What we can learn from England manager Gareth Southgate

by | Jul 9, 2021 | News

The England football manager, Gareth Southgate, is a purposeful, connected leader who learns from his mistakes. What’s not to like, asks Cirrus CEO Simon Hayward in Management Today?

Gary Neville, one of England football manager Gareth Southgate’s former teammates, commented that he was “everything a leader should be,” describing him as “respectful, humble, tells the truth, genuine.” I completely agree. 

Southgate is a team player with a driven determination to succeed. He emphasises the importance of the team, working together, that no one is bigger than the team, and that mutual respect and respect for the shirt is paramount. He’s brought together an extremely talented group of players, at different stages of their footballing career, creating a tightly knit squad who take equal responsibility and, in return, are given equal opportunity to perform on the pitch. 

I believe Southgate works hard to communicate with different players in different ways, suited to their personalities and needs, but with a core consistency that makes his communication fair and trustworthy and has inspired confidence among the players, and the fans. 

His trust and belief have set the team up for success by encouraging them to take risks in a supportive environment. He’s created a safe space where they can perform without fear of criticism from him – they’re free to express themselves. You can see this too when players talk to the media. Southgate is straightforward and authentic, with a calm determination, and he encourages players to be the same.

The right to make mistakes 

When Southgate missed a penalty for England during Euro 1996, he turned that into a lesson for himself and others. He knew that to get over the psychological block of ‘penalty failure’ that comes with the job, he would need planning, preparation, and lots of practice. He’s helped this squad to develop a positive mindset towards their own penalty opportunities, which was clear to see with Harry Kane’s quick follow-up to secure England’s second goal in the Euro semi-final. 

Southgate has demonstrated his leadership brilliantly through reflection on his own experiences and those around him, combined with a willingness to experiment and make sense of the results. He is a thoughtful, reflective man who turned the agony of a missed penalty in his own England career into a triumph of preparation and concentration for the England team in this year’s tournament.

Being a connected leader 

Southgate is the antithesis of the old-fashioned ‘hero’ leader that we have seen so many times in the world of football and business. With hero leaders, the story is often more about them than it is about the team. Southgate is a more modern ‘connected’ leader. He is more concerned about shared success, and that’s clear in the culture he’s built and what he’s achieved to date with the England team. He’s clearly meticulous in his planning – building a clear picture of opponents’ strengths and weaknesses as well as that of his own team and choosing players strategically to meet the challenge of each new game. 

Southgate has given the team a very clear purpose which the players clearly buy into. Alongside this he is clear about the team’s aims and he provides a very clear structure. This is critical. Every player understands their role. Within this clear structure, their understanding of the part they play in the team’s success gives each player more freedom to perform. 

In the world of work, it is often a lack of clear understanding that leads to confusion. When each team member understands their role, the team is more likely to work together as a coherent whole. 

Dr Simon Hayward is CEO of Cirrus, part of Accenture, author of The Agile Leader and Connected Leadership, and honorary professor at Alliance Manchester Business School

© Management Today 2021

Read this article on the Management Today website

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