Sir Alex Ferguson, the former manager is renowned as a leader often speaking at Business Schools around the world. But the latest Man United manager is far less known, yet showing great potential as a leader with valuable lessons for us to learn in business. Erik Ten Hag’s leadership philosophy is transforming the culture at Manchester United.
Yesterday, I felt proud as the football team I support Manchester United won their first trophy in six years beating Newcastle 2-0 in the EFL cup final at Wembley stadium.
It was not the result that impressed me most but rather the philosophy of the Man United Manager, Eric Ten Hag. You see, at the start of the season the team suffered heavy defeats to teams people expected them to beat. Yet Eric just kept saying, “trust the process.” The players often were quoted saying he has his ways but I want to outline 5 specific business principles from his philosophy which has nurtured a winning environment at Man United in a single season.
If you want to learn more about shaping your own personal philosophy and principles, check out my article on creating your Personal User Guide.
1. Teams: Mix the old with the new
Leading a team requires courage, and Eric had the courage to bring in experienced players who had experienced winning trophies who were deemed by some as “too old” or “not good enough.” Players such as 31-year-old Casemero, 31-year-old Eriksen and 29-year-old Varane. These characters had the experience to lead the team on and off the field in the changing room. Especially the younger talent who hadn’t experienced high-pressure situations like cup finals, or adversity like a string of bad performances.
In business when hiring teams, it is important not to over-index for people who worked at great brands such as Google or McKinsey. Experience is overrated. Hire for aptitude, train for skills. Most great things are done by people doing it for the first time. Diversity matters.
2. Make tough decisions
Leaders make tough decisions even if it means being unpopular in the short term, principles apply to everyone without exception. Marcus Rashford has performed brilliantly all season, but woke up late one day and therefore arrived late at a team meeting. Regardless of his great run of performances, he was on the substitute bench the next game because principles apply to everyone. Other tough decisions included not playing the club captain Harry Maguire or selling Cristiano Ronaldo. No one is bigger than the team.
Leaders have to lead by example, so when you set the standard for excellence high, you need to be a role model based on what you do, not just what you say.
3. Relationships matter
The principles help to set a standard, but the personal relationships with each individual player helps to nurture them all to that standard. It creates an environment where it’s “We not me.” Jadon Sancho was removed from the team and coached 1:1 away from the team for 3 months and many questioned if his career at Man United was over. He came back and his mindset and performance had been turned around. Full of confidence he started to smile again on the pitch, enjoy his football and score goals.
With Man United, it seems like the discipline has paid off. But principles in businesses often get forgotten as they fade into the background. The key to ensuring they stick is repetition. Repetition is the path to adoption.
4. Love your work
There is a different energy when people love what they do and show up for work with a smile on their faces. The rising tide lifts all boats. Marcus Rashford smiling again, enjoying his football and becoming the top-performing goal scorer across Europe post-World Cup is an example of a rising tide.
Whenever he celebrates, he points to his head, illustrating the power of having the right mentality. It’s a great reminder to all the kids copying the celebration to know that their role model works on his mindset and they should too.
When people in your teams enjoy their work, it improves the vibe and culture at work. It makes people not only want to show up to work but also enables them to do their best work as they are authentically 100% themselves.
5. Trust the process
Leaders don’t just manage, they lead. A key part of that is inspiring others to trust you in leading them to where you want to get to. Having blind faith is easier said than done, try this with a colleague and see how much you trust them.
Stand up, cross your arms on top of your chest, and close your eyes. Ask your friend to stand 1 metre behind you then fall back and let them catch you. nine times out of 10, we are scared, we break the fall ourselves and we don’t trust the person will catch us. In reality, we don’t want to put all that trust in another person for them to build us up and let us fall.
Trusting the process is about developing a habit of gaining forward momentum every day. It is about recognising that each time we do something, we gain momentum. The great thing about forward momentum is that it compounds and over time it leads to results. For Erik Ten Hag, that could be winning trophies. For us in business that could be delighting customers as we grow. In both sport and business, it is ultimately about having an impact, making a mark and leaving your legacy.
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