Leadership and Sports Coaching Interview: Pete Walton

Ten lessons leaders can learn from top level football coaches.

Pete Walton (left) with author Trevor Sherman
Pete Walton (left) with author Trevor Sherman

What is common to both leadership and sports coaching? What is different? How transferable are the principles of coaching? And what can leadership coaches learn from sports managers and coaches?

To answer these question and more I turned to an old friend of mine, Pete Walton. After a successful career as a manager in business he transferred his talents to Premier League football as a referee. During a professional career spanning nearly 20 years, Pete refereed a number of notable matches, including the 2003 final of the Football League Trophy and the FA Community Shield in 2008. He officiated in the Premier League from 2003 to 2012. From 2013 he was General Manager of the Professional Referee Organization in North America until Howard Webb took over in January 2018. From 2019 Pete has worked as a referee analyst for BT Sport’s coverage of the UEFA Champions League, discussing key decisions and explaining the usage of VAR, both in-game and post-match. He also regularly appears on ESPN FC. He was part of ITV’s pundit team at this summer’s Euro 2020 to provide expert insight on all the major decisions during games.

The worlds of sport and business have been closely linked for as long as I can remember. Major sports events are big business. They involve big cities, big egos, and big bucks for the players and team owners. Perhaps big business – indeed, all business – can be seen as sport. Just listen to the sports-like language used by people in business. I often use sports metaphors myself in training and coaching sessions.

With Pete’s help, in this this article we’re looking at ten key areas of sport and leadership coaching.

Pete Walton, Premier League Referee

1. What Makes a Great Football Coach?

I started by asking Pete for his assessment of the leadership qualities he has seen from top football managers.

“Today’s modern game is played under a huge spotlight called the Media.  Every aspect of the game is analysed to the nth degree.  Crucially it is not only the players who come under scrutiny.  Coaches and managers do as well.  So they have to be Media Savvy.  It means somebody who can be articulate in front of the camera or in front of a microphone also needs to give a degree of confidence in what they are saying. This is because what they say today becomes the headlines tomorrow. 

For the top manager it is a given they have the technical skills, that they have man management skills and they understand the game.  This is why they are top managers. The elements that make the top managers stand apart are those who, in the modern game, can push themselves away from the group and be confident with the Media.  Look at Jurgen Klopp (Liverpool) and look at Pep Guardiola (Manchester City).  These people come out every day and speak to the press.  And make sure they don’t put their proverbial big foot in it.  But whilst Ole Gunnar Solskjaer (Manchester United) is an absolutely top coach, he is (in my opinion) not Media Savvy.  He’s not saying the right things and they’re beginning to attack him now. 

Know Your Audience

Relating this back to business it is all about shareholders.  You can’t have a shrinking violet as the chairman of a multi-national.  You’ve gotta have someone with a bit of an ego.  You’ve gotta have someone with a bit of self-confidence.  But also someone who is understanding toward their audience.

The top managers know who they are talking to – their audience – and how that will work that in their favour.  For example, the players – their assets – are listening to what the manager is saying.  Whatever he says they are relating that back to their every day.  All the top players now have agents.  Agents love to move players on.  Why? Because they get a spin off from it.  It’s for a top class manager to keep his players happy at his club, and longevity is really difficult nowadays.  That is something the people from outside the game don’t really get.  I understood that from a refereeing point of view because I had to interact with these managers on a daily basis.  And you know which ones are going to be extremely articulate in their answers and questions to you.  David Moyes or Sir Alex Ferguson – those sort of people.  I admire those managers. They stand alone for me.

Today’s football manager is managing a business.  His public profile is the piece that I had majored on because that’s the piece that people don’t realise is happening.  Every time I switch the TV on I will see a manager talking.  So they have to be Media Savvy.  Understand how the Media works and how they can make it work in their favour.  And some otherwise good managers can fall foul of that.  Remember a top manager has an arsenal of tools at their disposal. These include understanding the game; understanding formations; man management tactics; and understanding the opposition. But the key is making sure they can sell it and know when to use the Media in their favour. This is really really important”.

Conclusion

Well Pete, I think we got the message about being Media Savvy! For the business leader this means knowing their various audiences and the communication channels they can use to reach them. It means understanding that you are always on show. People are listening to you. Like journalists they will take what you say and report it to others with their ‘spin’ on it. Some of the people will be for you and responsive, and others will be against you and waiting to trip you up. Misinformation and disinformation are the enemy here.

