Manchester United (known as Man U, or just United) is one of the world’s best-known and most successful football clubs, a dominant force in English and European football for decades.
But two months ago it was looking like a tumbling, lethargic, vulnerable giant – in sixth position in the English Premier League, way behind arch-rivals Liverpool (in first place) and Chelsea (fourth).
Since then it has climbed to fourth in the Premier League and advanced to the quarter finals of both the FA Cup and the UEFA Champions League.Ian Langsdon/EPA
Mourinho, a professional coach and manager since 2000, was considered one of the best in the business. Appointed to manage United in 2016, he was expected to deliver football glory. But his tenure was mired by controversy, conflict and poor performance.
What is it about Solskjaer that has brought United’s resurgence? It’s a story of successful “identity leadership”, rallying a disengaged group of underperforming players into a cohesive and effective unit.
Our glory is more important than my glory
An effective leader advances the group’s goals over personal goals.
Solskjaer has shown he understands what he needs to do for United to win games and trophies. As the Norwegian explained in one press conference, his job “is to help the players and make them grasp the opportunity now because they all want to be part of Man United”.cristiano barni/ Shutterstock.com
“I’m going to be here to help them,” he said, “to help the team.”
He has humbly played down these achievements. When pronounced the English Premier League’s manager of the month in January, he was quick to attribute the award to the contribution of his coaching staff and players.
This is a stark contrast from his predecessor. Mourinho was often divisive and adversarial. Among Mourinho’s less endearing moments was when he reportedly stormed out of a press conference in August 2018 demanding more respect for his individual success as a coach.
True leaders always look to deflect the attention on them as individuals. They emphasise that they represent the group. They declare their commitment to serving, as Solskjaer has done, regardless of whether he gets hired permanently.
We are stronger together
An effective leader brings people together.
Solskjaer joined United at a time of turmoil and chaos. With positivity and exuberance, he has united the team with a collective cause. “I love working with good players,” he has said. “They are good people, the players. They want to learn. They want to improve.”Silvi Photo/Shutterstock.com
A true leader treats every person in their team as valuable, no matter what the person’s role. Solskjaer’s collaborative approach acknowledges that everyone contributes to the success of the group.
Which is to say, the group is greater than the sum of its parts.
An effective leader respects the identity of the group.
Solskjaer played for United for almost a decade, and was integral to the club’s golden era. He then spent a few years on the coaching staff. He knows what Manchester, the city, the club and the team, are about.
Mourinho, on the other hand, attempted to stamp his own brand of defensive football on the squad – a style of play described as stodgy and unstructured. In doing so, he disregarded the club’s identity and stymied the players’ natural strengths.
To be a great leader you don’t have to be most successful, intelligent, or even most competent person in the room. It is about how hard you work at managing a collective sense of “we” among the people in a group and respecting the values of this group.
Full disclosure: the author is a proud Manchester United supporter.
- ^ chanting (twitter.com)
- ^ sacking (www.bbc.com)
- ^ replacement (www.bbc.com)
- ^ The Solskjaer Effect (www.telegraph.co.uk)
- ^ surprise (www.espn.com.au)
- ^ trophies (www.theguardian.com)
- ^ press conference (www.youtube.com)
- ^ records (talksport.com)
- ^ manager of the month (www.premierleague.com)
- ^ stormed out of a press conference (www.skysports.com)
- ^ Is there a way back for José Mourinho? As a sport psychologist, I see a hard road ahead (theconversation.com)
- ^ has done (www.dailymail.co.uk)
- ^ he has said (www.youtube.com)
- ^ learning experience (www.independent.co.uk)
- ^ confidence in his players (au.eurosport.com)
- ^ chastising them in public (www.goal.com)
- ^ collaborative (www.forbes.com)
- ^ golden era (www.bbc.com)
- ^ attacking (www.skysports.com)
- ^ stodgy and unstructured (www.theguardian.com)
- ^ identity leadership (books.google.com.au)
- ^ psychological science research (onlinelibrary.wiley.com)
- ^ Leaders only inspire when we feel part of their group (theconversation.com)
Authors: Mazlan Maskor, PhD and Master of Organisational Psychology Candidate | Leadership Science, The University of Queensland