the agenda. Once you are reacting and defending I’m afraid it shows that not only was there little preparation for the damage but why are we short of body bags?

The rights and wrongs of the Jackson and Olding sackings are not my debate. I take a mild interest in the game but the shocking handling of the whole business increased my interest. This probably occurred when Ulster Rugby got into a muddle about banning journalists and tried to put sporting and news journalists against each other. The instances of clumsiness are manifold with this organisation.

It was apparent throughout that no preparation had been put in place by the club to deal with the outcome. The team manager seemed to have a handful of short straws as he was sent out to field all sorts of questions. Eventually and finally when the elusive CEO appeared for interview the feeling was that he had had to be flushed out by gas and stun grenades. At least he appeared!

He appeared defensive and unwelcome to difficult questions. The idea that the questions might become more exponentially difficult as time elapsed did not appear to occur to him. A summary of all the good work he had done away behind the front line had my head in my hands. He may know a lot more about the situation than the rest of us, but the general public’s perception of it all and his organisation was the issue. Perception, it comes at you before stand-to, cam creamed with cold steel for a handshake. The result was a social media civil war between the club’s fans. It appears the leaves on the trees on the avenues of Cherryvalley and Malone have come down before autumn judging by the crowd at the last home game. All avoidable.

The IFA having not blotted their copybook for a while, clearly felt the need to compete and the golden opportunity of the National Anthem before the Cup Final was too good to miss seemingly. Questions immediately arising from local media and beyond….. why the need for it in the first place be it between Linfield or Glentoran for example? The second question in the drier tinder environment of a Coleraine / Cliftonville game was why have it? The third question which comes accompanied by a Stuka whine and a blurred vision headache is why resurrect the issue – especially after declaring five years previously that it would not happen to make the event ‘more neutral’ or words to that effect. The surround sound is that it is a sensitive one.

Two things strike me. If you are going to take a walk back through the minefield you have just come through using a different path, have the medics close by. Secondly, in this country once you have lanced a boil let it be and don’t go looking for the poison again. Going on the first point if the ‘medics’ might be an interview or the PR/ Communications department what on earth happened there? The lack of an interview from  CEO Patrick Nelson or President David Martin again was grim. It certainly put David Martin under the spotlight as many asked what is different from this regime to the 2013 one. The second point suggests a silo mentality and little understanding of the nuances of the society they operate in. Getting sensitive issues through the wire and into freedom is as part of this society as Veda bread. Once you have done that, why would you ever return to the scene of the crime?

One of the things that people from this part of the world sometimes have difficulty with is being reminded of anything that highlights their national shortcomings. Invariably they are historical and political and since we all contribute to that we all take it on the chin. However, when sheer cack-handedness and arrogance do it both naturally and unnecessarily, it makes people feel that the organisations they patronise to help them escape from local grubbiness are small time as well and it is a poor landscape all around. In a poor landscape things don’t grow.

Once again, when the lava you have created starts to spill down the street from your own front door, at least be out there doing your best when the emergency services arrive. Leadership….if the cap fits!