Why Not All Great Leaders Win Over Their Team

Some leaders are selfish, toxic, unapproachable yet are well networked, intelligent and high earning individuals who are experienced in the workplace with no education of qualification.

As England’s Gareth Southgate walked up to take the penalty that would define his career as a player the commentator described him as “the perfect professional who does everything right.”

Fresh-faced with a neat haircut and the protruding teeth of a geeky schoolboy the description looked appropriate.

Unfortunately, this swotty English charm did not make him lethal from twelve yards.

His limp side-footed effort was comfortably smothered by the German goalkeeper and Southgate was condemned to years of being known principally as the man who messed up England’s chance to reach the final of Euro 96’.

Almost no one could or would have predicted then that he would surpass every single one of his teammates that night in a managerial capacity.

Indeed, if someone had told the crowds leaving Wembley that captain Tony Adams would spend the build-up to the 2022 World Cup learning how to salsa for a primetime British television show while Southgate prepared the national team for the competition they’d have thought you were mad.

But in sports you never know what players will make great coaches, often it’s the ones you least expect who prove to be the best.

That said, it did take an unusual set of events for Southgate to ascend to the position of England manager.

First, there were the series of damaging exits from major tournaments, most painfully the 2016 Euros versus minnows Iceland, that pushed public confidence to an all-time low.

Then, the ultimate English manager for a crisis Sam Allardyce was caught in a newspaper sting and lost his job.

Southgate, who was looking after the England under-21s as he licked his wounds after relegating Middlesborough from the Premier League and being fired, was in the right place at the right time and ascended to the top job.

After a short but steady spell and, with the least fanfare of any appointment since the 1970s, the man famous for missing a penalty became England’s boss.

Two major tournament’s later and he’s established himself as one of the nation’s most successful managers, reaching the semi-finals of the World Cup followed by an unprecedented European Championship final.

Not only that, his quiet thoughtful leadership style won the hearts of much of the British public.

Former England defender Gary Neville summed up this sentiment succinctly in the summer of 2021.

“The standard of leaders in [Britain] over the last couple of years has been poor but looking at that man there [Southgate] he is everything a leader should be,” Neville said.

“Respectful, humble, tells the truth, genuine. He’s fantastic Gareth Southgate and he’s done a great job.”

Providing an insight into his methods, Southgate explains his style is based on trying to listen.

“My approach would be to have empathy with people. As a coach, you always have to be there to support the person – improving them as a player becomes secondary to a degree,” he said, “but if a player feels that you respect them and you want to help them, then they are more likely to listen to you and follow you.

Undeniably, Southgate is an admirable example of leadership, the problem is that isn’t enough to make him a winner.

Why being a good leader isn’t enough

Since losing the final of Euro 2021 England has been on a dismal run of form, the poor results have heaped criticism on Southgate with many fans bemoaning his negative style of play.

Earlier this year, the coach endured choruses of “you don’t know what you’re doing” and deafening boos from supporters who witnessed the 0-4 humiliation by Hungary on English soil.

In another move typical of a great leader Southgate fronted up and took the blame for the defeat, “the responsibility lies with me” he told the media, “I did not get the balance right.”

Often willing to listen to criticism, the bad results have convinced the England manager he must be more dogmatic and stick to his guns.

“I’ve got to accept there’s going to be a huge amount of noise. There has been around individual selections, team selections,” he said after England’s final pre-World Cup game a 3-3 draw with Germany.

“But if I’m going to be wishy-washy, change my mind, not stick to what I think is right and gives us the best chance of winning, then it’s pointless me doing it.

“The players are committed to it. They know the more we play it, the more comfortable it will be and the different tactical problems that opponents pose you start to get more familiar with.”

Again, this is strong leadership, the problem is how he got there, that doubt he expressed is both a strength and a weakness.

In all the moments when Southgate’s team has faltered and indeed in some in which they’ve just made it across the line, the issue has been the team has lost the initiative to their opponents.

As I’ve pointed out on numerous occasions, England’s failures have come from their coach not having the willingness to impose his style on an opponent, a particularly bad trait when they’ve wrestled control of the game from you.

And to be blunt, having a team that loves, believes and is inspired by you does little to shift the dial if you’re being outthought by someone with greater conviction.

You need a manager who takes tough tactically astute decisions based on experience, like Roberto Mancini who beat Southgate in the Euro 2021 final.

By all accounts, as leaders go Mancini has a lot to be desired. From physically fighting his players on the training ground to publicly criticizing his bosses and repeated reports of him alienating people his reputation is the opposite of Southgate.

Describing why he “hated” the Italian coach former Manchester City defender Wayne Bridge described his approach to feedback.

“We did team shape against mannequins and as a full-back, we’re told ‘you’re going to pass it to him or him, if you pass it there then run that way, if you pass it to him go that way,’ you’d have two options and that was it and playing against mannequins isn’t [soccer],” he explained.

“[Craig] Bellamy was trying to ask a question ‘what happens if this happens in a game’, and Mancini would say ‘shut up, be quiet’ and in the end, he sent him home and he wouldn’t have him back at training. As a manager, I really don’t get it.”

While there is a strong case for a winner needing to be somewhere in the middle of Southgate and Mancini, evidence shows that unlikable coaches like the Italian tend to get results.

Not only does the Italian have a Euro 2021 winners medal in his collection he also counts the Premier League, Serie A, the FA Cup and Coppa Italia amongst his collection.

Even Bridge had to admit in Euros final Mancini made a difference “what he did was good, which hurts to say,” he added.

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Adam Regan
Adam Regan
Deputy Editor

Features and account management. 3 years media experience. Previously covered features for online and print editions.

Email Adam@MarkMeets.com

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