In discussing Monday’s derby game between Manchester United and Manchester City on the radio, the pundits were asked what was so special about Sir Alex Ferguson that has proved the over the last two decades to be the most successful manager in British football.
One of the answers was that he listens to his players, retaining the ability to engage with them individually. The point was also made that it was extremely rare for a United player to break ranks and speak out against either the club or Ferguson. Another notable feature of Ferguson’s dealings with his players is that he never criticizes individual players in public. Yes, when they play poorly he makes no bones about it and may say that they were poor in defence, or lacked cohesion but does not single out individual players. He does, however, single out individuals for praise when they have played well.
It is part of the respect that he has for his players. He has an extraordinary ability to manage a squad of highly paid, talented players, rotating them and at the same time manage their egos, while getting them to perform at their peak.
This is in stark contrast with some of the coaches and managers I’ve witnessed over the years in child and youth sports, where they are constantly directing their players, telling them what to do. They observe others who are directive, as do those in management positions at work and follow a model that may give the manager a feeling of control but is more of an inhibitor to creativity and high performance than an enabler.
Ferguson, on the other hand, often talks about allowing his team to go out and play, to be creative. If we want high performing teams we need to give them autonomy, allow them to play and praise our players when they achieve.