920 views | Oladapo Akande | May 5, 2021
Those who have ambition of becoming effective leaders can learn several lessons from José Mourinho’s repeated sackings. Mourinho, at one time dubbed himself “the Special One” and who could argue with him? He later stepped this up to “the Only One” and still, not many openly disputed this as his achievements were enough to intimidate anyone who wanted to raise his head. Here is a Manager who holds the record of taking four clubs to the top of European football’s biggest leagues – The English Premiership, the Spanish La Liga, the Italian Serie A and his home country’s (Portugal) Primeira Liga. Along the way, he also picked up European football’s ultimate prize twice and became one of only three managers who has won the European Champion’s League with two different clubs. Of all his incredible achievements, what has always stuck out most for me was his unmatched ability to play to the strengths of his team even when “pound for pound” his team was no match for the opposition. You need to forgive me but there’s one permanent mark my British upbringing has left on me and that is to often root for the underdog; the one who may not have the same level of natural talent as some of the best but who eventually takes his pride of place amongst the best because of hard work, because of drive, because of how badly he wants it. That was why I always rooted for an Ivan Lendl over a John McEnroe, a Rafa Nadal over a Roger Federer and will forever admire a Christiano Ronaldo more than a Lionel Messi. These great men and many more like them, continue to prove to the rest of us that we can get there if we want it badly enough and if we’re ready to put in the work.
During the course of a mostly glorious career thus far, Mourinho has had the unfortunate experience of being sacked five times by four different clubs. His most recent sacking came last week by Tottenham Hotspurs but this follows sackings by Manchester United, Real Madrid and two sackings by Chelsea! One mischievous publication recently dubbed him “the Sacked One” which going by his most recent form, seems to be quite appropriate. Any ardent follower of football would have noticed that Mourinho’s parting of ways with his employers is always preceded by acrimony between him and his players. The players literally lose interest in playing for him and this becomes very obvious on the pitch. This was the case at all the clubs mentioned above. I believe many of us would have heard from our parents at one time or the other during our childhood and would have wisely passed on to our children too; that if everybody is saying the same thing about you and you’re the only one who says different, it’s time to take a good look at yourself as they can’t all be wrong. Maybe José should have listened to his parents more.
Sir Alex Ferguson, the legendary former Manchester United manager enjoyed an extraordinary level of success, not because he always read the game perfectly, or because he splashed out most on buying players or even paid them the biggest salaries; nor was it necessarily because he always had the best players on paper but because he was a great manager of men. He understood what leadership was all about; relationships. His longevity of 26 years as Manchester United’s manager and the 38 trophies he won during this period were made possible by a host of ever revolving players over the years who were ready to go to the ends of the earth for him. Reminiscent of the fugitive King David’s rag tag army and the perilous journey three of them made into enemy territory, just because David had thought aloud about a desire for some water. They thought nothing of risking their lives to satisfy him but David, aware of the risk they took to fetch it, refused to drink it. No, his men were not dispensable and he wanted them to know that.
Sir Alex’s teams became notorious for always managing to grind out a result even on their off days and this led to the famous “Fergie time” slogan. “Fergie time” was a reference to his team’s penchant for scoring a goal in the dying minutes of the game, often during the few minutes added on to regulation time. This is the stuff character is made of. Refusing to accept defeat even on those days when things aren’t flowing and don’t seem to go according to plan. Opposing teams knew they couldn’t take their feet off the pedal until the final whistle was blown. It was said half jokingly during his time, that the game was already won before the first kick of the ball because opposing teams lived in such awe and were so intimidated by this set of players who refused to let their boss down. Yet again, the same could not be said of Mourinho.
It wasn’t entirely surprising that the same Manchester United team that had suffered such a poor run of form “miraculously” started winning matches immediately after Mourinho was sacked. Before a cent was spent to buy new players, Paul Pogba, the French World Cup winner who was beginning to look like a “has-been” suddenly came back to life. The mood within the team changed dramatically and morale was resuscitated. Spirits were lifted, hope and a hunger to win returned and they became visibly energized. They felt engaged by the perception that their vision and that of their new manager was aligned once more. Two other crucial factors that conduce engagement by employees and subordinates also followed; perception of a shared positive mood within the organization and perceived organizational support (POS). POS is when staff or team members feel they receive adequate assistance on the job from their supervisor; it’s when the supervisor, through actions, shows that he cares about their performance and wants them to succeed, not just for the organization, but also for themselves. Benching star players after a couple of off games Mourinho-style and “sending them to Coventry” as if they had just killed your favourite dog, doesn’t do you any favours or build required resonant relationships. Nor does speaking ill of players publicly, as this only makes them to mentally disengage. This will ultimately cause a divergence in vision. Constant criticism or pointing out of shortcomings doesn’t help people to get better but only triggers the fight or flight mode. And this in itself negates any sense of engagement they may have had. A leader with high emotional intelligence quotient is able to manage his emotions – which helps him to respond rather than react, when faced with difficult situations. He is fully aware of how his behaviour and emotions can affect those around him positively or negatively. Before a leader can bring the best out of others, he must first learn to bring out the best of himself.
Changing the nation…one mind at a time