Manchester Utd and Apple: The challenges of succeeding a hero leader

by | May 17, 2013 | News

Nicky Little from Cirrus writes for Human Resources

The reputations of some organisations are inextricably linked with the attributes of their leaders. There is no doubt that Sir Alex Ferguson’s leadership style drove huge success at Manchester United, just as Steve Jobs drove huge success at Apple.

Both men were charismatic ‘hero’ leaders. This style of leadership can bring great results. It can also create a huge challenge for their successors.

Research demonstrates that while charismatic, transformational leaders like Sir Alex and Steve Jobs can inspire others and boost creativity, their tendency towards the authoritarian can create a dependency among followers. This can result in a gap when that leader is no longer around.

The transition at Apple from Steve Jobs to Tim Cook demonstrated a real shift from the heroic to post-heroic leadership. When Cook took over as Apple CEO, many questioned his ability as a leader. However, he appears to have successfully introduced a shared leadership model, with an effective balance between central and distributed leadership. Crucially, he has also sustained Apple’s success. Under his tenure, Apple shares rose to an all-time peak last September and although there are concerns over Apple’s current and future performance, it’s still one of the world’s highest-valued companies.

Sharing leadership responsibility and introducing a sense of balance may not be the most attractive proposition for leaders striving to achieve great results in a difficult economy – or for a football manager operating in a world where others are quick to judge you by the results of one match. For some it may suggest weakness and compromise. And yet research shows that shared leadership leads to increased performance and more sustainable success.

So what might David Moyes do when he takes over at Manchester United? Like Apple, Manchester United is a great brand with an enviable reputation. The challenge for Moyes is to respect the legacy he inherits while also thinking about how he can create future success. Although he shares many of Sir Alex’s attributes, such as focus and discipline, it is likely that he will also involve colleagues more in leadership decision-making. We may come to associate the values of the club more with its overall leadership rather than one charismatic leader.

Of course Manchester United, like Apple, is a global business and a global brand. Many analysts are watching the share price closely. The announcement of Sir Alex’s resignation wiped $50 million off the club’s value, just as Apple shares plummeted 5% after Steve Jobs died. Tim Cook managed to repair that damage, although there have been some ups and downs since. David Moyes will also be judged by Manchester United’s financial performance as well as by trophies.

Sir Alex, like Steve Jobs, took over a languishing organisation, and turned it around. Both leaders had the luxury of time on their sides. Moyes will enjoy no such luxury. He will be scrutinised and expected to deliver from the moment he takes over.

Like Cook, Moyes does not have to lead alone. He has a real opportunity to forge strong links with the talented colleagues around him, to combine the extensive skills and expertise inside Manchester United with some key new appointments from outside – both players and leadership colleagues.

Moyes, like Cook, will probably experience varying fortunes on his leadership journey. However, moving towards a more inclusive, shared leadership model can encourage interdependence and mutual trust. It could be good news for sustainability and long-term success – which should please analysts, fans and football pundits.

Click here to read Nicky’s article on the Human Resources website.

News
Business
Agility
Coaching

Download our paper and subscribe to our newsletter

Get the latest news and insights from Cirrus delivered to your inbox

You have Successfully Subscribed!

Download thereport and subscribe to our newsletter

Get the latest news and insights from Cirrus delivered to your inbox

You have Successfully Subscribed!

Download the report and subscribe to our newsletter

Get the latest news and insights from Cirrus delivered to your inbox

You have Successfully Subscribed!

Download the guide and subscribe to our newsletter

Get the latest news and insights from Cirrus delivered to your inbox

You have Successfully Subscribed!

Download the reports and subscribe to our newsletter

Get the latest news and insights from Cirrus delivered to your inbox

You have Successfully Subscribed!

Download the guide and subscribe to our newsletter

Get the latest news and insights from Cirrus delivered to your inbox

You have Successfully Subscribed!

Share This