Leaders can learn lessons from Ferguson

A  legend Sir Alex

A legend Sir Alex

By Shelina Begum

Leaders in all walks of life can learn a lot from Sir Alex’s legacy. Focus, determination, attention to detail and the ability to adapt and bounce back from setbacks are all key qualities that make the very best leaders stand out from the crowd. And there can be few better examples of that than Sir Alex in this region, if not the country.

Professor Chris Bones, of Manchester Business School, said the three key lessons leaders can learn from Sir Alex are:
1. Set the highest possible standards for yourself and for others’
2. Appoint good people around you and delegate responsibility as well as accountability
3. Learn from setbacks and mistakes and use them to make you better.

Prof Bones said it is rare for leaders in any walk of life to enjoy the longevity Sir Alex did – even if he did nearly get the sack back in 1989. Ironically one of the unique aspects of Manchester’s civic leadership is that there has been a continuity not seen in other cities. At the same time, however, even Manchester council chief executive Sir Howard Bernstein took the reins more than 12 years after Sir Alex did.

Prof Bones said: “In a world where leaders in all walks of life have increasingly short shelf-lives Sir Alex is the exception. “He is also the exception in knowing when to call it a day. “There’s always the temptation to hang on for one more ‘success’ and when what beckons is a future where whatever power and influence you have is exercised at home, many successful leaders stay on past their sell-by dates. Going at the top, when no-one is asking tough questions, is a great call.”

According to Prof Bones, fans need not worry that United will falter under a new boss. He added: “Great organisations where a team has delivered the results under the direction of great leader manage leadership transitions very well. “Sir Alex’s successor should not try to replicate his approach but be confident in their own style, abilities and decisions. MUFC will only suffer from this decision if its owners expect exactly the same approach. “Sir Alex, like any other great leader, cannot be imitated or replicated: but he can be followed by an equally effective person.”

There is something about that comeback against Bayern Munich that sums up Ferguson’s indomitable spirit. Such in his longevity even the bit-part players attract attention. The guy who held aloft a banner “Three years of excuses and it’s still crap – tara fergie” during a particularly painful home defeat to Crystal Palace in 1989, the man who raced onto the golf course four years later to tell the Scot he was a league champion.

Yet there is more to this complex character. Every day, he honours a long-standing commitment to let a couple of older chaps who used to attend training at the Cliff, to watch his squad go through their paces. The biggest club in the world, opening doors to two of their most devoted fans. Ferguson makes that happen.

When friends or acquaintances are ill or in need, he makes it his business to offer support when most others would not bother. He has offered advice to countless young managers trying to make their way in the game. Ferguson is not perfect, far from it. But who is? How could anyone be when they have been at the top of their profession for so long?

But it is impossible to remain unmoved by such a huge personality and such a complex character. Last Friday, it wasn’t enough for bottles of champagne to be left waiting for the media to use to toast United’s latest triumph; Ferguson had to pour them all out. Every last one.

My old boss was right. United may keep on winning. But it will never be the same.