The 21st FIFA World Cup is due to kick-off at the Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow on the 14th June 2018. Prior to that the four Home Nations will be vying to become one of the 32 qualifiers to reach the finals. The tournament is one of the biggest sporting events in the world, bringing together the best teams, players and managers. Expectations run high and it takes a special manager to lead a country to glory.

Managing an international team is viewed as one of the hardest jobs in football. The public profile of being a national football manager is often put on a par with the Prime Minster. Their success can shape the public mood either with the joy of victory or the pain of defeat. Many have crumbled under the immense pressure, only a few such as Sir Alf Ramsay have thrived and gone onto glory.

Man management is often the key to success. So, with the qualifying matches well underway, what can Messrs Southgate (England), Coleman (Wales), Strachan (Scotland) and O’Neill (Republic of Ireland) teach us about management?

Inspiring your team

Leadership excellence is all about engaging with your team members and helping them reach their potential. Whether you’re trying to lift the World Cup trophy or your annual turnover, you need to inspire you team. This can often be challenging especially when you are dealing with a team of high performers.

One of the most successful European managers is Jose Mourinho, winning 23 trophies in four major European leagues. “The Special One” puts his achievements down to the way he connects with his players. ‘For me, the most important thing is man management. Football is a human science.’

By connecting with every single member of his team, Mourinho tries to learn what makes them tick. Once he understands that, he identifies those who will buy into his philosophy and builds around them. Once you understand the strengths, weaknesses and desires of your workforce, you can mould them into a successful team for your business.

Star players

A successful leader needs to harness the power of their star players. They must ensure they understand that ultimately their success is not just about being the best player on the pitch (or in the office). To succeed they need to make their team-mates better too. Encouraging them to take a leadership role which is not just about personal glory but coaching and developing other talent in the business.

At the same time, leaders must listen to their team’s ideas and personal goals and work together to achieve them. If leaders also seek their team’s advice about potential opportunities and challenges they will be more likely to see the bigger picture and not just focus on individual success.

Preparing for the big event

Russia 2018 might not be on your agenda but there will be important events on the horizon that can shape your business success. So how can you make sure your team is ready for the challenge?

Set clear expectations and don’t be afraid to aim high

Go for that long-term goal or that stretch sales target. In the words of football legend and former Liverpool manager Bill Shankley, ‘aim for the sky and you’ll reach the ceiling, aim for the ceiling and you’ll reach the floor.’

Make sure everyone understands the role they play and how they’ll be accountable

Provide your team with the support they need to succeed and then focus on the result you want to achieve. As a manager, one of your most important roles is to help remove any obstacles to success. Make it clear to the team that you are there for them if they need any additional help to be successful. At the same time, be clear about what you expect them to do on their own.

Avoid managing the how

It is generally best to manage how things get done. Otherwise, you will end up micro-managing and you’ll never empower your team to be successful alone. Remember, a football manager watches from the side-lines while the players take the pitch. He can’t kick every ball, it’s the same for the successful manager.

You can’t abdicate the responsibility for outcomes

While the team may be lauded for success, failure will be down to you. In business as well as sport, the buck does stop with the person in charge.

Geoff Lawrence is a director of Vistage UK

Further reading on football managers

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