Is there a more high profile, high pressured, highly coveted leadership role than that of the modern football manager?
Your staff consists of young millionaires with no allegiance to anything beyond the next pay check; your employers are obscenely wealthy oligarchs or distant shareholders with little understanding of the game; and the customers (fans) are more fickle than Imelda Marcos at a new year shoe sale – one minute chanting your name, the next, burning your effigies.
It’s a role that calls for incredible focus and strong will, and 3 great football managers show us 3 very different models of leadership and how to communicate effectively under extreme pressure.
1) Master and Commander – Alex Ferguson
Fergie is known for keeping his players in their place. (Just ask a succession of stars – Beckham, Ronaldo, Rooney et al – who tried unsuccessfully to face down The Guvnor). He is without question Master and Commander and his communication style is correspondingly dictatorial. Particularly famous is his “Hair Dryer” treatment, which just involves loud shouting of abuse at the unfortunate player at a very close distance.
It’s old school, a la Steve Jobs. Get it wrong and you risk turning your staff into fearful automatons, fit to follow orders but little else. Definitely not taught as a template to follow in today’s leadership workshops, but it is undoubtedly a highly effective means of maintaining control and getting results.
2) Guardiola – The Inspirer
“This is Barca, gentlemen… a player on his own is no one..when we have the ball, we can’t lose it. When that happens, run and get it back. That’s it, basically”.
This was part of Guardiola’s speech to the players on his first training day at Barcelona. Trophy-less for years, burdened with declining stars, slated by disillusioned fans, he had to lay out a compelling vision that would convince everyone to try a new way. It was the first step towards the building of what then became arguably the greatest club team in history. And it was his ability to communicate with simplicity that set that all up.
It’s a great model when you have super talent in your team, (as Guardiola did with Messi, Iniesta, Thierry Henry et al) who can translate such a simple message into brilliant and complex performance, but not so great if you are faced with less gifted staff, who often require more detailed instruction but will still achieve only limited results.
Mourinho’s leadership style is simple. It’s all about him. A cult of personality. The self-styled ‘ Special One’ weaves a magic spell on players, press, fans, boardroom, until they are devoted to him and buy into his methods. Everything he says and does is designed to communicate a message about his own brilliance as a man to be believed in.
From a leadership perspective, it can be highly motivating. If the staff buy into that magic and cult, it can dramatically raise their own self- belief and level of performance, making them feel almost invincible. But it is a difficult trick to pull off, and also completely unsustainable, because at some point the magic spell wears off.
Thus, Mourinho has won titles and trophies everywhere he has been and then promptly been moved on or sacked from each one of those posts (and will be by Real Madrid at the end of this season), as those mercurial eccentricities, begin to look and feel like annoying character flaws.
Still, it’s great fun while it lasts!
Leadership communication is a tough skill to master, especially when there is so much riding on its effectiveness. Your team takes its cue not only from what you say, but from how you say it and how closely your words and actions reflect your stated values.
No example of the impact of leadership communication is more extreme that of the modern day manager in The Beautiful Game. Or as Alex Ferguson would say, “Football. Bloody Hell!”