6 WAYS WATCH­ING THE EPL MAKES YOU A BET­TER LEADER

FROM TIME TO TIME, LEAD­ERS WILL GET THE GLORY. BUT MOST OF THE TIME LEAD­ER­SHIP IS A SLOG. IT’S TOUGH. AND IT’S OF­TEN THANK­LESS.

Fiji Sun - - Big Story - Jahda Swan­bor­ough Feed­back: jy­otip@fi­jisun.com.fj

‘Don’t ex­pect to ex­cel ev­ery­where. Find your niche. Some teams and projects will just gel. Oth­ers won’t. When you find a cul­ture that fits, you’re more likely to give it your all, be suc­cess­ful, and en­joy the jour­ney.’

Jahda Swan­bor­ough is a World Eco­nomic Fo­rum Global Lead­er­ship Fel­low. The World Eco­nomic Fo­rum is a Swiss non­profit foun­da­tion and is recog­nised as the in­ter­na­tional in­sti­tu­tion for pub­lic-pri­vate co-op­er­a­tion.

Amidst all the drama, goals, and penalty shouts, if you’ve been pay­ing at­ten­tion, this re­mark­able sea­son in the English Pre­mier League just might have made you a bet­ter leader. As a Global Lead­er­ship Fel­low with the World Eco­nomic Fo­rum*, I learn a lot about lead­er­ship in all facets of life. For me, like mil­lions of oth­ers, this in­cludes my weekly fix of the English Pre­mier League. Here are six ways this sea­son has taught us to be bet­ter lead­ers – whether of sport­ing teams, in work­places, or even within our fam­i­lies.

1. Don’t shift the goal posts

By now, most peo­ple know the Leicester City story – from bot­tom of the ta­ble with 9 games to go last sea­son to cham­pi­ons this sea­son. When Clau­dio Ranieri was ap­pointed man­ager in the off-sea­son, he set one goal for his play­ers – avoid rel­e­ga­tion. By the mid­dle of this sea­son, his team were top of the ta­ble. Fans and pun­dits alike start­ing ask­ing ‘could they ac­tu­ally win the league’? Af­ter all, they’d lost just once all sea­son. Ranieri re­fused to buy into the hype: “I told the play­ers we need an­other five points (to stay up)… I put a tar­get of 40 points at the be­gin­ning of the sea­son and when we achieve this we change the tar­get.” Only once that first goal had been reached – and prop­erly cel­e­brated - did he set a new goal for his play­ers. Ranieri wasn’t lack­ing am­bi­tion; he was pro­vid­ing con­sis­tency and pre­dictabil­ity. By stick­ing with the orig­i­nal goal he took the pres­sure of his play­ers. They knew what was ex­pected of them and what ‘suc­cess’ looked like.

2. Lead­er­ship is a role, not a sta­tus

Club cap­tains play im­por­tant lead­er­ship roles, but of­ten they are not the best player or even the most im­por­tant one.

This sea­son, the 100 most-used play­ers in the pre­mier league av­er­aged around 30% more play­ing time than the 20 club cap­tains. Only 8 of the 20 club cap­tains even played enough to be in that top 100.

Whether through in­jury, age, or tac­ti­cal fit, the group of club cap­tains played less than many other play­ers. They had to lead wher­ever they found them­selves – on the field, on the bench, in the dress­ing room, or on the train­ing ground.

A for­mal ‘lead­er­ship’ po­si­tion doesn’t make you the ‘best’ or ‘most im­por­tant’ per­son and it cer­tainly isn’t a de­ter­mi­nant of your worth as a per­son, player, or em­ployee. It’s a role.

3. Cul­tural ‘fit’ mat­ters

Lead­er­ship hap­pens in a broader con­text or ‘ecosys­tem’ that usu­ally ex­ists be­fore the leader comes along. In the pre­mier league, it in­cludes the fans, the play­ers, the own­ers, the spon­sors, the staff, the his­tory of the club, and even the city. To­gether these things form the fab­ric of the team’s cul­ture. Suc­cess­ful lead­ers both un­der­stand the cul­ture and are aligned with it. Think back to Manch­ester United over the last two decades (Liver­pool and City fans, bear with me). It had a his­tory of ar­ro­gance on and off the pitch and it was of­ten matched by re­sults. Fans, staff, spon­sors, and play­ers bought into that swag­ger and be­gan to em­body it. Sir Alex Fer­gu­son rev­elled in this cul­ture. Few would say the same about his suc­ces­sors in David Moyes (an un­der­stated, no-frills style) and Louis van Gaal (a de­fence­first, tech­ni­cal tac­ti­cian). It’s no won­der the club now seems to at odds with it­self. Each sea­son we see a steady stream of player trans­fers and man­age­rial changes at clubs – most of which go through a rig­or­ous scout­ing and re­cruit­ment process – yet while some are suc­cess­ful, oth­ers are ‘flops’.

As a leader, don’t ex­pect to ex­cel ev­ery­where. Find your niche. Some teams and projects will just gel. Oth­ers won’t. When you find a cul­ture that fits, you’re more likely to give it your all, be suc­cess­ful, and en­joy the jour­ney.

