Alex Ferguson was born on December 31, 1941, in Glasgow, Scotland. Sir Alex managed Manchester United for 26 glorious years from 1986 to 2013, between which he won 38 trophies, including 13 Premier League titles, five FA Cups and two UEFA Champions League titles.
His latest role is at Harvard University teaching ‘The Business of Entertainment, Media and Sports’ to senior executives around the world. More than 12 books have been written about him, including his recent book Leading. I have followed Sir Alex since 2007. His interviews, biographies, and his autobiography taught me a few things about leadership and management that will help me achieve my career goals.
Here are 3 things I learned from Sir Alex about Leadership and Management.
1. Consistency Eradicates Confusion
For me, Sir Alex’s success was a result of consistency in imprinting your managerial visions. He has always touted the benefit of any company sticking with a manager. When you change a company’s manager you might change the whole system. He says that there is evidence at Manchester United, Nottingham Forest, and Arsenal that if you retain the right manager for long periods, you get consistency, and you get success.
Sir Alex had a team with whom he worked for 25 years. This creates an atmosphere of trust and understanding. According to him, it is the foundation if you are looking to develop an organization. Consistency in working with a team for more than two decades contributed to Manchester United’s success.
Sir Alex’s consistency to promote youth in the football (soccer) industry is seen by the average age of the starting line-up. This philosophy gave football “The Class of 92” and one of the best players in the world, Cristiano Ronaldo. He was consistently giving the youth a chance to play for Manchester United as seen in the table below.
Consistency in work and behavior is vital in my career building. For a student like me, meeting the job duties, reaching the company’s standard, and fulfilling my promises will create a consistency in work and my career.
2. Recognition over Praise
After the game or after substituting a player, Sir Alex said “well done” to encourage his players. Two words were enough for him, and those two words are great to hear whether you’re an athlete or an employee. I think that everyone needs recognition for their work, not necessarily heaps of praise. I grasped that people get carried away with unnecessary praising when acknowledgement through a simple “well done” provides emotional motivation. It’s important whether you’re playing 90 minutes of football or working a 9 to 5 job.
Besides this, he knew the name of everyone at Manchester United. Not just the players and staff, but the names of the laundry staff, the receptionists, and cooks. This is because everyone mattered in contributing towards the success of the team on the field.
3. Importance of Authority and Control
“You can’t ever lose control—not when you are dealing with 30 top professionals who are all millionaires,” said Ferguson.
Another one of his magic ingredients was his authority and power of control. As I explained, the requirements of praising people when required is important but so is expressing your authority and maintaining control. Alex insists that managers should always be stronger than their peers, having a personality that is conducive to leading others.
Decision making helps maintain authority and control. Sir Alex’s courses of action were measured, and he showed much discipline in his leadership, garnering respect from players and staff. His silence often spoke louder than his words, his players knowing their mistakes without them being addressed. His leadership style helped him maintain his authority and control.
In one of his famous quotes, Sir Alex said, “I’m going to tell you the story about the geese which fly 5,000 miles from Canada to France. They fly in V-formation but the second ones don’t fly. They’re the subs for the first ones. And then the second ones take over – so it’s teamwork.” Recognition will create a team rather than a group of staff in a company. Being consistent and having control of the work you do will result in success.