Monday, 7 November 2011

What I - a Chelsea fan - have learnt from Sir Alex Ferguson on leadership

On Saturday Sir Alex Ferguson, the most successful manager in British football, celebrated 25 years at the helm of Manchester United. Throughout his managerial career he has won 48 trophies, 37 of them at Manchester United. I'm not a Manchester United supporter but I can't help but admire what he has done. Often I try to look at leaders to learn from their example. Here are 5 things I have learnt from Sir Alex Ferguson:
  1. Have vision: When Ferguson arrived at Manchester United, Liverpool were by far the most successful English football team. Ferguson is quoted as saying "my greatest challenge is not what’s happening at the moment, my greatest challenge was knocking Liverpool right off their ******* perch”. To us now, this seams obvious as Liverpool have only won 2 league titles whereas United have won 12, but before he joined United, Liverpool had won 16 titles and United had only won 6. Sir Alex knew that without vision, his leadership was directionless and pointless;
  2. Build great teams: For Sir Alex, it is all about getting the team to play football; he has let go of superstars like David Beckham to ensure that the team comes first at Manchester United. Sir Alex recognises that in football there are often egos, but no ego in his mind can become bigger than the team;
  3. Always plan for succession: Sir Alex has successfully evolved the Manchester United team four or five times during his time there, ensuring that when players leave Manchester United or retire, there are players of a high enough calibre to replace them. This season is a case in point where he has brought through Phil Jones, Chris Smalling, Tom Cleverley and Danny Welbeck into the first team. Ferguson has stated in the past “go and make your mistakes in the first team. You'll learn more in a month in the first team than you will in two years in the reserves”;
  4. Hard work always pays off: The one thing players, coaches and executives comment on at Manchester United is Sir Alex's work ethic. Nearly aged 70, he is the first one at the training ground and the last one home. Ryan Giggs, referring to Ferguson, said "the best piece of advice he's given me? To work hard... And he leads by example, of course. He’s always first in at the training ground and last to leave, and he wants to see that kind of mentality from his players as well."
  5. Ensure fathering is a key component of leadership: While Sir Alex is reputed to be a disciplinarian, many of Manchester United's stars, including Paul Scholes and David Beckham, have commented on how he has been a father figure to them. According to Scholes "Alex Ferguson has always been a father figure to me — and to the rest of the lads who have come through the Old Trafford ranks." In the past few days, David Beckham has commented “he wanted to kill me at times, I’m sure, but he was a father figure to me and he was also the man who gave me the chance of playing for my dream club." Sir Alex has always tried to be supportive of his players, setting guidelines but instilling an unwavering belief in them that they can be successful.

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