What Michael Grade’s leprechaun taught me

In the late eighties, when he was the new CEO of Channel 4, Michael Grade was the special guest at a Mobil Oil Dealer conference in Monaco. I was there in my role as a director of the UK chain of convenience stores, 7-Eleven.

He told the audience the following story about making your own luck.

A young and naive Irish man went to a casino and was encouraged to head for the poker tables by his secret strength, a leprechaun sitting firmly on his shoulder.

“What shall we play?” he asked. “Poker of course,” said the leprechaun. “Deal me in,” the man said to the dealer, with all the authority of someone who knew exactly what he was doing.

Two cards arrived, an ace of spades and an eight of hearts.

“What do I do now?” he hissed to the leprechaun.

“Buy another card.”

He did, a six of clubs.

“What does this mean?” he asked. Quick as a flash the leprechaun said, “Buy another.”

This time it was a three of clubs. “Well done, that’s fantastic,” said the leprechaun. “We’ve got to 18 out of 21, but we need a five-card trick. Buy another card.”

“But what if it’s more than a three?”

“Buy another card!”

The dealer slid over the fifth card, face down.

It was a three of diamonds. The leprechaun jumped for joy, screaming, “You jammy bastard!”


Who’s on your shoulder?

There are occasions, such as when you’re making big decisions in a negotiation or conflict, when you need someone on your shoulder to support you.

There are plenty of leprechauns out there who will happily offer, “If I were you, I’d… .” Yet, as soon as their advice is found to be wanting, they’re nowhere to be found.

There are also the assertive ones who, as in Grade’s story, wing it successfully until you find yourself in court with four out of five cards played. Then, the judge – not the joker – will certainly bust you if you come up wrong.

In Michael Grade’s case, it was the Australian soap opera, Neighbours. When he was controller at the BBC, his children complained they couldn’t watch it because they were at school. So he intervened on the screening times and, as a result, Neighbours ended up with audiences of 18 million and became a huge success. Success from know-how or jammy bastard luck?

In military terms, armies went into battle throughout the ages believing God was on their side. In the seventeenth century, they’d chant Psalm 46, “The Lord of Hosts is with us.”

Churchill had Allanbrooke, Roosevelt had Marshall, and, by working together, they won the war in the West.

Nowadays, what matters is having the right support team when you’re faced with a conflict or are caught up in a dispute.

Who’s in your team? Lawyer, accountant, expert witness, leprechaun or dealmaker?

At Moot, we have considerable expertise in improving the outcome of conflicts through dealmaking. It all started for me when I had to negotiate a strategic alliance with Mobil on forecourts for convenience stores in the UK. I’m indebted to Michael for his story and to Mobil for inviting me to their conference!

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