I’m a football fan, and love watching the beautiful game being played. But alongside watching it for purely football reasons, I now find myself also fascinated by the endless leadership lessons I learn from it. Football leadership has much to teach us. Consider:
- Managers: The head coaches and managers of the top European clubs are now recognised as leadership authorities. Alex Ferguson’s biography became the best seller of 2013 because business leaders wanted to learn from his football leadership lessons. Jose Mourinho is considered an expert in psychological mind games. These people have to be outstanding leaders to be able to have success at the top of the game.
- Skippers: Many now think the role of captain and vice captain on the pitch are less important than they used to be, with an army of coaches on the sidelines constantly giving instructions. But how many times have you seen media pundits write off Arsenal’s title challenged due to a “lack of leaders” on the field”? The answer is every year for at least the last five years. All teams need leaders on the field who will take responsibility for results and drive their team mates forward.
- Tactics: Football is fascinating because each manager has to out-think the opposition, and that’s where tactics come into play. It’s amazing the endless number of formations you can come up with for fielding 10 outfield players; 4-4-2, 3-5-2, 4-2-3-1, Christmas tree… and then you get into the issues of ideal formation versus the personnel you have. Do you pick the formation you think will best suit the game, or do you pick the formation that best suits the team members you have, to play to each of their strengths? All these are great leadership and planning questions.
- Teamwork: To be a successful team you need to have 11 people playing well, or even 16 or 23 when it comes to a successful squad that can win trophies. A good manager will clearly explain to each player what their individual job is on the pitch, and how that fits into the overall game-winning strategy when performed alongside his team mates.
- Coaching: The best managers can take existing players and make them even better. Mourinho has a reputation for motivating players to play out of their skin for him as a team. Brendan Rodgers is able to take young players like Raheem Sterling, Daniel Sturridge and Jordan Henderson and make them even better. That makes his teams more successful, and in turn makes other players want to join, so they can benefit from his coaching techniques. Steven Gerrard has described Rodgers as the best man-manager he’s ever player for.
All these need to be done well for a football team to be successful. All these need to be done well for a leader to make any team successful. Football leadership has a lot to teach us.
Mark Williamson works as a director of One Rock. He’s a lay preacher and leader within the Methodist Church, author of a biography on John Wesley, and has a biography on William Wilberforce coming out in October 2014. He enjoys good films, good food, praying for London, and going for long walks with his wife Joanna. You can follow him on Twitter @markraynespark.