Five Business Lessons from the Leicester City Football Club Fairytale

Leicester City Football Club

Manageable goals work best

It’s easy to forget now that Leicester did not set out to win the League. When Claudio Ranieri took over as manager, to an overwhelmingly muted reaction, all he said he wanted was forty points. For a club hotly tipped to be relegated, survival was a laudable, possible goal. Then, once achieved, he wanted qualification for Europe, then Champions League, and only with a handful of games left, did he concede that, yes, winning was possible. To a business community used to the currency of ‘the vision’ it is worth remembering the motivational power of an incremental goal achieved and celebrated. What is your business’ equivalent of focusing on one game at a time?

Everyone is in the team

Footballers want to be on the pitch. Being left on the bench is often cause for sulkiness and a disruptive sense of haves and have nots. It has been noticeable, however, that everyone in the Leicester squad genuinely seems to consider themselves part of the team. It’s a testament both to the man management skills of Ranieri and the sense of collective endeavor that the success of the club seems to be all that matters to multi-million pound footballers who are often seen as the very byword of selfishness. It is easy in business to focus on the galacticos – the star salespeople, the high flying managers, the up-and-coming – whilst losing sight of the value of each member of the team. Aligning individual goals, throughout the business, with collective success and giving everyone a direct line of sight to a win, is essential.

Leaders absorb pressure

Those who remember Nigel Pearson, the previous Leicester manager, throttling one of his own players and cursing at spectators, will know that leaders feel pressure. Looking at Ranieri, though, you would hardly know it. At every turn, with every set back or poor referee decision, he has smiled, absorbed the pressure and calmly expressed confidence in the team. He is an excellent example of a leader who gives his people space and encouragement to perform, whilst maintaining their focus on the achievable goal. All whilst under the most intense of media spotlights. He has clearly concluded that transferring stress is counterproductive; a lesson for all managers.

Winners, not underdogs

When the (apparently) planned Hollywood film is made, the story will no doubt be told of the plucky underdogs, triumphing against the odds. It is a great story (although probably not a great film) but does it really reflect how those players actually felt? As the season progressed I imagine that they felt like winners, not underdogs. They scored goals, they won matches, they topped the table for weeks and weeks. They were proven to be excellent at what they do and this was reinforced every week. The sporting cliché that winning is a habit is something we should all embrace in businesses. Making sure that wins are related, reinforced and repeated through the workforce is an essential part of building success into the corporate DNA.

Success is transient

Finally, when the dust and heads clear, the question for Leicester will be “what next?” The new season will soon be upon us, players will come and go, other teams will improve, the dream will reset and Ranieri and his team will have to start again. As all businesses know, success breeds expectations. Shareholders, staff and customers all assume that it will be repeated or exceeded every year. There is little tolerance for a dip in performance and good will is fleeting. If the Leicester story teaches us anything, it is enjoy it while we can but not to take it for granted. There is always another game.

Nick Andrews

Senior Vice-President & Senior Partner at FleishmanHillard Fishburn