10 Leadership Lessons: Moyes, Ferguson and The Salvation Army

26 Apr


Alex Ferguson in my opinion was the greatest football manager there has ever been. He was Manchester United manager for 26 years winning 38 trophies including 13 Premier League titles and 2 European Cups. But his successor David Moyes was sacked this week after only 10 months in the job.

As Manchester United search for the new ‘chosen one’ the transition from Ferguson to Moyes has got me thinking about leadership particularly when you follow someone who has done so well.

So I have come up with 10 lessons I think we can learn about leadership.

1)   Succession Planning is vital when a departing leader is successful

Moyes was picked by Alex Ferguson to be his successor and you could see why as he appeared to be almost made in Ferguson’s image!

The Salvation Army has a much greater capacity for succession planning with local leadership positions than with the officers who run corps (churches). This is because officers are normally appointed from service elsewhere in the organisation rather from within a certain corps or department. However, I believe succession planning should be given more consideration when a departing leader has been successful over a long period of time.

2)   Give the successor time

Ferguson’s lengthy tenure as manager was always going to impact the early years of his successors tenure. I respect Manchester United’s leadership succession strategy but wish they had stayed true to their original beliefs and given Moyes more time.

It is the same in The Salvation Army and maybe where you work. Even when people expect results immediately people need time. I have heard time and time again in my training that often it is not until the 4th or 5th year of an appointment that things really start. I appreciate that this might be too long in other spheres of life but remember Alex Ferguson’s first trophy for Manchester United came after 4 years!

3)   Be careful what you change

When taking up leadership Moyes changed some of the key backroom staff. If his previous successor had left after a period of inertia then fair play, change the staff, but because the club had just won the league then maybe he should have kept them on. Why fix what is not broken? Furthermore, the club also lost their Chief Executive at the same time as Alex Ferguson.

If we focus on a successor alone without considering other changes that are taking place within the management team this will provide an incomplete picture of the subsequent effect on the performance of the organisation.

Again there may be reasons for ringing the changes in a workplace, but after a long period of success the philosophy does not need changing. The foundation is there so be careful what you change.

4)   What you do change needs to work and make sense

Moyes only made one signing in his first summer and it was not one that improved the squad in my opinion. He did not get the other star players he wanted.

Knowing what to change when you take over leadership must be a difficult task. I think it all depends on what kind of circumstances you take over from but the things you do change need to make sense.

5)   Responsibility lies with players/members too

While Moyes ultimately takes responsibility for the team, I think the Manchester United team need to also. They did not play well; made far too many individual mistakes and really only their goalkeeper improved his game this season.

I believe The Salvation Army is only as strong as its membership. The Salvation Army is known for many things such as ‘Faith in action’ and ‘Christianity with its sleeves rolled up’. However, we are not known for incisive thinking, academic ability and for developing members and leaders in a strong ‘thinking culture’. I am not suggesting we all become intellectuals and know all the theories but we need a vibrant ‘thinking culture’ across the whole movement so we can engage with God’s word and the challenges in the world. This is not just down to leaders.

6)   The role of luck

I think Moyes has been unlucky with injuries and crucial game changing moments this season. That extra bit of luck might have saved him his job.

Although I do not believe in ‘luck’ per se the successor does need a period without things persistently stopping their leadership momentum. There will be things we can control and things we cannot. Some people believe in fate and many Christians have a strong belief in the providence of God. However, I believe chance is at work in our world but it is not the all that is at work in our world. Maybe I will come back to that topic one day!

7)   The importance of Sabbath or rest

Manchester United and Bayern Munich both had manager changes after successful trophy winning seasons. Bayern Munich not only got a manager who had experience at winning at the highest level but they also got a manager who had just taken a year off resting. He came in fresh and won the league for Bayern in record time.

Salvation Army officers all too often burn as it is not a 9-5 job, it is a lifestyle. Interestingly too, it is compulsory for Methodist ministers to have a 3 month sabbatical every 7 years. Salvation Army officers are allowed to apply for a sabbatical, but it only available once you have served for at least 15 years. Maybe that is something that can be improved.

8)   Vision needs to be clear

Ryan Giggs, the new caretaker manger of Manchester United, has outlined the vision of how he wants the team to play; with passion, speed, courage, imagination, a strong work ethic and to put the smiles back on the fans faces. Incidentally this encapsulates the philosophy of the team from the last 20 years bar this year.

While I think organisations need a vision, my feeling is that values are every bit as important. However, people need to buy into the vision/values and therefore it is crucial that the vision is not chosen merely because it matches the leaders strengths.

9)   Grooming potential leaders

One thing Moyes did do was he appointed two of ‘Fergie’s fledglings’ Ryan Giggs and Phil Neville to the coaching staff. I think it is great that leaders come through the system. Grooming potential leaders is a process that takes years and needs to be planned for.

I think the challenge for The Salvation Army is to bring through leaders in an environment that encourages differences of opinion. Unless we want to develop ‘yes men and women’ we need to give future leadership room to engage with decision-making.

10)  Supporting the leader

The Manchester United fans never stopped supporting their team when they could have turned on them.

Organisations such as The Salvation Army and the leaders within it need all the support they can get. Many people and organisations support us in our work. But internally when the going gets tough people need to rally around their leader although inevitably every situation will have its own merits for how long this is the right thing to do.









4 Responses to “10 Leadership Lessons: Moyes, Ferguson and The Salvation Army”

  1. Didi at 6:02 pm #

    Excellent read and plenty to engage with.

  2. mcordner at 9:07 pm #

    Not sure who the author is but these are good thoughts – thanks for sharing. Church leadership has taught me that when there is alignment of vision and motive between the ‘team’ (members), ‘manager’ (officer/local officer) and ‘club’ (movement), then God’s Spirit can truly break free.

  3. mcordner at 9:16 pm #

    Sorry if you get this twice… I posted and it didn’t appear 😦

    These are good thoughts – thanks for sharing. Church leadership has taught me that when there is alignment of vision and motive between the ‘team’ (members), ‘manager’ (officer/local officers) and ‘club’ (movement), God’s Sprit can truly break free.

  4. Themba at 7:42 pm #

    Thank this is a good lesson for us as the Army of today

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