I recently asked a Scottish friend, “Will you be supporting England over the coming week?”
“It pains me to say it," came the reply, "but it’s hard not to get behind what Gareth Southgate is achieving without the arrogance and pomp of previous England squads.”
With the England football team ready to enter the World Cup semi-finals this evening, it is difficult not to admire the progress of a team that had been written off before the tournament had even started. So why has Gareth Southgate managed to attract so much personal support from the nation and other global fans? This was, after all, a man who many felt was just a safe caretaker manager who would steady the ship after a number of scandals over the years within the England set-up.
The first thing that springs to my mind is the approach to Leadership that Southgate has taken. Whilst he may be described in footballing terms as a ‘Manager’, the reality is that he has displayed transformational leadership skills to drive forward a team who the majority of fans believed were not good enough to make it past the early knock out stages.
Much has been written in the press and on social media about the way that he has carried himself. With empathy, honesty, composure, integrity and dogged determination, he has shown that he is a leader that his team trust and believe in. His actions after the match against Colombia, as he put his arm around the Colombian player, Uribe, who had missed the penalty that knocked his country out of the tournament, showed an immense sense of empathy and care (Southgate himself famously missed a penalty for England in Euro 96) that has struck a chord with millions of fans back home.
Away from the sidelines of the football pitch, he has kept the team motivated and trained whilst also allowing a member of his team time to fly home mid-tournament to be at the birth of his child, missing a game, before flying back to join the rest of the squad. Something previous England Managers may not have supported.
As well as displaying the leadership skills to bond a team who believe in the mission that they are working towards and to have a vision about how to conduct themselves, what we have seen is someone in a leadership position leading by example and showing those following on the pitch and at home, behaviours rooted in decency and compassion. No mind games.
At a time when the public despair about global and local politics and the lack of trust that we have in those elected to lead, what we are seeing here is that it is possible to take a small group of people that many consider the underdogs and to inspire them to work cohesively together to overcome the odds and to deliver on a goal that many thought out of reach.
Can we apply some of this to the world of leadership at work? Perhaps the next time we are faced with a leadership dilemma we could try asking ourselves, ‘what would Gareth do?’. There are some worse role models, for sure.