In the spirit of England cementing their place in the final of Euro 2020 last night and the ever-increasing appreciation for Gareth Southgate’s leadership qualities, we are exploring what it takes to become a successful leader.

We couldn’t think of a better role model for leadership than Gareth Southgate right now. He has won the hearts and minds not just amongst his young team, but right across the country. He doesn’t just leave us with records in English football history, he has opened our eyes to what leadership can be and increased the expectations we have of others in positions of authority.

"The standard of leaders in this country the past couple of years has been poor, looking at that man [Gareth Southgate], he’s everything a leader should be, respectful, humble, he tells the truth," Gary Neville said as England celebrated their defeat against Denmark in the Euro 2020 semi-finals.

As John Adair said: “It’s only when people start using the word leader about you that you, as it were, actually become a leader.”

We believe there isn’t one single formula, silver bullet or off-the-shelf package to create great leaders, however, Adair's model provides a great framework for leading under pressure and responsible for making a series of difficult decisions. The model suggests that the difference between successful leaders and those who fall short is the ability to balance getting the best out of their team, supporting and motivating people individually and still getting the job done successfully.

A great leader will have full control of the task, team, and individual (the three core elements of Adair’s Action-Centred Leadership model). Being able to successfully manage all of these aspects in unison will generate enhanced results, boost morale, and develop teams in terms of quality, confidence and productivity.

We focus on inspiring people to reach their full potential by learning the key skills and behaviours required to be an effective leader so that they can embrace and enhance their own individual leadership style and reach optimum levels of performance.

Gareth Southgate adopts many qualities that we believe represent an effective leader and he uses them wisely to maximise the team’s potential.

  • Team Ethos – Southgate values the importance of teamwork, togetherness and a shared sense of purpose; working to achieve a common goal without disregarding the needs of individuals within that team. He always uses the word ‘we’ in his post-match interviews rather than ‘I’ to show the success or failure was due to the whole team collectively and he has carefully crafted responses to media questions aimed at attributing blame or criticism on individuals. Interpersonal skills and building rapport with team members is key to being an effective leader, a squad mindset is built as the players feel valued through emotion and transparency.
  • Humility – Humility is a lack of arrogance; humanly being on the same level as others; openness to go on learning. Often, business leaders will accentuate their hierarchical level within the business and when leading they will be perceived as authoritarian. The misguided notion that the leader has to always be the smartest person in the room can result in new ideas being disregarded to the detriment of the team. Southgate has spoken regularly about his desire to go above and beyond to learn from winners in other sports (including the NFL, rugby and netball), the military and business to seek out marginal gains in performance through coaching, preparation and mentality.
  • Empowerment - Failure is a regular reality in business but the fear of failure can be devasting, especially in business. Team members feel hesitant about making controversial decisions that could potentially achieve great results because of the negative consequences on the other side of the coin. Southgate’s management style empowers and inspires players to start each game with a positive attitude and to enjoy themselves whilst on and off the pitch. Before last night’s game, he said he had reached the lowest point professionally personally and that failing faster and learning from it has caused the fear of failure to dissipate. To be a successful leader you must show your team that failure is a stepping-stone for learning and change and an essential part of sustained success in future.
  • Resilience – Works hand in hand with empowerment, if you’re able to adopt a growth mindset, then bouncing back from setbacks will be an easier task. Rather than getting overwhelmed or stressed at the thought of failure, use this time to collect and calmly look for a solution. After Denmark scored in the first half, the players looked overwhelmed and were rushing to equalise. Southgate showed his resilient management style and told the players to relax.
  • Courage – Leaders often have to make difficult decisions for the benefit of the team and the task at hand. Subbing out Jack Grealish in extra time of the semi-final match after bringing him on not long before and shifting to a defensive approach was a difficult decision to make but he recognised that the cost of losing was far greater and it was telling that Grealish appeared to accept the decision rather than take it personally; which comes back to the team ethos.
  • Transparency – Listening to individual opinions and needs and having open dialogue within your team will allow your employees to relate and feel more comfortable to raise issues to your attention. Leaders should have no ego’s; Southgate can be seen in regular discussions with coaches throughout the game and always joins the team huddle at halftime or at the end of the match to openly discuss with his team, whether that be praise or criticism.

Southgate’s leadership style is proving to have a wider impact, much bigger than football. Having a successful leader like Gareth Southgate is about building national pride and a community. He wrote in his ‘Dear England’ letter:

“There’s something I tell our players before every England game, and the reason that I repeat it is because I really believe it with all my heart. I tell them that when you go out there, in this shirt, you have the opportunity to produce moments that people will remember forever. You are a part of an experience that lasts in the collective consciousness of our country.”

Through a combination of several key leadership qualities, rather than just one, he has the ability to instil belief and build a national community, whilst removing an overriding sense of pressure that has haunted England teams since 1966. This contains lessons for any transformational business leader looking to make the change and build a collaborative culture.

GRA are the official outdoor leadership partner for the FA at St. George’s Park, home of the England national football teams. If you would like to develop your leadership performance, get in touch with us via the form below.