Is it simply that what makes a good leader into a great leader is perfectly described by the title of one of my LARA Learning Modules: Communicating with Impact?

2. Maintaining Discipline

Bill Shankly OBE, Scottish football player and manager best known for his time as manager of Liverpool, famously said: “Some people think football is a matter of life and death. I assure you, it’s much more serious than that”.

Sir Alex Ferguson, legendary Manchester United manager, said in his book ‘My Autobiography’: “I’ve always found that you have to take the hard road all the time, whether it’s popular or not.  If you have a worry about one of your staff, that tells you straight away if there is a problem.  It never made sense to me to go to bed every night worrying when you could do something to cut the problem away. The one thing I could never allow was loss of control, because control was my only saviour.  I knew the minute a football player started trying to run the club, we would all be finished. The real players like a manager who’s tough. Or can be tough”.

These quotes from two famous and successful football managers epitomise the drive, determination, discipline and control needed at the top of their profession.

Is this also the management and mind-set approach required by a leadership coach?

Leadership Tools

There are a couple of leadership tools to consider here – both are traditional consultant ‘quadrant’ models. The first is my own ‘Situational Coaching’ model (based on Skills/Will merged with Situational Leadership). You can find it in the Coaches Toolkit. The dimensions are Direct > Guide > Support > Inspire. The second tool is ‘GIL’s Model of Behaviour’ which is covered in this excellent article by my friend and guest Author David Physick about Servant Leadership. The dimensions are The Autocrat > The Avoider > The Appeaser > The Servant. Guess what, in business leadership terms we are led to believe Inspire and Servant are best. In football management, on the face of it, Direct and Autocrat are considered the most desirable.

Do all top football managers follow this tough guy approach? Maybe the clue is in the throwaway line at the end of the Alex Fergusson quote: “Or can be tough”. Is this an insight into a flexible or situational approach to football management? We the fans only normally see the public persona of the football manager. What are they really like behind the scenes working the players, the team and the support staff?

Here’s what Sir Alex Ferguson has to say in his book ‘My Autobiography’ about creating positive tension. “When the team thought I would be leaving, they slackened off.  A constant tactic of mine was always to have my players on the edge, to keep them thinking it was always a matter of life and death. The must win approach”.

3. Know Yourself – Know Your Enemy

I quote from two well informed sources here.

Firstly, Sun Tzu from the 6th century BC was a Chinese general, military strategist, and philosopher and is credited as the author of The Art of War: “It is said that if you know your enemies and know yourself, you will not be imperilled in a hundred battles; if you do not know your enemies but do know yourself, you will win one and lose one; if you do not know your enemies nor yourself, you will be imperilled in every single battle”.

Secondly, I quote from Sir Alex Ferguson again. “I watched Arsène Wenger’s Arsenal teams, and was thrilled.  I always liked his watching sides. Playing against them presented special challenges that I had burned many hours thinking about. I always felt I had to examine everything Arsenal did because they presented so many threats across the park.  Chelsea presented a different set of problems.  There we would be facing experienced players, who knew every trick in the box.  Arsenal, on the other hand, played the right way. I’m not saying managers see everything, but we see most things, so Arsène’s stock defence after a game of, ‘I didn’t see it’ was not one I used.  My preferred line was: ‘I’ll need to look at it again’.  It was the same basic message, but this one bought you time. By the next day, or soon after, it’s likely to be old news.  Something else will have happened in the great churn of events to move the attention away from you”.

Leadership Dimensions

What are the business leadership dimensions here?

Firstly, who or what are your enemies? If you are in a commercial operation your ‘enemies’ are your competitors. If you are in operations your ‘enemies’ are not understanding the business strategy you are charged with executing and not understanding the potential of the resources you have at your disposal to mobilize.

The next dimension is to know yourself. This could be called self-awareness or emotional fortitude. Three personal values apply here.

Uprightness: you are trustworthy; you are open with your team and your boss about the good and the bad aspects of the strategy to be implemented; you have the courage to drive through what needs to be done; you are focused on the company agenda above your own; you are reliable and do what you tell people you will do.

Constant Care: you are forward thinking and anticipate barriers; you act with a sense of urgency; you balance opportunities and risk management; you set high standards for yourself and others.

