2 December 2018

level 5 leader - listening costs you nothingThe number one rule of leadership is supporting your own team. It is that simple.

I’ve heard so many conversations about Jose Mourinho in the media lately and, seeing his reactions at the Champions League game midweek, I can see why he’s a topic of conversation.

As the leader of one of the world’s most famous sporting institutions, all eyes are firmly focussed on him. His team aren’t having the best run and the stadium has more empty seats at each game than I have seen in a long while. So, what’s going wrong?

When you look back at Manchester United’s most successful days, you of course come back to Sir Alex Ferguson. His leadership style is one that I doubt we will see replicated ever again. I’ve met him several times and on each encounter it was clear that his priority was creating a bond with his team. I believe that that was one of his greatest strengths as a leader.

He demanded high standards, but because the team liked and respected him, they delivered. They didn’t want to let him down.

What we’re seeing from Mourinho, looks to be the opposite. He has been criticised by many in the sport for his reaction to one of the youngest members of the team missing a goal. He turned to his bench and the crowd, shaking his head in disgust at one of his own young players.

Yes, the team’s performance was far from what’s expected of the United squad but, as a leader, his role is to support – not embarrass – his team. It’s an interesting juxtaposition from Fergie’s immovable support for the youngsters in his team.

At UKFast, all of our leaders are naturally supportive people. It’s the first quality we look for in potential leaders within the business. You can only successfully lead a team if you genuinely care about them. Once you have this foundation, motivation and everything else follows.

A measured approach

Recently I was speaking with a friend who is an amazing business leader. She was reflecting on how she has evolved. I always comment on her style, she’s calm and considered, and oozes confidence. The result is that she develops lasting relations with the individuals she works with. I complemented her on her style and she joked that there will be colleagues she worked with 20 years ago who would share a very different opinion. But people change and we have to evolve as leaders if we are to succeed in each new environment.

Her experience resonated with me and I smiled at my early years as a leader. Finding myself in a position where I was managing large numbers of teammates, without experience, without training. Invariably you are having to think on your feet, often when behind the scenes, unbeknown to the team your entire world may be crashing down behind you.

It took me some years to work out that whilst my gut always said, have fun and build a team and take your time, fear takes over and when things start too wrong, invariably there are times when stress gets the better of you. That pressure and fear of failure drive an instinctive response, which as you learn and grow a little older, its easier with experience to take a more measured approach.

My management style is something I have learned and continue to put effort into developing. The more I grow UKFast and my other companies, the more I see the importance of developing everyone around you. It’s not easy as the business grows as there become more and more people.

Always evolving

Nowadays, it’s a bit easier for me as I don’t directly work with anyone on the floor and I spend my time with my directors. When I see them under pressure like I was, I am able to offer advice and give them the confidence and techniques to navigate through what ultimately would be challenging times.

When you are at the top of the tree, it’s important to reach out and find others with more experience who can offer similar styles of advice. You should always ensure you have someone to turn to.

Jim Collins describes Level 5 leaders in his book Good to Great. The best leaders in the most successful companies in the world are supportive and, most importantly, humble. It’s this humility that sets them apart from other managers, coaches or directors. And it is this humility that guarantees that the team will want to give their all to make you proud.

Sir Alex Ferguson is a prime example of a Level 5 leader and laid the foundations to continue that legacy. Unfortunately a great many of the key individuals that supported Sr Alex were moved on straight after he left. It’s little wonder that when the winning formula changed, so did the results.

Watching a Mourinho’s post-match interview recently, he seems to take a different approach from Ferguson and other successful managers. When asked about the match, he went on to describe his personal, and very successful, Champion’s League record rather than that of the team or players. There is no room for ego in leadership. It’s not about you, it’s about your team and what they need.

Added pressure

There’s no denying that Mourinho has an unenviable challenge stepping into Sir Alex’s shoes. With that comes a huge amount of pressure.

Leaders have a choice to make when they’re put under that pressure. I often face it myself being a part of so many businesses and teams. You can either absorb the pressure, letting it out in the gym, or taking a minute privately to reflect. Or you can pass it onto your team. Which do you think reaps the greatest reward?

I am not saying it’s easy, nor that I understand the level of pressure that comes with managing a global club so publicly. However, I do know that it should be a simple choice.

When a team is not performing at its best, and the pressure increases on you personally as a consequence, giving feedback is incredibly important. However, giving feedback is an extraordinarily sensitive task. It’s often said – and it’s true! – that people thrive when they are praised and wither when they are criticised. Feedback, even if it is negative, shouldn’t embarrass people. We have a policy at UKFast that feedback must be given in private to avoid that. Often there’s more at play than just poor performance. Perhaps there’s a problem at home or a distraction elsewhere that you could help with. Ultimately as the leader, you pick the team and are responsible for all aspects of how the team performs. It’s your job to absorb the pressure and take it on the chin personally.

Keep learning

It’s incredibly important to learn from those around you – there’s always something new to pick up and incorporate into your own life. Sir Alex will always be an example of an extraordinary leader to emulate. I wonder if we’ll see Mourinho taking on some of the old United manager’s style anytime soon.

Somehow whilst they are simple traits, under pressure, even if they are inherent, stress, fear and other negative emotions always affect the way we perform and react.

Even the greats like Ferguson talk openly how they developed and learned over time. As he grew as a manager, he softened with age, as we all do, Mourinho shows no signs of moderating his behaviour. He looks like a man who needs a mentor right now.

Leadership can be a lonely place, especially when things aren’t going well. But it doesn’t have to be. Success can only be achieved once you harness the collective power of the team around you. You can’t fight your team; you have to honour, respect and care for the people you work with.

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