Leadership Insights from Leading by Sir Alex Ferguson

I don’t read that many books from those in sport. At the same time I was looking forward to reading Leading by Sir Alex Ferguson.

Ferguson has a reputation for being someone who demands hard work and for having quite a temper. When you get into the book you start to see the differences between perception and reality.

Without doubt he sets high standards for himself and others. He clearly has a desire to win. At the same time what comes across is that he is very humble and has never forgotten his roots and his early learning from parents.

In the introduction he talks about the comparisons between football management and teaching. In essence both are about inspiring a group of people to perform to their potential. This is just as relevant in terms of leadership within organisations.

He also goes to great lengths to stress the importance of listening, especially to the younger generation who he sees as being in touch with realities of today. Many leaders in organisations struggle to accept this seeing time served and experience as being most important.

He clearly acknowledges that the context of football management and big organisations are different. This in itself a leadership trait.

Another gem early on in the book was the importance of being willing to seek advice and support when appropriate. In many ways leading in organisations can be a lonely existence. Having that support network can help a lot.

The idea of creating space between events happening and responding to them will be something that will resonate with all leaders.

It is all too easy to say or do the wrong thing when under pressure that you later regret.

Forward planning was also a big part of Ferguson’s leadership approach, especially when it came to players contracts. It is all too easy in organisations to lose your way when a few key people leave at the same time and there is no Plan B.

As a leader it is important to get the balance right between the detail and overview. He talked about this in terms of how being on the touchline during training sessions gave him a wider perspective. I’m sure leaders in organisations find themselves getting too close to the detail when standing back may well be the better strategy.

It was clear that as a manager he was always making small adjustments. Sometimes these are what can make all the difference in organisations too. Full scale change is not always necessarily the best way.

Unsurprisingly team work and team balance were discussed. In organisations it is very easy to recruit people just like you and end up with a team with all the same skill set.

Equally it is important that team members appreciate and understand each other’s strengths.

The fact that you cannot win a league in one giant leap is particularly relevant to organisations. It is always going to be a case of small steps and also several ups and downs along the way.

Praise is something that whether in football or organisations that positively motivates. It never ceases to amaze me how little it is used given the value it can bring.

Complacency was also an area that Ferguson talked about. With things moving so fast these days in business the need to look forward and look at what needs to change, be improved or adapted is key to long term success. While it might be tempting to try to cruise and live on past successes only to get left behind.

Overall this book is a gem with lots of lessons that are highly relevant for leaders and managers in organisations and I would recommend that it is on your reading list.

You can get the book on Amazon in various formats. Get The Book

Duncan Brodie helps accountants and professionals to become effective leaders.