I believe a large part of my role at work is working with managers to help them communicate effectively. I strongly believe that, as a leader, getting your vision, values, and messages across are a vital, and often-neglected, skill. And, with my interest in sport, I’m always interested in the leadership communication strategies adopted by successful coaches.
The news today that Barnsley Football Club are to speak with Terry Butcher about their managerial vacancy reminded me again the importance of communication in leadership – it’s all about getting your message across.
In his playing days, Terry was a fearless defender who led by example. He famously saw England through a vital World Cup qualifying tie in Sweden despite having his shirt drenched with blood from a gashed head early in the match. But the most notable aspects of his early football management career were two fairly quick sackings, from Coventry and Sunderland. For all his ability to lead by example on the pitch, like many top class players, he couldn’t get his message across as a manager.
After leaving Sunderland in 1993, it was nine years until his next managerial appointment. In that time he did his coaching badges – I know, because I was on one of those courses1. It wasn’t always the done thing of elite players aspiring to become managers. One former England international told me he kept getting turned down for jobs because he hadn’t got his badges – but added that there was nothing a badge could give him that he hadn’t got from playing at the highest level, so why should he?
Well, here’s why. You may have all the ability in the world in your chosen profession. But, as a leader, you can’t do it all - you only succeed through the work of others, and one of the most important but elusive leadership qualities is being able to bring out the best in them. It's really hard, and I'm still learning how to be better at this.
Coaching badges aren’t the be-all-and-end-all. And Butcher had a forgettable spell at Brentford five years ago. But having built gradually towards a sustained period of relative success at Inverness Caledonian Thistle, I’m willing to bet that that experience (or other courses) have helped Terry to do better at getting his message across as a leader.
1 A funny aside from that course. In one session, Terry took a shot that went miles over the bar (those who saw him play will be smiling wryly now). Well, the ‘coach’ of this session stopped the game and told this former England captain and top flight manager to do it again, and this time keep his head over the ball - with exactly the same result. Over and over again. I still can’t work out who I was more embarrassed for. I wouldn’t have had the courage to tell him to do it again. But I’m pleased to say Terry took it in good grace and, from the short chats I had with him, seemed to be a lovely guy. If he goes to Barnsley, I hope he does well there.