The 2013/2014 football season has already seen 27 of the 92 football managers leave their posts, with the refrain “he’s lost the dressing room” often ringing in their ears.
What does “he’s lost the dressing room” mean and how do they manage to lose it?
When Ian Holloway left Crystal Palace by mutual consent in October 2013 he cited losing the dressing room as the main motive for ending his 11 month stint at the club. He is quoted as saying;
“I think we have tried to change too quickly. I didn’t value enough the spirit of the group [that got us up]. We changed to give us a chance to stay up but lost the spirit of the group. ”
Holloway acknowledges that he was unable to integrate new players into the squad successfully and that he also failed to “sell his vision” of where he wanted to take the club to his existing players. As a result when results started to go against them the lack of belief and trust in Holloway and his methods increased with motivation levels heading in the opposite direction.
Reading an article by the ex-Spurs player Rohan Ricketts a similar story emerges about how Glenn Hoddle lost the Spurs dressing room when he was manager there.
“Part of the problem was that he was such a good player – even long after he retired – and he expected everyone else to be able to do what he could. There was one time in training when we were working on free-kicks and he told one senior player, “If you can’t do this then I don’t know why you’re even playing football”.”
He goes on to say;
“It’s the players who have to work with the manager and if his ways are not going down well then you have to listen to them because 25 players don’t lie. Players and managers need a happy understanding – if not then something needs to be done.
On the pitch, there was no hiding the fact that Glenn had lost the dressing room. When players stop believing in their manager they look like they’re not trying hard enough – their minds appear to be elsewhere. They stop following instructions and don’t track back quick enough.”
With the Holloway and Hoddle examples it is clear it isn’t their football knowledge or skills that have led to them leaving their positions, Holloway will no doubt find himself at another club soon enough and Hoddle now earns his living sharing his expertise as a football pundit. Instead the issues appear to lie in their Leadership and communication skills.
They both have a vision of how football should be played, but it would appear that they struggled to engage their players to fully believe in this vision. When the team is winning everything is great, the real test comes when the team starts to encounter problems and they start losing.
Holloway himself talks about how he didn’t value his players enough and Ricketts also refers to the same issue with Hoddle, where he only valued a few players in the squad when he was at Wolves with him. If people don’t feel appreciated they will never give of their best.
Sam Allardyce had this to say about his players in 2009, when manager of Blackburn Rovers:
“I will make sure the players stick to the gameplan against Stoke next week. I will train them, we will practise all week and they need to listen – that’s all they need to do. That’s what they are paid to do. None of those guys are ever going to be as good as I am at what I do, because they are only players and I am the manager, so make sure you listen to me.”
He managed to keep them up that season, but was sacked the following season as results failed to improve. He is now at West Ham who are also struggling and is widely tipped to be the next manager to lose his job.
So how can managers avoid “losing the dressing room”?
In our coaching workshops we often ask people to identify the strengths of the inspirational Leaders they have worked for. The list produced usually includes the following:
- They listen to me
- They are approachable
- Honest and straight talking
- Have integrity
- Calm under pressure
- They love what they do
- Sense of humour
- They are interested in me and how I feel about situations
- Good communicators
This isn’t an exhaustive list, but what is interesting is that people invariably identify personal qualities that stand the Leaders apart from the average. Their level of expertise, specific skills and subject knowledge are rarely rated as among the most important attributes of the most inspirational leaders. Instead these leaders are interested in people and able to build strong relationships with those around them.
Strong relationships lead to high levels of trust amongst individuals and a shared belief in what they are trying to achieve. This allows a team to face up to tough times and work their way through them, as responsibility for success is shared across the board.
Perhaps if football managers focussed on developing these personal qualities they would last longer in their roles than the current average of two years!
If you were to ask 5 or 6 people whose opinions you value and trust, what they describe as your best qualities?
What would they say you need to do more of?
What would they say you need to stop doing?
What would you like them to say about you?