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Crisis management: what can businesses learn from football’s top bosses?

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We speak to Pete Lowe, former head of education and performance management at Manchester City and founder of First Team Ltd, about what it takes to be a great leader in a crisis.

We’re only a few games into this fledgling Premier League season and already the buzzards are circling. While some teams are enjoying a rich vein of form off the back of some astute managerial hires (see Manchester City and Everton), others are finding that change, or in some cases a lack of change, has left them scrabbling for answers.

After a strong start, Manchester United players are already admitting that they are in the midst of a ‘mini crisis’. West Ham have found the grass isn’t greener, as ugly displays at their new London Stadium home have produced even uglier scenes in the stands. Both West Brom and Stoke have endured difficult starts, with some fans questioning their respective managers.

In a results driven business, crisis is always round the corner. Be it in sales or on the football pitch, a bad run of results can have a major effect on morale. 

With so much attention on failure at the highest level of the game, it takes an acknowledgement of the pressure to keep a cool head in lean times.

Pete Lowe, former head of education and performance management at Manchester City and founder of First Team Ltd believes focusing on controllable factors is the only way to deal with the scrutiny: “The media has a keen interest in football and when thing aren’t going right it makes great headlines. 

“Successful managers like Sir Alex Ferguson and Pep Guardiola recognise it’s their job to prepare their team to play football and not to get distracted. Another key lesson is understanding what you can and can’t control. The world’s top businesses are run by great leaders with strong values, and they don’t deviate from them.”

A core philosophy based on strong values is integral to leading in tough times. A leader must be able to embody these tenets, as abandoning them in times of strife allows for further discord in the group, exposing organisations to further scrutiny. 
Take clubs like Blackpool, Blackburn or Charlton Athletic. Devoid of a clear set of values at board level, the mood around the club becomes toxic when the team falls on hard times. 

Lowe added: “With talent comes responsibility and leaders need to recognise that they will be accountable. It’s not necessarily a case of ‘giving in’ to fans or shareholders, but being aware that you may come under pressure for your internal practices. We’re all infallible, but when we fall short of the vision then it’s about re-aligning and being accountable for our actions.”

When the vision isn’t met, the initial reaction both in in football and in business is often laying people off. However, more often than not, the organisations with a strong set of values are the ones that stick by their people, creating a consistent leadership culture that can stem the tide.

Lowe commented: “Football clubs aren’t solely about the team on the pitch, but everyone within that organisation – often those behind the scenes. While they are all affected by results, continual sweeping changes are destabilising.

“Ultimately, before making any major decisions you need to think about your intentions and ask yourself, is this for the long-term good of the organisation? This should be the criteria for taking action, whatever that might be.”


Tom Ritchie

By Tom Ritchie

Tom is an editorial assistant at Changeboard.

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