So the brief period where England dared to dream that football was coming home once more is now a distant memory from, ooh, a few short weeks ago. But England fans were given a brief and glorious renaissance of hope and belief, and the England team made to it a World Cup semi-final for the first time in nearly 30 years (Italia ’90, when Germany, as usual, crushed England’s dreams in a penalty shootout).
Pundits and fans alike pondered whether the fact that England, like Germany four years ago, was a team made up of relative youngsters with no superstar names and a great team spirit. Possibly – but one thing all agreed upon was that the quiet stewardship of the modest Gareth Southgate was a steadying influence that guided the team to this impressive result.
Chairman of leading UK recruitment firm Reed (www.reed.co.uk), and author and career coach, James Reed, thinks so. He analysed what businesses can learn from the five leadership skills Southgate displayed.
Southgate said, “I knew the messages that I wanted to give the players, that we were in control of the process.” Reed says that this meant months of planning, analysing the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats both of his players and those of the competition, just as should be done in business.
“This is a proactive way to help you to anticipate, prepare for and surpass obstacles, rather than stumbling through the unexpected towards failure,” says Reed.
The fact that Southgate has “been there, done that” as a player and a manager makes him a credible leader. He gets buy-in from his team (“employees”) and fans (“stakeholders”) because of it. Initial misgivings or scepticism when he took the job have given way to conviction that he is the right man because he has shown all that his experience and understanding of the challenges gives him the right to lead.
The ability to bounce back from setbacks and stay focused on the job at hand is the hallmark of a great leader, says Reed. Southgate said of the crushing disappointment of Euro ’96, when he wore the three lions, “I’ve learnt a million things from the day and the years that have followed it – the biggest thing being that when something goes wrong in your life, it doesn’t finish you.”
Reed approves: “It’s how you move forward and keep a sharp focus on the end goal that’s important,” he says.
- Personal brand
Southgate’s sharp dressing – he was responsible for a massive surge in waistcoat sales this summer – reminds Reed of Brian Epstein’s makeover of the Beatles with their slick suits and haircuts to match. Among the team photos of national squads in their kit, England stood out, all dressed in three-piece suits.
This kind of personal branding sends out the message that Southgate means business, says Reed, with he and his team appearing “professional, considered, controlled”. The brand is one of great camaraderie, with Southgate at the helm, bent upon success.
A great leader shows empathy, even to rivals, says Reed, pointing to the memorable images of Southgate consoling Colombia midfielder Mateus Uribe after his penalty was saved by Jordan Pickford, sealing England’s win.
Southgate had been in the same position in ’96, and that the player was a rival didn’t matter; Southgate “exemplifies decency and courage”, says Reed, qualities that command respect both from your team and your rivals.
For all the books one can read about leadership skills, it seems you could do a lot worse than follow the lead of this quietly determined but modest man, born in Watford, Hertfordshire, and brought up in Crawley, Sussex. Where other managers found their peccadilloes and venality plastered all over the front pages, Southgate is a family man happy to remain on the back pages, content to let his results speak for him.
“On the surface, football and business may seem worlds apart,” concludes Reed, “but leaders in both arenas have a lot to learn from Gareth Southgate.”