Sir Alex Ferguson was the most decorated football manager in English football history winning 38 domestic and international titles. He managed Manchester United for 26 seasons. In the October edition of the Harvard Business Review, a Harvard Business school professor, Anita Elberse, collaborates with Ferguson to discover the fundamentals of his highly successful approach to management.
I was struck by how complete a manager and leader he was working to build long term future success for the Club not just get short term results on the field (it took 3 years to win his first title with Manchester United). Throughout his tenure as a manager he invested heavily in his youth development programs to ensure that when needed the team had a steady stream of young talent coming through. He also knew when to make the hard decisions and cut someone when they were not performing and he would not tolerate individuals who thought they were more important than the team.
Whilst we have seen the tougher side of him in the media, he highlights that you have to take different roles and approaches at different times highlighting the power of telling someone “well done”. He set high standards and led by example, trusted his support team and spent a great deal of time observing what was going on and looking for changes good or bad. Success was important for him, never resting on his laurels challenging himself and the organisation to change and develop to ensure that success was sustained.
His track record speaks for itself!
Here are the main elements of his methods identified in the article with some statements from the man himself relating to them.
Start with the foundation
“The job of a manager, like that of a teacher is to inspire people to be better….make them better people and they can go anywhere in life.”
“If you give young people your attention and an opportunity to succeed, it is amazing how much they will surprise you”
Dare to Rebuild Your Team
“..we tried to visualize the team three to four years ahead and make decisions accordingly.”
Set High Standards – and Hold Everyone to Them
“I had to lift players’ expectations. They should never give in. I said to them all the time; ‘if you give in once you’ll give in twice.’ “
Never, Ever Cede Control
“It’s important to have confidence in yourself to make a decisions and to move on once you have”
Match the Message to the Moment
“… for any human being – there is nothing better than hearing ‘Well done”. Those are the two best words ever invented. You don’t need to use superlatives.”
“You have to pick your moments. As a manager you play different roles at different times. Sometime you have to be a doctor, or a teacher or a father.”
Prepare to win
“I think all my teams had perseverance – they never gave in. …It’s a fantastic characteristic to have, and it is amazing to see what can happen in the dying seconds of a match.”
Rely on the Power Observation
“I don’t think many people fully understand the value of observing. I came to see observation as a critical part of my management skills. The ability to see things is key – or, more specifically, the ability to see things you don’t expect to see.”
Never Stop Adapting
“Most people with my tack record don’t look to change. But I always felt I couldn’t afford not to change. We had to be successful – there was no other option for me – and I would explore any means of improving.”