17 Aug 2015
PERSPECTIVES: PREPARE TO MANAGE
The early days in a new job are critical to your long-term success and many first-time managers never get a second chance. Preparation is everything.
When you're appointed manager your soon-to-be players will immediately ask: “Is he up to the job? Will he improve me and the team and, as a result, will we win more games?”
To bring about these changes, not just in the short-term but permanently, you will need to change how those players think and subsequently what they believe, and this transformation requires far more than mere management skills. It requires the many and varied talents of a leader. Managers do things by the book, but leaders write the book and, crucially, they amend the book at each new club they go to.
If you have had a long and illustrious playing career or previous success as a manager, it may help to buy you some time once in your new job. However, it won't buy you the players' respect and trust or their belief that you have what it takes to lead them through the many ordeals and tests that you will encounter together on the journey ahead. These are things that are not earned quickly or given easily.
Once in your new job you will need to be yourself and stay true to yourself. Your honesty, integrity and values must be crystal clear and visible every day, from the start. And you will need to immediately demonstrate that you have the complex mix of knowledge, skills, experience and attitude required to deal with the multi-faceted technical, tactical, physical and psychological disciplines that are the nuts and bolts of the job.
The total trust, belief and respect of the players is the greatest gift they can give you, because it gives you control of the dressing room. Without this, you will struggle to survive in your new role, let alone win.
FOUNDER, SPORTING EDGE
With second chances a rare commodity among first-time managers, it's critical that your mindset is ready from the start. You'll need confidence and commitment.
Confidence comes from being prepared and there are steps you can take to prepare your best game. You will need to take in a lot of information before you enter your new office. You are usually there because something went wrong - the former boss lost the team, relegation loomed or maybe the chairman wanted a change – so you'll need to assess the situation.
Secondly, you'll need to identify who the key decision makers are; do your detective work and create profiles of the chairman and chief executive. These will be your closest support network, so understand what presses their buttons.
Consider your past experience; you clearly have the skills and strengths needed for the role, so think back and reconnect with all the courses and qualifications you've taken, and the experience and insight you've gained that has got you this far.
Once in the role, the biggest psychological mistake you can make is to try to be someone else. Authenticity beats acting, so share your story and what this new opportunity means to you. Whether it’s funny or strategic, people will learn your values and non-negotiables straight away.
By understanding your signature strengths and pointing them at some key challenges you may achieve some quick wins that will fast track your credibility and trust in the first 30 days. Be bold; you are the leader so trust your gut instinct. It can be your greatest advisor and will bolster your decisions with speed and commitment.
After a month in charge you should have a good feel for the chemistry of the club or office. Who are the social leaders and who needs to be shown the door? There is no such thing as the perfect team, so if you can't change your people, you might need to change your people.
Your strong decisions will have created some friction by this point and you may have disrupted the old culture. Be prepared, therefore, to feel isolated, because no-one likes to be changed. Create a trusted support network of advisors inside and outside your immediate environment, as they will help you to test your ideas and bring fresh thinking.
Once the honeymoon is over, you will need to manage your energy. Many leaders have burnt out early in times of transition, so make sure you live the high performance messages you sell to your team. Keeping perspective will also be important for your mindset. Spending time with your family and friends may seem like a peripheral luxury when you are trying to make your name, but your best ideas will come when you are relaxed, not from staring at the league table.
However you tackle your first days in office, the most important thing is that you detach yourself from the binary judgement of success and failure. Of course you need to win on Saturday, but your ability to toggle between this week’s tactics and next year’s strategy will ensure you build a team culture with no regrets.
Former international cricketer and professional performance psychologist Jeremy Snape is the founderand director of Sporting Edge. In 2013, he joined the LMA as a non-executive director to support its leadership and management programmes.
MANAGER, SHEFFIELD UNITED
It's essential to give yourself as much chance of success as possible. That means getting the best education that you can and then backing that up with as much experience as possible.
My route to top-flight management was a gradual one and I did a lot of things along the way that stood me in very good stead. For example, while still playing professionally I managed Birkenhead Sunday League side Renbad Rovers for 10 years, which gave me my first taste of leadership and responsibilities like team selection, tactics and substitutions. Then, when I suffered some pretty serious injuries in my 20s and my future playing career was in doubt, I decided to add to the preliminary badges I'd already taken while at Tranmere Rovers and do my coaching and physiotherapy qualifications.
