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Premier League managers & leadership: has the hairdryer treatment had its day?

leader-blog-AdobeStock_243228943 As with business, football is ultimately about outcomes – winning games, competitions, silverware

Historically, business leaders and managers have been judged on outcomes alone. However, from the work that Laughology has done in recent years, we can see a shift in thinking. Now, in an increasing number of organisations, people’s performance is assessed by looking at both what they have achieved and how they have achieved it – their behaviours.

How is leadership changing?

As with business, football is ultimately about outcomes – winning games, competitions, silverware. The most successful manager of all time ‘motivated’ his players by chucking boots at them, or dishing out ‘the hair dryer treatment’. And, in the past, that worked.

In the modern game, most football managers have realised that they need to behave in a more humane way towards their players and staff. Gone are the days of throwing electrical equipment and/or a string of swear words at people. It’s also becoming less acceptable to name and shame individuals in press conferences - although some managers are still working on this.

The best managers understand that it doesn’t matter how many millions they have at their disposal. As, if the culture isn’t healthy, sought-after players won’t sign for the club, they’ll go elsewhere. They also know that a brand spanking new stadium just won’t cut it if people are so miserable that they don’t want to play there.

There are, of course, lots of great football managers who don’t have huge resources and state-of-the-art grounds. In order to present a balanced view of football management, this blog will look at the things we can learn from three very prominent premiership managers, as well as the fabulous Danny Cowley - the man who is responsible for taking mighty Lincoln City up to the first division next season – whoop, whoop!

What makes a good leader?

There are many quotes on the internet, some funny and some more serious, that reflect how footballers and their managers view games and performance. There are others that give us an idea of their philosophy and the things that they hold dear. So, what’s important to Pep, Klopp, Poch and Danny?

Creating a no-excuses culture:

‘In football, the worst things are excuses. Excuses mean you cannot grow or move forward.’ Pep Guardiola, Manchester City

Whilst many leaders strive to create a no-excuses culture, it can be trickier to embed than we think. If people feel at all under pressure or blamed, their natural reaction is to look for excuses. 

There are several things that truly human leaders do, in order to create a no-excuses culture: They:

  • Accept that everyone makes mistakes. They talk about their own mistakes openly and encourage others to do so too, whilst always using these as an opportunity to improve and move forward.

  • Ensure that everyone has the skills and is comfortable to have open, honest and sometimes challenging conversations when they hear a colleague making excuses.

  • Explain transactional analysis and help individuals to recognise their ego-states in conversations; ensuring that people are having adult-to-adult chats, accepting responsibility and being solution-focused. 

Teamwork, delegation and empowering others:

‘I'm not a one-man show. I was never that in my life, and I never want to be that.’ Jurgen Klopp, Liverpool

When the buck stops with you, it can be tempting to try to do everything yourself. But this can lead to demoralised staff who don’t feel trusted, a lack of creativity and, eventually, leadership burn-out.

To avoid becoming a one-man or one-woman show, great leaders:

  • Create a growth mindset culture where initiative and ideas are encouraged.

  • Understand that their unconscious bias will impact on their decisions. For example, they may be delegating to some but not to others, because of their beliefs about them.

  • Recognise and challenge their unconscious bias, so that everyone in their team feels trusted and empowered.

Inspiring and having high expectations of everyone:

‘I think all the players need coaching; if you do not push the player, they are going to be too comfortable. Always, you need to push.’ Mauricio Pochettino, Spurs

Aaaah, we all like being in our comfort zone – it’s such a lovely place to be! But organisations and individuals that constantly work within or outside of their comfort zone are likely to lose out to others. Those that work within it, are less likely to be innovative, to change with the times and spot new opportunities. Individuals that constantly work outside their comfort zone are likely to feel stressed, have low self-esteem and anxiety. Truly human leaders get the balance right for their people. They:

  • Ensure that everyone has CPD tailored to their personal development.

  • Know how to support people on their learning journeys.

  • Take time to celebrate effort, progress and success.

  • Explain why small or big changes are needed, and support their teams to approach change positively.

Reflecting on the difference you’re making to, and the impact you’re having on, others:

 ‘We may not be a Premier League club, but we have Premier League people. At least here we forge a real connection with people. We give something back.’ Danny Cowley, Lincoln City,

Nowadays, when people are asked, ‘How are you?’ the standard response seems to be ‘Busy!’ Truly human leaders understand the importance of pressing the pause button, and taking time to reflect on the impact they’re having. They:

  • Build thinking and reflection time into their diary – and stick to it.

  • Ask questions in leadership and team meetings such as: What are we doing well? What could be even better? What should we stop, start and continue? What difference are we making?

  • Understand that what they do and how they behave affects people’s personal and working lives. And, in Lincoln’s case, whole communities.

How can we help?

Whether you are aspiring to be the business world’s equivalent of Pep Guardiola, with his energetic Premier League-winning presence on the touchline and his dapper, if sometimes slightly dodgy, choice of knitwear;

Or if you fancy adopting a Jurgen Klopp style approach - funny, slightly bonkers, but clearly motivational, ensuring Liverpool overcame a 3-0 deficit to Barcelona last season;

Or if you want to wear your heart on your sleeve more comfortably like Mauricio Pocchetino, who sank to the ground in tears when Spurs made it through to the final of the Champions League, we can help.

At Laughology, we work with many leadership teams to create and deliver bespoke leadership programmes based on their needs. So, if you would like support, just drop us a line or give us a call. And that goes for all football managers too, especially Pep, Klopp, Poch and Lincoln City’s fabulous Danny Cowley – whoop, whoop!


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