Leicester victory shows what it REALLY takes to be a team-focused “Special One”

A trophy has been hoisted, supporters have flocked to the streets, a mild-mannered manager (you mean there really is one?!) has been hailed a genius, and players who’ve mostly been named in our papers’ back pages are now getting some serious front-page coverage. Yes, Leicester City’s 5000-1 Premier League victory has shaken up the football scene a treat, swaying attention from the domineering likes of Chelsea FC, Manchester United and Arsenal in favour of something altogether fresher and more inspiring.

It’s as if football has had a makeover – and it’s the second year in a row that the sport has been graced with a fairytale in which grassroots passion has one-upped the big-brand, blue-chip mentality that lurks over the game. This time last year, south-coast scrappers AFC Bournemouth pulled off a feat that few could believe by winning promotion to the Premier League after climbing through the FA’s divisions over several years from rock bottom. In 2009, the then-bankrupt club was about to be hurled into the abyss of non-league football, after a points deduction to penalise its financial ruin plunged it to an abject minus-17.

Whether or not football’s your cup of tea, Leicester and Bournemouth’s stories are hugely instructive to the managerial mind. These odds-defying sagas force us to reconsider what our organisations are actually trying to achieve every day when our staff turn up to work – and, more importantly, urge us to ponder questions of who we hire, and how we inspire. As someone who has done a fair bit of coaching myself, I find them absolutely fascinating.

“Palpable discord”
For part of the key to Leicester’s glory, it’s helpful to look at a spiritual opposite. It’s no slur or exaggeration to say that football has its fair share of hotheads, and in the 2015-2016 season, former Chelsea FC manager Jose Mourinho proved to be firmly in that category.

The rot set in last August when the coach became embroiled in a dispute with Chelsea medic Eva Carneiro, after she and physio Jon Fearn had rushed to the pitch during a game with Swansea to treat injured midfielder Eden Hazard. In Mourinho’s view, their match-stopping intervention had occurred at a time when Chelsea had the advantage, and he accused Carneiro – who’d been with the club since 2009 – of showing “naivety”. Following his outburst, a war of words played out in the media, Carneiro left the club and legal action ensued. During the episode, Mourinho came across as an overbearing manager who prized a moment of play over the wellbeing of a player and the judgment of a specialist.

Mourinho’s season went downhill from there, and by December, he was forced to leave the club amid what was described as “palpable discord” between himself and his players. His win-at-all-costs, my-way-or-the-highway approach had ironically put him on a fast track down that very highway.

Fast forward to Sunday 1 May, and at the end of the 2-2 match between Chelsea and Tottenham Hotspur – the game that gifted Leicester with the Premier League title – ugly scenes broke out between each side’s players and support staff as the squads made their way back to their dressing rooms. With Tottenham unable to record a win, making it mathematically impossible for them to sneak the Premiership away from Leicester, and Chelsea mired in frustration from a season of underperformance, the gathering of bruised egos tripped a little too far. In a melee outside the dressing-room tunnel, Chelsea coach Guus Hiddink (Mourinho’s replacement) was sent flying to the floor.

Wheel of fortune
The performance-coaching tool Lumina Spark would have one or two interesting things to say about the glaring disparity between Leicester and Bournemouth on the one hand, and Chelsea, Man U, Arsenal and Tottenham on the other. As Inemmo Insights has explained before, Lumina Spark is built around the holistic view that personality traits are interweaved and interdependent. The idea is that you can make a journey from one set of traits to another, and Lumina Spark shows not only that it’s possible to acquire qualities you think are ‘opposite’ to the ones you have, but that opposing qualities already make up part of who you are.

As you can see from this sample of the Lumina Spark mandala…

Lumina Spark Effective Qualities FV

…those traits can be mapped on to a wheel of eight, major aspects of personality. Around the edge of the mandala above, you can see how those eight aspects can be expressed as a host of constructive, effective traits. But footballers who are regularly booked for fouls, get into on-pitch scuffles and generally embody the more challenging aspects of a ‘win-at-all-costs’ mindset are typically what we call overextended in the ‘Outcome Focused’ red-zone at the bottom-right.

As you can see from the next mandala, someone who overextends in the ‘Outcome Focused’ zone is likely to express a series of non-constructive, or ineffective, traits – from ‘Argumentative’ all the way round to ‘Seeks Conflict’.

Lumina Spark Ineffective Qualities

The same applies to the more, how shall we say, temperamental members of the game’s management community. But when there’s too much of this overextended behaviour flying around, a team can run into some critical issues.

Buying success?
One of the most important things I noticed when Inemmo sponsored a local youth football club, was that the lads who tried to emulate the nation’s most revered, headline-grabbing players often felt tremendous pressure to perform effectively – tending towards a very self-centred vision of the game. Extrapolated to mainstream football, that can translate into one of two, major setbacks. Either you have one or two players like that in a club, with very high wages, who feel the weight of scrutiny and then snap under the strain – or, you have an entire team of players in that mould who only think of themselves as individuals.

RanieriThose are the sort of sticking points that can stem from trying to ‘buy success’ – of thinking that just because you have enough money to throw at a specific, recurring problem, such as a weak defence, that acquiring hugely outcome-focused players with overextended, competitive instincts will automatically solve the problem.

The lessons for corporate managers here should be obvious. Many times, I’ve heard of organisations sending their top-flight decision makers away on team-building excursions, only for those people to return feeling that the whole exercise was a waste of time because everyone was trying to out-compete everyone else, instead of learning how to work together. That’s clearly something that Leicester City coach Claudio Ranieri – himself a former Chelsea manager – set out to avoid this season.

His campaign has never allowed ego to get in the way. Rather than having an overextended, Mourinho-style approach to competition, he has addressed the game in a manner that has been far more sober and level-headed – but no less committed. In a charming anecdote, he spent most of Sunday 1 May up to that crunch match between Tottenham and Chelsea having lunch in Italy with his 96-year-old mum. It’s an expression of humility that typifies his character. While his team was written off in the earliest chunk of the season, he kept a high degree of dressing-room morale going regardless. As well as serving as the thick skin between his players and that negative coverage, he galvanised them to ever-greater things – and as success drew nearer, he never lost an ounce of composure.

For a long time, Jose Mourinho has been called “the Special One”. But perhaps that title should be transferred to the man who clinched the trophy… and kept his cool.

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Image of Leicester City’s King Power Stadium courtesy of Pioeb, via Wikipedia

Image of Claudio Ranieri courtesy of Wetto, via Wikipedia

Authors: Joy Maitland and Matt Packer