Empty Word Are Evil

The title of this post is a quote from Homer. Homer was the Greek author of the Iliad and the Odyssey, two epic poems which are the central works of ancient Greek literature. Although that is some time ago, clearly Homer had Swimming New Zealand in mind.

Because the Johns and Francis decision to continue with the Swimming New Zealand training group and to hold open the possibility of employing a Head Coach is so important to the future of swimming in New Zealand I am going to spend one more post discussing the evil of that decision.

Progress in any activity requires commitment. Coaches preach the importance of this quality all the time. We tell swimmers that, no matter what their level of talent, success requires commitment. Half-hearted or safe effort will not win the Olympic Games. Commitment cannot be compromised. Commitment must be absolute.

And herein, of course, lies the first problem with the Swimming New Zealand decision to leave open its Auckland training squad. Their commitment is compromised. They tell New Zealand they are all in with the new direction; with the push to develop a strong and successful national club coaching program. But their actions say that if, by some chance, the new initiative struggles, they can pick up their centralized life-boat past.

Gary Francis talks a good game. I suspect he knows what is right. I think he is committed to seeing the New Zealand club structure work successfully. But talk will not get this right. Actions are what count. And while Swimming New Zealand has its own training squad, their commitment to every one of the 165 clubs in New Zealand will be compromised. From a personality point of view I think Gary Francis is committed to the cause. Unfortunately I do not have the same trust in Johns or Cotterill. Sadly though, the job Francis wants to do is being compromised by the company he keeps.

In the first post on this subject I spoke about the need for Francis to demonstrate strength of character. This is what I said.

Certainly Gary comes in a more polite, more dignified package than the other three. Whether there is an uncompromising core of steel inside, we are about to find out. I hope so. A good guy is being thrown into a den of unsuccessful bureaucrats who know only a fraction of what he knows about swimming. The reality is that like Schubert, Sweetenham and Talbot, his job will be to lead the organisation. Whether Cotterill and Johns have the brains to let him do that, we will see. Whether Gary has the courage to do what’s right and ignore the political fallout; I hope so. And so Gary. Good luck and God speed. If you do what is necessary, I predict the next couple of years are going to be difficult. Your job will be at risk many times before you turn this lot around. But the sport needs you.

  My concern was well founded. I think Gary Francis would have closed the Swimming New Zealand training squad in a heartbeat. But the opinions of Johns and Cotterill were to leave it open and Francis did not have the strength of character to do what was right. Schubert, Talbot and Sweetenham would never have failed that test. While Francis fails to show the strength necessary to do what is right, he is being relegated into the position of another quote I have used in Swimwatch. Gary Francis is simply the smile on the face of the assassin.     

The mixed messages inherent in the decision to leave open the Swimming New Zealand training squad will be fatal. Strangely enough Bruce Cotterill knows that is true. And yet he allows it to happen anyway. Cotterill has a business blog in which he sets out important management principles. Here is a quote taken from the Cotterill blog.

Clarity of Purpose

“So, what are you trying to achieve?

It can sometimes take a lot of time to get really clear about what you are trying to achieve. And that’s ok. It’s worth taking the time, because in my experience, this decision will drive many of the others that you will make in your business journey.

For many years now I have called the answer to this question “clarity of purpose”. I genuinely believe that organisations only fail for one of two reasons. The first one is a lack of appropriate financial management and control. The other reason is a lack of clarity of purpose.

Clarity of Purpose is your Cornerstone

Once you establish that clarity, it should become the foundation stone upon which your entire business plan, and often your business philosophy, is built. Seeking that clarity should be the very first step in your business planning process. And the many steps that follow should all relate in some way to that purpose.

What a joke; Cotterill preaches clarity of purpose and then in Swimming New Zealand he allows the organization to wallow in a bucket of mud. Is the purpose of Swimming New Zealand to develop a strong, successful national club training program or is it to run its own swim school? They are competing goals. Clarity of purpose demands that Swimming New Zealand be one or the other. It simply cannot be both. In Brucie’s own words, “Organisations only fail for one of two reasons. The first one is a lack of appropriate financial management and control. The other reason is a lack of clarity of purpose.” Brucie, it seems, also talks a good game. The performance – not so good.

But Brucie is right; a lack of clarity of purpose will cause an organization to struggle. In this case the competing demands of a national club program and running an Auckland squad are pretty obvious. A swimmer in New Plymouth needs to come to Auckland for his education. He asks Gary Francis for advice on which squad to join. Because of a lack of clarity of purpose Francis does not know whether to promote his employer’s program or to strengthen the club structure by recommending North Shore, United, HPK or Waterhole. My guess is the Swimming New Zealand squad will always get “favoured nation” treatment. It always has in the past. Which in turn means the policy of a national club program is fatally compromised. The same questions apply to the allocation of resources, the selection of teams and a dozen other issues.

It appears as though a biblical quote might be appropriate for Brucie and his management team. “Physician heal thyself.”

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