4. Lead­er­ship is about peo­ple - and peo­ple need trust to per­form con­sis­tently Chelsea won the league last year and they were un­playable at times. This year – with mostly the same play­ers – they will fin­ish 9th at best. Sev­eral fac­tors con­trib­uted to their demise, but at the heart of it all was the fact their man­ager, Jose Mour­inho, (who once pro­claimed him­self ‘the spe­cial one’) lost the trust of his play­ers. In one in­ci­dent early in the sea­son he pub­licly crit­i­cised the team doctor for be­ing too quick to run on the field to treat one of their most valu­able and im­por­tant play­ers. Scep­tics say Mour­inho was just di­vert­ing at­ten­tion away from a poor on-field per­for­mance. Re­gard­less, it didn’t go down well in the dress­ing room. Many play­ers had formed good re­la­tion­ships with their doctor, to the point some at­tended her wed­ding even af­ter she was no longer work­ing for the club. A few months later the team was in dis­ar­ray and per­form­ing ter­ri­bly. Mour­inho – one of the most suc­cess­ful man­agers in the mod­ern game – was fired less than a year af­ter his team won the league. No mat­ter how good you are or how much suc­cess you’ve had - trust mat­ters. In an in­ter­view with Har­vard Busi­ness Re­view, Gian­peiro Petriglieri, As­so­ciate Pro­fes­sor at INSEAD, put it like this: “When you’re in a pow­er­ful po­si­tion, there are lots of ways you can get things done. You can co­erce, ma­nip­u­late, de­ceive, threat, force. But un­less you have the trust of peo­ple who are sup­posed to fol­low you, you’re not ac­tu­ally lead­ing.”

5. Good lead­ers know how to man­age both them­selves, oth­ers

Man­ag­ing one’s own emo­tions and bi­ases is es­sen­tial as a leader - it fos­ters an open mind and the abil­ity to see op­por­tu­ni­ties where oth­ers can­not. It also helps you avoid com­mon mis­takes.

Con­sider this fa­mil­iar sce­nario: a new man­ager comes in to a team and ob­serves the play­ers, usu­ally form­ing an ini­tial opin­ion based on ‘in­tu­ition’ or just a cou­ple of in­ter­ac­tions. From then on, the man­ager only seems to see things that re­in­force their early judge­ment (in be­havioural eco­nom­ics this is called ‘con­fir­ma­tion bias’). If that judge­ment was neg­a­tive, the man­ager will start treat­ing the player dif­fer­ently (usu­ally sub­con­sciously. Of­ten that treat­ment will ac­tu­ally push the player into more of the be­hav­iour/mind­set the man­ager doesn’t like. Very soon the player is ‘out of form’ and the team has lost a pre­vi­ously valu­able as­set.

This pat­tern has been called the ‘set up to fail syn­drome’. It is found in re­la­tion­ships in sport­ing teams, work­places, fam­i­lies, and so­cial groups the world over. Over­com­ing it re­quires man­agers who are self-aware enough to catch them­selves from per­pet­u­at­ing a dy­namic for fail­ure and chang­ing the con­di­tions so the other per­son can thrive.

6. It’s not about you. Lead­ers are never big­ger than the team

From time to time, lead­ers will get the glory. But most of the time lead­er­ship is a slog. It’s tough. And it’s of­ten thank­less. Good lead­ers un­der­stand that they are stew­ards of the re­sources, time, and tal­ents of those they lead. They are not the ‘top dog’, but rather the one re­spon­si­ble for en­sur­ing ev­ery­one else thrives while mov­ing to­ward a com­mon goal. They make ev­ery­one else bet­ter. Even if the leader hap­pens to be the smartest or most skilled per­son in the room (or in the sta­dium), they are rarely the only smart per­son in the room. Good lead­ers know this. They draw on the ex­pe­ri­ence, skills, and ideas of the whole team. This is their true skill. Man­agers don’t win pre­mier league games, play­ers do.

In the cut-throat world of the pre­mier league, lead­ers come and go rapidly. This sea­son, 9 pre­mier league man­agers have been fired or re­signed and at least 2 more will change in the off sea­son. Last sea­son it was 11 and the year be­fore that 13. This is out of just 20 teams.

In the world out­side of foot­ball, our lead­er­ship roles may last longer, but none last for­ever. As an­other sea­son comes to an end, per­haps it’s a timely mo­ment to con­sider what we are do­ing with the lead­er­ship roles cur­rently en­trusted to us.

Man­ag­ing one’s own emo­tions and bi­ases is es­sen­tial as a leader - it fos­ters an open mind and the abil­ity to see op­por­tu­ni­ties where oth­ers can­not.

Photo: The Guardian

Leicester’s de­fender Wes Mor­gan cel­e­brates dur­ing a game...The English Pre­mier League has taught us to be bet­ter lead­ers – whether of sport­ing teams, in work­places, or even within our fam­i­lies.

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