Humbleness: you contain your own ego; you are open to learning; you show trust towards your team and empower them accordingly.

The last dimension is to know your people. Do your people understand the linkages between the business strategy, the business processes and the execution plan? Do they understand the context for what you are executing and why? Do they see and accept the line-of-sight (red line) between the goals of the operational plan and their personal KPIs/goals and priorities? Get in amongst things – your people, their processes the culture the metrics. Get closely involved with your people and the details of their operations. Get to know how they work and their energising and demotivating factors without being drawn into the detail yourself. My friend and Guest Author John Coleman described this well in his article ‘Getting Down on the Shop Floor

4. What are the Benefits of Team Discipline?

Pete went on to give a great example from 10 years ago of the tangible outcomes from team discipline. “I was updating the London clubs on the changing role of the referee and the application of the laws for the forthcoming season.  I was booked to make a 30 minute talk at QPR.  The squad had been assembled in the canteen. To a man they were head down looking at their phones and showing little interest or attention to my talk.  Later in the season I was booked to give a similar 30 minute talk to the Manchester United squad at their Carrington training ground.  Alex Ferguson had invited along the full squad of 54 professionals.  Every one of them attended and gave me their fall attention.  One player (Michael Owen) turned up late.  He gave me his apologies, having been held up in traffic, and took his place with the rest of his colleagues.  This was the 2011/2012 season.  At the end of the season QPR finished one place from relegation, and Manchester united finished second place in the premier league.  In the following season QPR were relegated and Manchester united were league winners.  What’s the lesson to learn from this?  Attention to detail is so important when trying to gain a small advantage.  Discipline is a word often used in professional football”.

Alex Ferguson

Continuing with Alex Ferguson, here are some quotes from his book ‘My Autobiography’ about team discipline.

  • There was no resting on the status quo, even in the best times.  The longer I stayed, the further I looked ahead.  Regeneration was an everyday duty.
  • First of all, you must tell them the truth.  There is nothing wrong with presenting the hard facts to a player who has lost form.  And what I would say to anyone whose confidence was wavering is that we were Manchester United and we simply could not allow ourselves to drop to the level of other teams. 
  • Faced with the need to confront a player who had performed below our expectations, I might have said: ‘that was rubbish’.  But then I would follow it up with, ’for a player of your ability’.  That was the picking them up from the initial blow.  Criticise but balance it out with encouragement.  ‘Why are you doing that?  You’re better than that.’ 
  • Endless praise sounds false.  They see through it.  A central component of the manager player relationship is that you have to make them take responsibility for their own actions, their own mistakes, their performance level, and finally the results.  We were all in the results industry.  Sometimes a scabby win would mean more to us than a 6-0 victory with a goal featuring 25 passes. 
  • The bottom line was always that Manchester United had to be victorious.  That winning culture could be maintained only if I told a player what I thought about this performance in a climate of honesty.  And yes, sometimes I would be forceful and aggressive.  I would tell a player what the club demanded of them. 
Leadership Dimension

The role of the leadership coach is ‘getting things done’. This discipline of execution should be practiced competently and consistently by every front line leader. It all starts by recognizing that you only ‘get things done’ through others – a key belief or Work Value embodied in the Leadership Pipeline concept. This discipline or competency is about turning great ideas and business strategies into tangible results. It’s about ensuring resources are in place, and putting appropriate actions in place, to realise the business strategy as a value-added reality. Driving execution means creating and following a well-conceived plan to mobilise action through individuals and teams.

To successfully execute a strategy you will first need to identify the key tasks, resources, people capacity, team discipline, systems and processes that are required to translate the strategy into results. Then develop and communicate a plan that will align people, activities and processes with those requirements. The plan and its communication must not only be operationally viable, but also inspire people to optimal performance. Leaders who are strong in driving execution ensure that things get done in the right order by the right people. They create a culture of accountability and exceptional performance to ensure things meet the right quality standards to the right timeframe.

Finally, leaders who are consistently successful with driving execution are adept at anticipating and overcoming difficulties to win through and deliver exceptional results. They make sure the team is battle ready. That’s what leadership team discipline is about.

5. Attention to Detail

I asked Pete for an example of how a football manager might benefit from having great attention to detail. He started by telling me a story about Arsène Wenger who was Arsenal’s manager for many years.

