A Tale of Two Managers
Even those senior managers who don’t follow or like football should be honing their leadership skills via some observation of the fascinating dynamics on display in the media at present.
I’m a fan of two teams at different levels in the football hierarchy, and after years of sustained success for both my teams – Chelsea, my childhood love, and Stevenage, my local guilty pleasure – this season has so far been rather painful.
Never mind about that; there’ve been many leadership lessons to learn from my two managers: raincoat-cladded style idol Jose Mourinho at Stamford Bridge, and journeyman Teddy Sheringham at Broadhall Way, cutting his teeth at the sharp end of management after his wonderful years as a top striker at some of the best clubs in the world.
What public comments have they made in tough times, and what do these tell us about leadership?
The poor standard of Mourinho’s response is almost becoming a cliché. Railing at the popular team doctor, and securing her (quite possibly unfair) dismissal; unable to get even half-decent performances from a group of players who were invincible 6 months ago; yesterday, even saying of his players after defeat by humble Leicester FC: “Last season I did phenomenal work and brought them to a level that is more than they really are”.
Taking no responsibility for what is going wrong; blaming your staff in public while talking about how good you are; picking on staff members at the periphery when the problem is palpably closer to the core; all these speak of a dearth of integrity, even a failure to grasp reality, in an attempt to display bravery. This gets a 1 or 2 out of 10 for leadership skills.
Sheringham, who by contrast comes across in interviews as a genuine and pleasant man, has so far tended to take a different approach. After last week’s shock defeat in the FA Cup, he said: “The first person I look at is myself – what else could I have done to get a better result? Where are the lessons for me?”
This is much, much better – but it could be better still. “Negative capability” – the ability to address failings without experiencing the conversation as an attack on confidence – is a sign of integrity and maturity. But it’s easy to go too far, and I fear that’s what Sheringham has tended to do. Staff (and footballers are no different to other staff) need and want to be told where they are going wrong. Forcing them to accept responsibility – not in Mourinho’s petulant way, but in a straightforward, adult, responsible way – displays honesty, accuracy, belief and steel.
The football manager who wins the Leadership match 6-0 will be the one who comes out after a difficult defeat and says evenly, looking in the interviewer’s eyes: That’s a very disappointing result; I feel sorry for the fans and for the club as a whole; None of us in the team contributed to the absolute best of our ability for the whole match, me included; My coaching team and I come away from this match with a large number of ideas to help us in the future; My players are excellent people who can and will do better.
It’s football. It’s life. It’s not rocket science.