Even if you are not a sport fan, you might have heard the name Sir Alex Ferguson. The iconic former Manchester United manager led his football team to multiple major titles over a reign spanning more than 25 years. Since he retired, Ferguson has even been invited to speak at Harvard Business School, such is the level to which his leadership skills are revered.
So what exactly did the great man demonstrate to business leaders?
Sometimes decisions can be tough, especially when sentiment has the ability to crop up. Have you ever managed an employee who was very likeable, but kept making costly errors? Ferguson had a great knack for determining when a player might be slightly past their peak, or not up to the task of playing at the very highest level. Once he had identified the need to get rid, he did so ruthlessly. The ability to block out sentiment and do what is best for your business is something you can take from Fergie.
‘Nobody is bigger than the club / company’
‘Nobody is bigger than the club’ is a famous mantra associated with Ferguson’s time at United. You might think that a leader who rules with an iron fist is a dictator, but they can also be seen as protecting the integrity of a company. If an employee is showing signs of disrespecting the company culture, even if they are a star performer, would you consider disciplining them? In many cases, making an example of those who behave badly can be crucial in showing your workforce that nobody is exempt from company policy.
Former United player Ryan Giggs tells the story of how Ferguson watched how he reacted to a half time telling off as a youngster. Seeing that Giggs went out and played better in the second half, Fergie knew that exerting pressure on the player could ‘press his buttons’. While in contrast, Giggs recalls that he never once told off team mate Eric Cantona in the same way. The lesson? All your team members should be treated as individuals, and the best man managers will find out what makes them tick, in order to get the very best from them.
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