Managers

“I was refereeing a pre-season tournament at Arsenal in the Emirate’s Cup when they were playing teams from abroad. I was around early in the dressing room. There was a knock at the door. Arsène Wenger spent 45 minutes with me asking questions about refereeing styles and tactics. This is a great example of ‘attention to detail’.  What did he do with this information? He primed the players on how to approach their games; understand the traits of individual referees; to use the laws as written and interpreted for advantage over the competition.

Managers are looking for that small degree of positivity that would give them success and make the difference.  And that difference could be anything that gives them the edge over their opposition.  I had an email from a manager a month ago looking at a corner kick being taken and how he could defend that corner kick.  He wanted to make sure he could attack that corner kick, but within the laws of the game.  So he sent me a video clip and said, ‘Pete would you just explain the laws of the game to me and how we can attack this without transgressing the laws of the game’.  And I thought for a manager to do that shows the attention to detail in a finite way a lot of people wouldn’t understand.

José Mourinho would talk a lot about referees, because he felt knowing and understanding the referee, how he or she interacted with players and how he or she interpreted the laws of the game, could work to the advantage of his team if he understood them.

Players

Great strikers. There was a guy who played for Chelsea called Didier Drogba – a world top class striker. I was talking to the Chelsea team once about the laws of the game and afterwards Didier came up to me and he said he wanted to find a way of shaking defenders off him because they were marking him far too tightly from corner kicks.  How can he do that?  He was in the middle of the box, the ball was coming over but the markers were too close.  He said I want to go off the field and come back on as the ball comes over, and asked if he can do that.  In the laws of the game you can’t do that because you can’t leave the field of play.  He then asked me could he get round it.  And the answer was yes. You stand on a post and you put one foot off the field and providing the other foot is on the field you haven’t left the field. And because you’re near the post the defender can’t come and mark on your back. That way you can spring away from him and get an advantage.  And this was a world class striker looking at attention to detail and how he to get the advantage.  It shows the degree to which people are prepared to go to make them that notch above the next person.  It could come in all shapes and sizes and that’s where what makes managers really good managers.  And because today’s game is driven on statistics and analysing data, all the clubs have analysts who look at everything. Since everyone’s got the same thing, it’s the person who looks for something that others may not see in the data that will make the difference.  Attention to detail can turn good into really great.”

How can you drive this passion for attention to detail in your team? Here is a great article about Seven Habits to Improve Your Attention to Detail.

6. Spotting and Developing Talent

Here’s what Sir Alex Ferguson says in his book ‘My Autobiography’ about creating a talent pipeline. “When you acquire a young player, you don’t get the complete package on purchase day. There’s work to be done. When there is a sudden rush to solve problems, mistakes are made.  We were at our best when we work from a plan, over years, and started players, compiled detailed information.  We knew all about Christiano Renaldo before we signed him.  We try to get Rooney at 14, and tried again at 16.  Finally we cracked it when he was 17.  A good plan for Rooney. He was an obvious target for us. That was Manchester United’s scouting at its very best.”

Alex Ferguson is making the point that scouting for talent is the start of his pipeline. There will be a lot of young players falling by the way before a Renaldo or Rooney appear. But when he finds them, the work starts in developing and realising their potential.

Spotting Winners

Ram Charan is co-author of the book ‘The Leadership Pipeline’. In another book ‘Know How’ he identifies eleven criteria for spotting future winners in your organization. He suggests that you repeatedly practice making judgments of other people and reflect on why you might have missed in some cases. Did the individual have the potential you saw in them? How good are your judgments compared to others’ judgments on the same individual?

Here are Ram Charan’s eleven criteria:

1. They consistently deliver ambitious results

2. They continuously demonstrate growth, adaptability, and learning better and faster than their excellently performing peers.

3. They seize the opportunity for challenging, bigger assignments, thereby expanding capability and capacity and improving judgment.

4. They have the ability to think through the business and take leaps of imagination to grow the business.

5. They are driven to take things to the next level.

6. Their powers of observation are very acute, forming judgments of people by focusing on their decisions, behaviors, and actions, rather than relying on initial reactions and gut instincts; they can mentally detect and construct the “DNA” of a person.

7. They come to the point succinctly, are clear thinkers, and have the courage to state a point-of-view even though listeners may react adversely.

