It Can Only Be A Question Of Leadership
The media is in its usual frenzy as Roman Abramovich seeks his eighth manager in his eight year reign as the owner of Chelsea Football Club.
“It was a player’s cabal”
“The ugly excess of player power”
“He was only given eight months, surely that’s not long enough?”
We see this situation far too often in the world of business. The new incumbent leader has brilliant credentials, has a strong intellect and it looks like the dream ticket, but something’s clearly wrong.
The top team they have inherited is clearly unsettled and we start to see some resignations, some firings, and a wholesale drop in morale.
The new leader is adamant that they have the correct blueprint, and more importantly the backing of the Board of Directors. They will not be denied.
We would say that perhaps the most underestimated competency that a new leader needs to bring to the party is perhaps the aura of being ‘easy to do business with’, not intellect or strategy!
Think culture not strategy.
The ten things that AVB perhaps got wrong:
- Far too many of his press conferences were all about him and HIS project – it would have served him better if he talked about the great players, the great fans and the great club. It doesn’t help to alienate your stakeholders at every opportunity you get.You need them more than they need you.
- He should know better than anyone that age doesn’t matter, its talent that counts. Paul Scholes and Ryan Giggs are 5/6 years older than any of Chelsea’s stalwarts but are still contributing magnificently. And Abramovich was prepared to give AVB a chance despite being only 33 years old.In the final analysis the elder statesmen he severely alienated were the same people he became dependent on to save his career.
- Every player who made a genuine mistake on the pitch was summarily dropped. From Lampard, Anelka, Alex, Romeu, Torres, Essien, Malouda, Kalou and even his own recent signing, Cahill. Some never came back; others sat festering, not even making the bench. This is no way to build team spirit and it was obvious they felt isolated and humiliated.
- Standing on the side-lines at every game, whistling and shouting at all the players with sharp instructions and feedback, which clearly should have been communicated long before the game started.It is clear he was a micro-manager who wanted to make every decision, and call every tactic and this was never going to work given his lack of people skills and a lack of exposure/experience at the senior levels of the game.
- He was certainly a radical moderniser but as we all know the four most powerful words in any organisation are ‘what do you think?’Just by being human and humble enough to elicit the opinions of those around him would have gone a long way into keeping many on board. Instead, he lost all ‘corporate memory’ and any goodwill, whilst attempting to stamp his authority.
- The moment he declared publicly that he didn’t need ‘the backing or favour of his players’, he was clearly sunk. He certainly didn’t need their approval, but he needed to get them ‘on the bus’ but he either didn’t care or didn’t know how.
- Some recent outbursts against the media highlighted his inexperience, his naivety and his hubris. By starting to blame the media, they helped create a feeling of ‘death row’ and he became ‘dead man walking’. It became only a matter of time.
- The petulant and harsh dropping of three of his star players, in probably the most important and public match of his reign against Napoli in the Champions League backfired spectacularly.It felt like he was ‘stamping his feet’, and staring down the very people who could deliver his salvation.He would later call them back into the team – and win, and drop them again!
- He ‘rode into town’ declaring for all to hear that everything his mentor and previous boss, José Mourinho had achieved at Chelsea was now outdated and wrong. In one fell swoop he was making a huge statement, and ensured there would be many eyes watching and waiting to see what he could deliver or not.
- Finally, ‘never bite the hand that feeds you’. It was obvious that Roman Abramovich was trying to give him as much support as he possibly could. It would never be vocal, and it would never be public, but it was certainly there. Once AVB started to pine for public backing it was clear that even he had lost belief in himself.
Never follow a tough act into a leadership role, unless you are prepared for the toughest of rides. Charm, listening skills and honouring the past are key ingredients of success.
His predecessor Carlo Ancellotti was revered and loved by all, but AVB never mentioned his name or paid homage to the great legacy he inherited. It was far too much about his inherent ability. He ‘made his bed’.
Having recently had lunch with Dr Adrian Atkinson, Chairman of Human Factors International and my favourite business psychologist one of his many telling insights was “emotional intelligence is really not much more than great interpersonal skills.”
Now many may argue at the margins but he makes a terrific point.
“Good leaders create followers, great leaders create leaders”.
Time to ask ourselves the straight and unavoidable question –
“Why should anyone be led by you?”