From football field to boardroom, lessons on leadership development



In this week's blog, we are sharing a great article about leadership development from John Dougan, a well-known consultant focused on education and performance improvement, particularly in sales, for organizations. It's an interview with legendary coach and manager of the Manchester United Football Club, Sir Alex Ferguson. It's interesting and worth noting the parallels Ferguson draws between being a coach and a manager delivering feedback. He says that he never misses a training session, citing "my observation is the most important part now." Wise words for any manager preparing for an employee feedback session!


Dougan writes:


"In a recent interview, Sir Alex Ferguson, hailed ‘preparation’ as the biggest key to his and his club’s continuing success.


The man behind potentially the greatest sports team of the modern era, has been subject to a lot of opinion both positive and negative over his past 26 years of being in charge of Manchester United – but what is it, exactly, that makes him such a great coach and manager of highly talented individuals?


In the interview, he shuns the idea that he has had to change his approach to the ever changing competitive landscape of the premier league. Instead he focuses on two key areas that have helped him – the capability of Manchester United to build and rebuild and his application to his job.


The first is based on trust, stability and loyalty, the desire to build and rebuild is, as he puts it, “in the culture”.


Secondly he says, that he never misses a training session, citing; “my observation is the most important part now”.


Dougan goes on to discuss Ferguson's relationship with his employer. In an industry heaving with massive egos, he says he has never lost his perspective and a sense of his place in the overall organization.  


He continues, "As a coach, he is respectful of the institution of which he is a part – Manchester United. Nothing is bigger. This is a sentiment fans of the team are all too familiar with, as Ferguson’s stance on discipline has seen some of the biggest names in football leave the club. The fact that he never misses a training session not only shows his commitment – but an incontrovertible sense of responsibility and accountability for his position.


Is this what makes him such a great coach? The ability to take every component of his job and to turn it into one simple input, preparation, and turn that into one underpinning output - performance. Does this define his success?


His opinion on management is intriguing: “To be a successful manager – you have to have a long apprenticeship." He references how the best players do not make the best managers – we know how true this is in business! 


There is no doubt that success takes time and it must be tempered with a willingness to fail, spectacularly at times. As a coach and manager, Ferguson believes it’s all about preparation and time. One indicatively allows you to make the most from the other and perhaps this is where Sir Alex is going with his philosophy.


Ferguson in his first few years at United was afforded the patience that unfortunately doesn’t seem to exist in the business of football, or in the business of anything for that matter. It took him 5 years to win a trophy – since then, his team has been on the hunt for winning trophies, at every level and the key to it all is preparation and application of that preparation over time.


As the interview ends he is asked, would he be under pressure as a coach and manager if he went 5 years without winning a trophy? He smiles and answers, “that won’t happen”. I’m not sure that many people would disagree.


The desire to measure cultural alignment and performance underpins the establishment of capability frameworks and competency assessment in many organizations. We'd like to encourage you to watch our short videos of how senior HR executives at Telstra, Commonwealth BankFlight Centre and Lendlease view this critical process.


You can gain more insights into this process now by downloading our new eBook 'Designing and Implementing a Successful Competency Assessment Program'.


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