Imagine facing your biggest leadership challenge at work. You’re under immense pressure, and after months of preparation it’s time for you to deliver.
Now put yourself in Gareth Southgate’s shoes, working under the scrutiny of 24 million people.
England’s World Cup match against Colombia this week was an intense two-hour game that ended our 22-year penalty curse. Southgate knows the pressure of a penalty shootout better than most, having missed his own shot in the Euro 96 semi-final, causing England to be knocked out.
Our win this week is a testament to Southgate’s leadership, bringing his own experiences of success and failure in the sport to drive the team to deliver under enormous pressure.
Southgate’s tenure as England manager has seen the team go from strength to strength. So, what can businesses learn from his approach to leadership?
Before taking on any project, preparation is key.
Securing England’s place in the World Cup quarter-finals is a result of months of careful planning and hard work.
Following this week’s triumph, Southgate said, “I knew the messages that I wanted to give the players, that we were in control of the process.” That control came from months of preparation focused on the skill and psychology behind penalty shootouts. The squad’s delivery was a result of studying the team’s penalty profiles, those of the opposition, past performances, where players positioned the ball, and the psychological strength needed to perform under pressure.
A good leader will research the challenge and its context inside out to gauge a thorough understanding of the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats in front of them. Part of this is analysing the performance of your own teams, services or products, but it is important to give equal attention to your competition and the broader playing field (or market) that you’re moving in. This is a proactive way to help you to anticipate, prepare for and surpass obstacles, rather than stumbling through the unexpected towards failure.
Southgate is a credible, respected leader. He’s been there in the players’ shoes, he knows what’s going through their heads, and he understands the range of challenges they’re likely to face. He’s perfectly placed to lead the team, and has the buy-in from players and fans alike – they believe in him because he’s done it himself.
Inspirational leaders have, or take time to develop, an understanding of the jobs their team are undertaking, and show appreciation for the time and work that goes in to completing their task. They have often risen through the ranks and can pass on the wisdom learnt in the process to coach more junior members of the team.
Gareth Southgate was an unlikely England Manager when he stepped into those shoes in 2016. However, he’s proved to even the most sceptical of fans that he is the right man for the job, using his first-hand experience to help get the most from his squad.
Crisis management is key when responding to risk in business. How you bounce back from failure is a good indicator of your strength and determination as a potential leader. Looking back on Euro 96, Southgate said, “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.”
Resilience is the ability to recover from setbacks and remain focused on the job at hand. Every leader will experience difficult times, whether that’s financially, performance-related, due to organisational change or in retaining your people. But, it’s how you move forward and keep a sharp focus on the end goal that’s important.
Focus on Southgate during this tournament does not just centre on the performance of the England team.
In a move reminiscent of Epstein’s rebranding of The Beatles back in the 1960s, this year’s England squad were given a new uniform to mirror that of their manager. Scrolling through the official World Cup team photos before the tournament, amidst a sea of teams in their national kit, you found the England squad suited and booted in a three-piece-suit.
Here, Southgate introduced a new standard in English football, mirrored in his own sharp suits, matching waistcoats and ties (so much so, waistcoat sales have had a resurgence).
This kind of personal branding is more than a fashion statement. Southgate means business. This team is professional, considered, controlled. There is a strong camaraderie amongst the team with Southgate steering the ship, and they are seriously in it to win.
One of Tuesday night’s memorable moments came after the match, when Gareth Southgate was seen consoling Colombia midfielder Mateus Uribe.
Uribe’s penalty was saved by Jordan Pickford, costing Colombia their place in the World Cup. The behaviour of some of the Colombia players was questionable to say the least, but Southgate put any ill feeling aside to comfort the young player, who found himself in a similar position to Southgate in ‘96.
As a leader, you don’t have to prove that you’re perfect. It is inevitable that you will make mistakes and face setbacks. But, as a good leader, you will show yourself be accountable and to take ownership of those setbacks, sharing the lessons that you learn along the way to empower others.
There is something “old school” about Southgate, both in his methods and in his appearance. He wears a waistcoat and team tie, he exemplifies decency and courage, and people are responding positively to this. On the surface, football and business may seem worlds apart, but leaders in both arenas have a lot to learn from Gareth Southgate.