Learning about leadership comms from #LCFC

I had planned to write today about leadership communication. That’s a big topic and I hadn’t quite decided which particular aspect I was going to focus on. Should it be the importance of harnessing your leaders’ personal style? Should it be the rise of ‘wonky comms’ and the need for comms professionals to facilitate leaders’ communication without actually doing it all for them? Or should it be about alignment with organisational messages? So many topics, so little time…

Then I watched last night’s BBC news. And heard them attempt to explain what they described as the “inexplicable”.

Leicester FC, the favourites to be relegated from the Premiership at the start of the season, have only gone and won the title! Part of the explanation was about the way in which their manager, Claudio Ranieri, motivated and drove them to win.

Now, before I go any further, I will provide a small disclaimer. I am in no way a football expert. My husband is football crazy and I am interested enough to attend the occasional game with him and watch it on the TV from time to time. It is scary how much I have managed to pick up over the 20-plus years we have been together (I can explain the off-side rule, you know!), but I’m more of a casual observer than anything else. So this piece is about my views on leadership communication rather than football per se……

What struck me most about the report on the news last night was:
1) The understanding of people motivation and the benefits of treating your team well.
2) The apparent lack of any real value attached to those qualities by the journalist presenting the item.

Anyone for pizza?
Now, the story of how early in the season Ranieri promised to buy pizza for the whole team if they kept a clean sheet has been widely reported. I don’t mean to suggest that this alone meant that they suddenly found themselves able to stop the ball flying into the back of the net, but the offer of a ‘treat’ in return for success cannot be underestimated. What I would really like to know is the exact wording Ranieri used when he made that offer to his players? I’m fairly sure that we would find some influential words in there somewhere.

And it would appear that the promised pizza was delivered as a session for the whole team together at a restaurant, rather than individual Dominos sent to each of their homes. I think this is significant because it created another opportunity for them to bond as a team. Communication is important on the pitch, but to make it quick and easy, the team need to be able to bond off the field too.

One of the players (I forget which one – ask my husband, he’ll remember!) was also shown as saying how Ranieri had turned up on his birthday and how unusual it was for a manager to do that. It seemed that this had made the player feel good and like he was valued as a person, not just a pair of football boots.

Treating your team as real people and understanding how to bring them together for a shared purpose is a key aspect of leadership communication, whether your team is aiming to win the Premiership, to support new students in settling in at your university or to provide care to patients and their families as they come to terms with their diagnosis.

Valuing communication skills
Despite sharing the details of how the manager and the team communicated with each other, the report on the news gave very little time to the idea that this might be what made the difference. The reporter moved quickly on to the fact that the big money teams that have dominated the Premiership in recent years had rather poor seasons – whilst this might be true, I think it’s a little unfair to suggest it is a more likely reason for Leicester’s success. In the end, the reporter could only conclude that this amazing story is indeed “inexplicable”.

However, it seems to me that if more managers recognised the value and impact of the way they communicate with their teams, we might see more ‘outsiders’ topping the league.

What can your leaders take from Ranieri’s approach to communicating with his team? If you would like help with identifying how to use effective leadership communication in your organisation, please get in touch.

Until next time

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