Business development · 11 May 2016

How Leicester outfoxed its rivals – Five Claudio Ranieri leadership lessons

Leicester City
Leicester City’s triumph will attract questions from business about Claudio Ranieri’s management style

For more than 20 years, the same five football teams – Arsenal, Chelsea, Manchester United, Manchester City and Liverpool – have dominated the English Premier League.

The money, influence and support behind each of these global clubs has embedded them at the top of the table, in what has often looked like a permanent, unwavering status quo of power-sharing amongst English football’s elite.

Now suddenly, and extraordinarily, Leicester City has snatched the title away from the game’s monoliths. The team was crowned league champion on 2 May, having been 5,000/1 to win on the opening day of the season. In footballing terms, the club’s affable Italian manager, Claudio Ranieri, has turned water into wine.

Football fans will no doubt spend months deliberating how the wily Foxes managed to outwit their more achieved and experienced rivals.

Swift counter-attacking play, a steadfast defense and cool-headed discipline combined with moments of genius from individual players all contributed to success on the pitch, and it’ll be interesting to see how the tactics will carry the team in the Champions League next year.

But Leicester City’s triumph will also spark intrigue in the world of business, where strong management skills and leadership knowledge remain valuable commodities.

Management gurus are likely to jump on Ranieri’s leadership style in the same way to that of former Manchester United boss Alex Ferguson, who has lectured on leadership at Harvard Business School since retiring from the game.

So what are some of the lessons company owners and founders can take away from Ranieri’s glittering 2015/16 season?

(1) Celebrate and reward your staff’s achievements

One of the key turning points in Leicester’s season came after Ranieri took the entire team out for pizza after its first clean sheet. He encouraged players to live for the moment and enjoy each small success, knowing it would boost morale. Happy for his team to socialise together regularly, Ranieri acted in a mature way, trusting each player not to take advantage of his warm nature and understand that the team is more important than the individual.

(2) Lead authentically

Known in football to be a “nice guy”, Claudio Ranieri doesn’t apologise for having his own managerial style. Despite some received criticisms at the start of the season, he continued to lead with confidence, persevering with what he thought to be the right course of action. Such an attitude in turn breeds confidence in staff, and everyone at Leicester – from the grounds staff to the players – knew what to expect from Ranieri each day and trusted him.

(3) Be consistent

Each week, Ranieri picked roughly the same players, in the same positions, to start in his team. By keeping the same formation, and similar tactics, he was better able to pinpoint each player’s strengths and capitalise on them, increasing players’ confidence as the season went on. This was very different from his time managing Chelsea, where constant player rotation and adjusting his tactics earned Ranieri a reputation as “The Tinkerman”.

(4) Value collaboration

When Ranieri joined Leicester at the start of the season, he had no so-called “star” players on which to hang the team. But by getting to know each player and learning to recognise individual and collective strengths and weaknesses, the manager got the best out of everyone, creating a team greater than the sum of its parts. The attitude was reflected by the players themselves, who were able to put their individual wants and needs aside for the sake of the team.

(5) Stay positive

For the duration of the season, Ranieri did not get drawn into negative discussions about his team’s performance, staying on a simple, positive message. He understood that he could only work with what he had and could not change what he could not control – an infectious attitude that rubbed off on his players on the pitch.

Read on to find out about five other management gurus who can teach you a thing or two about starting out.

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ABOUT THE EXPERT

Fred Heritage is deputy editor at Business Advice. He has a BA in politics and international relations from the University of Kent and an MA in international conflict from Kings College London. He previously worked as a reporter at Global Trade Review magazine.

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