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What are the Lessons from the Leicester City FC Success?

By Jon Sawyer on 12/05/2016 - 2 Comments

The recent rise to super stardom of Leicester City has surprised everyone from football pundits to commentators. The small club who clawed their way to survival last season have now taken on the big ‘major’ clubs, and have won the Premier League title with points still in the bag. Who would have predicted this? Certainly not the bookies with some early speculators on a Leicester win are now enjoying their winnings of 5,000/1 quoted by Ladbrokes on the first day of the season. Ladbrokes even offered lower odds on the following events occurring:

Part of the key to unlocking the potential has been in the inspirational manager who quietly, but confidently took upon himself the job of turning around an ailing brand. Once the euphoria is over, is it any surprise that Leicester City have won, and what business lessons can we take from it? More importantly in the beautiful game, is it possible to replicate this success with other sides?

1: You can’t always buy your way to success

There is no secret to the fact that the feature of high achieving clubs in Europe is their high spend. Real Madrid continue to dominate the Champions League. It is 21 years since any team other than Arsenal, Chelsea, Manchester City or Manchester United won the Premier League. The top high spending clubs have exerted a hold over the major trophies around the world.

The notable exception was Nottingham Forrest in 1977/78 winning the First Division title and going on to win the European Cup in 1979 and 1980. They were like Leicester, a little known side with very few ‘big names’.

Both Clough and Ranieri were able to pull together a great squad of motivated players, all striving to help each other for the good of the team. Ranieri has already stated if players are enticed by big financial offers then they should go in the close season as what he wants is ‘happy players’.

So whilst money may help, it certainly isn’t everything. Faced with the fact that buying your way to building a world class team does not guarantee success, then time may now be right to focus on how to get the most out of what you have already.

2: Get the right people on the bus

Jim Collins (Good to Great) identified this as a necessary element toward achieving success. Get good quality staff around you. This doesn’t mean that you will need all the answers. Good team members will share the vision and mission of the business and will strive toward achieving this.

When Ranieri joined Leicester, he kept all the key management staff in place, and added to the team his colleague Paulo Benetti.
It is often said that the stars of the future are often located within the existing business. It is just that great managers help them to shine. Who would have thought that Jamie Vardy at the age of 29 would be one of the leading goal scorers in the Premier League. Ranieri and Benetti just provided the freedom and scope for the players to break through to the next level. The lessons that can be applied in business are more that evident.

3. Create the right culture

This is always key to unlocking the potential in any management scenario and football is no different. Sports pundits have all commented on how approachable and friendly Ranieri has been. He has been described as an incredibly likable man. Contrast this against approaches by well-known football managers who have led with a more aggressive style. It is this approach that has filtered through to the players as they play without fear or inhibitions. They play to attack and do not fear losing the ball.

Making players feel comfortable even at the risk of making mistakes is a cornerstone of good management. One of the greatest inhibitors to growth can often be the fact that business owners find it difficult to let go and delegate. They fear that in doing so, they run the risk of big and expensive mistakes. However, taking the Ranieri example, it is good to give players freedom. If they make mistakes this is all part of the learning experience that helps them become more experienced in their work roles.

4: Constantly review progress.

As Stephen Covey (7 Habits of Highly Effective People) would say, ‘Start with the end in mind’! From the start of the season, Leicester became well known for their attacking style, but this was at a cost of conceding quite a few goals. With half the season to go, Ranieri changed his approach and ensured the defence would not concede goals, and consequently the side has had 9 clean sheets since January.

It is all about getting the right strategy complementing the right tactics and getting the teams understanding to follow this through. By constantly reviewing challenges, constant adjustments can be made to direction to ensure the business goals remain on track.

5: Create the right incentives

As a means of encouraging a sense of shared purpose, Ranieri would often set a team incentive of all going out for a pizza in the event the team kept a clean sheet. In March he allowed them all a week’s holiday, and to travel anywhere they wanted in the world. In such situations there was little abuse, the team were all trusted to keep their fitness levels high.

6: Have fun!

One of the memories of the way in which Ranieri has managed his team is by having fun. All the players and staff seem to reflect this approach when interviewed. This is all key to ensuring people can handle the pressure of situations in which they are placed. Giving them confidence, yet giving them the environment to have fun does provide the conditions for achievement.

It is universally acknowledged that Leicester’s success has been a breath of fresh air for football. Long may this continue and hopefully lessons be learned to be transferred into other areas such as management of business.

We should all take time out to enjoy the success but to reflect on what works and what doesn’t and make appropriate changes.

Good luck.

Jon Sawyer, May 2016

There are 2 comments for this entry. Leave your comment below >>

Roy Wallis - May/26/2016

obvious and yet useful.


Steve Burgin - June/02/2016

True Roy,

How many “obvious” things are missed by many business owners, especially in their own business?



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