What can we learn from football managers?

26 11 2008

The most recent entry on the Leaders We Deserve blog makes an interesting comment on the leadership style of Sir Alex Ferguson and how a player rejected by the club David Bellion, still receives support and encouragement from Ferguson years after moving on. Another football manager Arsene Wenger is also in the news this week over his management of internal trouble at his club. He appointed a new club captain but is also quoted as saying, “However, I do not believe in just one man in the dressing-room who sorts out all of the problems…A successful team is a shared leadership inside the dressing room.”

It started me to consider how, interestingly, the Manager of a football team is also, when effective, a leader and a coach. Topically, there are various British clubs at the present time trying to deal with the problems raised by dividing the accepted roles into “Director of Football”, “First Team Coach” and “Manager.”

The complexities of a position in such major football clubs are clearly well beyond my understanding but it is evident to even the most bitter observer that effective managers have teams that work and change their work under the direction of an effective, hands on, active and reactive leader. The styles of these men vary hugely and the results cannot simply be viewed in trophy cabinets. Clearly success and money motivate professional footballers but there has to be much, much more to it than that as the highest paid players do not necessarily produce the best results. You only have to look at results like lowly Blyth Spartans beating Shrewsbury in the FA Cup to see that.

What can I learn from these men? They plan and they motivate. They observe and react. They offer success but offer and demand total loyalty. They receive respect and performance. How they achieve this is unclear but certainly their value as leaders is what makes them effective managers even accepting that they make mistakes. I’m not pretending clinical leadership is the same but there is plenty to work from.

Right, where does one buy a sheepskin coat?

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