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In this podcast, Tougher Minds Founder and Managing Director Dr. Jon Finn explains what can business learn from the England football manager’s approach to leadership.
He discusses how Gareth Southgate lead his team at the 2018 World Cup in Russia.

 

Podcast transcript

This is the Tougher Minds podcast and in this episode we talk to Tougher Minds Founder and Managing Director, Dr Jon Finn about England football manager Gareth Southgate. The England team enjoyed a successful 2018, at the World Cup in Russia, and for leaders and managers in business and education Jon believes there are valuable lessons to be learned from the Three Lions’ campaign.

We can learn from Gareth Southgate that you can learn to become a better leader. Often we hear the language of he’s a born leader. He’s a natural leader. She’s a natural leader. She’s a bold leader. Science, the science is telling us that isn’t the case.

You learn how to get good at things and all the time when we, when we dig into it, we had very successful leaders talking about how they’ve learned to be combative and Gareth Southgate is learning to become a better leader.

It’s interesting how if he’d have lost some games of the world, he’d have probably been talked about as not particularly a great leader and he would never be good enough to be the manager, but he’s showing the desire to want to learn and to want to grow and he says from now is he’s his focus is to improve himself. It’s a journey of continuous improvement and I’ve been around the professional football circuit for the last 15 or 20 years and I’ve always known Gareth Southgate to be someone who is always going out of his way to learn more. He actually was one of the first people to employ a psychologist when he was at the Middlesbrough manager.

So I think that’s the first big message and I think he was quoted by the BBC during the World Cup saying something along the lines of the quest for improvement can never stop.

So that certainly underpins what you’ve said about what you know about him. But he also, I believe, would have used some sort of guidelines or a framework if we like to guide his efforts to improve and improve himself and his leadership.

Possibly he might have done it and I’m sure he had it in mind that he’s working towards to becoming a great leader and the lens that we typically look at leadership through is called transformational leadership.

We can get better at anything we want to get better. That isn’t saying that anyone can be the fastest person in the world; just saying wherever your current abilities are,with practice you can get better and the journey people go on to get better is often to acquire some new knowledge, after turn that knowledge into skills, apply those ideas.

And ultimately if you keep practicing those skills, they’ll become a habit of having a framework about what you want get better at. In this case, leadership, this is really helpful.

We go on that journey from the knowledge, to the skill, to the habit. So as I said, if the framework, we use transformational leadership, and you can clearly see some very clear elements of the transformational leadership model and the different components at play in Gareth Southgate’s leadership style.

One of those components we call the role model. This is the leadership part, which is about doing what you expect everybody else to do and it’s what great leaders do. They don’t expect special treatment. They will pick the litter up, talk about sweeping the sheds, you know, the senior players cleaning, changing rooms,

Leaders have to do what they expect everybody else to do. And in the World Cup, we saw some clear examples of this. So that was a really important aspects of England’s campaign and it’s going to be on it for a few years now to re-engage with the fan base which had been disillusioned. And we saw clearly Gareth Southgate going out of his way at matches to engage with the supporters and to publicly engage supporters in his press conferences. And only by him doing that kind of thing can he expect the players to follow suit.

We also know that England were very clear to build better relationships with the media. And again, we saw Southgate going out of his way to engage in friendly media relationships.

I think they played darts with a different member of the press every week of the campaign. So it gets that. That’s part of that. Would it be?

Yes, it’s that kind of that kind of example. You see how the guy turns himself out and I think if you go back to him as a professional footballer, that would have been one of these strengths as a leader as well. He was a great role model both on and off the field so that, that would be one area. Another area I think it’s clear to see is what we call cultural architect. This is the leadership, which is about creating the environment that allows people to work towards being at their best.

The first part of an environment or the first thing you need to do in an environment to people to be successful is to make the environment safe. We increasingly understood this because we’ve increasingly understood the role of negative emotions have on our ability to be clever, to push ourselves and to grow ourselves as individuals.

So if you, if you’re going to be in an environment that actually nurtures you to, to develop yourself as an individual, you need to feel safe in that environment. And I think what’s really interesting with the England team is that actually Gareth Southgate was Under 21s manager when a lot of those young players like Harry Kane and John Stones were coming through. So you already, heart was very personable, well developed relationships. I’m sure that they felt safe under Southgate’s guidance.

The next part of the cultural architect is the creating an environment that helps people to grow to at their best individually and collectively is that you need to have something to work towards. You need to have a purpose. You need to understand what the big goals are. And the England team talks about their goals, their talked about, landmarks they had set for themselves out the world, things that they wanted to hit. In professional sport you can’t share everything publicly, but clearly they had some conversation about what they wanted to achieve in the World Cup. And I think what was also interesting when we connect those, the big goals together and this idea of feeling safe, is they seemed it was fine to talk about learning from the games that Southgate wasn’t expecting the members of the team to be the finished article. Like we often imagine that John Stones is because he got sold for millions and millions of pounds. He understood that these guys, they need to grow, they need to learn the need to develop in the international arena as they’re doing the premier league as well. I believe they’re planning.

