I’m no Man United fan. But as a resident of Manchester for four years now, it really is saddening to see the decline in what is still a giant beast of a footballing institution. Over the 20 years I’ve followed Blackburn Rovers, I’ve watched Rovers face up to the never say die attitude of the Sir Alex Ferguson era. And also the phenomenal attitude and complete devotion of their most famous players – both with quiet admiration.Man United is a multi billion pound organisation. It’s one of the biggest, if not the biggest football club in the world. It’s not run by fools. On the face of it, each of its managerial appointments should have come good. David Moyes, the Sir Alex Ferguson protégée, kept Everton punching above its weight throughout his 11 year tenure. Louis Van Gaal is basically the Yoda of professional football managers. And tutor to Pep Guardiola and Jose Mourinho is a serial winner. Last but not least, the man himself, Jose Mourinho. A man so devoted to winning and so unrelentingly arrogant in his self-belief. All winners. They all have their own convictions and ideas around the way they want the team to play football. And the culture they want to instill. However, all fell miles short in the role of Manchester United manager.
I’ve found myself rooting for Manchester United under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. On the face of it, his managerial career thus far has been a bit of a flop. He’s done ok in Norway, completely failed at Cardiff and now, almost by fluke, has landed the biggest job in world football. So far, he’s smashed it out of the park. He’s not lost a single Premier League game. Drawing only one in the process, he’s got the players back on side and performing to the best of their abilities. This being the same side that under Jose couldn’t hit a barn door with a banjo. This turnaround in fortune with the exact same team shows something quite telling. In a matter of weeks, he has managed to reinstil the culture and pride when playing for Manchester United.
Firstly, Ole never lets the praise get to his head and always passes it on to his players. He has made them believe they can be world-beaters. He talks passionately about the world-class talent he has at his disposal. And how he is honoured to manage the team. Suddenly, his players are eight feet tall. They run that bit quicker, they push that bit harder and ultimately, they feel empowered to perform. Just like employees of any organisation.
Secondly, he has reinstilled the superior mentality and swagger of the club. The players have to enter the ground in tailored club suits and smart shoes – this was done away with under Jose. There is real power in ‘looking’ the part and feeling important. The demeanour of the players as the camera pans to the coach outside of the ground has completely changed. Presentation is fundamental to performance. Looking good leads to feeling good leads to performing great. Simple.
Lastly, Ole is not afraid to call in the help of others who know more and are ‘better’ than him. It has been reported on several occasions he has drafted in the support of Sir Alex Ferguson to deliver team speeches. He has also called upon the support of Mike Phelan, Sir Alex’s fabled old assistant. Imagine the temptation as a footballing man to say that you know best, to ignore support and go for success off your own back. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer does not do that. He has no arrogance. I’d be inclined to describe him as having a quirky ambivalence towards his own obvious talent that makes him insanely likeable.
There are many lessons to be learned for managers from the school of Ole Gunnar Solksjaer, but the main lessons are here. Believe in your team, empower them to be carriers of your culture and your legacy and instil a feeling of superiority over competitors. That makes your team feel great in the process. And never be afraid or too arrogant to draft in support from elsewhere, should your team need it.
In summary, if you’re looking to boost morale, productivity and employee engagement. Be more like Ole.