During our annual management conference we were both entertained and enlightened by an excellent session from Rob Cram on ‘Preparing Our People for Growth’. Rob challenged us to identify the traits successful leaders have in common. He also gave us several principles of leadership to consider – The ultimate goal being to turn ourselves from managers into Strategic Leaders.
Although sport and business are often brought together to demonstrate various aspects of commercial behaviour, strategy and success, the fact that our nation is currently gripped (quite painfully) by football mania, got me to considering how many leadership traits the world’s football managers share in common and if they matched those my colleagues and I chose. The list we came up with was fairly long, so I’ve selected just a few for my little exercise of comparing Percepta leaders against those sporting ‘super leaders’.
We all agreed that ‘individuality’ is an important leadership trait – playing to our strengths and recognising our weaknesses, accepting that we, and our team, find strength through our individuality by learning how to deploy our talents to greatest effect. Arsene Wenger takes this idea one step further and adds a trait he believes is essential for success; that of ‘intelligence’, wisely challenging us with the question:
“Are you intelligent enough to understand what you can do with the talent you have?”
Perseverance also popped up as a key trait during our discussion. The biographies of all successful leaders tell of many, many failures before that significant breakthrough. Without the ability to act like a rubber ball, bouncing back after each trial or tribulation, we would have consigned ourselves to our beds long ago. Sir Alex Ferguson agrees:
“Next, you need perseverance because coaching at the top today is not an easy job. If you come in on a Monday after a defeat and you lack this quality, it will show and that will affect the players.”
On further discussion however, perseverance was also expressed as determination, stubbornness and shear bloody mindedness. This reminded me that there can be too much of a good thing and that a positive trait, expressed obsessively, can eventually become a negative constraint. For some reason this brought to mind Fabio Capello’s advice:
“You win by remaining concentrated, determined and disciplined.”
Perhaps Mr Capello would benefit from considering a couple more of the traits on our list – flexibility and willingness to try new things!
While analysing how a strategic leader should interact with their team, we came up with another timeless principle – subduing our own egos and putting our team first – in other words; selflessness. This was reflected in comments from several successful football managers. Agreed, this is selflessness with an edge – the need to focus on others rather than ourselves because we realise that it’s through them that we succeed – but I was still a little surprised that one of the football managers adding weight to this argument was Jose Mourhino:
“I try to control my emotions and to be what the team needs me to be.”
Our final conclusion was that, to continue developing and deploying these traits, we need time and space. Strategic leaders divide their time between company, customers and colleagues – Colleague time including empowering our team members and then delegating some of our daily “business as usual” tasks to them to allow us to “work at a higher level”. This means allowing ourselves to stand back, consider our options, identify our resources, set our targets and plan for success. This is a strategy successfully adopted by Sir Alex Ferguson, who cites ‘observation’ as a key leadership trait:
“As I progressed as a coach, I learnt that observation was vital. To coach and watch at the same time is difficult. If you are involved too much in the coaching, you miss many things. I started to delegate more things to my assistant and to stand back sometimes. Observation is definitely an important issue in order to make sure that the quality is high and that you get out of a training session what you want.”
With the time and space created we can build our vision and plan our route; we must also ensure our teams clearly understand and share our dreams. This requires both simple communication and positive action; so I’m giving the last word to Sir Alex:
“Keep it simple, be brief, but be decisive.”