6 July 2023 | 5 min read
During my football career, I’ve been lucky enough to work under many great leaders – managers, coaches, captains and fellow players. But, someone recently asked me, ‘Who’s the best leader you’ve ever had? it really got me thinking about what I look for in a great leader. Now, everyone is different and reacts to leadership in different ways, but, in truth, one of the most effective leaders I played under was Roy Hodgson. What stood Roy apart from others? What makes him a great leader? And how did he create such a successful team in the time I was there?
(The fact that Crystal Palace had recently gone 12 games without a win before Roy re-joined as manager, to now 8 games with 5 wins and only 1 loss, also goes to show the power and impact that a great leader can have on individuals, which ultimately leads to results!)
Creating an Enjoyable and Comfortable Culture
Firstly, I think most footballers respect honesty whether good or bad, as you want to know exactly where you stand. In order to do this, you need to be able to have honest and open dialogue with your ‘leader’. Roy’s door was always open. It was clear that he embraced open communication with his players. This made conversations really easy to have, but he also had the great skill of retaining an aura of respect. When you really feel comfortable, it feels okay to make mistakes when you’re trying to improve. This is vital in any team because that ethos encourages people to express themselves freely and perform at their full potential. The safety to make mistakes is crucial for everyone. The balance of being comfortable within your surroundings but maintaining the pressure to perform is key, especially so for the younger players when they transition into a first team surrounding.
Establishing Clear Structure and Roles
Secondly, Roy installed and embedded a clear structure within the team. Everyone knew exactly what their role was as an individual and how that worked within the team structure. These clear messages and the well-rehearsed training sessions (on a daily basis) gave everyone the confidence to buy into the same methodology. We all knew our role in making things happen and this confidence gave everyone the space to perform at their best. When everyone knows the bigger goal and their place in achieving it, you really start to see rewards and this showed in the success we had as a team.
Integrating and Encouraging Youth
Thirdly Roy successfully integrated the younger players and the senior team. That was crucial because you need the younger players to step up. But, to do that well, you must create a feeling of psychological safety. In a healthy set-up, the interaction between juniors and seniors – whether in football or business – must be strong, positive and bonded. That culture was created and we had many young players come through and go on to have very successful careers.
The Power of Positive Influence
Finally, it’s important to highlight just how much power leaders have at their fingertips to influence up-and-coming team members. Simple words or acts of encouragement can have a massive impact – both positively and negatively – on a junior or new team member’s confidence and performance.
When I was with the England squad for my first session, I overheard Frank Lampard say “finisher” after I scored a few goals back to back in a small side game. Being the only player in the squad from a championship club you sometimes question yourself, so something as small as that stuck with me and made a huge difference. The power of encouragement, the way you act or your body language can have a massive impact on someone else. But you don’t have to be a senior to spread this type of positivity and appreciation. Anyone can do it. And the impact of that can be massive on building a successful organisation. That’s why the best leaders create cultures where no one is scared to fail everyone tries to improve, and you’re encouraged to voice your opinion. This is all very relatable to business.
Conclusion: Leadership Lessons Transcend Fields
These lessons from football are so transferable into the business world. Whether it’s a dressing room or the office, creating a positive culture, establishing clear structure, reducing pressure, all buying into the same methodology, integrating and encouraging younger team members, and using the power of positive influence are critical ingredients to excellent leadership and getting the best out of your people and business. Embrace these principles, and I truly believe you won’t be far away from being very successful.