Football management and leadership behaviours

I’ve been interested recently in the fortunes of a UK football (soccer to our North American readers) team and their manager. Now, I enjoy watching football, and I follow a particular team – Manchester City – however, I can’t be a true fan, because I don’t indulge in the hatred of their traditional rivals. I’m quite geographical in my allegiance, so I’d rather a team from Manchester beat one from London or indeed any northern team succeeded over a southern team.

Now, some of you may have heard that there is another team from that city, called Manchester United. They have been successful in recent years and in part, this has to be down to the fact that they have kept the same manager for 25 years – Alex Ferguson.

Forton Group Leadership Development

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Ferguson retired last season and there is now a new manager in charge, David Moyes. The team are not doing so well and he’s getting a lot of bad press.

I’ve been following this story with interest, partly because I would like him to succeed (coming second to Manchester City, naturally) and partly because I think it’s a really interesting story about leadership.

Ferguson created many different successful teams during his time in charge and in his last season in charge, the team yet again won the championship. The team hardly changed its composition for the new season and yet under the new manager they have been much less successful.

You might conclude that the only difference is the manager and that the old one was to be better than the new.

It’s more complex than that though.  Moyes is younger and has a more modern approach – in his techniques and in the intensity of the training sessions he runs.

At his previous club, Moyes had a reputation for bringing out the very best from average players, getting them to over perform, and managing the limited resources he had to best effect.

He talks about his surprise at the lack of sophistication at the club, which is one of the best and richest in the world, .and he’s brought in new systems of tracking existing players and targeting future purchases.

On paper, he has all the skills and knowledge to make him a better manager than his predecessor. But the results belie that assumption.

It’s also interesting to look at managers who have been sacked when a team is doing badly but then a few weeks later, they take over a different team and make a success of that job.

Meanwhile at their old team, a new manager comes in and get the failing team back on the road to victory. Confusing, isn’t it?

It’s clear that successful leadership is about much more than just knowing what needs to be done.

Here at The Forton Group, we see three elements that make leaders great.

  • The first element is the professional or technical skills that give you the credibility you need for the role.
  • The second is the core of personal or managerial skills you need, such as being able to read a balance sheet or manage a project or give feedback to your people.
  • But the third, and most important, element is what we call the high performance behaviours.

Successful leaders in today’s increasingly complex and fast moving world know how to inspire people, are adept at involving everyone and they deliver. They also look very broadly for information to inform their decisions and they are very flexible in their thinking. You can read more about the detail of this model, which is based on solid research on what makes the high performing leaders, on our website. We also use a 360 tool to inform leaders on where to focus their energies.

I think David Moyes would show up well on his ability to think and to deliver as a leader. What seems to be missing at the moment are key behaviours that group together as emotional intelligence. Only time will tell if he also has those leadership qualities to inspire and involve the team.



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