Soccology Sunday: Leadership (Human Connection)

Leadership is about human connection and football gives us great examples of how leadership is successful when there is connection and when it’s not successful because there is no connection. What is connection? Connection is connecting to the hearts and minds of those you lead. If those you lead feel that you listen, feel safe, feel motivated, feel that you have their personal and professional interests at heart, feel that you value their input and encouraged to be curious and creative, you will have better performers. In any field of work and in any personal relationship.

In my book Soccology, I have players talking about leadership and what it was like to play under Pep GuardiolaArsene WengerSir Alex Ferguson and Jose Mourinho.

I also have a Senior Partner from KPMG talking about leadership outside of football. All elements come back to the connection between two beings. Football clubs invest heavily in Players and Managers but the Managers are performing at an insecure level, they cannot be their ideal self as they know that they are on borrowed time. Decisions are made based on survival and not thriving. The Manager is not giving their best and in turn, they are not getting the best out of their players. Pep Guardiola and Jurgen Klopp are exceptions to the rule as they were extremely wanted men that have avoided committing to clubs that sack Managers more frequently than others. From the beginning the Managers are planning for the long haul and they feel secure enough to do so, with the clubs investing heavily into their project before they arrived and their style of play bringing the empathetic understanding of adaptation.

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“International businessman and food expert Clarence Francis’ philosophy of management is that you can buy a man’s time, physical presence and a measured number of skilled muscular motions per hour or day. But you can’t buy enthusiasm, initiative, loyalty or the devotion of hearts, minds and souls. You have to earn these things.” – Soccology

Often in today’s game when players get used to their leader’s style, the leader gets sacked, after this happens a few times knowingly/unknowingly there will be a good chance that the players will hold a little bit of themselves back from the Manager. Why change yourself, your style of play and commit to someone who want be there much longer? You’ll have to change again for the new Manager that comes along and change is a challenge.

N’Golo Kante was one of the best defensive midfielders in the world under Antonio Conte, now under his latest Chelsea Manager Maurizio Sarri he has been played in an attacking role. Where will the Manager after Sarri play Kante? For some people it seems straight forward but it’s not, it’s like being successful in a companies HR team and a new Manager comes in and moves you to the sales team. You need a whole new skill set and have to adjust from being a success and a leader among your team, to starting over and being a liability. From happiness, joy and success, to sadness, frustration and failure. You change and a lot inside of you changes too.

The person/people that lead a club affect the leader (Manager) they employ from their history of a high turnover of previous Managers, by the leader feeling insecure or the players consciously/unconsciously holding a little bit of themselves back. The leader (Manager) then affects the leaders on the pitch when they bring about their changes (e.g. Kante example above). Because players are people and not robots, they will always be affected by the climate and how they feel will always affect their performance.