News Flash: Humiliation Ineffective as Motivational Tool

Posted on 15th August, 2015 in Leadership

I presented some time ago at an event for the League Managers Association (football for the non-sporty types and soccer for the non-native speakers in the US) at which I was sat next to Gordon Strachan (Scotland Manager for the English…).  Now in spite of a lasting memory of Kevin Keegan waving to me personally – he really did, I promise – as I sat on my Dad’s shoulders as a 7 year old for one of Liverpool’s many victory parades in the old days when they used to win things, I am not the most passionate football fan.  However I like mastery in any field and am quite interested in the dynamics between the managers in particular.  At the event, there was an interesting dialogue on the platform about managing bad (player) behaviour.  Personally I have always found that the blind loyalty displayed by some managers to their players defies belief and actually undermines their own credibility.

Strachan proved to be quite insightful on the issue.  He described to me a working week building up to the emotional cauldron of match day.  Dependent on the venue, there might be anything from 25,000 to 80,000 fans in the stadium, with a significant number directing real venom at you.  Your team loses and in the process one of your players does something which is unlikely to play well in the court of media scrutiny and public opinion.  You leave the pitch with your emotions all over the place, more abuse comes at you, and you’re already starting to process how you will deal with the player incident.  The first thing that happens is that 90 seconds later, a TV reporter thrusts a microphone at you for an interview.  And while you are doing the interview, you know that all the players, who work for you, and who you will be joining in 3 minutes, are watching on close circuit TV from the dressing room.  You basically want to get the interview over asap, not say anything contentious which will inflame things, display loyalty to your player and then rip his head off behind closed doors.  You do your dirty washing in private.

Unfortunately Jose Mourinho was off school sick during the week of the dirty washing lesson.  Never one to let the facts get in the way of an opportunity to blame somebody else for something, Mourinho recently publicly ostracised his team doctor for treating an injured player, apparently after being requested to do so by the referee to do so (the treatment, not the ‘roasting’).  In the post-match analysis, armed with extensive data, TV coverage and his own recollection of the match, Mourinho appears to have reached the conclusion that failing to score more goals than Swansea City in the preceding 92 minutes was a less significant factor in the final result than the doctor treating a player in the third minute of injury time.  Now the ability to connect cause and effect is rarely more than an imprecise science, but on this basis, it may be rash to discount the effect of butterflies flapping their wings in China.

You can’t argue with success and the consistency of Mourinho’s track record marks him out as one of the managers of his generation, and it might still be relatively early in his managerial career.  He wields immense power in the game and at his club; he has nothing to prove.  I actually have no real opinion on the rights and wrongs of the doctor’s actions, or their impact on the game; it may be that Mourinho is perfectly justified in his opinion (oh and by the way, Elvis has been spotted on the moon).  Even if that is true though, why would you not deal with the issue behind closed doors?  Why would you deliberately set out to humiliate one of your support team and employees in public?  I have no answer to any of the above but I do know that true leadership is about others choosing to follow you which in turn is largely about the values and behaviours which you demonstrate.  I didn’t see a line of doctors begging for a job outside Stamford Bridge this morning.

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