Jose Mourinho’s sacking – leadership lessons from the dismissal of the ‘Special One’

Employment & Skills | Reports | Sport

There was a sense of inevitability when Manchester United sacked Jose Mourinho last month.

Exactly three years to the day since he parted ways with Chelsea for the second time, history repeated itself once more, with the United board calling time on his reign after a string of bad results left the club 19 points adrift of the league leaders and unlikely to make the top four and qualify for next year’s Champions League.

Mourinho enjoyed success in his first year in charge at United, winning the League Cup and Europa League, but his tenure since then was destined for failure.

Poor results and dull football aside, his time at United will perhaps be best remembered for things that happened off the pitch.

Endless confrontations with the media, including accusing them of lacking respect, poor recruitment, spending in excess of £400m on players like Paul Pogba and Alexis Sanchez who have failed to live up to expectations, not to mention his treatment of left-back Luke Shaw which verged on bullying, have done little to enhance Mourinho’s reputation as a controversial character.

But just as football managers try to focus on the positives in defeat, there are many lessons in leadership and management which can be learned from Mourinho’s ill-fated spell at Old Trafford.

Chris Kerridge, talent management expert from MHR said: “Defeat to Liverpool may have forced the Board to part ways with Jose Mourinho as manager of Manchester United, but it was his confrontational leadership style and general conduct which sealed his fate.

“Choosing to distance himself from those he relied on for results and criticising individuals for poor performances eventually created disharmony amongst his team which affected results on the pitch.

“Football is no different to any other business when it comes to management. There are different personalities and egos to manage, individual talent and skills to nurture and tactics to apply so your individuals can perform collectively as a team to achieve the same aim.

“A sign of a good manager is someone who is able to understand the personal and emotional needs of individuals, continually motivate them to get the best out of the team but also able to demonstrate authority without causing upset and damaging productivity.”

Chris Kerridge outlines five key business lessons we can all learn from Jose Mourinho’s sacking.

The need to adapt

Just because you have good track record throughout your career doesn’t mean you’re guaranteed to be successful at every company or club you join. When you believe your own hype you’re destined for failure. Mourinho has been criticised from many pundits for failing to move with the times and employing outdated defensive tactics at United that brought him success at Porto, Chelsea and Inter Milan, while new managers on the scene, like Pep Guardiola and Jurgen Klopp, are focussing on a more attacking and pressing style. As a manager you must be open to adapting your approach and style, rather than simply insisting “It’s my way or no way!”

Taking responsibility

Mourinho was renowned for deflecting blame and taking credit. But this is the opposite of what it takes to be a good manager. Castigating individuals and hanging them out to dry will only create contempt and will inevitably lead to them refusing to pull in your direction. You win and lose as a team. Individuals will respect you more as a manager if you accept some of the responsibility and admit when you get it wrong.

Mindset

As a manager you’re responsible for ensuring your team thinks positively. During his time at United, Mourinho was criticised for employing negative tactics, resulting in players not enjoying their football. Positivity is infectious and a positive environment is fundamental to bringing out the best from your team. If your employees are happy in their work they will remain loyal and stay with your business for longer.

Nurturing talent

For many years Manchester United had a reputation for nurturing young talent. Think back to the class of 92, players like David Beckham, Nicky Butt, Paul Scholes, Ryan Giggs and the Neville brothers were all a product of the United youth system. Over many years the club invested time to turn these young people into some of the best players in the world. Mourinho had some of the brightest prospects in Marcus Rashford, Jesse Lingard and Luke Shaw at his disposal but they haven’t progressed under this watch. If we apply this to the world of work, it is important for managers to develop individuals so they feel as though they are fulfilling their potential.

Culture

Critics of Mourinho have said that he simply wasn’t suited to Manchester United because he didn’t grasp the club’s philosophy of developing homegrown talent and playing stylish attacking football. While the explosion of money in the game means the biggest clubs in the world can buy the best talent, no amount of new players and managers can outlast a club’s culture.

In any business, your culture is what makes your organisation what it is. It’s important to establish your working culture and that your people understand its values.

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