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Three things Gareth Southgate continues to teach us about leadership

Nearly. Very nearly. Huge congratulations to all for getting so far.

This week three years ago, Gareth Southgate steered the England team to fourth place in the 2018 World Cup, a position well ahead of expectations. At that time I wrote an article about three aspects of Gareth’s leadership that I believe we can all learn from.

His achievements in these last few weeks have only underlined the importance of these exact lessons to anyone who wants to be a better leader. A lot has happened in the world in the last three years, so I’ve updated the article with four questions aimed to help you grow even faster as a leader. Here we go.

We can all grow as leaders. It just takes practice.

I first met Gareth eight years ago when I was running a leadership programme for budding football managers at St George’s Park, the new centre of English Football Excellence. At that time, he was an up and coming manager and it wasn’t at all obvious that here was a future leader of the country’s football team. But it’s now clear that he has done what top leaders do; he has applied himself diligently to learning about leadership and in particular he has learned from his practice. The result is that he’s grown significantly as a leader. This is something we can all do.

Pause here and notice: how strongly have you applied yourself to growing yourself as a leader? How clear are you on what you’re practising to grow as a leader?

You don’t have to be extrovert or big and loud to be an effective leader.

In one interview I did about Gareth, I was asked whether coming across as ‘a nice guy’ was a plus or a negative. I replied that in the last 25 years, I’ve coached hundreds of leaders in all walks of life and can state categorically that becoming a successful leader does not depend on you having a certain kind of personality. Nor does it rely on having a high level of intelligence or you having to have people reporting to you. Don’t let any limiting thoughts of not being the right sort of person to lead hold you back from stepping forward as a leader. Rather, do what Gareth has done so well which is focus on building and flexing the three essential Leadership Muscles. Others like Marcus Rashford are not a bad role model to us all in this space too.

Leading is not about about personality; it’s about using your three Leadership Muscles to get three jobs done.

The team here have helped more than half a million people grow as leaders. And we’ve done this by helping them grow what we call the three essential Leadership Muscles: Future - Engage - Deliver. You have these muscles but may not be using them as best you can. This is how Gareth has used his to great effect.

When you’re in your leader mode, your thinking always starts in the future. You’re in touch with the future you most want and that picture energises you. You’re not held back by where you currently are. Gareth has been clear and strong on this. He wants certain kinds of player and team behaviours both on and off the field and he’s unambiguous about this.

How clear and energised are you about the future you want to create?

But it’s not enough just to have ideas about the future you want. You must also interact with others so that they want to come with you and help build that future. I call this being engaging and this is different to telling or talking at people! This is something a lot of football managers and others in leadership positions just don’t get. In contrast, Gareth has been outstanding here. He’s built relationships with each player; he’s talked but he’s listened too; he has each player feeling valued whether they play in the matches or not; this in turn has helped the players engage in and support each other; and the result is that this is the most relaxed and close group of English players anyone has seen possibly ever.

Notice. Do you talk at people or do you look to engage them?

But Gareth has not stopped here. He’s then helped his players deliver confidently. At the core of helping others deliver is the leader helping draw the best from each player and helping that best become even better. As any fan of football will tell you, this has not always happened for the England team. For decades, we have seen highly skilled players become nervous and fearful when they’ve pulled on the England shirt. Many have been aware of this and talked openly about it but have still been powerless to get back into being at their best. That is, until Gareth came along. He’s helped them take that relaxed air onto the pitch to help them play some of the finest and most confident football we’ve seen from the national team for ages.

How much is getting the best from others a front of mind activity for you?

So that’s what he’s done. He’s grown and flexed those essential Leadership Muscles, Future - Engage - Deliver. Don’t let anyone tell you that leadership is more complicated than that.

What do you notice about your Future, Engage and Deliver muscles and how might you grow them to help you and colleagues exceed all expectations?

Steve Radcliffe,

Leadership Expert

and Best-Selling Author

Steve Radcliffe is one of Europe’s top leadership experts. For the last 25 years, he and colleagues in Steve Radcliffe Associates have worked in all continents, partnering with over fifty CEO’s of global businesses like Unilever, GKN and Alliance Boots, major organisations in the fields of education, health and charities, and heads of the British Civil Service and other government departments. Organisation-wide programmes have focussed on using a common language for leadership to develop leaders at all levels, engage staff or shift culture all in the name of improving performance.

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