His methods for success were reported in a recent issue of the Harvard Business Review. They can be broken down into eight leadership principles, ranging from the value of standing back and observing to the specifics of preparing to win:
- Start with the foundation – when he joined the team, Ferguson created the structure for the long term by modernizing United’s youth program, establishing two centers of excellence for promising players and by recruiting a number of scouts to bring him top young talent. David Beckham and Ryan Griggs are two of his stellar signings
- Dare to rebuild your team – he assembled five distinct league-winning squads and continued to win trophies. Ferguson was guided by a keen sense of the cycle of rebuilding and also sensing players’ lifecycles – how much value they were bringing the team at any point in time.
- Set high standards and hold everyone to them – he wanted to instill values into his players. More than technical skills, the manager wanted to inspire them to strive to do better and to never give up – essentially to make themselves winners.
- Never, ever cede control – Ferguson felt you can’t ever lose control – not even when you are dealing with professionals who are all millionaires. If anyone challenged his authority and control, he dealt directly with them.
- Match the message to the moment – when communicating decisions to his players, he worked hard to tailor his words to the situation. With difficult decisions, he would start with “Look I might be making a mistake here, but I think it is best for the team today.”
- Prepare to win – his teams had a knack for pulling out victories in the late stages of games. They practiced for when the going got tough, so they knew what it took to be successful in those situations.
- Rely on the power of observation – while he delegated direct supervision to others, entrusting them to do their jobs, Ferguson allowed himself to truly observe the players’ performance.
- Never stop adapting – whether it was adapting to the higher financial stakes or the use of science in players’ health and improved performance, he was willing to change to sustain success.
Now, those are some simple and powerful principles from a coach and leadership legend.
What leadership principles foster your organization’s success?
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