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Sunday, 13 August 2017

Do Humility And Kindness Win Football Matches? You Bet They Do!

A few days ago I stumbled across a tweet that really caught my imagination.  It was a verbatim transcript of an interview with Nicky Butt, one of the famed members of the Manchester United Class of ‘92.

Please note that this has not been edited in any way and is reproduced exactly as Nicky said it.

“People like Marcus (Rashford), Jess (Lingard) and Paul (Pogba), are people who know the system, who know the place inside out. These young players who come in for a lot of money might not know the club or the environment or the area so it’s up to those guys to incorporate them into United and instill those beliefs.

They need to be introducing them to Kath on Reception (at the Aon Training Complex) letting them know how long she’s been here at the club.  They have to know about how many players she’ sees come through those doors through the years and decades.  They need to recognise the laundry people, the canteen ladies,the chefs, the ground staff and security lads - they’re part of of our family and you need to say ‘good morning’ to them every single day.

When you come to United the players are the superstars and the ones everyone wants an autograph from but when you come into this building we’re all equal.  We all have a role and without one we don’t have a team.  Without those guys or the bus drivers, without the security guards and canteen staff there wouldn't be a football club.   It’s important for the players to let the new lads know what Manchester United is all about.”

I particularly liked the idea that three of the youngest players had become the leaders in passing down the culture of togetherness that results in the building of a true team, not just a group of talented individuals.

Some idiot commented that this showed humility, politeness and kindness but it had nothing to do with winning football matches.  How wrong can you be?

I commented that any business leader would do well to mark this interview and take a lesson from it.

People are not automata, they have feelings and active minds and it behoves everyone in a position of power to understand that message.

I recall the example of an alumnus of my Vistage CEO peer group telling me that every day he would go on to the factory floor and talk to the operatives. It wasn’t about business, rather about how were their families, did their daughter pass her exams, did he go fishing at the weekend and other apparent irrelevancies.

Of course, they were not irrelevancies; they were matters of importance to the individual and the leader took cognisance of that.

In fact he was able to devise a metric that demonstrated improved productivity as a consequence of his initiative.  It was proven when he delegated the task to another director and , lo and behold, productivity suffered.

I have long advocated this approach.  Leaders do not always realise how powerful is the message when they take time out to show their human side.

It doesn’t win football matches?  You can bet your last penny that if it didn’t Manchester United wouldn’t be continuing the culture that has become a watchword for the club.


Thank you Nicky Butt for that illuminating peek into the heart of a football club.  A great lesson for all of us.


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