So we recognise that Alex Ferguson has been an inspirational leader in the football world for the past 30 years or more, winning numerous titles with Aberdeen and Manchester United. So many managers have come and gone in this time, many unsuccessful. So is there something that Ferguson happens to be good at? While he may not realise it, his leadership has a direct impact on the reactions and performance levels of his players.
Transformational leadership has been proven scientifically to be the best and most effective type of leadership across business, education and sport. Transformational Leadership is known to empower rather than control followers (Kenungo and Mendonco, 1998). Such leaders inspire, develop and challenge followers (Yukl, 2006) by acting as role models, showing concern for followers and transcending their own self interest for the overall betterment of the group. Such leaders are known to inspire, through formulating a vision, challenging followers to reach realistic goals, encouraging ownership and involvement by stimulating them intellectually to solve old problems in new ways. Such leadership has been shown to be associated with increases in motivation and performance (Charbonneau, Barling & Kelloway, 2001; Ruwold 2006) and group cohesion (Callow, Smith, Hardy, Arthur & Hardy 2009).
A scientifically validated measure (Transformation Leadership Inventory for Sport (DTLI), Callow et al, (2009)) identifies seven leadership behaviours that help performance, six of which are considered transformational in nature; Inspirational Motivation (where leaders inspire followers with their vision for the future), Fostering Acceptance of Group Goals (where leaders incorporate followers in the devising of, accepting of and striving towards a common agreed goal), Individual Consideration (where leaders show concern for followers individualistic needs), Intellectual Stimulation (where leaders challenge followers to assess their methods and how to improve them), High Performance Expectations (where leaders promote excellence and performance criterions for followers in the attainment of set goals) and Appropriate Role Modelling (where leaders lead by example in the way they conduct themselves and live their lives in the manner that they would like their followers to do). It also includes one transactional behaviour (contingent reward), where leaders trade praise or recognition for desirable behaviours.
So basically, Alex Ferguson has mastered these behaviours of his own accord. In my opinion, others also appear to have these credentials and in David Moyes, Everton have one of the best managers around. Pep Guadiola would appear to have had it at Barcelona where players responded to his methods to become one of the greatest football teams of all time.
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About Keith Begley
I am a performance and mental skills coach based in Ireland. I hold an MSc in Applied Sport and Exercise Psychology from the Institute for Psychology of Elite Performance (IPEP) at University of Wales, Bangor (2012).