The players were talking about, you know, we learn from every experience that’s, part of the philosophy of this group. So that was really important part of wearing the cultural architect’s hat. And I think the third element there is that people understanding what are their roles and responsibilities in helping the team to achieve its goals. I think one thing that came across with the England team, which is always easier when you’re winning games, is that there was much more of a squad mentality. Players know if they weren’t in the starting 11, players were coming in and more often than not, making an impact to change the course of games.

We saw that a lot with Clive Woodward when he was at that really successful spell, as the England Rugby Union manager, which lead to winning the World Cup. You know where it was about the 22 or however many people were in the squad and where people were left out of the squad it was because they weren’t fitting into that mentality, he would would call those guys he energy sappers. Austin Healey was famously left out of the squad because he wasn’t fitting. So you could see how Southgate has created that cultural architect environment.

And the power of having a model like transformational leadership model is that – I’ve worked with some people who are labeled to be world class managers – and part of testimony that they are actually world cass is that they admit they’re not the best at all these different transformational leadership areas and they’re always prepared to grow and to develop.

This is in both sport And business and it and education, is that right?

Yes. You know, the guys who were, who were the best leaders they understand they need to learn and if you have a framework to work on, like our framework for transformational leadership then it gives you a guideline to work towards. So you know that you’ve got the cultural architect piece nailed, but you know that you need to do more work on the role model or the action communicator or what we call swap coach.

So we were talking about how this is very, obviously has been a part of Gareth Southgate’s , campaign, if you’re like, during last summer as well cut, which was successful by any reasonable measure and hailed as such by some fairly stern critics which appear in the, in the sports media, in the United Kingdom. But this, this model, these concepts are of course at play and transferable to the business world?

Yes. Again, we have a mindset in business that some people are just natural leaders and some people are not. And that isn’t the case, in the world that we live in, the VUCA world, we need good leaders more than ever. And I think that the thing that’s often missed with the word leadership is that it’s a title that only some people are half. In fact, we understand that everyone in an organization has a leadership role because what everybody does in an organization affects everybody else. If you’re in a meeting and you pull a face about what somebody says you are affecting others behavior and that’s what leadership is about. And we can use framework white transformational leadership to help people to understand what leadership is, make it less tangible and actually help people to build better habits around that. And if I were just getting ready to go up to this, the us again, where we’ve been, I’m creating for want of a better term, some questionnaires around these different parts of the transformational leadership model to help people to really understand where their strengths and weaknesses are and to understand where they need to put their energies into building small, new, helpful leadership habits.

I think transformational leadership, leadershIp in general is, it is a really exciting at the moment because we need everybody more than ever to step up and recognise they are a leader that can, there can become a better leader.

And just to conclude then that you talked about how a Gareth Southgate and the and the England squad set themselves a number of clear objectives, some of which, as you say, we may not have known about because there were regarded as being more appropriate to keep internal but nevertheless were shared within the group and the team. How does that then help individuals within that team perform and, and hit their marks as it were? Well, goals allow us to direct our energies and our efforts.

And especially if the goals are set in a way where players feel empowered, they’re not just told what to do. That part of the conversation of agreeing what kind of tactics that we’re going to deploy here. And obviously some of the more senior players would have more success than some of the junior players. Well, that’s the power of roles and responsibilities.

And if we get people to be active in their acceptance of those roles and responsibilities, as opposed to being passive, just being told what to do, they’re going to be more sticky and more powerful. And we have this term in psychology we call the self fulfilling prophecy and when we set out to achieve something, I have a belief that we can achieve something. We, our behaviors and our actions, they start to align to that belief system more often than not, we’ve got a better chance of actually doing what we set out to do.

So it goals are very powerful. People set goals every day, but you can set goals very poorly or you can set goals really well. And there’s a real science to doing that. I think maybe to an extended answer to the question is that what also play is in that group will see is what a good leader does and therefore hopefully start to model that behavior so that John Stones couldn’t use his mini version of that with these group of defenders, for example, because actually for this England seemed to kick on and to be called a team that is challenging in World Cup finals, they need to create more leaders in the group, um, that’s going to be absolutely vital for that group of place to fulfill their potential.

And in the world we live in a vulva coaching, it’s more challenging than ever to do that. These players will spend hundreds of thousands of hours practicing kicking the ball with that left foot on that right foot in very different, specific tactical ways, like long passes short passes etc. How much time will they spend purposely developing their leadership skills? It’s a question. I would imagine not enough.

So I think England need to think about how they can do more of this stuff to help them to kick on to the next level and if you listen to Clive Woodward, who was probably still the most successful English team manager, it was all about having a lead us through the spine of that team. I don’t think the England football team is quite there yet.

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