Three lions were on a shirt last week, Jules Rimet still gleaming – but the Henri Delaunay Cup awarded in the Euros went to Rome.
Following Italy’s weekend victory many are analysing Gareth Southgate’s leadership. Did he get it right? Are there lessons to learn? How can leadership lessons transfer across sectors?
Much has been made of the final itself, however leadership is about both individual decisions and consistent records over time. Southgate inherited a squad eager for international success but way off that goal. Over time he has built a squad, gained the trust and respect of many and invested in players. His history, coming from England U21s, perhaps boded well in respect of the latter.
What is ’empowering leadership’?
A key part of his leadership style has been ‘empowering leadership’. ‘Empowerment’ is a word much bandied about just now but also overused, little understood and rhetoric-rich whilst actual authority-altering actions are, all too often, absent. Truly empowering leadership needs courage to enact. In too many places it is ‘passing the buck’ with actual authority retained.
One thing we did see this weekend was Southgate supporting his players. There was no blame game. What is likely to follow, if Southgate continues, is a clinical analysis and how to develop further. The days of ‘hairdryer treatment’ leaders rampaging around changing rooms making ego-centric, whim decisions are long gone. They have little place in modern leadership.
Today’s leaders need be astute thinkers. Students on our MSc Leadership courses note that their learning sharpens their thought leadership. This is where leadership starts – clarity of thought.
Southgate is clearly a thinker and someone keen to empower others. Following the final, many of his players have led the way in calling out the worst excesses of nationalism, racism and anti-social behaviour which football continues to sadly attract. Calling out bad behaviours is a key part of leadership.
The days of ‘hairdryer treatment’ leaders rampaging around changing rooms making ego-centric, whim decisions are long gone.”
The Euro trophy is named after Henri Delaunay, the French football official who, during his UEFA General Secretary tenure, progressed his vision for the Euros. His vision formed in the 1920s era when the world tried to rebuild again after war.
Delaunay may be long forgotten.
Sport and sound leadership can change not only fortunes on the field but in bettering society more widely. Jules Rimet, the French former president of FIFA, and Delaunay’s vision brought Europe and the world together around shared passions. Effective leadership does that cooperatively and leaves a positive legacy.
Stars and heroes are outdated
One local leader tweeted that Marcus Rashford’s post-match tweet made him a “superstar”. Stars, ‘heroic’ and transformational leadership are dated models.
Today’s leadership thinking focuses on cooperation and empowerment – not short term “ins” and “outs”. Correctness and consistency are now key as gestures fade. Leaders are put in the limelight, but they must consistently apply high standards which people subscribe to. Getting to the final and being on a pedestal is one thing, but repeating it is harder altogether.
Today, bad behaviours are being called out more openly. The legacy of Southgate’s squad might not be its on field performance though but its championing of social progress – a far greater prize for any leader. How many leaders can achieve it? Sadly, too often it is “lions led by donkeys”.
Neil McLennan is director of leadership programmes at the University of Aberdeen and director of leadership studies at the Centre for Global Security and Governance.