• Author:Ben Jones
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Leadership in football; two styles; two generations

I start this post with some declarations of interest. I support Liverpool Football. Actually, I love Liverpool Football Club. I want – almost more than anything else – for it to succeed. I admire Jurgen Klopp, Liverpool’s new manager. I support him. Actually, I think I may love him a little bit too!

Why all these declarations of love and subjectivity? I want to write about leadership and football and I want to do it by making the comparison between two men; two styles; two philosophies. I want to do it knowing that some who read it will shout “heart over head”. So be it, but you can’t say you weren’t warned.

The subject of leadership and football has become vogue recently, especially in the light of the retirement of the monstrously successful Sir Alex Ferguson and the publication of a book about his leadership style with the help of renowned international business figure, Michael Moritz. It was also featured in a documentary filmed at London Business School with the brilliant Nick Robinson. It appeared to credit Sir Alex’s leadership approach and style – and the reason for his success – to two things – passion and control

Ferguson book

Sir Alex had innate passion and drive for his work. A total and unconditional desire to succeed – something he successfully transmitted to his players, his staff, the fans and at times some would say TV commentators and referees. This ambition, drive, passion and unfailing commitment to succeed is something you see in every successful leader in business, politics or sport. Very, very few successful leaders were lazy, ambivalent about success and lacking in ambition.

His second secret to success was control. He – by his own admission – micro-managed every aspect of the work of the football side of Manchester United. The coaching. Players’ diet. Their preparations for games. How they spent their time off the field – including famously dragging Ryan Giggs out of a party by the ear. He also had huge control and influence over other aspects of the club’s business – including where it went on preseason tours and the impact of commercial commitments on his players. It is clear that anyone who fell out with the manager were disposed of – regardless of their value to the club or the adoration of the fans. He controlled how his teams played – hard to beat and great to watch. Some would say the present United team only has one half of this equation! He is the most successful manager of all time in the English game and one of the greatest managers in history. His record will be hard to beat. He is rightly viewed as a management legend.

He displayed so many characteristics of great leaders. Vision. Drive. Passion. Ability to communicate his message. Taking people with him. But his approach is hard – perhaps impossible – to replicate in other industries or sectors. How may CEOs could use the dual weapons of intimidation and fear alongside an iron control over every aspect of their organisation in today’s modern business world? Not for long before HR and the lawyers got involved.

Sir Alex is a phenomena. A giant. But his leadership style belongs to a different time and era. It has its place in history but that’s where it will stay. Today’s managers are looking for an approach that matches his passion but adapts to a world where people want to be led but want to be empowered. They want to feel respected and appreciated as well as guided. They want to be seen as individuals with their own views and ideas. They want to have loyalty that is inspired by respect and affection – some would say ‘love’ – not respect driven by fear.

Enter Herr Klopp.

Jurgen Klopp is a successful manager. He has an enviably track record and is one of the most respected managers in Europe. He has not achieved a quarter of Sir Alex’s trophy collection – and may never – and has a careers’ worth less experience. That disclaimer aside, he is a manger who defines the new, modern approach to management. The sort of management approach one could see as often in the boardroom as in the dressing room.

He also brings the passion and drive that successful leaders have in the toolkit but he epitomises the desire to build his player’s loyalty and respect by building a relationship – a relationship that is based on tailoring his approach to the individual – flexing his style to fit wth them and a desire to show them affection. Fear has given way to love. The hairdryer treatment to the arm around the shoulder and the bear hug! It is easy to trivialise the tactile approach of Jurgen Klopp as eccentric and at times comic but it reflects a mindset that sees his players as colleagues he wants to get the best out by motivating and inspiring them not frightening them into good performances. He wants to help them to succeed themselves not make them succeed.

Football is a results business. Both of these managers are successful. Both inspire huge respect from their club’s supporters. Both are revered. Perhaps its a question of style over substance but I know who I would rather play for every day of the week and twice on Sunday.

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