On the ball


With Euro 2004 in full flow, David Bolchover finds out what rules organisations can learn about management from football chiefs

In 2003, Personnel Today published a revealing but ultimately depressing report on UK line managers. A paltry 2 per cent of the 675 HR professionals surveyed described the people management skills of their company’s line managers as ‘excellent’, while 74 per cent blamed ineffective line managers for low morale in their organisation.

One reason for this is that businesses often fall at the first hurdle, at the point of selecting the first-time manager.

To start to improve this desperate situation, where better to look than the world of football – a sport which has long relied on the powerful influence of the manager on team motivation and performance. Here are just a few of the lessons in choosing effective managers – a game that football now intuitively understands, but which many businesses still struggle to grasp.

Management talent is extremely rare

In 2000, Chelsea appointed a manager, Claudio Ranieri, who could not speak a word of English. What Chelsea was effectively saying with this appointment is that an exceptional manager is so rare and innate that it is far easier to pick up a foreign language from scratch than it is to learn to become a good manager. There are far more brilliant sales people than there are sales people who would make good managers, no matter how many management training courses you put them on.

Ignore the player, seek out the manager

There is no relationship between functional expertise and managerial ability. If someone is great at their job, they could still make an awful manager. Look at England legends Bobby Moore and Bobby Charlton – neither lasted long in management. On the other hand, Arsenal’s Arsene Wenger and England manager Sven Goran Eriksson could hardly kick a ball straight, but both make great coaches.

Look for a ‘hunger’ to manage

Being a manager can be a horrible job – having to deal with the lazy, the ultra-ambitious, the moaners and the backstabbers. No manager will have a chance unless they have a passion to lead and a strong inner urge to get the best out of others. Former Southampton manager Lawrie McMenemy explains: “Every team needs a leader. The first thing you must do when you walk through the door is take charge. Then, every morning after that, look in the mirror and ask yourself: ‘Do I want to be in charge?’ If the answer is not an immediate ‘yes’, then get out.”

Player-managers don’t work

So, how do you ascertain this hunger at the selection stage? Simply ask an aspiring manager the following question: ‘You’re great at your job, you’re ambitious and you want to get on. But are you prepared to give up everything you’ve done previously and concentrate solely on managing people?’ Their answer should not only separate the wheat from the chaff, it will also start to change the damaging culture of player-management in companies that are large enough to be able to separate the roles. Any time a manager spends away from organising and encouraging will be counter-productive, as the largely unimpressive record of player-managers in football demonstrates.

Take money out of the equation

Another way to identify this hunger to be a manager is to remove the existing association between promotion to management and increased remuneration. Tell managerial hopefuls that any future pay increases would be linked solely to the performance of their team and to their team’s estimation of them as a manager. Advise them that they could well earn more money by remaining as a star performer in their current job. That way, you might stop the David Beckhams of the business world wanting to give up what they do best and then possibly becoming destructively bad managers. Either way, you win.

Don’t discount the lazy

Some people may potentially be much more conscientious as a manager than when they were simply doing their job. George Graham, known for his strong work ethic as Arsenal manager, said that he “would never have picked himself as a player” as he was too lazy. Likewise, Alan Curbishley, the Charlton Athletic manager and arguably the most gifted English manager of his generation, recalls: “I know I under-performed as a player, given the ability I had. But I really wanted to be a manager and I’ve worked harder at management than I ever did as a player.”

Consider the rebellious

Alex Ferguson and Brian Clough are two of the greatest ever British football managers, but if they had entered corporate life rather than football, they wouldn’t have got very far – they would have rubbed their bosses up the wrong way. Football values the rare and crucial skill of people management over political manoeuvering and sycophancy. Does your organisation do the same?

David Bolchover is a writer, speaker/trainer and consultant on management and leadership. He is the co-author of The 90-Minute Manager – Lessons from the Sharp End of Management.  davidbolchover@hotmail.com

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