Aidy Boothroyd

01 Dec 2011


With the opening of St George's Park imminent, many of us involved in football have been thinking seriously about the role of management training within the context of the game.

The role of the modern day football manager is, in one way, quite simple – keep winning matches and you'll usually stay in the job. However, it can also be quite ambiguous and complex, depending on variety of factors including the size of the club you work for and the individuals you report to (and who report to you).

All of us do, however, have to coach, manage and lead at various times during our working day. Usually, the way we find out how to do these things better is by listening to the wise words of a more experienced colleague or, more often, by learning on the job (often through our mistakes).

There are, of course, some educational routes we can follow – the UEFA coaching badges and the LMA's management course at Warwick University, for example – but the facilities offered by St. George's Park will increase these options.

During the 'free' time I had priorto my recent appointment as manager of Northampton Town, I worked on a project for the LMA, canvassing a variety of people from within the game as to what they would like to see in future football management education.

Before I started this project, though, I thought I should speak to an expert in the field of  management education. I found the perfect person in Stuart Timperley. Stuart understands both football and management as he's not only a director of Watford FC, he also has 30 years practical experience both as an academic and in the private sector working as a management and leadership consultant.

I spent an intense couple of hours with Stuart, during which our conversation covered a wide range of subjects. The following are some extracts from that conversation, where we touched on the fundamentals of leadership and management.

AB: So, Stuart, I would like to start with the whole question of leadership versus management. Are they two different things, or the same thing approached from two different angles?

ST: There are differences between the two – and a lot of that has to do with time frames. Management is essentially about influencing things in 'the now', while leadership is more forward-looking, it's about shaping and guiding things, giving things a sense of direction. Leadership is about philosophy, it’s about values, it’s about choices and it’s about strong views; it’s about weighing one thing up against another and making a decision. You can have all the data in the world, but that data won’t make a decision for you – it's your interpretation of the data and the situation that's important.

AB: So management is about short- to medium-term action, while leadership is more about long-term thinking?

ST: Yes. There is a difference between taking charge of an organisation that's in 'turnaround' or leading something which needs building. In the former situation you make quick choices; you can't be too scientific or too analytical, but you will be active and you will, out of necessity, be very directive. I did some work once with the global corporate turnaround practice for the company that's now called Accenture, where we looked at a range of companies which had spiralled downwards. The interesting thing was that the reasons for these downward spirals all came from a common list; loss of financial control, lack of marketing focus and too wide a range of projects or products. But almost always at the top of the list was a lack of capability in the management.

Building an organisation, on the other hand, requires a plan. It's a journey that the whole  organisation takes collectively, so the whole becomes greater than the sum of its parts. This, more often than not, requires a lot of dialogue and a lot of robust debate around the board table. Whenever you take you place at a board table you bring two hats with you; first you have your functional hat – whether you're a football club manager, a commercial manager a chief executive or whatever – which you wear in your everyday job. When you sit down as part of a management team, you have to remove that hat and replace it with your organisational hat.

AB: But surely when you go to the board room, it's part of your job to get the other people there to 'buy in' to what you're doing?

ST: First of all, you have to accept that everyone is motivated by self interest. This needn't be a bad thing, as in business it's all about 'mutual self-interest'. When you develop a strategy for any organisation, you have a far better chance of making it work it if those people who are the key implementers have been part of the process of developing it. If you can develop a sense of ownership, commitment and understanding for your organisation's strategy, then all you have to do is add a time frame and then you have the beginnings of a workable plan.

AB: It’s often said that the most important relationship in a football club is the one between the manager and the chairman and I assume that it's similar in other organisations outside football. How do you best manage that relationship over the short, medium and longer term?

ST: When I work with managers – not just football managers, but managers in any field – I always start by asking them what their mandate was when they came into the job I like the word mandate rather than job description, by the way. A job description is one thing, but a mandate is something which is agreed more informally between, say, the chief executive and the chairman.

It's important that any manager knows what the people above them are looking for. If you don't have this mandate – and you'd be surprised how often it's the case that there isn't one – it's vital that you get one sorted out as quickly as possible.

Your mandate doesn't have to be formal and it doesn't even have to be in writing. Once you've developed an understanding of what's expected of you, it can be as subtle a process as continually repeating this mandate – in board meetings, discussions or whatever – until it becomes widely understood and accepted. A mandate is not fixed, either. It's iterative and changes as the needs of the organisation change. So if you work to an adaptable mandate, rather than a job description, you're already setting things up to work in the longer term.

Some people prefer to work without such a mandate, as they feel that it gives them the freedom to plough their own furrow, but I think this is a high-risk strategy. Business and sport almost never work in straight lines and, without a mandate, you can find yourself in trouble at the first sign of difficulties. You substantially lower that risk if everyone knows what the agreed aims are – and this is the protection that having a clear mandate gives you.

AB: I understand that, but it's easier said than done... particularly if a manager does too well too early. And as you've just brought it up... how do you best manage risk in business?

ST: Risk in itself is a very interesting area. Most organisations nowadays have a risk register and these can be very extensive... often too extensive. You can usually reduce the list of potential risks in any organisation down to two or three key things. You have to be honest about risk too. I did some work on risk for a very big company recently and it had compiled, as always, a lengthy risk register. However, one risk which hadn't been considered was the risk attached to either the chairman or chief executive leaving the organisation. It's all very well building up a broad list of potential risks, but that list has to be honest and address issues which some people might find uncomfortable.

AB: How do you feel about the process of continuous learning?

ST: I’ve had an academic career as well as business career and I’m passionate about education; for me education is about change and it should be applied, rather than pursued for its own sake. It goes back to the 'nature versus nurture' debate. A good manager influences those who he or she is managing. This can be done in many ways, but what you're ultimately aiming to do is help people take personal responsibility. Education is a great way to facilitate that. Life is about forks in the road and the judgements that people make or don't make when they reach them – and education helps people at those crucial transition points. Education allows people to understand the implications of their choices and allows them to grow. For me, businesses grow as a result of individuals growing and individuals grow as a result of businesses growing.