Have you ever noticed how some of the most controversial and divisive leaders are often the most effective? It’s not necessarily their goals that make them the Marmite of Humanity, it’s the method they use to go about achieving their goals. Sir William Wallace of Braveheart fame (amazing film, historically a little stretched to say the least) found himself at the head of the Scottish army and fought the English with a 1-0-1 record in major tournaments and the overwhelming winner in cross-border scrimmages. The one major defeat being handed to him by sloppy defending and an own goal in one of the original and most costly match rigging scandals in history. He made friends and enemies on his own side
As a Stevenage F.C. supporter, in the past we have had a great deal of debate among the fan-base regarding Graham Westley, all three times he was at the club. Even after he won promotion, left, and came back again there was still debate over whether we wanted him at the club. He led us to more silverware in just a few years than we could ever have dreamed of, and still the fan-base was divided. Although everyone hated us, we didn’t care. We were winning and Westley put unity at the top of his list of things we needed to be successful. No discussion on controversy is complete without a mention of the King of Marmite himself, Sir Alex Ferguson, who is in my mind the greatest manager of all time.
The list could be endless, good and bad. Stalin, Churchill, Hitler, Thatcher, Jesus, Lincoln, Obama, Trump and many others. They all share one thing – high levels of loyalty or opposition and an unwavering vision. Think about anyone who has been single-minded in an objective and try to find a universal opinion about them. There are even people who hate Mother Teresa, yes, I used the word hate. They are out there. But what is it that inspires people to fight harder for one person than they would another? Why are some leaders able to command loyalty while others are not? The answer is simple, and it is something that any coach at any level can implement. Create core values, create a brand, and stick to it, no matter what. OK, the answer is simple, implementing it not so much.
First we’ll look at creating a brand. Sir Alex would play on the fact that he would gain advantages, and “Fergietime” was not least of the mind-games he would play. In an interview on the BBC show Clare Balding Meets…, Ferguson had this to say:
“It gets across to the opponents and the referee, which is a little trick. The thing about the last 10-15 minutes of a game, particularly at Old Trafford, you’ve got 65,000 people there.”
“If you’re in that dressing room after the game and we’ve scored in the last minute, the electricity is unbelievable, they’re jumping on top of each other, hand-clapping, it’s a fantastic place to be.”
“Most important thing is that those fans are walking out of the stadium desperate to get down to the pub to talk about it, desperate to get home to tell their wife and their kids what happened at Old Trafford in the last minute of the game. And that’s my job, to get them home happy.”
He knew what he was doing – Fergietime was part of the game day experience when playing at Old Trafford, it became part of the brand. If you go back to the 90s and 00s when United were dominant there are many words, phrases, and events that can be associated with the club that build the brand.
When we build an identity in a brand we feel safe. We have created our in-group and we know that no matter what, we have each other’s back. This works well in sport. In fact, it works extremely well in sport. But this week we will look at how the brand is built, how it is maintained, and the dangers involved to society at large.
Here are the three takeaways for today:
1 – Big achievements are rarely accomplished by people who are overly concerned by the opinions of others. They are achieved by people who are focused on their vision and don’t waver.
2 – If you have big dreams and follow them, you will find opposition, whether it is justified or not.
3 – Never underestimate the power of emotion. Edward Bernays tapped into this and changed the world. Sir Alex Ferguson built a soccer empire on it.
The world is a very divided, and divisive place. Don’t be distracted, keep your focus on your goals and seek to achieve great things. If people are able to hate Mother Teresa, the rest of us are guaranteed to pick up a nemesis along the way, don’t let them steal your vision.