First Impressions, Job Hunting and José

The start of a new year is often a time when we identify new challenges and projects and set our resolutions1.  New challenges and new projects often mean meeting new people and I was intrigued to read in a recent article in the Independent about what Harvard psychologist Amy Cuddy proposed to be the two criteria on which people judge you during an initial meeting.

  • Can I trust this person?
  • Can I respect this person?

In her book Presence Amy Cuddy proposes that the second factor, our competence, is given undue prominence, particularly in a professional context such as work. We overemphasise the need to show we are competent and can do the job. However, the first factor, our warmth, is according to Amy Cuddy the most important factor in how people evaluate others. As she said in the interview in the Independent “From an evolutionary perspective it is more crucial to our survival to know whether a person deserves our trust.”

This got me thinking about one person who is looking to take on a new challenge – and if the media are to be believed at Manchester United. José Mourinho is the special one. The most successful manager of his generation. As close to a guarantee of silverware as you can get in the uncertain world of professional football. He is also a special one because he is fascinating. Charismatic, volatile, talented and fascinating. And his current situation is very fascinating. Nobody seems to want to employ him. His desire to manage Manchester United looks like being unrequited. It may of course happen, as professional football is a weird and wonderful world, but perhaps we need to look no further than Amy Cuddy’s work to understand why even an underachieving club like Manchester United has, outwardly, cold feet about appointing the most successful manager of his generation.

There is no questioning José Mourinho’s competence. Nobody better. But perhaps some of the bigger clubs doubt his warmth – whether they can trust him in the same way as they could other managers. The well-publicised incident with the Chelsea Doctor Eva Carneiro at the start of this season illustrates this. And individuals with different personal qualities, such as Carlo Ancelotti, seem now to be more highly valued by the biggest clubs.

I am of course speculating on Jose Mournio’s situation. But the central tenet of Amy Cuddy’s work echos much of what I have observed working in sport and meeting high profile leaders. Personal qualities matter. An approach recognised and manifested in the New Zealand rugby teams mantra which emphasised personal qualities. So if you are embarking on new challenges and meeting new people remember it is not just what you have done, but how much warmth you have and whether people feel they can trust you that matters.

Footnote1 One of my resolutions was to write more blogs. That it is February will tell you all you need to know about how this is going for me. So I am telling people about this resolution as a stimulus to maintain it – because that should help.

 

The Tactics to Succeed at Football

The management carousel is well underway in the Premier League this season with the sacking of Brendan Rogers, followed by Tim Sherwood, and may at the time of writing, improbably, soon claim the mightily successful José Mourinho. Leadership at professional football clubs is a curious thing. At its heart is the paradox that the manager is the single biggest factor in success, but rarely is the manager given a substantial length of time to demonstrate their worth. The opportunity to fail in the pursuit of success is not often tolerated and because of this stability, while highly valued, is rare. Currently, in the Premier League only five managers (Arsène Wenger, Eddie Howe José Mourinho, Manuel Pellegrini, Roberto Martínez) have been with their team for more than two years. While 10 of the managers in the Premier League have been with their team for less than a year.

This short term approach in football is thrown into focus as I have started reading Winners and How They Succeed by Alastair Campbell and in his opening chapter he talks about how an approach to winning is encapsulated in three letters; OST.

  • O – Objective
  • S – Strategy
  • T – Tactics

To illustrate this in a football context Alastair used the example of Pep Guardiola’s Barcelona team, with an objective of win everything, a strategy of play better football than anyone else and the tactics to achieve this included the five-second rule where players pressed to regain possession in tight areas within 5-seconds of losing it and when in possession they would try to create a ‘free-man’ in the area where a passage of play might start.

There were countless other examples of this OST approach from other sports, business and politics. But what really interested me is how many of the examples were long term and took years to enact. Whether it is the strategy devised in 1994 to help Labour win power in 1997 through to other sports where change has been a process measured in years as evidenced in the work of Sir David Brailsford through to Sir Clive Woodward. I know that Sir Alex Ferguson is a counter example from football but it is difficult to imagine a manager at a top club being given that length of time before success in the modern era.

So time to succeed simply does not exist for managers in football. Of course managerial changes are to a degree an inevitability, but this short time in situ for managers has two immediate consequences for clubs and football more widely. First, the development of players is less of a priority than the purchase of players equipped to perform to Premier League standards immediately. Both Brendan Rogers and more recently Tim Sherwood have been more heavily criticised for perceived failings in the transfer market than their ability to develop young players – at which both actually seem pretty skilled. Second, the importance of a successful transfer policy is evident in that many clubs now seem to operate a transfer committee, where the purchase of players is decided by a group of individuals. Whether the manager does, or does not, have the final say differs depending on which press report you read. But this seems a classic fudge. The manger bears all the responsibility, but does not necessarily have all the power.

In an interesting article Alex Keble, writing in the Independent queried whether the sacking of Tim Sherwood was a victory for business over entertainment. It is a triumph for business in that it is financially important for Aston Villa to remain in the Premier League. But it is not very ‘business like’ in that Tim Sherwood was sacked ten games into a new season where he was presumably trying to enact a longer term approach for the club after a successful spell towards the end of last season. He presided over the sale of his two best players and the purchase of younger, talented, but unproven players. If he is the wrong person now, he was the wrong appointment eight months ago. Both his strengths and weaknesses as a manager were readily apparent at his appointment and little has changed since then. It is this type of muddled thinking that makes sustainable long term success unobtainable for so many clubs.

Of course there are clubs that are an exception, Swansea, Stoke City, and Southampton have all successfully ascended to the Premier league and flourished there. But as an outsider viewing many of the clubs in the Premier League it seems as though immediate improvement is the sole objective, the strategy is to change the manager when things are not going well and hope for a boost from the honeymoon period and the tactics vary accordingly. That half the managers in the Premier League have been with their team for less than a year is illustrative. A longer term strategy based on OST would help many clubs. The tactics to succeed at football really depend on the wider strategy and clear objective.

Alastair Campbell will be undertaking a residency at Staffordshire University on the 16th-18th November and will be giving a Public Lecture on the 16th November.