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Leading

Timeless lessons from the greatest manager of all time

By Alex Ferguson, Michael Moritz
10-minute read
Audio available
Leading by Alex Ferguson, Michael Moritz

In Leading (2015), one of the world’s most celebrated soccer coaches shares lessons he learned about teamwork, leadership and incredible athletic performance. His observations and experiences provide timeless insights into success in the sporting world and beyond.

  • Anyone interested in Manchester United’s success under Ferguson
  • Team leaders, managers and coaches curious about Ferguson’s leadership style
  • Anyone interested in how to maintain success

Sir Alex Ferguson is the former manager of British soccer team Manchester United. He is considered the most successful British manager of all time, having won 49 trophies, including titles from the FA Cup, the Premier League and the Champions League. Today, Ferguson is a fellow of the Executive Education program at Harvard Business School.

Michael Moritz is a venture capitalist and the author of The Little Kingdom.


© Image Sir Alex Ferguson: Flickr (Nathan Congleton)

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Leading

By Alex Ferguson, Michael Moritz
  • Read in 10 minutes
  • Audio & text available
  • Contains 6 key ideas
Leading by Alex Ferguson, Michael Moritz
Synopsis

In Leading (2015), one of the world’s most celebrated soccer coaches shares lessons he learned about teamwork, leadership and incredible athletic performance. His observations and experiences provide timeless insights into success in the sporting world and beyond.

Key idea 1 of 6

Coaches must constantly listen and observe.

We’ve got two ears and two eyes – but just one mouth. Is it a coincidence, or should we be listening and observing twice as much as we talk?

The truth is that listening always pays off. It is a great opportunity to learn new and useful things – coach Alex Ferguson can attest to this. Ferguson knows the value of listening and knows it well. Just by listening, he picked up some tips and tricks that have served him for a lifetime.

For example, Notts County manager Jimmy Sirrel once mentioned to Ferguson that he was always careful to make sure that player’s contracts never expired around the same time. This helped prevent collusion against the manager and the club. Ferguson has kept that gem of wisdom to this day.

Like listening, learning to observe well will also give you an edge. This is something Ferguson discovered when his assistant manager Archie Knox suggested that, rather than running his training sessions, he should sit back and watch them.

This turned out to be a turning point in Ferguson’s coaching career. When coaching right alongside his players, Ferguson’s focus would be on the ball. By stepping back and observing his players train from a distance, the details of their performance were less visible. However, the overall patterns of their behavior, attitudes and energy levels suddenly became clear.

Still, focusing on the details can be helpful, too. As the saying goes: know your enemy. Ferguson developed a system of closely watching and analyzing footage of opposing teams before a match.

This strategy is what helped Ferguson’s team win the 1999 Champions League Final against Bayern Munich. Based on the analysis and information he’d gleaned from the footage, he was able to predict Munich’s two substitutions late in the game. He zoomed in on the details and zoomed out to the broader picture, demonstrating that flexible observational skills are indispensable for any manager.

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