In the Leicester City-coloured blue corner, Claudio Ranieri: the man who led the side to an astounding victory in the 2015-16 English football season, widely regarded by commentators as a sage-like foil to the hot-headed likes of Jose Mourinho. In the Labour-branded red corner, Jeremy Corbyn: victor of two leadership contests in as many years, including a “put up or shut up” effort last year that only consolidated his position at the top of the party.
Following Leicester’s inability to repeat the form they enjoyed last season, Ranieri has been summarily dismissed – his glory forgotten. Following a crushing defeat for Labour in last week’s Copeland by-election, Corbyn has signalled that he won’t budge – and let’s face it, there’s no one else who can budge him – despite interminably arctic relations with centrist Labour MPs. Anyone staring in confusion at the stark differences between these two tales could be forgiven for wondering: when is it really time for a leader to go? But that’s a red herring. Instead, we should focus on what their stories tell us about teamwork.
“A high-performance, elite-sport culture is much bigger than any individual leader,” says Kate Cooper, head of research, policy and standards at The Institute of Leadership & Management. “That’s the problem with football: clubs keep looking for this hero to come to the rescue – but players have their own culture and practices that one person cannot easily, or quickly, change. Another area where football clubs – and other organisations – fall down is they’ll make short-term decisions to get in a new leader who they think will save them from a dire future, but they never think about succession planning, or developing leadership skills in other staff. What you want is a strong bench.”
Corbyn’s story, meanwhile, highlights deeper parts of the same equation. “He was an excellent MP,” says Cooper, “but did he ever think he’d have to lead and manage the Labour Party? What he didn’t do was learn how to spearhead a group and collaborate, and get people to own and share a vision – I mean, real rookie errors. If he’d ever been put in charge of a McDonald’s for the first time, he’d have been put on a team-working skills course.”
This problem, she adds, blights many of the knowledge fields: “If you look at universities, deputy vice chancellors are all supposed to have international publishing records. Fine – they’ll be great academics. But when have they ever learned how to work collaboratively, or how to motivate and inspire? At The Institute, we believe that you learn how to be a leader – there’s no ‘leadership gene’. If you look at Malcolm Gladwell's 10,000 hours rule it shows that anyone who’s any good at anything has got that way because they’ve practised.”
For further thoughts on teamwork, check out these materials from the Institute