When Sir Alex Ferguson retired this week and the plaudits reined in, I was struck by the tribute of the Spurs Manager, AVB who spoke with some sadness, of how young coaches like him had lost their role model…their great example of what it takes to be a manager. He talked of charisma, of passion and desire, of reinventing yourself and your team/business when the need arose, of legacy…and of human values.
What business owner would not want the same things to be said of them as they hang up their entrepreneurial hat?
Fergie was/is a fantastic role model for anyone who wants to be a success in any walk of life…but particularly in business. Is he a saint? Not a chance. But you model the best qualities of your role models, and learn from their frailties.
I started to think of Sir Alex as a role model a couple of weeks ago, when he won his 20th League title, with his fourth…or was it his fifth different squad of players. Like many others, I love his charismatic personality that powerful yet charming presence that inspires and motivates; I love his passion and desire after so many long years in the game, and his drive to succeed every year – that competitive edge that drove him to be and to remain at number one.
From a business point of view, I believe there are four powerful lessons to be learned from Fergie’s long life in football…
1. Manage your people
Listen to any of the tributes from past players or coaching staff, even those who Fergie publicly fell out with, and you will pick up on one thing…they all respect him. He didn’t try to be loved, or even liked by his players – the success of the club was always the primary aim – but he clearly gave them what they needed to fulfil their potential and grow as people as well as players.
For me the lessons here are clear…
Hire people who fit the team; who have the skills you need; who share your values, your commitment and your work ethic. Get close to them; understand them; understand what motivates them – the ‘hairdryer treatment’ or an encouraging word. When individuals do not perform to your standard, or to their capabilities…when they begin to de-stabilise the team…deal with them…quickly. No matter how good they are, one individual will never be more important than the team or your business.
Fergie is hailed as the greatest ever because he achieved success with 4 different squads. He changed his personnel; he adapted. What is recognised less, is that he changed the structure of the club, upgraded the facilities, built the club’s profile internationally and brought more money into the business to fund future players and future growth. He recognised that football is big business, and to stay on top you have to look as well as act the part.
Stay fresh, keep learning, and when new competitors enter the market, react. Be willing to make changes to your product, your system, your service model. Invest in your infrastructure, and be willing to take calculated risks. Adapt and stay one step ahead of the competition.
3. Focus on Process, Systems and your culture
Manchester United is a business that operates through tried and tested process and systems, as you would expect from a company listed on the stock exchange. Those processes and systems extend right down to the team and the coaches and are built around a set of values and a strong culture that every individual within the club buys into. Listen to new players talking about how easy it is to settle into the club, and this is why…the ‘way we do things around here’ …the culture…backed up by a well practised, well drilled routine…makes life simple and straightforward…and creates a platform for your high performing team.
Design your culture around your values. Be the example of the standards of excellence, of commitment, of passion, that you want to see in your team. Give them simple and effective processes to follow. Recognise them for great performance. Reprimand them when they do something that goes against the culture of your business. Make it easy and enjoyable to join and be part of your high performing team. Make it desirable for those high performers not yet part of your business.
4. Never be satisfied
While he may occasionally have been satisfied after a particular performance, Fergie’s desire was always to improve for the long-term. He was driven as a manager to be better tomorrow than he was today; to enjoy success for the moment, but always to look forward to the next match, the next success. No one in his team was ever allowed to believe that one success, one trophy was enough…resting on your laurels was a recipe for a move to another club.
Never be satisfied with today’s success – celebrate it and enjoy the moment, but tomorrow prepare for your next challenge. The business world is full of people who took their eye off the ball as a result of success – Nokia the business that springs most readily to mind. Foster a spirit of continuous improvement and make it part of your business DNA to ensure continued success and business growth.
I met Sir Alex once…lovely man…generous with his time and with his words. I shall miss him as the manager of my club, but I’ll always have him as a role model for my business. A work in progress you might say…
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