I have taken many courses over the years on coaching, management and health and fitness, including the LMA's Diploma in Football Management, which was invaluable. I also achieved an honours degree in physiotherapy, which enabled me to take the role of physiotherapist at Scunthorpe United.
While I was qualified to be a manager and had been player-manager at Bangor City, I took the physio role partly because it suited my personal situation at the time, and it proved to be fantastic experience. During my 10 years with the club under manager Brian Laws, I wore various hats in addition to being the physio, including goalkeeping coach and fitness coach.
As well as gaining an insight into how a club and manager operate, I learned how the different roles fit together and contribute to a club's success, and importantly I developed my man-management skills. Having played many different roles in a club myself - rather than just coach or manager – when I became a manager I was able to put myself in other people's shoes and relate to them.
That's important because from the moment you walk through the door as a new manager you're in charge and you need to get your messages across and engage with people quickly. You need to make them feel valued so they work with you, not against you, and know how to manage those above you and get their support.
CPD is incredibly important and managers who are out of work should be preparing to manage again by honing their skills and keeping up with the times. I watch other coaches, not just in football but across sports.
For example, I recently observed the England Rugby team and met with Stuart Lancaster to see how they do things. I've spent some time with basketball teams in the US and with an explorer here in the UK, who was very inspirational. I've also taken the opportunity to do some public speaking, which is great for developing your communication skills and confidence.
The skills you need when you become a manager are many and varied, so every piece of experience you can gain is relevant and valuable preparation.
Nigel most recently managed at Southampton between 2010 and 2013, and Reading from then until the end of the following year. He was appointed manager of Sheffield United in early June.
EXECUTIVE CONSULTANT, HEMSLEY FRASER
For many people, the rush of elation on being elected for their first or next managerial position is quickly followed by a surge of anxiety. What if my skills don’t translate? What if my team doesn’t respond to my direction? How do I get to know what the core issues are? What if I fail?
Whether you’re moving up in an organisation or joining a new one, you’ve got your work cut out. The maxim that ‘those who fail to plan are planning to fail’ is particularly true for anyone who starts a new managerial position, but there are things you can do to make the transition smoother.
First, take action before you start your new position, because once you're in the job time will become a limited asset. As soon as you know the move will happen, assess the organisation and its environment. Evaluate your strengths and the opportunities for improvement so that you can leverage the first and address the second. Learning as much as possible about yourself and the organisation will help you build momentum as you begin your new journey.
Plan your first day carefully, because you only have one chance to make a first impression – with your new employees, your new boss and everyone else you come into contact with. What you do on your first day - and who you do it with - will be watched by everyone and meaning will be ascribed to it. Will you allow others to dictate how you spend your time or do you have a specific agenda for the day?
And, importantly, do you have a plan to meet with all of your staff as soon as possible? This last point matters because during the first 30 days you'll need to develop relationships with your employees, key support personnel, peers and superiors. Your ongoing success will depend on it.
Valerie Nichols is an executive consultant with learning and development company Hemsley Fraser, firstname.lastname@example.org
ASSISTANT MANAGER, RANGERS
I was late onto the management career ladder, but during my latter years as a player I took all my coaching badges and, while at Rangers, I had the opportunity to watch and learn from the coaching team around me. My manager, Walter Smith, involved me in certain team matters and decisions, and with coaching the U21 side. Playing football was my priority at the time, so I couldn't be too hands on, but it was still a fantastic opportunity to get a foot in the door and to gain an insight into the coaching systems and running of the club.
Any such experience is relevant and useful and it's important to prepare as much as possible and to anticipate the kind of scenarios you might face. But, ultimately, nothing prepares you like doing the job. It's a completely new experience and one that is difficult to ready yourself for mentally. Suddenly you're in charge and faced with situations and demands you didn't expect or prepare for.
The hardest and quickest lessons are the ones you learn in the job in those early days. They come from your mistakes and failures and how you respond to them and deal with the disappointment.
One important piece of advice I'd give to new managers is be very careful when you take a job that you understand exactly what you're entering into. You need to know what will be expected of you, what the club's goals are and if they match your own. It's also important to be aware of how harsh an industry this is to work in - how quickly things can change, how short term it can be and how it's not sentimental, it's pure business.
Following a long and successful playing career, David Weir had a short stint as manager of Sheffield United before taking the post of assistant manager of Brentford in 2013. Weir was announced assistant manager of Rangers in June.