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Thursday, November 21, 2013


I came across the following article written by Anita Elberse for the Harvard Business Review.  These are just a few excerpts of well-written length article on Sir Alex Ferguson who for 26 seasons as the manager of the Manchester United soccer club.  In that span his teams won 13 English titles and 25 other championships.  As Elberse opened her article, "Some call him the greatest coach in history."

Here are some of the excerpts of the story:

Winning a game is only a short-term gain-you can lose the next game. Building a club brings stability and consistency. You don’t ever want to take your eyes off the first team, but our youth development efforts ended up leading to our many successes in the 1990’s and early 2000’s.
I always take great pride in seeing younger players develop. The job of a manager, like that of a teacher, is to inspire people to be better. Give them better technical skills, make them winnners, make them better people, and they can go anywhere in life. When you give young people a chance, you not only create a longer life span for the team, you also create loyalty. They will always remember that you were the manager who gave them their first opportunity. Once they know you are batting for them, they will accept your way. You’re really fostering a sense of family. If you give young people your attention and an opportunity to succeed, it is amazing how much they will surprise you.

Dare to Rebuild Your Team
Even in times of great success, Ferguson worked to rebuild his team.

“He’s never really looking at this moment, he’s always looking into the future,” Ryan Giggs told us. "Knowing what needs strengthening and what needs refreshing-he’s got that knack.”
Set High Standards and Hold Everyone to Them

Ferguson speaks passionately about wanting to instill values in his players. More than giving them technical skills, he wanted to inspire them to strive to do better and to never give up-in other words, to make them winners.
I had to lift players’ expectations. They should never give in. I said that to them all the time: “If you give in once, you’ll give in twice. “ And the work ethic and energy I had seemed to spread throughout the club. I used to be the first to arrive in the morning. In my later years, a lot of my staff members would already be there when I got in at 7 A.M. I think they understood why I came in early-they knew there was a job to be done. There was a feeling that “if he can do it, then I can do it.”

I constantly told my squad that working hard all your life is a talent. But I expected even more from the star players. I expected them to work even harder. I said, “You’ve got to show that you are the top players.” And they did. That’s why they are star players-they prepared to work harder. Superstars with ego are not the problem some people may think. They need to be winners, because that massages their egos, so they will do what it takes to win. I used to see [Cristiano] Ronaldo [one of the world’s top forwards, who now plays for Real Madrid], Beckham, Giggs, Scholes, and others out there practicing for hours. I’d have to chase them in. I’d be banging on the window saying, “We’ve got a game on Saturday.” But they wanted the time to practice. They realized that being a Manchester United player is not an easy job.
There are occasions when you have to ask yourself whether certain players are affecting the dressing-room atmosphere, the performance of the team, and your control of the players and staff. If they are, you have to cut the cord. There is absolutely no other way. It doesn’t matter if the person is the best player in the world. The long-term view of the club is more important than any individual, and the manager has to be the most important one in the club.

Why should I have gone to bed with doubts? I would wake up the next day and take the necessary steps to maintain discipline. It’s important to have confidence in yourself to make a decision and to move on once you have. It’s not about looking for adversity or for opportunities to prove power; it’s about having control and being authoritative when issues do arise.
Ferguson: No one likes to be criticized. Few people get better with criticism; most respond to encouragement instead. So I tried to give encouragement when I could. For a player-for any human being-there is nothing better than hearing “Well done.” Those are the two best words ever invented. You don’t need to use superlatives.

When their teams are behind late in the game, many managers will direct players to move forward, encouraging them to attack. Ferguson was both unusually aggressive and unusually systematic about his approach. He prepared his team to win. He had players regularly practice how they should play if a goal was needed with 10, five, or three minutes remaining. “We practice for when the going gets tough, so we know what it takes to be successful in those situations,” one of the United’s assistant coaches told us.
United practice sessions focused on repetition of skills and tactics. “We look at the training sessions as opportunities to learn and improve,” Ferguson said. “Sometimes the players might think, ‘Here we go again,’ but it helps us win.” There appears to be more  to this approach than just the common belief that winning teams are rooted in habits-that they can execute certain plays almost automatically. There is also an underlying signal that you are never quite satisfied with where you are and are constantly looking for ways to improve. This is how Ferguson put it: “The message is simple: We cannot sit still at this club.”

I think all my teams had perseverance-they never gave in. So I didn’t really need to worry about getting that message across. It’s a fantastic characteristic to have, and it is amazing to see what can happen in the dying seconds of a match.
One of the things I’ve done well over the years is manage change. I believe that you control change by accepting it. That also means having confidence in the people you hire. The minute staff members are employed, you have to trust that they are doing their jobs. If you micromanage and tell people what to do, there is no point in hiring them. The most important thing is to not stagnate. I said to David Gill a few years ago, “The only way we can keep players at Manchester United is if we have the best training ground in Europe.” That is when we kick-started the medical center. We can’t sit still.