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Blog : Successful leadership


Successful leadership

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Few people are unaware of Sir Alex Ferguson; possibly the most successful football manager of all time, leading Manchester United Football Club (MUFC) to 38 trophies in 26 years.

I’ve always admired ‘Sir Alex’ for his achievements in the footballing world. Having read his autobiography I now also appreciate his leadership qualities, many of which can be transferred to the business world. The key areas that stood out for me were:

1. Inspirational leadership and leading from the front

Successful organisations have strong leadership which drives growth. Paramount is the ability to make important strategic decisions, ensuring the right team is in place to achieve the business goal or strategy.

The mistake many modern football managers are guilty of is focusing purely on ‘winning the next game’. From the beginning Alex Ferguson took it upon himself to develop talent for the future, making sure players were in place to take over when older players retired or moved on. Youth teams, training structures and scouting systems were all introduced. Not only did this save the club money in expensive transfer fees, but ensured that from the beginning the youth squads were bought into the culture of MUFC, inspiring loyalty, not only to Sir Alex, but to the club.

A strong leader will also always be able to prove their worth through ‘the numbers’. After three years of Ferguson’s reign, MUFC was sold for £31 million. At the time of Ferguson’s retirement in 2013, the club was worth £3.2 billion. This is down to Sir Alex’s business acumen as well as his no- nonsense approach to the people stuff: "There is no room for criticism on the training field. For a player – and for any human being – there is nothing better than hearing 'well done'. Those are the two best words ever invented in sports. You don't need to use superlatives."


2. Facing problems and tough reality head on

Before Ferguson was a successful manager he spent 17 unremarkable years as a player within the Scottish football scene. He once said: “The adversity gave me a sense of determination that has shaped my life. I made up my mind that I would never give in.”

When he took over at Manchester United they had not won the football league title for 26 years. Not only that but there were major issues with the fitness levels of the players and many had picked up bad habits over the years. To combat this he let his players know exactly what was expected of them and was tough, but fair, in dealing with issues from the start; anyone in the club not fulfilling their role would be out. High expectations were set and subsequently met, Sir Alex gained respect and the team started to play together rather than as a group of individuals.

“No one likes to get criticised. But in the dressing room, it’s necessary that you point out your players’ mistakes. I do it right after the game. I don’t wait until Monday, I do it, and it’s finished. I’m on to the next match.”


3. Building an organisation with the culture that makes people want to be part of it

Ferguson told the Harvard Business School that the core to his success at Manchester United was building a “club” and not just a “team” to survive.

“The first thought for 99% of new managers is to make sure they win – to survive. They bring experienced players in, often from their previous clubs. But I think it is important to build a structure for a football club, not just a football team. You need a foundation. And there is nothing better than seeing a young player make it to the first team. The idea is that the younger players are developing and meeting the standards that the older ones have set before.”

Throughout his time at Manchester United he has built a culture of mentoring and coaching. Each and every player fought tooth and nail for their badge and many saw Ferguson as a father figure. Whether it be a young up and coming player, to Ryan Giggs who has been at Manchester United for 24 years, they could go to him for advice about their careers, the club and the game in general.

"Research has shown that 70% of small businesses that receive mentoring survive for five years or more, which is double the rate compared with non-mentored entrepreneurs. In addition to this 20% of mentored businesses are more likely to experience growth.”

Sir Alex is an exceptional role model for me, who are some of the leaders you look up to and what qualities do they show that ensure they stand out from the crowd?

Ben Buet is one of our account managers; helping clients get the most from their Purple Cubed solutions. If you’d like to chat football, though be warned he’s a Chelsea fan, drop him a line on ben@purplecubed.com

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