J.S. | Thursday 28 July 2016 | GMT 16:45 | firstname.lastname@example.org
Jose Mourinho is a man who wants to win. Born in a suburb of Lisbon to a large middle-class family, he has grown to redefine the game of football. In ten years of club management, he has led his teams to eight domestic titles, two UEFA Champions League titles and one UEFA cup. For those who lack an interest in sports or football, Mourinho – the greatest football manager of the modern era – is the quintessential archetype of a leader. While Sir Alex Ferguson, former Manchester United manager, tours business schools across the globe enlightening the young on the modes of success, Mourinho marks a man whose ambition, desire and hunger to win renders him unparalleled as a phenomenon.
I could undertake a histography of Mourinho’s life and success, but there are many documentaries and articles that fulfil that purpose already. Instead, I will merely use Mourinho’s first press conference as Manchester United manager to illustrate what makes him so successful. I will aim to show how why Mourinho is a leader who cannot be imitated, who cannot be copied, but a leader you can learn from, because Mourinho is first and foremost a teacher.
The first practice of exemplary leadership is to model the way. Leaders model the way. What do I mean? If you want a team to follow you, you’ve got to set the principles, values and ideals you want the team to understand and believe. You have to get the team to believe in your voice, because it is your voice that gives credibility to your values. But you just don’t set these common values and principles; you’ve got to act on them. A track record of success, setting an example, demonstrating commitment to your principles are all ways this can be achieved. So if you trust in your team, your team will in turn trust in you.
You may be confident, competent and hardworking, but these characteristics only go on to form your image. Yet, your examples like spending more time with your team, sharing a joke, asking questions to get your team to think about their goals and priorities, taking the pressure off your team during periods of instability and uncertainty – those are things that exemplify an extraordinary leader. Because modelling the way is more than just stating your values and beliefs and praying by some miracle your team will believe in it. It’s about earning the right and respect to lead through participation and action, because the best leaders are not those who gain respect by the status of their position, but those who gain respect through their words and deeds.
Mourinho is exactly such a leader. He outlined two clear principles in his first press conference: (1) you play for the club not yourself and (2) you play to win and be successful. While Mourinho says he does not hide behind philosophies, the underlying value of “work hard to win” is clear. The mentality to win is clear. When Mourinho was asked whether he had to prove a point after Chelsea sacked him in December 2015 following Chelsea’s woeful performances in the Barclays Premier League, he said: “There are some managers that the last time they won a title was 10 years ago. Some of them the last time they won a title was never. The last time I won a title was one year ago, not 10 years ago or 15 years ago so if I have a lot to prove, imagine the others.” Mourinho models the way.
The second practice of exemplary leadership is to inspire a shared vision. Leaders inspire the possibilities of what could be. They show an uncanny desire to create something that has not been created before. They behold a vision as an outcome. But the difference between ordinary and special is when you can get your team to accept your vision as their vision, because great leaders do not command commitment, they inspire it. And Mourinho is one of the best at achieving a shared vision. When asked what his ambitions were for the next season he said: “I prefer to be more aggressive and say we want to win…I want everything. Of course we are not going to get everything, but we want to.” Mourinho stirs a passion through his expression of one word: win. His enthusiasm, his persona and lack of self-doubt resonates with all fans, because every fan wants to win. It was never easier for Mourinho to inspire a shared vision.
All successful leaders challenge a process, and that is the third practice of exemplary leadership. Whether the challenge is a new philosophy, getting to know people, the start of a new business – every leader faces a challenge. But nothing is ever achieved from keeping the status quo. Reinvention is the key to challenging a process. For Barack Obama at the Democratic Convention in 2004, it was the “audacity to hope”. But ultimately, leaders are pioneers of innovation, growth and improvement – taking risks and not being afraid to make mistakes. But great leaders learn from those mistakes.
The willingness to challenge a process ensures leaders like Mourinho continue being successful. Mourinho said: “Manchester United, for many years, success was just routine and in this moment the last three years are to forget. I want the players to forget. I don’t want the players to think we have to do better and finish fourth. [To] finish fourth is not the aim.” Mourinho challenges the status quo of the last three years in a few brief sentences.
Enabling others to act, however, is fundamental to any successful form of leadership. No leader becomes successful through solely their own personal actions; it’s about the endeavours of each individual in the team contributing to their common vision, ideals and principles. To achieve success, leaders must ensure that their team acts with vigour, determination and competence. Fostering collaboration and trust become extremely important because they allow leaders to give individuals ownership and personal power. If you allow an individual to feel like they control their own destiny, you strengthen their personal capacity to succeed. Listening to the opinions of even those you disagree with makes your team more likely to give you all their energies to produce extraordinary results. Inclusion and trust breeds success.
When an individual feels weak, dependent, alienated and unwanted, it usually results in them leaving a team and that is usually the fault of a leader. But when a leader makes people feel strong and capable – like they can achieve the impossible – they often exceed expectations. Hence, when an individual feels like part of a team, you enable them to act. You in effect turn each individual into a leader and you inspire collective accountability. How does Mourinho enable others to act? “His [Sir Alex Ferguson’s] opinion is important to me, the same way so many legends love this club and they are in the pundits industry and every opinion will be important to me. I will try and learn from them.” No doubt he will be listening intently to the voices of his players too.
Finally, the last but by no means least important practice of exemplary leadership is to encourage the heart. Sometimes, it’s easy to give up. It’s easy to say you can’t do something, or you’re too tired or the task in hand is simply too hard. But the most successful leaders, even despite frustration, encourage you to keep on going. Making you feel appreciated, commending your efforts, caring about how you feel, showing genuine love for the hard work you put in – those are features of a great leader. These leaders create a culture of celebrating victories and values. When they celebrate a victory, they create a sense of collective identity and community spirit. They make the feeling of victory memorable and special, so when the times are dark and not going too well, they will make you remember. They will attempt to raise your quality by reminding you of what you have achieved and yet what you can still be. So these moments of celebration and happiness are not mere success stories to add to the CV, they are boosters for when the heart’s motivation is low. They remind the team of what happens when they put faith in their leader. They inspire courage.
How did Mourinho put it? “…I know the legacy, the history of this club [Manchester United], I know what the fans expect from me and I expect this challenge…I feel a bit frustrated I am not playing Champions League. I don’t hide, I chase Sir Alex’s record in the Champions League – for matches as a manager I am around 130 matches. Hopefully it is only one season I am not there. When I say ‘we’ obviously the club is more important than myself, Manchester United is more important than myself, and we have to make sure July 2017 this club is where it has to be – in the Champions League.” Mourinho inspires courage.
Ultimately, what underpins the five practices of exemplary leadership are the relationships that are created. The most successful leaders develop relationships – relationships between them and their team. And one of the reasons why Mourinho is successful is because of the strong relationships he has with his players. It has led world-class forwards like Zlatan Ibrahimovic – Mourinho’s recent transfer acquisition – to say “Mourinho would become a guy I was basically willing to die for.” Mourinho inspires a culture of trust, ownership, mutual respect and confidence. He’s irritated by fear, distrust, misdirection or putting yourself above the team or club. Yet Mourinho’s success is not unrepeatable for the ordinary individual.
Modelling the way, inspiring a shared vision, challenging a process, enabling others to act and encouraging the heart are not impossible tasks. For Mourinho, he has been able to master the art of leadership because his ambitions are clear: he wants to win and he wants to be successful. Do you want to win? Do you want to be successful? Are you ambitious? Can you be the special one?