The World Cup is a monumental event, with football’s best players on the biggest stage and manager Gareth Southgate has the high-pressure job of leading the England team through the tournament towards success.
22 years after Southgate took that heart-breaking penalty that sent us home in the Euro ’96 semi-final, he is now leading the England team to victory under the close watch of 24 million people. Southgate has maintained his composure throughout the tournament so far and has created a different vibe around the team this year – a calm, cool, collaborative team that is media ready and commands respect.
So what can we learn from Southgate’s leadership style?
- Own it
In a recent BBC interview following the intense 2-hour game against Columbia which resulted in a penalty shoot-out, Southgate revealed that when he had the squad practicing penalties, he recreated the whole atmosphere from practicing the long walk from the half way line to the penalty spot to heckling and distraction. Using visualisation and simulation to focus on the psychology of this unique situation to help reveal and own their emotional state.
Southgate has also provided clarity to the players – working with them to ensure they fully understand their roles and clearly defining what is expected of them, leaving nothing to chance.
His preparation for the players (including for goalie, Pickford) was all about ‘owning the process’ to put them in control of the outcome rather than letting it overwhelm them and it paid off in spades.
- Draw on your experience
Southgate has a wealth of experience and is a credible and respected leader. He has well and truly been there, done it and got the video to prove it! He has worn the player’s shoes, understands the challenges and the emotions they will be experiencing. Having this deeper understanding of what each player goes through to perform, means he truly appreciates the hard work they are putting in.
This connection with the player’s situation gives his advice authority from a deeper place other than text book theories.
- Be human
“Football players are human too!” Often portrayed as megastars, we forget they have families and personal lives behind the mask of fame. This England squad is diverse, they are being embraced as people rather than just as performers. Witness Delph who left the tournament to return home for the birth of his third daughter and returned to play in the game against Sweden.
Southgate has put much importance on building the team up together, encouraging them to get to know each other allowing the players to relax, reveal their vulnerabilities and perform in a much more honest way together.
He has been very open about the journey he went through after missing that penalty 22 years ago, the counselling he underwent and how he overcame this and has used his own experience to appoint a management team who are all working to build a circle of safety for his team – a place that takes care of both the physical and emotional well-being of the players.
- Stay calm in the face of adversity
Southgate’s pragmatic and considered approach is characterised by measured and accountable responses with genuine pleasure and excitement for his team. He accepts the reality of each situation and is always looking ahead to what comes next.
He has taught the players that they will face difficulties and that it is okay to feel fear, doubt, frustration but alongside that they must manage their personal state and keep the situation under control rather than letting their emotions drive the situation and we’ve seen very few yellow cards held up against the squad as a result.
This team, these players are the authors of their own story on a phenomenal World Cup journey and along every step of the way they are writing history.
- Be present
It has been very evident that this team are truly connected with each other, they have bonded, they know each other and are 100% in the moment together.
In a recent interview, Southgate was asked why the team don’t have their mobile phones at the dinner table and if this was a rule he had enforced. He explained that the habit came off the back of a two day trip away where there was no phone signal, so meal times were spent talking and sharing stories and maintaining this habit meant the team continue to strengthen their relationships.
- Show compassion
Southgate has been there – he has felt the pain, the loss, the battle, the struggle, knowing that he gave it 100% and failed. England beat Columbia in a nail biting penalty shoot-out last week, and Southgate was seen consoling Columbias Mateus Uribe who was distraught at having missed the penalty which lost them the game.
Recognising the pain of others and showing compassion in the hours of glory as well as in defeat, shows strength, honour and a man who really does own the whole process.
Although Euro ’96 was an awful experience for Southgate, it has been the making of the manager that leads our team today – authentic, calm, considered, trusted and now, whatever the outcome tonight, well respected.