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Southgate v May: a tale of leadership and engagement

July 10, 2018

Leadership style isn’t often in the headlines, but this week it’s right up there. Interest is being fuelled by the stories of two well known leaders, their contrasting styles and how they’re achieving two very different sets of results.

There’s general recognition that Gareth Southgate’s style has had a lot to do with the success of his team in recent days. He’s demonstrated behaviours that can surely be applied both to organisational and also - dare one say it - to political leadership.

I’d say that the England manager has demonstrated at least five key qualities. For example, he’s

  • Defined a shared vision: Yes, it’s much easier for a football team, but – when you think about it – isn’t it a lack of clarity that’s held back the Cabinet for the last two years?
  • Ensured that no individual claims the limelight: Humility is the watchword. Mutual support is the norm. Predictably, Southgate and Kane act as media spokespeople, but so also do others unknown to non aficionados. The team presents and acts as a tight knit unit.
  • Selected a winning team: He’s prioritised ability, mindset and team spirit. Reputation is less important than cohesion. Less Rooney, more Pickford ….
  • Encouraged players to enjoy themselves. Naturally he’s demanded focus and dedication, but it’s evident that the footballers are having the time of their lives.
  • Demonstrated outstanding people management skills. Southgate’s style may be quiet and low key, but it shows EQ aplenty. The stand-out example was surely when, at the very moment of victory, he put aside triumphalism to console a devastated Colombian player who‘d failed to shoot the winning penalty. An extraordinary demonstration of humane leadership.

And the result? Whatever the final score, Southgate has given us a masterclass in leadership: he’s created a tight knit group of players, and a nation of loyal, committed supporters irrespective of the outcome.

Now, nobody would claim that running the UK compares directly with managing its football team; politics and sport are very different. But there are clear lessons to be learned.

With this in mind, answer these three questions:

  1. How does your (or your organisation’s) style compare with that of Southgate in terms of the qualities described above?
  2. How engaged – honestly – would you say your people are?
  3. Do you see a relationship between your two answers?

Let’s leave it there for now, until the next match(es) are over ….

No surprise then, that the England team has done so well, while the Cabinet appears divided and directionless.

The UK has a leader who – albeit facing a vastly more complex task – has yet to engage her team.

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