What makes a great manager?
Updated: Jun 7, 2020
For those not into football, this analogy may lose you in parts, but hopefully, the underlying principles apply.
You see, football managers have become so much more in the modern game; expected to define tactics, transfer strategy and coach the players.
That is not dissimilar to the modern workforce, where sales leaders have to wear multiple caps to make themselves and their teams successful. Hiring, coaching and setting strategy for their team to follow "out on the pitch". That got me thinking about what makes a good football manager and how that relates back to business.
However, it's not trophies that define a good manager as by that definition, Roberto Di Matteo is a better manager than Mauricio Pocchetino. Instead, I look to the true reality of their achievement. Was it their actual leadership that got the team to where they were, or other contributing factors?
As an example, let's look at Arsene Wenger. He came to the EPL in 1996 and with him, set a new standard and approach to football management. His ideas were new and fresh, his recruitment was world-class in finding diamonds-in-the-rough and his tactics were ahead of their time. The problem was, much like Tiger Woods inevitable downfall, when the rest of the crowd began to imitate and catch up, he looked like a man who had no more ideas. We've all come across this kind of sales manager, stuck in the 1980s, with no idea how to sell in the modern world and too stubborn to understand that what worked then, doesn't work now. A great example of this is prospecting, where many believe it's still a numbers game, where the purpose of every day should be to just call as many people as possible. The great debate on phone versus social selling will rage on forever (IMO there's a place for both in unison). However, if you're not nailing social selling as part of your tactical repertoire in 2020, you're Arsene Wenger.
Then there's the Pep Guardiola's. Now Pep is an unreal manager responsible for bringing Tiki Taka to the mainstream, but let's be clear on one thing; he has been backed very, very, very generously in the transfer market. He inherited a Barcelona team who undoubtedly had the best player in the world at the time, a generational midfield pairing and possibly the greatest central defensive partnership of the modern era. He still had to guide them to success, but as we've seen with several lacklustre appointments since, having Messi alone will win you trophies. However, his subsequent moves to Bayern Munich and latterly, Man City, saw him garner success with two simple principles;
Stick to a tactic that you know works.
Pay whatever is necessary to hire the best talent available for that tactic.
There's no denying that Pep Guardiola's 30-trophy haul is an incredible achievement, but there will always be the question mark for me as to just how much of it was his coaching and how much of the success was down to him and how much of it was down the players. In business, there's something to be said of this kind of manager in that attracting the world's greatest talent is a skill in itself, but it's as much about the talent of the team as it is the manager.
Then there's Jose Mourinho. Jose could be put in both the Wenger or Guardiola camp, but I look at Jose as a man who, at least latterly, had a single, dictatorial management approach that either worked for players or didn't. He drove players out who couldn't 100% fall in line with his approach, and more often than not, just went back to players he trusted from a past life. Harry Redknapp was another example of this, with Niko Kranjčar making a career of following his former manager around. For me, this is the weakest kind of manager. They had some success at a previous employer and their only plan is to replicate it that exact model to the letter elsewhere. They have neither the courage nor talent to flex their style and are too stubborn to consider new ideas. That means that their ideas only work for a limited period, with a singular type of person.
So having just rubbished three of the greatest managers the Premier League has ever seen, you may wonder what ridiculously high standards I'm suggesting a modern football and business manager should be measured by.
Well, it's simple; the best managers in my eyes are those who can make any existing team perform. They have an inherent skill to get people on-side, take time to understand them and ultimately deliver them to their potential, usually in a path entirely customised and unique to them. For me, that person is Sir Alex Ferguson. He subtly changed his tactics, style and approach every season to match the squad, without compromising his underlying philosophy. When you look at his final season with Man Utd, he dragged an absolute rabble of players to the Premier League title. The following season, with largely the same squad, David Moyes could only drag them to seventh.
For me, that is the ultimate sign of an incredible manager. Their impact on the team around them is the absolute difference between success and failure. They make everybody around them shine and the absolute best version of themselves. They coach the good to great and the great to world-class and resultantly, each and every one of their players would take a bullet for them.
Which type of manager are you?
WRITTEN BY ED HALSEY
Any opinions expressed here are my own and not the views of any of my employers. They are personal views based upon a 15-year career in insurance across underwriting and sales roles at mainstream insurers, consultancy firms and technology providers.