Book Talk - Learning management lessons from soccer's bosses

By Keith Weir

LONDON (Reuters) - New Manchester United manager David Moyes was so keen to study top soccer teams that he drove himself around France in a hire car during the 1998 World Cup, sleeping in the vehicle when cash was tight.

Such determination helped Moyes to establish himself as one of the top managers in the English Premier League. He took charge of champions United in June, facing the daunting challenge of replacing Alex Ferguson, the most successful manager in the history of English soccer.

Moyes and his fellow Scot Ferguson give insights into their methods and motivation in a new book that combines sporting anecdote with practical tips for business leaders.

Author Mike Carson, a business consultant and Manchester City fan, interviewed the team bosses whose management skills, ability to withstand stress and tactical acumen are tested before a global audience of hundreds of millions every weekend.

Carson sets out their different approaches in "The Manager: Inside the Minds of Football's Leaders". The book is based on interviews with around 30 of the men who have made it to the top of a handsomely rewarded yet insecure and lonely profession.

Ferguson, who retired in May after more than a quarter of a century at United, fittingly gives his views in a chapter on "Creating Sustained Success".

Portugal's charismatic Jose Mourinho, now back in the English Premier League at Chelsea after managing Spanish giants Real Madrid, tackles the issue of "Handling Outrageous Talent".

Mourinho, the self-styled "Special One", shows a more humble side to his character. He recounts that he is happy to fly in economy class with his backroom staff, if necessary, allowing his players first refusal on the business-class seats.

At a book launch in London attended by Mourinho and other Premier League managers, Carson spoke fondly of how he got hooked on soccer as a 10-year-old watching Manchester City beat Derby County 4-2 at the club's old Maine Road stadium in 1976.

Carson wrote the book with the support of the League Managers Association (LMA), a group representing team bosses past and present at the 92 clubs in English professional soccer.

Reuters spoke to Carson, a Briton who worked for McKinsey for five years and now co-owns his own consultancy business about the book.

Q: How did the project come about?

A: I met with the League Managers Association to discuss leadership in football because that is my work as a consultant and I felt we had something to offer to the world of football. They'd been looking to publish collectively the thoughts of the managers for some time on leadership and leadership skills. It was essentially a meeting of minds.

Q: Is the book aimed at soccer fans or business managers?

A: It's pitched at both. It is not an expose, it is not looking to uncover deep, dark secrets of managers. It's looking to give managers an opportunity to express their deep philosophy and practice of leadership.

It's fascinating to football fans because actually what is it that these great managers are thinking about when they are leading their teams? It's interesting for leaders in all walks of life because I firmly believe that football leadership is a great analogy for the more general kind. We can picture the challenges of football so we can learn from their expertise.

Q: What was the attitude of the managers you met. Were they happy to open up about their work?

A: They were very happy, I think for two reasons.

The LMA had arranged and facilitated the interviews and accredited me as their author so the managers started from a position of trust. They knew I wasn't coming in to try to grab newspaper-selling headlines, I wasn't going to distort what they said.

Reason two, is so rarely do the managers get an opportunity truly to express their philosophies on a reasonable platform. We tend to hear the three-minute, after-match, interview and it's mainly about "was it a penalty or should he have been sent off?". This was deeper and they were very excited to have that chance to discuss and express some of their philosophies.

Q: What form did the meetings take?

A: It was structured around private one-on-ones. I almost invariably met managers at their clubs, which was great, but it wasn't about at this stage going and seeing them in action with their teams. It was about their philosophy. So I didn't gather, if you like, any live feedback. It would be fascinating to ask Jose Mourinho's team how they perceive him and his leadership but that wasn't where we were going with this book.

Q: What are the key qualities that managers display?

A: One thing I noticed that they all had was empathy and steel at high levels. So they all had both, and then all would typically have one of them dialled up to world class, so they'd be very strong in one and then really exceptional in the other.

My example in the book would be that (Real Madrid manager) Carlo Ancelotti would be very strong on steel and exceptional on empathy and Sir Alex Ferguson would be exceptional at steel and very strong on empathy.

Another would be retaining perspective. These guys are good at perspective, they are good at taking time out to reflect, they are good at being able to see themselves in the heat of the moment and course-correct even though it will boil over for them, like it boils over for all of us. They are not supermen. I loved Carlo Ancelotti's quote when he said "football is the most important of all the small things in life".

Pretty much all of them have to be able to handle very, very big personalities, it almost goes without saying. What do you do when you have one, two or more huge personalities on your team?

Finally, they are very good typically at stakeholder management, juggling the requirements of the chairman or owner, the fans, the press, the media, obviously the players themselves, and agents.

Q: Do they have any weaknesses or blind spots in common?

A: I don't think there is anything collective. Because football is so high pressure, so high intensity, certainly in the matches, there is almost not a manager alive who wouldn't benefit from working on "how do I keep calm in the moment" because that's just really tough.

That's just human and frankly I have almost not met a business leader who would not benefit from that.

(Editing by Michael Roddy and Alison Williams)

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