If you’re looking for a shot of inspiration on the change management front, you could do a lot worse than reflect upon the recent activities of Ole Gunnar Solskjær.
On 28 March, Premier League giants Manchester United confirmed that they had appointed Solskjær as permanent manager – bumping him up from the caretaker status he had enjoyed since 19 December last year and awarding him a three-year contract.
As a striker for the club from 1996 to his retirement in 2007, Solskjar chalked up 126 goals in 366 appearances. In 2008, he moved on to coach the Man U reserves team. Speaking to the press, he gave a sense of the awe he feels at the responsibility settling on his shoulders. “People talk about a dream job – in my case this is literally that,” he said. “I have always visualised myself as a possible Manchester United manager. Maybe it was a naive dream but it has always been my ultimate one and now I’m here I feel so honoured and privileged.” 
In an official statement, he added: “From the first day I arrived, I felt at home at this special club. It was an honour to be a Manchester United player, and then to start my coaching career here. The last few months have been a fantastic experience.” 
In that time, Man U recorded 14 victories and two draws across 19 games – in the process collecting more points than any other Premier League club.
Man U executive vice chairman Ed Woodward said: “Since coming in as caretaker manager in December, the results Ole has delivered speak for themselves. More than just performances and results, Ole brings a wealth of experience, both as a player and as a coach, coupled with a desire to give young players their chance and a deep understanding of the culture of the club … The fans and everyone at the club are behind him as he looks to take us where we need to be and build the next stage of our history.”
Solskjær’s effect upon Man U has been transformative, arriving on the heels of a tumultuous final chapter in the reign of Jose Mourinho: a fraught few months in which the club managed just seven wins in the first 17 games of the current season.
That period was typified by deteriorating relations between players and manager, with Mourinho making increasingly arrogant and defensive statements to the media as results worsened. Yet once Solskjær took the wheel, he won his first eight matches in charge.
If you are looking to enhance your leadership skills, what does it take to restore the flagging morale of a deflated organisation and bring its people along with you in a spirit of renewed optimism?
The Institute of Leadership & Management head of research, policy and standards Kate Cooper says: “There are two things that stand out from the Solskjær appointment. The first is that he is leading with his heart. His soul is rooted in Manchester United – or more specifically, the culture that Sir Alex Ferguson created of bringing in young players to keep the ranks fresh. That’s the culture he grew up in. He cares passionately about that club, its players and everyone who works there. And that will rub off on everyone around him.
“The second thing is very much that enthusiasm for ‘growing your own’, or seeking out young talent. If that’s your approach as a manager, then you will be bringing in people with the same passion, the same love for the organisation, as you have.”
Cooper notes: “Once you have those elements in place, the ethos of the organisation will be that everyone matters – a bit like that NASA analogy of the cleaner having a hand in putting a man on the moon. Everyone is working towards that goal of success, spurred on by the galvanising spirit of a true believer. Of course, all the training and nutritional requirements that are so integral to the football machine have to be correctly observed. But what a terrific foundation it is when everyone has a unified vision of the work that lies ahead.”
She adds: “The honesty and authenticity of Solskjær’s commitment to the club is proving very easy to rally around – and in turn, that’s helping everyone to raise their performance.”
For further insights on the themes raised in this blog, check out the Institute’s resources on authenticity
Image of Ole Gunnar Solskjær courtesy of Mitch Gunn, via Shutterstock