I am a proud citizen of Leicester – it is one of the most diverse and interesting cities in the UK. I can’t say I have ever paid attention to the football club before, but even I have noticed something has happened this year. So what did the Leicester City manager Claudio Ranieri do to lead his team to success and can we learn anything from it?
I don’t think we talk about leadership enough in our sector, or if we do it is seen as a bit academic and not really relevant to what our leaders do on the ground. Of course, most of our sector is led by women, and women’s leadership is seen by many as more co-operative and inclusive rather than based on high-profile egos and personalities.
Ranieri’s leadership has been widely digested in the sports pages but also in an article in The Psychologist in June 2016. It makes some interesting points about when a leader becomes a leader; they ask themselves if they have the "special quality" leaders need. If this means putting yourself above others, then this is often the start of their downfall. To take another sporting analogy, Jose Mourinho called himself the "special one". The Greeks have a word for this – hubris. And, blimey, he fell spectacularly last season.
Successful and empowering leaders must be judged on their ability to engage followers and bring staff with them. There is no "i" in team, as the saying goes. Ranieri played his hand very cleverly by building a star team instead of a team of stars. In our sector we don’t have the problem of stratospheric salaries for starry individuals – which creates egos and divisions and runs against the team ethos – but we do have the same challenge of building a shared sense of purpose and togetherness in the face of adversity or challenging conditions. And perhaps now more than ever, given the added uncertainty of our times.
Ranieri told his team he trusted them and built his tactics around them and their strengths rather than imposing his own will on the team. He played to their strengths rather than trying to fix their weaknesses. He also built a collective sense of togetherness. He said: "I don’t want the big names here. I don’t want to break the dressing room. My lads are special… we want to grow up together."
I can’t pretend to understand the locker-room mentality – but I do think Ranieri has hit on a really valuable set of principles for leadership and put them into action admirably.
He came over as really wanting to be on Leicester’s side, rather than his own, and had a team of equals not stars and supporters. He listened to and trusted his team, he played to their strengths and he fostered a sense of togetherness and belief in themselves. He persisted in his vision and commitment to them when times got tough. We need great leadership more than ever right now, and it’s not a bad time to live in Leicester.
Gill Taylor is a sector HR consultant