Following on from my first post, I now bring you United Leadership (part 2) which concludes the learning and lessons that I took away from that fantastic trip I made up to Old Trafford earlier this month.
As in the words of dance music guru Pete Tong; “weee continue…”
If I’m ever lucky enough to win the lottery I’d like to think that I will remain true to myself, remain grounded and not forget where I came from. Manchester United kind of echoes that. Wherever you walk around Old Trafford, whoever you speak to – they all talk of that defining moment. Sadly it wasn’t a lottery win or a multi-million pound investment that they talk of, nor was it that kung-fu kick. It was a much darker moment in history that still resonates throughout the ground today, 55 years after the event. The Munich air disaster claimed the lives of 23 people; 2 crew members, 8 players, 3 staff, 8 journalists, a travel agent and a fan (who was a close friend of the then manager; Matt Busby). But the tragedy, and those affected during the incident, will never be allowed to be forgotten. Plaques, clocks, pictures and flags decorate the ground – even today – as a mark of respect and constant reminder that there have been dark times at the club but they will, together, overcome them to once again shine brighter days over the club that they love.
How often do we do this in our organisations? How often do we reflect on colleagues of yesteryear – those who have contributed to the successes of today and give us a hope for tomorrow?
Celebrate your successes
Next time you watch Manchester United play look carefully at the players after they score a goal; you’ll notice that almost every single one of the team (exception to the goalkeeper here) celebrate together. The club want everyone to feel the success. And what I think is brilliant is that Manchester United instil this same sentiment throughout the club. Whenever they reach a cup final, at home or abroad, all of the 700 colleagues that work for the club are taken along – they do this because they want everyone to be a part of the experience and for the whole United family to celebrate success together. It’s what teamwork is all about here and makes for a great culture.
Fitting your culture
When Manchester United are looking to buy a new player they don’t just look at his goal scoring record and price tag, they look at the whole package that the player would bring with them; Where are they based? What is their family like? Who is part of their entourage? They are looking to see if their target man will fit into the culture and the environment at the club. Players come and players go. It’s not just about performances on the field, it’s every much about their performances off it too, so if an individual is being just that – not adopting the values of the club, the team or the bigger family, the likelihood is that they’ll soon be looking for another club to move onto.
Watch the competition, carefully
Believe is a word that vibrates throughout Manchester United. They believe so much in success that they never know when they are beaten.
Picture the scene; it’s the 1999 Champions League final between Manchester United and Bayern Munich at the Nou Camp, Barcelona. United are losing 1-0 with 1 minute of normal time left to play. Sir Bobby Charlton and Franz Beckenbauer are behind the scenes watching the game draw to a close and Beckenbauer is seen decorating the prestigious trophy with ribbons in his team’s colours. Sir Bobby walks over and congratulates him on his team’s feat. They start to make their way down to the pitch via the passenger lift unaware of the drama that is unfolding beneath them. The two club legends come out to the news that Manchester United had done the impossible and scored two late goals and have claimed the title!
Pitch-side, United’s Assistant Manager; Steve McClaren, looked happy with the score at 1-1 and was happy for the club to defend the remainder of the game to play for extra time. Sir Alex on the other hand was not, he wanted his team to push for the second goal and win the match in normal time.
In the games leading up to the final Bayern Munich seemed to always substitute defender Lothar Matthaus on or around the 75th minute of play so, just before that, Sir Alex introduced a third striker to the game in the shape of Teddy Sheringham. When the eventual Matthaus substitution happened on 80 minutes the United manager knew this was his opportunity and switched one of his on-field strikers for a fresh player; Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. Manchester United won the game thanks to two goals scored by – you guessed it – Sheringham and Solskjaer! It goes to show that this result didn’t just happen, it happened with purpose. Sir Alex knew his opposition and believed in what his side could achieve.
Great leaders go the extra mile
When people speak from the heart, others believe in them. If you see it matters to them, it will matter to you. It’s what makes Sir Alex a great leader.