8. They ask incisive questions that open minds and incite the imagination.

9. They perceptively judge their own direct reports, have the courage to give them honest feedback so the direct reports grow; they dig into cause and effect if a direct report is failing.

10. They know the non-negotiable criteria of the job of their direct reports and match the job with the person; or if there is a mismatch they deal with it promptly.

11. They are able to spot talent and see the “gift” in other individuals.

I’ve put number 1 in bold because this is the entry ticket to the talent game – without this, you should not be proceeding. Some people say 2/3 years of delivering ambitious business results are required.

7. Building a Winning Team

Vince Lombardi, American Football coach is quoted as saying: “Individual commitment to a group effort – that is what makes a team work a company work, a society work, a civilization work.

As a leader, you could be forgiven for thinking that managing a group of individuals and forming them in to a cohesive high performing team is like herding cats. You will need strong leadership resolve, excellent communication skills, the ability to resolve conflicts and good people-reading skills. All these skills will enable you to handle the complex demands of team development.

A Team Charter documents the mission and purpose of the team, and provides the team with a roadmap for how they intend to do business. It also represents an agreement among team members on how the team will work as an empowered partnership.

You select the right people through rigorous recruitment processes, and guide the team to become an efficient and cohesive functioning unit. Remember you are selecting people for both current tasks and future potential. Your team becomes more than the sum of its individual members. You provide structure, process and support to the team so they know ‘what’ to do and ‘how’ to do it. Team development guru Bruce Tuckman has defined four (and now possibly five) stages to team development. He calls them: Forming; Storming; Norming; Performing. When you have a new team or reorganised team it is important to understand the implications of this model: firstly, from the point of view of the task orientation of the team at each stage; and, secondly from the point of view of the group or team processes.

Building a National Team

In item 8 below I ask Pete for his view on cohesion in the England team under manager Gareth Southgate. Here I ask him about Southgate’s approach to building a winning team of young talent.

“I can see the England team being a refreshing change from where it was 10 years ago, even where it was five years ago, because of the relationship Gareth Southgate had with these players before he got the main job. Understanding their strengths and weaknesses and having the ability and confidence as a manager to give his players the licence to express themselves.

You’ll see Southgate most Saturdays at a game.  But not only him, he’s got three or four people around him of a similar ilk who watch games every weekend and are talking to players.  What he’s doing is when he gets his England squad together for a few days, which is probably only every three months, he’s inviting people along who you wouldn’t necessarily think are ready to play for England’s main team yet, but their talent had been spotted.

Unlike a regular team manager he is not seeing his players on a day-to-day basis because he’s the manager of the national team and they only get together every three months or so.  So he has to have a network of people looking at players.  He needs to be make sure the players he picks are playing on top of their form as well.  Football is a real confidence driven game.  And sometimes the confidence is not there.  So you don’t want to put that person into a situation where he has to work even harder just to stay where he is.  You would recognise that, keep him out of the firing line but keep him within the squad.  And that’s an ability Gareth Southgate has got.  And he does that along with this coaching staff.  It’s very different from managing on a day-to-day basis.  It’s almost like managing from afar but having the line of communication open to make sure he knows how his players are performing”.

In my LARA Learning Module Team Development I cover: Building yourself a high performance team; Managing your team process; Understanding your team members; Providing your team with purpose; Supporting your team. Take a look.

8. Team Cohesion & Unity

A great recent example of a cohesive football team was the England squad that reached the finals in Euro 2020, led by manager Gareth Southgate. Pete Walton was part of ITV’s pundit team for this tournament. I asked him for his assessment of the team and Southgate’s role.

Gareth Southgate has done remarkably well in England bearing in mind he wasn’t the best club manager.  He managed at Middlesbrough but did not gain too much success, and then found himself managing the England under 23 squad.  He was thrust into the limelight when Sam Allardyce fell on his sword.  So he came from within.  But he didn’t come with a great pedigree from within.  He had been there about five years.  He got the top job very quickly.  Again those essential credentials are there, but he’s been able as an England manager to come in front of the TV cameras and articulate what England is all about and how his philosophy of playing is going to be interpreted by the players, and he’s been really successful.

Southgate has been successful in terms of taking England to semi-finals of the World Cup in 2018, and even more successful this summer in terms of taking them to them to the finals of the Euros.  He’s done that without too much negative press.  And as head of the national team that’s some going.

