‘Southgate you’re the one’ – leadership lessons from England’s heroic manager



The England football team’s incredible run to the final of the European Championships has captured the attention of the nation – as the rollercoaster of emotion looks set to continue ahead of the 8pm kick off on Sunday against the Italians.

With the outpouring of emotion from players, media and the wider public clearly on show on social media – manager Gareth Southgate has stressed the importance on focusing on the job in hand – England’s first major final since 1966.

Regardless of the final result on Sunday, this manager and team have created something special for the whole nation to get behind. From a nation of incredible individual talents in years gone by, to a united group of players who are fully embedded into the managers way of playing.

As the nation continues singing their own version of Atomic Kitten’s ‘Whole Again’, Business Leader has profiled seven leadership lessons we can all learn from Southgate.

Balance, compassion and ruthlessness

Gareth has grown into his leadership role with calm confidence and composure. He is an authentic leader who has spent the past few years studying various leaders in different settings – both in sport and in the wider world. He is a student of leadership and has developed his own style. Early critics may have mistaken Gareth’s quietness as lacking strength, but he’s made the tough decisions, such as how he set out the team – and dropping players who had played well – all for the sake of the greater vision of success. No matter the player – or the ego attached – he has made decisions he beleives are right for the whole team. And so far, he has proved to be right.

Learn from failures as well as successes

Gareth’s personal experience of missing the penalty in Euro 96 has shaped his own philosophy and also helped him to prepare his team better. This vulnerability and willingness to discuss setbacks and pressure is a new concept to football and has liberated the players and staff to enjoy the challenge of competition rather than the fear of failure and the “what if it all goes wrong” catastrophising.

Focus on the process not the outcome

Sport is emotional and unpredictable and that’s why we love it.  But as performers, we can’t control the outcome and instead we need to focus on our preparation, mindset, communication and collaboration. It’s all about executing the strategy and skill, whether in business or sport. These things are in our control. This preparedness has helped build the courage that is central to their winning mindset.

Help your team enjoy it

Thanks to Gareth’s approach and thorough preparation his players are now approaching games with the excitement of showing off their skills to the world. Previously, teams were so fearful about the media diatribe if they failed, it became a self-fulfilling prophecy, as we saw with game against Iceland in the last European Championships.

The champion performers have a calm control about themselves and this was seen in last nights win against Denmark – despite going 1-0 down. They committed to the process outlined by Southgate and his coaching staff – and came out the victors. No matter how stressful the situation for fans up and down the country, the team have more chance of success if their mind is on the job in front of them rather than worrying about what happens off the pitch. Something previous camps have not been able to say.

No stars

Football has traditionally celebrated individual icons and moments of genius but it’s the selfless play, passing and work ethic which wins tournaments. Gareth has instilled a more team-based mindset which values the interdependence of players rather than their individual brilliance. This was seen in how he managed Jack Grealish last night. The Aston Villa captain has reached cult-like status – with many comparing his to Paul Gascoigne. Despite him coming on as a sub – Southgate then subbed him off again 36 minutes later, in order to see out the game in a new system.

People not just performers

The England football team has players from a range of diverse background and they are being embraced as people as much as they are as performers. When people can come to work and be respected for who they really are rather than putting on a ‘perfect’ act, they relax, relate and perform in a different way.

Gareth respects his players’ diversity and has galvanised them around a common purpose, in this case rewriting the team’s poor history, something that no individual star could achieve on their own.

With Raheem Sterling, Marcus Rashford and Jordan Henderson all receving MBEs for services outside of their sport, the wider impact of the team and what they stand for as individuals has been celebrated, rather than been attacked relentlessly by the media in a build-up to a major tournament. Southgate has controlled the narrative around his team, and protected them from outside influences, while still allowing them to fight for greater causes away from the sport.

Build empowerment and engagement with your team

Gareth Southgate has instilled a new style of coaching and leadership by spending more one-to-one time with his players. Football’s culture tends to be more directive but Southgate has created more empowerment and engagement in his players by discussing each of their roles and performances in depth, through one-to-one partnerships.

This approach is a continuation of his time coaching many of them through the younger England age group sides and this repeated cycle of ‘Prepare – Do – Review’ gives a great structure for improved self-awareness and continual learning.

It’s coming home