A lesson from football’s Einstein

Pep Guardiola


Joseph Pep Guadiola’s playing and coaching careers are a catalogue of success and I accept as true that he offers priceless lessons in both leadership and management that business leaders can copy.

With business leaders and employers seeking ways to make the most on the productivity of their employees, a lot has been said and written on the matter of how employers can handle millennials. How to get the best out of your staff… Yet, football and one man, the current Manchester City manager, Pep Guardiola seem to be or have been rewriting the script on how to handle the lot.

At the time of going to press, his Manchester City side had played 30 games winning 26, drawing three and only losing one. They had, with artistry, scored a record 85 goals, an average of 2.8 goals per game. One-time average players like Raheem Sterling have turned around their games and were leading in terms of goals scored (15) and assists provided(7).

So why would a player so average like Raheem Sterling under Manuel Pellegrini turn into a world beater under Guardiola? It’s in the management of the player/s.

Have a clear vision that each team member must buy into.

Guardiola has his own distinctive understanding of football, a man who signs diminutive 5.2’ players in a league celebrated for being physical and where many asked whether he could win a game on a cold windy night at Stoke. The average height of City’s players is 5ft 10 inches; they compensate this lack of height and physical dominance with excellent football skills, 100% commitment and chasing the ball whenever they lose it. Rather than fit in. Guardiola chose to stand out by sticking to his ideals.

A manager leading his team must have a clear vision, staff tends to duplicate what you do rather than listen to you speak. If you are indolent, have no sense of direction as a manager, then no matter what leadership skills you acquire, your staff will never implement them because you show them no need to by your own conduct

Managers must also have their own philosophy of accomplishing tasks, what works for one organization does not necessarily have to work for you.

Don’t throw your team under the bus

Last season when the entire British media was critical of John Stones, a Manchester City defender, blaming him for his inability to defend but rather playing dangerously from the back. Pep Guardiola came to his defence. He knew that since he had signed this player, he had to stand by him during this trying time. By giving his player his confidence, Stones has continued to put in solid displays and continues to be an integral member of the team.

Managers and leaders must be ready to defend their staff at difficult times. As long as they believe in these people and the projects they are undertaking, they should always remind their teams that outside noise is just chatter and that their team should always focus on the greater goal, which is the success of the task at hand. Guardiola rather than join in the bandwagon of criticizing his player chose to add value by standing by him and giving him the 100% support. Later, the same media that was criticizing Stones is unanimous of how much an integral player he is in City’s build up from the back. It is easy for anyone to criticize but leaders of organizations must seek the root cause of low productivity and address them with the relevant personnel. A true leader makes his group better and never throws them under the bus.

Anyone can pick out mistakes, but few can use those mistakes as building blocks to make the employees productive, noteworthy, this is not a license for managers to tolerate indolence or turn blind eye to incompetence.

Success is premised on a culture of excellence not a cult figure

Immediately Guardiola was appointed Barcelona senior team manager, he boldly went straight and sidelined Ronaldinho Gaucho and Deco terming them surplus to requirements. These were no ordinary players. They were world-beaters and cult figures. Guardiola, however, wanted to build a brand of football. One where the players he had, bought into his ideals and would be loyal to his brand of football.

To him, the team was bigger than any one individual. Often times, organizations especially certain managers treat certain employees as better than others. Offering them preferential treatment as others watch from a far. While the chosen staff could be highly skilled, this has very negative effects on the rest of the staff. Success must be built around everyone. From the management to the subordinate staff, they must all be and feel to be integral to the success of the organization unless a manager wants to be sabotaged.

Management is a daily activity.

“We are so demanding of our players. We can lose, we can drop points but complacency never happened in the past, the present or the future. Winning 15 games in a row gives us a lot of confidence,” says Guardiola. These words show how much close attention he pays to his team and the environment they work in.

Managers must always feel the pulse of the organization and be ready to address issues that arise and that may be detrimental to the continued success of an organization. An employee does not just start being lazy overnight, it occurs over time and a keen manager must be able to tackle it immediately it shows. This can only be achieved if the manager is not aloof.

Leicester City’s former manager Claudio Ranieri had an interesting way of dealing with his title winning side. To ensure that they do not become complacent, he promised each squad player to take them on a night out and buy the pizza for every game they would have a clean sheet. This was his man management way of checking on laxity.

While there is no particular template for managers to borrow from, best practices from such a world-beater like Guardiola offer extremely great insights of man management. This is a man who has under his care handled the world’s best footballer, Lionnel Messi and other stars like Mario Goetze, Xavi Hernandes, Andreas Iniesta, Arturo Vidal, Sergio Aguero, Kevin de Bruyne and Raheem Sterling, an extremely talented lot on abnormal salaries and immense media scrutiny yet Guardiola has been able to not only ground them, but check their egos by reminding them that football is a team sport all this while getting the best out of them as individual players.

How about learning from this managerial genius as a manager?