Why was Alex Ferguson so successful??

So we recognise that Alex has been an inspirational leader in the football world for the past 30 years or more, winning numerous titles with Aberdeen and Manchester United. So many managers have come and gone in this time, many unsuccessful. So is there something that Ferguson happens to be good at? While he may not have realised the strength of its impact, his leadership had a direct impact on the reactions and performance levels of his players.

Sir Alex

Transformational leadership has been proven scientifically to be the best and most effective type of leadership across business, education and sport. Transformational Leadership is known to empower rather than control followers (Kenungo and Mendonco, 1998). Such leaders inspire, develop and challenge followers (Yukl, 2006) by acting as role models, showing concern for followers and transcending their own self interest for the overall betterment of the group. Such leaders are known to inspire, through formulating a vision, challenging followers to reach realistic goals, encouraging ownership and involvement by stimulating them intellectually to solve old problems in new ways. Such leadership has been shown to be associated with increases in motivation and performance (Charbonneau, Barling & Kelloway, 2001; Ruwold 2006) and group cohesion (Callow, Smith, Hardy, Arthur & Hardy 2009).

A scientifically validated measure (Transformation Leadership Inventory for Sport (DTLI), Callow et al, (2009)) identifies seven leadership behaviours that help performance, six of which are considered transformational in nature. These behaviours typify best practice in sports leadership.

Inspirational Motivation (where leaders inspire followers with their vision for the future), He set the standards for those to follow. He revolutionised the youth system at Man Utd with huge expectations regarding fitness and skill development – so much so that in the early nineties he was able to bring in the likes of David Beckham, Gary Neville, Nicky Butt, Paul Scholes and Ben Thornley straight from the youth team. The following year he could add the likes of Phil Neville and Keith Gillespie.

Fostering Acceptance of Group Goals (where leaders incorporate followers in the devising of, accepting of and striving towards a common agreed goal), He would have engaged hugely with some of the senior players throughout his career. Without knowing what went on inside the squad, it was obvious that they were a very driven bunch of players. That wouldnt happen on such a continuous basis without the players being an integral part in the divising of group goals and expectations.

Individual Consideration (where leaders show concern for followers individualistic needs), Intellectual Stimulation (where leaders challenge followers to assess their methods and how to improve them). While it was mentioned that the drinkers were weeded out, he was still able to identify that Bryan Robson was a real leader on the pitch and one he could not do without in his earlier years at the club. While there was one rule for the majority, he could identify that he needed Robson more than he needed to weed him out for drinking.

High Performance Expectations (where leaders promote excellence and performance criteria for followers in the attainment of set goals) Alex would have set out a level of expectation regarding performance. He did this initially by weeding out the majority of the drinkers at the club, while giving a successful youth development programme graduates their chance to shine.

Intellectual Stimulation (where coach challenges players to assess their methods and how to improve them) Little do we know about the interactions between Alex and his players but there was a tendency for players to improve when they went to Man Utd at that period of time.

Appropriate Role Modelling (where leaders lead by example in the way they conduct themselves and live their lives in the manner that they would like their followers to do). Alex was well know at the time for participating in some of the sessions on the training field. He kept himself in good condition physically and as Gary Neville recently alluded to, he was always very personable, whether you were on the team, a youth team player or a tea lady at the training ground.

It also includes one transactional behaviour, where leaders trade praise or recognition for desirable behaviours.

Contingent Reward Leadership (where leaders trade praise or recognition for desirable behaviours)

Alex was well known for praising his players and never dissed them in public. He obviously was able to get the most from his players as it always appeared that players careers went downhill once they left Man Utd at the time.

So basically, Alex has mastered these behaviours of his own accord. In my opinion, others also appear to have these credentials and in Pep Guadiola, Bayern Munich would appear to have recruited someone with a huge record. He had that management nous and mastery and had previously shown it at Barcelona where players responded to his methods to become one of the greatest football teams of all time.

In the GAA world, the intercounty managerial merry go round, borne of player unrest and unhappiness is a clear indication of poor managerial acumen among many inter county managers. More successful managers (Mickey Harte, Pat Gilroy, Liam Sheedy, Jim Gavin and Jim McGuinness) have been proven to be very influential managers and have been very successful recently. It would be generally accepted that they would also have adhered to these leadership characteristics during their time in charge.

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