Young Players

Bearing in mind he was the manager of the under 21s ones and the under 23s he had established a good relationship with the younger players already.  Then all of a sudden he gets the top job, so in his mind he probably knows the younger players better than he knows the senior players.  He was the kind of manager who was prepared to take a leap of faith and say to some of the younger players I’m going to give you an opportunity.  I’m putting you into the shop window here.  I know what you can do.  As an example, Mount who plays for Chelsea, Chillwell who plays for Chelsea and Declan Rice who plays for West Ham. You’ve got a plethora of younger players there. Calvert-Lewin plays for Everton.  Baka plays for Arsenal.  These are all lads who are under the age of 20 / 22 who in an established England management set up probably would not be given the opportunities they have been given.  And they have been given these opportunities because Garrett Southgate had confidence in them and he understood them. He clearly has a relationship with them to be able to get them ready for that bigger stage. And going back to my original point about being Media Savvy, he has been able to sell that concept to the media without too much of a backlash.  Yes he’s been very successful.  But even before he got very successful he was playing these younger players and not getting negative press.  That is really really clever and good for him.

The nucleus of England players coming through are all young lads.  Gareth Southgate himself as a manager is not an old guy he’s in his early fifties, and he understands how players relate to one another at a younger age rather than more senior pros.  And he has been able to galvanise them together as a team as ‘buddies’.  As well as them being team mates, it’s good to see the way they interact with one another off the field and the way they socialise with one another. There do not seem to be any prima donnas coming through from that group.  They all seem to be pretty level headed guys together.  That’s all down to the manager.  You see an attitude on the field where they want to be expressive.  They want to play to their strengths rather than just to a prescribed tactic.  When you work to a prescribed tactic you might stifle initiative, you might stifle someone’s art.

Flair

What Gareth Southgate has been able to do very cleverly is not only have a formation to play to, but within that formation he’s given licence to players to express themselves.  Obviously you’ve got to be quite rigid in your team formation, but within that team formation you can say to a player you have the confidence of your buddies, you have the relationship with your buddies just express yourself a bit more than you would have done.  What you are seeing there is flair.  You’re seeing things that you might not expect happening in front of you.  And that’s because the players are not scared of failing. They’re not frightened of any whip back from their playing partners. And they are clearly being given licence from the manager to express themselves, providing they still do the fundamental job.  Do your basics first – midfield defend attack – but within that you have licence to express yourself more.  Any risk is mitigated because the players around you know you are taking a risk and will defend you.  They’ll get behind you.  They all talk to each other on the field. Every decade there are different phrases of appear within football. These players are all from the same era and they all understand each other”.

Conclusion

I asked Pete to comment here on team cohesion. I think he has added a bigger insight through his close observation and understanding of how Gareth Southgate has brought a breath of fresh air to our national side. Spotting talent and taking risks is a theme that applies to the business leader and coach too.

I have seen examples of this recently in my own coaching practice. Senior leaders who are always pushing to realise people’s potential by placing them in challenging roles and supporting them through coaching. Here is a quote from one senior leader: “There are two specific situations in business where coaching is very valuable to me. The first is where a team member is not living up to his or her potential. The second is when a team member is already successful at producing results and wants to develop much further. Either way it is our job to facilitate them – extending the limits of their current potential much further as a result of the coaching.”

Here is a great article from the Leadership & Sport Blog: ‘Team Cohesion in Sport’. They also quote team development guru Bruce Tuckman and his four stages to team development: Forming; Storming; Norming; Performing.

9. Coaching to Win: A Team Approach to Coaching

A football manager typically has a large team of support staff to call on. This is the team’s Backroom Staff and may comprise an assistant manager, assistant coaches, goalkeeping coach, performance analyst, psychologist, fitness coach, nutritionist, physiotherapist, masseur, scout, kit manager, youth team coach. Wow, you’re thinking, as a leadership coach in my business how could I cover all of these roles? Well, the answer is you can.

