Three things small businesses can learn from England managers

In this piece, Chris Barnard examines three England managers of past and present and offers tips on what your business can learn from their approaches.

England’s World Cup campaign kicks off tonight, and as we prepare to bellow another patriotic rendition of ‘Three Lions on a Shirt’, let’s take a moment to reflect on all the tournaments that have come before. They say those who don’t learn from history are doomed to repeat it, and as the joint-oldest national team in world football, there’s no shortage of history to study.

The same can be said for any manager or leader. Whether you’re a small business owner or the manager of a national side in the world’s favourite sport, lessons from predecessors can serve as warnings and signposts on the road to success. With that in mind, here are three England managers to learn valuable business lessons from.

Glenn Hoddle (1996 – 1999)

As one of the all-time great English players, you’d think Hoddle’s run as England manager would be remembered for footballing reasons. But it was his bizarre hocus-pocus off the field that defined his tournament legacy.

We’ll never know if the England staff walking anti-clockwise during the game against Argentina ‘to create positive energy’ had the desired effect. And who can prove whether the team wouldn’t have crashed out even earlier if it weren’t for his ‘heart-touching’ technique, or his insistence on enlisting a faith healer as part of his coaching staff?

One thing’s for sure; in incorporating these alternative methods, Hoddle was left vulnerable to media and fan criticism.

The final blow for his England career came when his alleged controversial belief that disabled people were making up for sins in a past life was made public knowledge. Goodwill dried up and the FA removed Hoddle from his post.

Lessons from the touchline: Bring people with you

Going against the norm can be an admirable trait for any leader, but your team has to believe in your vision too. A business strategy based solely on personal ideology can lead to disconnection and discontent in the ranks. Listening matters.

Steve McLaren (2006 – 2007)

Steve McLaren has had a colourful career in football management. He became the most successful manager in the history of Middlesbrough FC, prompting the FA to unexpectedly offer him the England job in 2006. Since then, McLaren has managed six clubs across England, the Netherlands and Germany – not to mention his coaching stint with Israel’s Maccabi Tel Aviv. So how did a beloved prospect manage to get the sack after only 18 games?

Much comes down to marketing. Despite impressive runs at Boro, Twente and Derby, McLaren will never be remembered for his titles, style of play or personal awards. He’ll be defined by just five little words: ‘The Wally with the Brolly’.

The English media sprawled the moniker across their front pages after a 3-2 defeat to Croatia saw the nation fail to qualify for the European Championships. As the rain came pouring down on the Wembley turf, McLaren, forlorn and no doubt fearing for his job, grabbed an umbrella to shelter from the storm. ‘That might not look great, boss,’ said assistant Terry Venables. If only he’d listened.

Lessons from the touchline: Image matters

Perception is 99 per cent of reality. A leader’s reputation can be built on any number of small moments and some labels last for longer than one might think – or hope, in some cases. The good news is reputations can be rebuilt and leaders who respond well to adversity emerge stronger on the other side.

Gareth Southgate (2016-Present)

What of our current incumbent? Gareth Southgate, former England defender in his own right, leads the Three Lions into the 2018 World Cup this summer with a nation of cautious optimists watching back home. As the FA’s home-grown managerial appointment, Southgate was meant to rebrand England after the PR disaster that was Sam Allardyce.

Southgate has made no secret that the World Cup in Russia is an exercise in developing England’s style of play and exposing a new generation of young lions to a major tournament environment. It might not be the message England fans travelling to Moscow want to hear, but it’s a measured, long-term view. Southgate is laying the paving slabs on England’s path to the 2022 World Cup – the tournament the FA are truly eyeing victory in.

Lessons from the touchline: The future starts today

It’s never too early to start planning. The business world is constantly bending to the latest trends and reacting to new ideas, so plan ahead. Those who keep track of which way the wind is blowing often get ahead of the competition. Rewards might not appear instantaneously, but you might well thank yourself in a few years’ time. Fingers crossed for Qatar.

Chris Barnard is senior accountancy manager at Crunch.

Further reading on the World Cup

Ben Lobel

Ben Lobel

Ben Lobel was the editor of from 2010 to 2018. He specialises in writing for start-up and scale-up companies in the areas of finance, marketing and HR.

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