Tim Morris, Professor of Management Studies, illustrates how England's manager is helping the team enjoy its most success in years.
On Sunday the England football team play Italy in the final of the European Championship at Wembley – and Tim Morris, Professor of Management Studies at Saïd Business School, has pinpointed the leadership traits in manager Gareth Southgate that are guiding the side.
Tim, Programme Director for the online Oxford Executive Leadership Programme, says Southgate has combined ‘classic and novel leadership modes’ in leading England to the country’s first major tournament final in 55 years.
Good strategist (traditional leader)
England have a model of play and it’s clear they have worked it out and stick to it.
Basically, it’s risk averse. Don’t lose by taking risks and conceding a goal. Play to a plan and everyone knows the script. Wear down the opposition and take your few chances.
This is entirely logical given very few goals are scored in a game and it’s easier to lose than win.
He has also resisted populist criticism, such as calls to play players including Jack Grealish in the starting team, because the system comes first.
Very strong capacity for empathy with his team and with other ‘stakeholders’, such as fans and the media. This is contemporary. He is no dinosaur.
Southgate has actively embraced the agenda around Black Lives Matter and racial equality because he realises it’s not just about what happens on the pitch in 90 minutes anymore.
He is prepared to defend individual and collective values, not just skills, and indeed talk them up as a strength.
He has shown terrific engagement with his ‘followers’, down to things like making sure the players all get a bit of game time, but he sticks with his tried and tested players to create loyalty, such as Raheem Sterling. This has paid off so far.
This gives him credibility. All leaders need to build reputation and use it well. He was a good, competent international footballer and made the most of his talents so that gives him credibility.
Even the famous penalty miss against Germany in the semi-final of the 1996 European Championship makes him human and therefore enhances his reputation rather than undermines it.
His reputation is also enhanced by his ability to be articulate and persuasive (very contemporary leadership attributes, particularly with the power of media), showing charm, humour and drive.
Really importantly though, he’s evidently not a narcissist. Talking about the team and the constant rhetoric of winning for everyone else makes him a humble and human ‘other-centred’ leader.
The performance test
In the end football management is clearly about one test of success and that is easily measured, so he is a strong leader as long as England perform.
This is one key area where football/sports is like other forms of leadership but also rather different or much more extreme.
In most areas of leadership the performance test is not so clear or so strong or determined by a moment of skill or luck or penalties.
Also, once the whistle goes and the match starts, the manager depends on the team rather than leading from the front. The manager can encourage and make tactical decisions but has to give up control to the players.
Much of what actually happens is out of her or his control - showing the limits of leadership very starkly.