Look again at the title of this section: ‘Coaching to Win’. Start by working out what you and your team need to win – call them Must Win Battles. Use a simple quadrant analysis to establish your priorities on these scales: Very Important > Not Important; Urgent > Not Urgent. You will soon see the critical events and activities where you need to focus your discretionary coaching energy. For the football manager it’s usually a 90 minute match once a week in the season. Now work out the coaching subjects you need to focus on and whether the coaching will be one-to-one or one-to-many (team coaching). Now choose your best resource to do the coaching. It won’t always be you. Within your team you will have ‘subject matter’ coaches. Just make sure they understand and deploy coaching techniques versus training or mentoring.

Outside of the team you have specialists function s such as HR, you have peers and your manager you can call on. Heaven forbid, you could always pay an external coach to work with you! Or set up a program to train people in coaching skills. Read more about my Coaching Master Class program. End of the advertising break. Widen your scope and broaden your imagination. Build yourself a backroom staff of coaches for every event and every occasion.

The Premier League manager has weekly battles to win. All eyes are on the home or away match the following weekend. This certainly provides focus for the manager, the players and for the fans. As a business leader how can you invoke a similar sense of urgency and focus – let’s call, it ‘Must Win Weekly Battles’, or ‘What Must We Get Done by Friday’?  This is especially important if you are a front line operational leader – a Leader of Others – charged with execution against short term business goals. How can you inject the same immediacy into a goal driven week for your team members, many of whom will be sports fans and thinking about their club’s match at the weekend? What sporting metaphors can you introduce into your performance management dialogue with colleagues?

10. Learning from Football Mangers

Finally I asked Pete Walton about the managers and their teams he had come to admire in his time as a Premier League referee.

David Moyes

 “David Moyes who is the current manager at West Ham and admired in his time at Everton for his passion and motivation as a coach. Moyes managed Everton as a successful team in the top echelon. He is very demonstrative in getting his point over to the person he is talking to on the field and influencing the crowd ‘beyond the sound barrier’ – i.e. the baying audience.  Moyes encourages his support team (assistant coaches) to take an active role in giving instructions during matches. He allows them to go forward and coach their sections, without going through him. Sections could be defence, attack or overall. Why? Moyes has confidence in them and them in him. They know exactly what he wants them to cover anyway. Coaching during a game is instructional. It’s mostly non-verbal versus using words. Coaches have predetermined hand signals, for example to the back four, the mid three or the front two”.

Arsène Wenger

“Foreign coaches are in demand because of the cosmopolitan nature of the league. Different cultures – different thoughts. For example, Arsène Wenger changed the playing culture of the English league game in the 1996/97 season. He looked at diet (non-fatty, quick burning carbs), for fitness level, attention to non-injury, and longevity in play. He used sports scientists to look at running patterns, sprinting over distance, recovery and injury pattern over a season”.

Sir Alex Ferguson

Here’s what Sir Alex Ferguson has to say in his book ‘My Autobiography’. “What we did at all times, in success and adversity, was make sure the training ground was sacrosanct.  The work we did there, the concentration, and the standards we maintained never dropped.  Eventually that consistency of effort will show itself on a Saturday.  That way, when a United player has a couple of bad results, he will hate it.  It becomes intolerable to him.  Even the best players sometimes lose confidence.  Even Cantona had bouts of self-doubt.  But if the culture around the training ground was right, players knew they could fall back on the group and the expertise of our staff”.

What is the equivalent to the training ground for a business leader? The clue is in the word ‘training’. Like the quote above from Sir Alex Ferguson, you can make sure that training and professional development is both continuous and sacrosanct for your team members. Training comes in all shapes and sizes and is not restricted to classroom events. You can devote part of your weekly / monthly team meetings to learning. The leader does not have to be the person running this. You have many experts available to you from inside and outside the team.

I was delighted recently to be invited by Blog Guest Author Richi Mock to join his team in Panama via MS Teams to run a session on ‘Influencing Without Authority’. Richi brings in an external ‘expert’ each month for his team meetings. So – how will you get a learning culture like this embedded in your team?

Further Reading

Pete Walton Biography

Alex Ferguson Biography

Arsène Wenger Biography

David Moyes Biography

Gareth Southgate Biography

Blog Guest Author Richi Mock ‘What I learned about leadership from the Springboks

Author: Trevor Sherman

Trevor Sherman: Author, Blogger and Coach. What do I do? I develop leadership training material and personal learning modules. I am the owner and operator of this Blog. I coach senior executives for their development and role transition. I am based in Northamptonshire UK and operate globally - in person and through technology.

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