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10 lessons we can learn from Gareth Southgate’s Leadership Style

It’s not easy to find leadership role models when you look around public life but there is one that stands out this summer: Gareth Southgate. His style, approach and thoughtfulness as a leader has led to sustainable results on the pitch as well as a positive impact off it. The Euros 2020 and the Three Lions are just some of the teams and sporting events at the forefront of our priorities, but hopefully it’s the home nations’s England Football Team that bring it home for us all. Find out what you can learn from England Manager, Gareth Southgate’s leadership style in 10 simple lessons.

He teaches us 10 brilliant lessons in sustainable, credible and effective leadership:

  • Leadership matters off the pitch as much as on it: it’s who you are behind the scenes that counts as much as who you are in the heat of action.
  • As a leader, you have a voice and therefore an opportunity and choice to make to use that in support of others who don’t: Southgate recognises that young people look up to the England team and so they have a social responsibility to behave on and off and the pitch in a way that promotes strong values and integrity.
  • Whether it’s sport, business or education, if you’re a leader then you have the opportunity to show that there are some things that transcend whatever business we’re in – we all have a role to play in proactively creating a more inclusive and fairer society.
  • Humility is everything: even though you have a job that has been described as harder and higher profile than the Prime Minister, Southgate remains humble about himself and never lets his job title define who he is.
  • There is no place for an ego if you want to do a good job and support a team performance – none of us can succeed on our own, but great things happen if we create an environment where others can flourish and explore their potential.
  • This then enables high performing teams to become more than the sum of their parts. The team around a leader is vital and every leader needs to trust them to do what they are there to do and give them space to develop and deliver: you can’t know all the answers!
  • Perspective is crucial: while still wanting to win and perform to their potential, Southgate realises that there are things that matter more than competitive football. It is that grounded perspective that then helps players deliver the highest levels of performance under the greatest of pressures.  Southgate also embraces one of the fundamental tenets of sports psychology which separates the concepts of performance and results – the team must focus on delivering their best performance, that’s all they can control.  The results depend on lots of factors beyond their control from referees to injuries to balls hitting crossbars.
  • A sustainable strategy means not sacrificing core values or twisting to individuals in order to get the next result and working out the best way for your team to optimise their potential. Sustainable performance requires long-term thinking that doesn’t rely on an individual superstar and doesn’t bend to the will of the media or legions of fans who are only focused on the next game.  This approach might not bring the most exciting football in the world but enables you to play to your strengths and therefore optimises results over time. Southgate has shown this by backing up a World Cup semi-final with a Euros quarter-final (at least) for the first time in decades.
  • The past doesn’t have to define the future: athletes understand that one set of (good or poor) results does not and cannot determine the next. Southgate’s team have shown that they can write their own history, regardless of the media and others trying to hang the past round their necks.  Sometimes you have to cut out unhelpful voices in order to focus on what’s going to set you up to perform and cut yourself free from constraints that others place on you.
  • It’s ok to be vulnerable as a leader – Southgate admitted recently that he knows his place in the pecking order at home is behind the kids and the dog! He is not afraid to show how deeply his missed penalty in the Euro 96 tournament affected him: he repeated after the recent successful England-Germany game that he still regrets missing the chance to get his teammates to the final back in 1996.  Yet at the same time, he knows that this is a different journey.  We can all learn and move on from our past mistakes, not by burying them or denying them, but reflecting on them, learning from them and growing as a result to become the best leader we can.


Perhaps most powerful of all, Southgate is a life-long learner – he has visited successful Olympic sports coaches, business leaders and military leaders in order to continue learning about high performance.  He draws on a constant learning mindset to fuel his ongoing leadership journey and pursuit of a broader definition of success, which I call ‘The Long Win’.



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