Listen more closely

There are management books talking about how leaders should communicate in an abstract way.

But what better way to learn about real leadership communication skills than by listening closely to Pep Guardiola, Jose Mourinho, Jürgen Klopp and other elite managers.

This blog will help you listen more closely.


Guardiola and maintaining success (Arsenal 0, Man City 2)

A new season and the same narrative for both clubs.

Post-match, the statements from the interviewer to Guardiola seek to elicit praise.

Interviewer : “From start to finish the pace was there.”

“Yes, except the first 10 to 15 minutes of the second half. They push and we miss some balls and after it is a little more complicated, but in general we make an excellent performance.”


Guardiola then draws attention to the context of the match.

“Considering where we are in the season – a lot of players lacking in terms of physicality.”

Asked about Mahrez’s perfromance, Guardiola again qualifies his praise alongside an expectation of improvement.

“Quite well. In the first half he created a lot of chances. The space was there – his full back did not push up – but he is going to grow. Seeing and trainining and learning the way we want to play.”

Improvement is the dominant theme of his interview.

“Without the ball and with the ball – we were like we were last season and that is the principles to come back to the patterns, to the routines, to our football fundamentals and after we try to improve day-by-day and we will be better.”

Leadership communication lesson

The challenge of sustaining success is one any good leader will need to face in their career. Guardiola’s approach in qualifying praise, in stressing the fundamentals that underpin past successes and in highlighting the need and expectation to improve every day, is an excellent approach to this challenge. Qualifying praise should help keep ego’s in check, stressing the fundamentals reminds everyone why they have been successful and the expectation of improvement should help guard against the danger of complacency. It is not only in the football world that results can change quickly and every leader would do well to remember this.

The numbers talk for him (Tottenham 2, Watford 0)

The game is about glory, and it’s also about getting home at a good time judging by the acres of empty red seats by the end.

Pochettino stresses the importance of the result in his post-match interview.

“I think a good night for us. An opportunity to take 3 points.”

“Three points allow us to be in a good position in the table. Tonight was a must win game – so important for us.”

“Maybe not play in the way we want to play – but the result is the most important thing for us.”


The tone of questions Pochettino is not hostile, but he uses self-selected history to frame his response to the questions he faces.

Why didn’t you play the way you wanted to play?

“During the whole 10 months of the season it is difficult to keep playing good football – we tried.”

Where is Harry Kane with his game at the moment?

“I think 150 Premier League games, 105 Premier League goals – I can’t say more than that. The numbers talk for him.”

You are in a strong position for the top four?

“Yes – to finish in the top four would be massive for the club – for the third time in a row, no?”

The many fans that left the game early may feel this achievement is not as massive as the manager may hope.

Leadership communication lesson

The use of data in communications is incredibly important and powerful. It makes your speech or commentary appear more specific and trustworthy as a result. A leader also has the opportunity to choose the data which is most supportive of any argument they want to make. If short term results are positive, talk to the recent change of momentum; if short term results are negative, look at the longer term positive direction; and if both the short term and the longer term results were negative, throw your frame of reference forward, and look to the improvement you will see just around the corner.




You said it perfectly (Tot 1, Man City 3)

After two weeks of tears and tantrums from the more excitable elements of their recently acquired supporters, Guardiola finally appears wreathed in smiles.

Guardiola judges the opening question to be pefect.

“Pep, a great result. A good performance against a strong team.”

The interviewer, in Pep’s mind, has said it perfectly.

” It is not necessary for me to add anything else.”


He does though find something to add.

“London, Away, Against Tottenham, one of the toughest teams.”

We are also reminded of the context.

“We have done what we have done after a tough week. Because in some moments it was so unfair on us.”

“After what happened to us this week, we come here and play with our personality and the way we want to play.”

If anyone has missed this frame of reference, Guardiola calls out the games in question.

“After we went 2-0 up, maybe it was not easy for my players, remember Man Utd, remember Liverpool, but we were good and create more chances to score goals in the second half. ”

“At the end, we are so, so happy.”

Leadership communication lesson

Success brings many benefits and one of the most powerful is the opporunity it provides a leader to shape a narrative to their benefit. Success in the league means that defeats to Man Utd and, most damagingly, to Liverpool can be used to highlight the ability of his players to rebound from setbacks. Every manager seeks to convince their players of this ability and Guardiola does not miss this trick. He will also know it is a trick and, over the summer, this will become apparent as expensive replacement are found through the transfer market.


But not because it is Chelsea (Man Utd 2, Chelsea 1)

After a long-running puerile and nasty public spat, it was Mourinho that emerged as the victor over the Chelsea manager.

Asked if the win was very special to him, his answer is very clear.

