This week’s focus: Sir Alex Ferguson was the most successful English football manager in history. During his 26 years as Manchester United’s boss, he won 38 trophies, including 13 Premier League titles and two UEFA Champions League wins. Most ex-managers end up on our TV screens on the sports channels providing post-match analysis, but Sir Alex was recently on a BBC documentary that showed how he has become a Harvard Business School lecturer on leadership. He even has a book out called Leading.
I haven’t read the book, and so don’t know all the insights he’s sharing, but from my perspective Sir Alex had a ‘command and control’ style of leadership. In the documentary Ryan Giggs, his most successful player, said that he lived in fear of Sir Alex for much of his career and Sir Alex himself was seen telling a London Business School class about the importance of control and of knowing everything that is happening across the organisation.
Some of my clients succeed with a highly-controlling leadership style, but in my experience it is not necessarily the best approach in fast-moving markets where greater levels of empowerment, delegation and the development of a strong, talented leadership team are essential elements of a successful business.
Unfortunately, none of these characteristics can be associated with Sir Alex’s time at United. What’s more, a major problem with a controlling leadership style is that once the controller leaves, the performance dips. In relative terms, Manchester United have struggled since Sir Alex retired in 2013, and so while I admire Sir Alex’s record of football success I struggle to translate his leadership approach to modern, successful business organisations.
Off The Record: Viva La Vida by Coldplay
I used to rule the world
Seas would rise when I gave the word
Now in the morning I sleep alone
Sweep the streets that I used to own
© Stuart Cross 2015. All rights reserved.