A dozen trophies to his name, a successful career spanning 27 years, Sir Alex Ferguson is an expert when it comes to leadership, teamwork, and discipline. Co-authored by Michael Mortiz, Sir Alex Fergusson shares his wisdom, observations, and experiences in making Manchester United a trail-blazing team in his book, Leading (2015).

Though he had star players such as Cristiano Ronaldo, David Beckham, Wayne Rooney, and many more celebrated players on his side, yet, even with changing players over time, the team kept winning.

The book discusses his celebrated success in the world of sport and the world-class performance of his team. I can see 6 Pearls of Leadership Wisdom in this book:– 

  • The necessity of observation and listening skills
  • The importance of determination and discipline 
  • The value of planning for success
  • Knowing the strengths and weaknesses of your team 
  • The power of ‘being there’ for the team
  • Getting the best out of the teamLeading by Alex Ferguson 2015

1. The necessity of Observation and Listening Skills

Experience taught Fergusson that listening is one of the most important skills a leader should have. While being in charge and being the decision-maker, a leader should learn to listen to everyone in the team. The book shows the value of listening to learn new and useful things. A small titbit shared long ago by Notts County manager Jimmy Sirrel about having players contracts expiring at different times, Sir Alex Fergusson has used that knowledge to prevent collusion against the club.

Next on the list of essential skills, observation gives a leader an edge. When his assistant manager suggested that he watch the training sessions of the team from a distance rather than running the training sessions, he saw an unexpected outcome. He realized that though he could not pay attention to finer details, sitting back and observing enabled him to observe the players and their attitudes, patterns of behavior, and energy levels. 

2. The importance of Determination and Discipline

With the sheer mass of talent in the football world, competition is rife. To stay at the top of the competition, a leader, as well as the team, needs to be disciplined and determined to succeed. Ferguson was an extremely disciplined coach. He ensured that the team would strictly follow discipline not only where the game was concerned, but also regarding the dress code, jewelry, haircuts, etc. were concerned. 

Sir Alex also knew that determination and discipline go hand in hand. He pushed his players to be determined to reach their goals. Cristiano Ronaldo was determined to emerge as the best football player in the world. It was his determination that guided him to preserve discipline and achieve his goal.

3. Planning for Success

Planning and preparation accentuate determination and discipline. Beckham, Rooney, and Ronaldo would stay after practice to perfect their free kicks. It was this planning and preparation that enabled David Beckham to score his famous goal from the halfway line in 1996 against Wimbledon – a heavily practiced shot that the world thought to be a miracle!

Fergusson knew that he had to have good plans and preparation to foster good talent in the team. He structured the team so that they would work hard to get up the ladder to reach the squad. This helped players grow together and know each other’s moves extremely well.

4. Knowing the Strengths and Weaknesses of your team

Sir Alex would always maintain balance in the team. For example, his team always had a good mix of young blood as well as seasoned old players. Similarly, his team also comprised of creative and dependable players. This shows the value of team members having complementary skills as their strengths.

He would also avoid extremes in all aspects of managing his team. He learned from experience that placing extreme expectations on his players only worked to add pressure, leading to weaker performance in a tournament. He saw that consistency comes by knowing the strengths and weaknesses of the team and by avoiding tension caused by extremes.

5. The Power of ‘Being There’ for your Team

In one experience, after missing a few training sessions, he got feedback from his players that the energy levels were just not the same without their coach. This gave him an insight into how inspiring his presence was to his team. Over his many years, Ferguson was present at all but three of 1,500 games. 

6. Getting the Best Out of the Team

Like all good leaders, Sir Alex Ferguson used praise as a tool to improve performance. They support their people and ensure they have what they need to do their job well, and avoid criticizing them. They use praise to reinforce the right behaviors.

A leader should know what motivates the team to succeed and how to get the best out of them. Fergusson would always be careful while giving criticisms to his team after performances. He always waited for players to calm down after a match rather than immediately telling his players where they went wrong. Moreover, his criticisms were more encouragement to perform better. He believed that words as simple as ‘well done’ made a huge impact on the confidence of his players.

Valuable Learnings

Great leaders have a dynamic role in the performance and success of their team. They tap into the strengths of their players and complement their weaknesses by maintaining a balanced team. As a coach, Sir Alex Ferguson used tools such as observation, determination, discipline, and planning to make a successful team. And finally, a leader must always listen and be there for the team to get the best out of them. This book is informative and essential reading for any leader. And if you are a Manchester United fan, the stories in the book would be especially interesting for you.