We end a week where the country has been gripped with World Cup fever – maybe the heat created a form of delirium. But as well as the unexpected and long-awaited success for England in tournament football, there’s something equally special that we think should be celebrated and that’s the leadership style that Gareth Southgate has demonstrated (and we’re not talking waistcoats!).

After many previously “unsuccessful” managers, who had better “credentials” on paper (see our last blog for our view on credentials), more experience, had won more trophies etc, Gareth Southgate got the job almost by accident when his predecessor Sam Allardyce was embarrassed by a newspaper sting. His subsequent permanent appointment was not met with much enthusiasm by the media or fans.
There has been much criticism of the FA over the years; racism, sexism, affairs, a reluctance to modernise and – of course – the England Men’s team failure in international competition. The players have been described as spoilt, overpaid prima donnas who don’t want to play for their country and complain of being bored.
We think much of this mirrors the leadership challenges that exist in many organisations; outdated thinking, failure to try new approaches, unrealistic expectations and the challenges of managing millennials.
In the midst of all this negativity and history, Gareth Southgate, heralded as “too nice” to succeed has shown us how to be an Authentic Leader:-
He knows his own mind and what he stands for. He’s decent, he does things his way and he’s not afraid to back himself. His comment in response to possible racism in Russia during the World Cup was
“We keep pointing the finger at Russia, where we’re going to be guests in the next couple of months, but we haven’t resolved the issue in our own country and until we do I think we should stop firing those things off elsewhere.”
He’s transparent. The England team have arguably never had such a good relationship with the media. The Darts challenge involving the media versus players has been a great success. In previous tournaments the media were not involved and not even given information on which player won – how things have changed.
He has shown empathy and compassion. He allowed Fabian Delph to attend the birth of his third child during the tournament. He encouraged Danny Rose to talk about his struggles with depression. He took the time to comfort Mateus Uribe who missed the crucial penalty for Columbia. He has patiently answered the endless questions about his penalty miss in ’96 with insight and dignity, reflecting on how much he learnt from that failure.
He has recognised the importance of team spirit of creating a culture of positivity and the need for matching your management style to the individual. “If you only have one way of working with players then it’s predictable, you might not get the best of everyone.”
He remains calm and shows belief in his players, they no longer look like a team stifled by the fear of making a mistake. They look resilient, prepared and ready for the challenge.
He has created a great team around him and he recognises how important they are to the success, he doesn’t need to do everything, he is there to lead that team. The detail is vital, the concept of marginal gains used widely in elite sport has proved crucial, we particularly liked the use of psychometric testing to assess potential penalty takers.
So none of this is rocket science, but what is interesting is that this collaborative, less authoritative, more compassionate approach to leadership has achieved the best success for England since 1990.
We talk to lots of businesses who still have elements of a macho old school culture. Time for change we say. Waistcoats in, Dinosaurs out.