In the Presence of Quiet Leadership
It was with much anticipation and huge expectations that a (very) full house gathered at the smart and very well run Students Union auditorium at the London School of Economics here in central London.
We all so wanted to hear some special golden leadership nuggets from Carlo Ancelotti and our very own Professor Chris Brady, the authors of the must read and launched this week book - Quiet Leadership - Winning Hearts, Minds and Matches.
Carlo arrived quietly and understated.
It would have been rude to waste any time and we quickly got straight into it with a suitable (and obvious) topical question – “What do you think about Jose Mourinho going to Manchester United?”
“Manchester United needs Jose and Jose needs Manchester United – the timing is perfect for both and they are a very good fit”. Carlo was off. Succinct and charming.
Carlo oozed a calm and self-deprecating confidence that quickly settled the audience, creating an intense but somehow relaxed atmosphere. He paused and thought deeply about all of his responses. As he arrived he had questioned us about who would be in the audience. It would be a rich variety of backgrounds and not just the football mad, but also many who were seeking leadership nuggets from an inspirational leader at the pinnacle of one of the most demanding and exacting professions.
He pitched his responses perfectly and inclusively.
“Being sacked has become part of our job description. In our chosen career, being sacked is inevitable. In order to get to the top, you must become less uncomfortable with getting sacked. Longevity in the top jobs is no longer feasible or realistic. Pep Guardiola will join our ‘Sack Club’ before long. It’s not a reflection of how good you are but just how much of a true ‘results business’ football management has become”.
Winning multiple trophies, breaking records, over-delivering, developing talent, establishing strong and positive emotional connections with the club, the fans, the players and the President or owner - was no defence against the inevitable sacking. Business is becoming no different. Living with undeserving ‘blame’ sounds so unfair, but Carlo rationalised it beautifully. “The owners never sack themselves, you dare not ‘sack’ the fans and now there is a perception that you cannot sack the most expensive assets of the business - the players. Therefore that only leaves the manager. A run of bad results usually means prepare yourself for the worst. I’ve become at ease with this eventuality. It is inescapable”
Carlo was indefatigable (a great word that we rarely ever get to use - but the perfect description for Carlo), thoughtful and incisive. He had a disarming cadence and rhythm to his responses and insights. He was inspirational and irresistible all night. So softly spoken that you really had to give him all of your concentration that soon slipped easily to admiration.
Classy, very classy indeed.
He never revealed his strategy or tactics, he didn’t have to - we felt them and soon involuntarily succumbed to their magic. The ultimate in people management. It was the live experience of ‘not readily remembering exactly what you said, but thriving on how you made me feel’.
In response to the seemingly innocuous enquiry of “where did he get his Quiet Leadership from - he raised his now famous left eyebrow, and then bowed his head and appeared in deep thought, but from where I sat I could see that he was actually fighting hard to compose himself. When he slowly raised his bowed head, a tear fell from each of his eyes as he choked out the response “my father”. He had sadly lost his father and guiding light in 2010.
We quietly shared his pain.
A wry, fast wit and humour didn’t quite mask the restrained drive and ambition of this understated winner.
He was clearly tired after six media interviews during the day; BBC TV, BBC Radio, Sky News and many more, everyone wanted to better understand the formula for his quite unique and sustained success. He had also only flown into London early in the morning.
He cheerfully signed copies of his book for all who craved even more of his personal touch. He then stayed behind to take the new autographs - ‘selfies’ galore. He made everyone feel very special.
Carlo, like many of the ‘Special Ones’ - works so very hard to make it all look so easy.
I had the huge and unmissable privilege of dining with Carlo and his equally charming and elegant wife, Mariann, along with Chris Brady and his graceful wife, Anita, immediately after the event. He was no different from the interview we had just finished. We gulped down his refreshing and inspiring oxygen of positivity late into the night.
"As we leave his favourite (and wonderful) London Italian restaurant, Quatro Passi, in Mayfair, and as we head towards our cars, I offered Carlo and his wife a lift home. He respectfully declines, pulls out his smartphone and says 'Don't worry, I'll just call my Uber'. The final testament to a man who is deeply humble, modest and inspiring.
A wonderfully understated departure.
“If our actions stem from honesty, kindness, caring and vision, then no matter what the result of our efforts, we have added something of value to our souls and to our world” - Joan Borysenko
Check back soon for full highlights of the evening.