Much has been written following the phenomenal achievement of unfancied, unfashionable Leicester City in winning the Premier League title this season. Inevitably focus has been on synergy. How “ Leicester City football club is more than the sum of their parts”. Factors such as building trust, shared respect, mutual understanding and a fundamental confidence in ones’ own and team mates’ ability when pulled together, allows you to beat any other team without that same level of cohesion. I once heard Shane Warne describe the Australian cricket team of the early 2000s as a “champion team, not a team of champions”. That’s very much the case with Leicester.
However, one factor given significantly fewer column inches really resonates, relating to what Claudio Ranieri had to deal with when he took over the Manager’s role – and it’s a reality for the majority of business leaders when they take over an existing business. Often you hear stories of a team success, particularly in sport, which proclaim how the leader brought in their own people, instilled a different culture, got rid of those that didn’t fit, rebuilt the team in their own image and created a successful unit. Ranieri on the other hand inherited a team he had to work with. In this, he was faced with the same challenge as many in the commercial world.
In business, a leader is promoted into a new role and is held accountable for that organisations’ performance pretty much immediately. Certainly, when the first quarter numbers are being reviewed, a positive change in results is expected. Little time, budget or grace is offered in order to rebuild, restructure and start from scratch. So the skill for a successful leader in those circumstances is to improve performance with whatever he or she has got.
It is true to say that Ranieri inherited a team that may well have turned a corner, but they were still seen as a 5000-1 shot to win the title and favourites to be relegated. With exactly the same people – because he had no other choice – his great success was to use what he had to not only consolidate, but vastly improve upon previous performance. To do this, he prioritised building a culture of trust, both in each other and in him, and diligently stuck to that formula for the duration of the campaign in order to get the victory that he needed. As ex-military, I can see how he, perhaps inadvertently, applied some of the principles of war. “Concentration of force”, “simplicity” and the “maintenance of morale”.
For Ranieri, now is the time to look again at the team’s structure. It will be very difficult to replicate that performance even with the same personnel he has now. He is faced with the inevitable challenge, as again many business leaders face, where individuals will get promoted, will leave, will fail to produce the same form and that will affect the collective performance of Leicester City. It will be fascinating to see whether he’s able to keep the team together, get the same performance or whether he has to do what perhaps what he wanted to do at the start, and that is to rebuild a team that he really wants.
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