A Man City fan, who was training to be a football coach, wrote a letter to Sir Alex asking him a few questions in hope he could help him with his studies. Surely he wouldn’t reply to the fan of a rival team, would he? He certainly did, in style too. He responded by sending a video to the fan which was a recording of himself answering the questions posed in the letter! Receiving that video must have been so much more powerful than just a few written words, it showed that Sir Alex cared because it was a subject close to his heart and demonstrated that we’re all leaders – inside and outside of our immediate teams – great leadership is about going the extra mile for others.
Surround yourself with great people and invest in them
Great leaders facilitate rather than do, you can’t do everything yourself. It’s about building trust with your people. Winning trophies didn’t just happen for Sir Alex, the manager learnt to be competent in the roles he wasn’t because he surrounded himself with good people who excelled in those areas. As a result he became a better leader and a better person, and the stories of success followed shortly after.
But to build that trust element you have to let your people know that you know them. Great leaders make people feel important. They invest in them, not just financially but emotionally too – it shows that they care.
David Gill (CEO of Manchester United) was leaving Old Trafford one Friday evening and was saying goodnight to each colleague as he passed them. The last person he saw was one of the ladies at the reception desk; he addressed her by name, exchanged pleasantries and then made his way to his car. It then dawned on him that he’d made a terrible mistake. That lady he’d just spoken to in reception was not the person he thought she was – he’d gotten her name wrong!
He quickly made his way back into the foyer and with the upmost sincerity apologised for his wrong-doing and stood chatting for a couple of minutes asking how she was and what she had planned for that weekend.
David Gill didn’t need to do what he did but he chose to, knowing that in doing so he could quickly turn the situation on its head. That lady on the reception desk has never forgotten this moment and will now do anything for Mr Gill and his guests. She is one of the first people that visitors see when coming into this section of Old Trafford – so will ensure that she gives a warm welcome and a lasting impression to all who she sees.
As leaders we don’t always get it right first time but we can make a positive difference with even the smallest amount of investment.
Recognise people’s differences and how to get the best out of them
People have their differences, even at Manchester United there are personal altercations between people. We were told of two key players who didn’t see eye-to-eye off the field, but on it, it never affected their game. In fact I never noticed it in the times I’d watched them play together. They came to work to do a job, and to do their job to the best of their ability. In work you have to respect that and understand how you can get the best out of your people. What is it that motivates them? Are they motivated toward or away from something? There’s a difference. Ryan Giggs was motivated toward achieving something – for him it was about getting fitter and faster, so the coaches worked with him to develop him on these areas. When Nemanja Vidic joined the club he was motivated away from being rubbish – he was/is one hell of a defender but he couldn’t pass the ball for toffee! So, the coaches had to tell him how bad he was at passing to help him to get better.
The final story I’d like to share with you is one that is often shared around the club; it’s about two lumberjacks that challenge each other to a dual. One is a big strong burly fella and the other resembles more of an average figure – not quite so strong. The challenge is to see who can fell the most trees during an 8 hour session.
The big guy is straight to it, sawing into the trees relentlessly from the word go up until the siren sounds as the 8th hour is signalled. The smaller guy works his way through the trees but on the hour, at every hour, he takes himself off for a 5 minute break.
When the siren blows the felled trees are counted and we learn that the smaller of the two has won the friendly competition. The big guy cannot believe it. He is much stronger and worked straight through whilst his opponent rested – surely this cannot be so. The smaller guy explains that by taking regular breaks he was able to rest and re-focus on the job in-hand. Not only this but he was able to sharpen his saw, making sure his equipment was best prepared for the next gruelling session.
The ability to relax is a skill, a very effective one. If we want to set-out to achieve amazing things we must make sure we rest and recoup. Manchester United are no different – they have a 25 man squad for a reason and use it to ensure they rotate their players and give respite to all in the team
United in our learning
So, what have I learnt from Manchester United that we can take away into our own working lives? Successful teams and leadership goes way beyond the starting XI; it’s about the preparation, the coaching, the understanding of others and your surroundings. You need to learn from your mistakes but not dwell on them, create a positive environment in which to work and with people you can trust who are great at what they do. Surround yourself with good people who are willing to go the extra mile, who get your culture and want to celebrate as you do. It’s about remembering where you came from, knowing where you’re going and making sure that, now and again, you take the time to sharpen you saw!
HUGE thanks for reading and sticking around for part 2, and special thanks to HouseMark and John Shiels for a fantastic day.