Manchester United have played five games since sacking their manager, Jose Mourinho, and they’ve won them all. Coincidence maybe, but one thing seems to be certain. Jose has not been missed at Old Trafford.
And why would he be? For me, Mourinho says a lot about the wrong kind of leadership, out of fashion not simply in football, but across other walks of life, including education.
One remarkable statistic from Mourinho’s career is how he has won the league title with each of his clubs in the second season of his arrival – Porto, Chelsea, Inter Milan, Real Madrid (though not Manchester United). He will constantly refer to this in interviews, claiming, ‘I am a winner’, or ‘Look at my record with silverware.’ And if this is the measure of success for a football manager, he’s right.
But at what cost? Invariably, the whole thing went pear-shaped by season four. Are all these clubs in a healthier long-term position now? Did he invest in cementing the foundations of a great institution? Jose is the ultimate ‘short-term gains’ leader.
I see a lot of crossover with the type of leader lauded by politicians and special advisors over the last twenty/thirty years. A Mourinho-like headteacher would probably…
- Sack half the teachers within six months of arriving.
- Kick out the bottom 20% of pupils, those with little chance of getting good exam results.
- Undermine his local community and tell them that they don’t deserve such a good headteacher.
- Manipulate the rules on test administration and entrance requirements. Mourinho would have had all pupils doing the ECDL qualification, even those in Y7.
- Tell all local headteachers that they were rubbish, and revel in being hated by the local NAHT branch and other assorted unions.
- Become a stand-alone academy, or insist on being a lead school for a trust.
- Speak a lot about ‘zero tolerance’, ‘back to basics’ and ‘no-nonsense discipline policy.’
- Not give a toss about the arts, drama and modern foreign languages. They don’t make headlines and don’t produce ‘winning’ data.
For me, Mourinho represents the ‘unethical leader’. He manufactures constant wars with those he perceives as criticising him. He foregoes an attractive style of play to ensure the team does not lose. I can’t help think that this is akin to the school leader who ditches half the curriculum to advance spurious test results.
Leadership holds great responsibilities. Success leads to legitimisation. It breeds a generation who copy and imitate. Mourinho’s tactics, persona and values become part of the mainstream to be celebrated. I read Alistair Campbell’s book, ‘Winners, and How They Succeed’, and felt that Campbell was in awe of Mourinho, one of his key witnesses. Campbell’s true colours soaked through the book. Let’s not forget that it was his administration that set in place the hostile target culture that has blighted public services for years.
Campbell clearly admires the tough, battle-hardened winner who plays loose with the rules in order to achieve that ‘1% marginal gain’. Arguably, there should always be a place for such a character in the private sector world of sports management.
I’m just not that sure that we should be throwing our arms up in glee when one of them strolls in to run our schools, hospitals, police forces or prisons. Because real toughness demands sticking with places, communities, people and institutions even when they are weak and timid. It means being in it for the long-term, and doggedly trying to take people with you.
I admire leaders who do this. I admire their fortitude and resilience. I admire their clarity of purpose and their commitment to incremental improvement, through thick and thin.
For me, they are the real ‘special ones.’