“But not because it is Chelsea. It is special because we beat the champions, a fantastic team that is very difficult to beat and because these 3 points are the points that keep us in the second position that we are fighting for.”


“The players gave everything. It is not possible to win against a team of the quality of Chelsea without the extra-effort everyone gave.”

It is the team, not individuals, that Mourinho is keen on praising. Pressed on the performance of Lukaku, he turns his analysis instead to the game and to the team.

“We didn’t start well. Then we found our positions on the pitch and were growing up through the whole game.”

“When you go from 1-0 down, to 2-1 up, everyone feels that extra-energy – happiness brings energy – everyone gave everything.”

Leadership communication lesson

Alex Ferguson often said the two most powerful words in the English language were well done. Lukaku may feel short-changed by Mourinho, but Mourinho is best placed to judge how individual players may react to praise and we do not see what goes on in private. What is clear publicly is that Mourniho exercises judgement in how he uses his praise and this judgement is something any leader must apply if they decide to publicly praise individuals in their team.


I don’t know why (Watford 4, Chelsea 1)

For a manager involved in brinkmanship, conceding seven goals to Bournemouth and Watford is likely to push him over the brink.

Conte is down-beat throughout his post-match interview.

Was it a sending off?

“Two yellow cards in a few minutes. You have to pay great attention and avoid this situation…especially after the penalty.”

Conte watford

Was it a penalty?

“I don’t know. I didn’t see. I don’t care, we lost the game. We started the game very poor, in a bad way.”

Why were you so poor?

“I don’t know, I don’t know. We try in every moment to play football. Today we were uncomfortable with and without the ball. I don’t know why.”

“For sure it is the fault of the coach because maybe I made a bad decision today, with the starting 11 for instance.”

But looking on the bright side.

Ah, there is no bright sides.

Leadership communication lesson

Conte may effectively mirror the mood of many Chelsea fans, but this looks an end-game of an interview. Any effective leader knows the important of managing and controlling the emotions they share with their audience. There is no discernible reason why Conte would allow depression and resignation to be the dominant emotional range of his post-match interview. Actually, there is one reason and,  an announcement from Chelsea Football Club, may shortly make this clear.

It was just not good enough (Swansea 1, Liverpool 0)

Could Liverpool build on the win against Man City to establish themselves as the ‘best of the rest’ this season?

No. They lost to the team at the bottom of the league.

For Klopp, in the first half, “It was just not good enough.”

“Offensively, tactically, it was not what we wanted to do.”


His criticism gives an insight into these tactics.

“We did not stretch Swansea; no pressure on centre halves; we were running with the ball, not passing; on the wings, we have to hold the line to create a half-space inside.”

“We gave the opposition a chance to score a goal.”

“OK, that is how we are.”

It is damning stuff, which he moderates by praising the second-half, “we show what we actually want to do. Much better, more pressure.” and by reminding himself to “not forget what these boys have done over the last weeks. We need to remember both.”

Given an opportunity to criticise Swansea’s approach, Klopp states, “It is not their (Swansea’s) job to make the make the game. It is our fault.”

“We have to strike back immediately, so that is what we will do.”

Leadership communication lesson

How to balance criticism with encouragement is a challenge all leaders will face in their communications. Klopp is in a highly pressured, emotional environment and being interviewed a few minutes after game, yet he is still able to recognise the need to “remember both.” Ensuring criticism is focused on the situation and not on the individual can be an important tactic to help  maintain relationships. It is the players implementation of the strategy, not their inherent ability, that Klopp takes aim for.

It was solid, it was good (Man City 4, Tottenham 1)

Have we reached peak Guardiola?

The opening question is one no Premier League manager has ever been asked.

“Congratulations on your 16th win in a row, how would you describe the performance?”

“It was solid, it was good.”


He focuses on the strengths of Tottenham.

“A team so demanding to be intense without the ball, because they play so good. Dele Ali, Eriksson, Dembele, Winks – they have good quality.”

“I am satisfied we beat one of the best teams in the Premier League.”

Given the opportunity to talk about the character of his team, Guardiola focuses on their work rate.

“Without the ball we are a so, so humble team.”

“You see the performance of Kevin De Bruyne. You cannot imagine how good he is with the ball, but you see how he runs.”

“If one of the best players runs like a player in the Conference then it is easier for the manager and the club.”

After 16 wins in a row, everything is easier for the manager and the club.

Leadership communication lesson

Any effective leader  knows  it is the behaviours of their team that determines their relative success. In their communications it should always be clear what the audience is being asked to do. By using Kevin De Bruyne as an example, Guardiola is clear on the behaviour he expects from all his players and it is a behaviour accessible to all his players. De Bruyne’s appreciation of space and movement may be inimitable, but any player can copy his work rate out of possession.