Seeing it differently – be Maverick. Big Jack is dead. The man who placed football on a par with traditional Irish obsessions has gone to the Big Stadium in the Sky. In the midst of the newspaper adulation of Jack Charlton, I was prompted to reflect on how he featured obliquely in two important events in my own life.
As you probably know, Jack Charlton was appointed Ireland’s Football Manager after a distinguished career at Leeds United and in the England team that won the World Cup in 1966. As a club manager he enjoyed some success, but not at the highest level. When his former mentor, Don Revie, resigned as England Manager, Jack applied for the job. The Football Association did not even reply. Perhaps they scorned his credentials. Perhaps they considered him too maverick – known to speak his mind bluntly, to the point of rudeness (does that sound familiar?).
It was hardly surprising, then, that his was not the first name on the list when Ireland were looking for someone to succeed Eoin Hand. On Day 1, Charlton set the tone, when he quarreled with a journalist, berated the Football Association of Ireland (FAI) and stormed out of the press conference.
He quickly established two rules: how he wanted his players to play, and how he wanted them to play. In other words, it was his way or the highway. Regardless of the style they employed in their own clubs, when they played for Jack they had to kick long balls over the heads of the defenders to turn them, and to harass them relentlessly.
It wasn’t pretty and it attracted criticism from commentators, but it got results.
It’s how he led Ireland into two World Cups (1990 and 1994) and one European Championship. When his goalkeeper, Bonner, made the mistake that sent them home in 1990, he remarked, “The f***ing Pope would have saved that.” Pope John Paul II had told him he was a former goalkeeper from Poland.
In the 90s, people said the Irish were obsessed with Gaelic Football and were not interested in soccer. In fact only 15,000 watched his first match in charge. But later, all Ireland stopped to watch his matches, and thronged the streets to welcome home the team from away matches. And that brings me to the first occasion he featured in something I did.
Seeing it differently – be Maverick …
In 1993 I was in the Toastmasters’ International Speech Contest, and reached the Anglo-Irish Final for the first time. It was at Killiney Castle, South County Dublin. My speech was in defence of the underdog and at one point I said, “And what about the Irish Football team that Jack Charlton has led into the World Cup?” The room erupted in applause, and that was the moment I won the title. I had no idea there was such a passion for what Jack had achieved, but I suspect it had something to do with the perception that Jack and his team were underdogs.
In an interview years later, he was asked to compare himself with his younger brother, Bobby. In reply he said, “It’s simple. He can play, I can’t play. But I can stop others from playing.” That was the essence of his playing style as a defender. Instead of doing what his brother and other players were doing (developing their footballing skills), he focused on what worked for him.
I was reading about him back in 2002 when I found myself in a bit of a pickle in Oslo, and I wondered how he would have handled it.
Anyway, I was in Oslo, delivering a course on corporate communications, at a large engineering company. I had previously delivered that course to senior managers and the company had invited me back to do it again for a different group of people. It was at a time before satnav became universally available. You’ll soon realise why that fact is relevant.
I had eight people on the course, all looking bright and challenging. Within a few minutes of getting started, I realised that something was wrong. So I stopped and asked them, “What’s the matter? I sense that something’s wrong.”
After a slight pause, one of them said, “We don’t want to be here.”
You can imagine how I felt. I was hundreds of miles away from home, I was trying to develop a relationship with a new client, my reputation was at stake, and these people didn’t want to be there.
I said, “Then why are you here?”
They told me, “Because of a political upheaval in the company, all the managers booked on the course pulled out at the last minute. HR then dragooned us to take their places. We are all engineers. Our work speaks for itself. Why do we need communication skills?”
Our work speaks for itself. That’s the classic claim of technical people and all who think it’s enough just to present the facts. People who dismiss the need to be persuasive.
Seeing it differently – be Maverick … What would Jack have done?
I had to do something different or the day was dead in the water. I said, “If I can show you how to use the skills that my course will teach you, to do something unexpected, would that appeal to you? If I gave a credible speech on your subject, will you stay?”
They took that as a challenge. They were highly specialised engineers. How would a layman like me make a speech on their subject? I asked them questions about their work and mind-mapped their answers on a white board. They liked that. The logic of that technique appealed to their engineering minds.
They told me their work was to develop the means of keeping drilling ships in fixed positions at sea, using a satellite in the sky to activate water jets in the ship’s hull to counter the effects of the wind and the waves.
In my speech I said, “Your software is designed to detect and respond instantly to every movement of the ship. In due course you will refine that software so that you can trace a vehicle anywhere on land or sea.” Remember, I said this was before satnav. And then I said, “You will go further. You will develop software that can identify and locate any person wherever they are. That’s when you will encounter resistance.
“People will say you are developing your science simply because you can. You will do it because you can, without considering whether you should. It’s the classic moral dilemma.”
The speech was prophetic. At this very moment, China, the UK, the US and some other countries have developed software that identifies people who might be carrying coronavirus and also every person they have come into contact with. It will give their governments the means to enforce social distancing and isolation. That will be 1984 and Big Brother in reality. Once they have that power to control our movements, will they ever give it up?
Seeing it differently – be Maverick. 3 Reasons For Its Success
But why did my speech find favour with the engineers?
- They were intrigued because they had never seen a mind map before
- I demonstrated that it was possible to assemble and deliver a speech quickly
- I was able to speak on a subject that I previously knew very little about
Most importantly, I offered them an unexpected insight into their own subject. I had a point of view, a way of seeing their subject differently, and that is the key to making any speech. Above all, it was an unexpected response to their initial objection, an approach that focused on what would get results. It kicked the ball over their heads to turn them around and enable me to chase the ball into their net. Just as Big Jack would have done.