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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.

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We played so good (Watford 0, Man City 6)

Fifteen goals, in three games, with none conceded, means City are having a moment.

Against Watford Guardiola believes, “We played so good, we played so good.”

He amplifies the result by placing it in a frame of his choosing.

“Last season Arsenal, Manchester United were beaten here, Liverpool did not win here and it is hard, especially after being away in the Champions League three days before.”

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The result is a consequence of the performance.

“We build up, a lot of players close to the ball, we are able to make short passes, we have a lot of energy with our full backs to be able to go up and down, the players who come from the bench give us something new, so it is good.”

“We make a good performance. That is the most important thing, because when you make a good performance, after that you always win.”

Questioned as to whether the staff and players were now a more relaxed team, Guardiola brings it back to basics.

“Winning games gives you more confidence so the staff are happier.”

“The reason we are here is to win games.”

Leadership communication lesson

Success is an opportunity to build the belief of your team in the work they are doing and the decisions you have taken. Within any team there will be individuals who doubt and are critical of the leader. Framing your success in an argument of your choosing – as Guardiola does here in stressing the strategic elements of the performance – is a powerful tool for a leader to push these voices to the margin.

 

 

 

You have to take it (Man City 5, Liverpool 0)

In a post-match interview understandably dominated by the interpretation of the red card, Klopp still effectively communicates a number of messages.

He draws attention to the chances Liverpool created and describes the failure to take  these chances as “my biggest problem today”.

“We had all we needed to score some goals.”

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Klopp’s analysis of the red card adds little to the existing debate. “It was unfortunate…it was an accident…in my opinion it was not a red card.”

More interesting are the additional reasons he gives for the subsequent performance. Believing that, “then you felt the intensity of the international week” and “we have young boys on the pitch, so there was not a lot of right decisions.”.

5-0 may be a an unpleasant score line, but Klopp contributes a memorable line as to how it should be remembered through his use of Chiasmus.

” Better one five-nil, than five one-nils”

He ends the interview by looking forward.

“It was a very bad one. That is life. You take what you get and make the best of it. That is what we will do.”

Leadership communication lesson

A significant set back will always mean there is more focus on what you say and what you do. An effective leader will recognise this as an opportunity and be very clear on how they want to use the additional attention. Alternatively, if the leader reacts emotionally to the set back, the opportunity can be lost and their leadership is likely to be placed under additional scrutiny.

 

Now is not the right moment (Liverpool 4, Arsenal 0)

Week 3 and already it feels like week 33 for many Arsenal fans.

Wenger agrees with the interviewer that it was a “terrible result and performance” – although clarifies that the “result is a consequence of our performance.”

“It was not good enough….we were beaten everywhere physically…..our performance on the day was disastrous.”

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In stressing the performance, Wenger is attempting to isolate the discussion on a particular set of circumstances under his and his players control.

Wenger also stops any attempt to widen the discussion to broader issues at Arsenal by asking for distance.

“It is important not to become too emotional after the game. The disappointment is big enough. We have to take a bit of distance from that. There are reasons behind it we have to analyse.”

This analysis in Wenger’s mind will start with the fact that “we have lost two games and we need to keep our belief and our focus.”

“If I am the problem, I am the problem and I am sorry – but we want the fans to be with us.”

Leadership communication lesson

Wenger’s performance in this interview is of a far higher order than that of his team on the pitch. A leader must maintain control and focus on the facts and Wenger does this consistently and with great discipline. He will use emotion in communication with this players, but it will be a deliberate choice and not for public consumption in the structured format of a post-match interview.

 

 

 

 

 

Guardiola – One of the proudest days of my life (Man City 1, Everton 1)

Guardiola’s post-match interview added to the fun of a lively match that was either spoilt or made by the referee depending on your taste.

For Guardiola, “We played a good performance. We created chances. Important to create chances – OK we didn’t finish, but important to create chances.”

Pressed to describe the mistakes of his own team in contributing to the goal, Guardiola only recognises Everton before turning it back to praise his own players.

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“They [Everton] made a good action. We have done everything. I don’t know how many chances we create. We play with 10 men, similar to Burnley for 70 minutes – then we were able to win, today we draw.”

Does he want to discuss the refereeing decisions?

“Next question”

Asked about his tactical change, he deflects any praise onto the players. “Tactics depend on the players. We put more players in the middle to gain more control – we create enough chances.”

He ends, as he started, by praising his players.

“We are here for the results, but at the end we have to analyse the performance. It’s one of the proudest days of my life – 10 against 11 for 65-70 minutes against a top quality team is not easy.”

Leadership communication lesson

Creating an environment of trust and respect is often critical for any leader.  The team’s perception of the willingness of the leader to defend their performance in public can often dramatically influence this environment. In not criticising any player, Guardiola can build that sense of trust within his group. As Guardiola points out – we are here for the results – but the best way to achieve those results is with a team who trusts their leader.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Conte the hired help (Chelsea 2, Burnley 3)

Week 1 and to Conte for the surprise result of the weekend.

The first sending-off is the “key moment of the game – to play the rest of the game with 10 men, and then 9 men, is not easy.”

The obvious next step would be to criticise the referee, but Conte is seldom obvious.

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“I do not want to comment on the referee.”

Instead he reframes an argument, by redefining it – what the Ancient Greeks would call Syncrisis.

“But in the last 3 official games we finish with 10 or 9 men, I think I need to adapt a new system to play with 10 or 9 men to anticipate this situation.”

The joke may be weak, but the frame around this new argument is interesting.

By joining the seasons together, he can apply pressure to Chelsea’s next referee. A sending-off in the next game becomes a bigger decision than it would otherwise be.

Referees are not the only audience a manager can communicate with after the match.

With the transfer window still open,  managers at this time of year can use their post-match interview to influence the transfer decisions still to be made.

Conte, however, turns down the opportunity to criticise the recruitment decisions,

“I think at this moment the focus is to continue to work very hard with these players, for the transfer market the club is trying to do its best. I am not worried, I am ready to fight with these players.”

“It is important for us to concentrate on our work and to be focused every day during the training session and do our work in the best way. No hiding places, no excuses.”

The words are fine, but the tone is surprisingly downbeat. This does not come across as the aggressive, confident Conte from last season and this is reflected in his choice of clothes.

In place of the sharp suits of last season, we have a shapeless, formless tracksuit.

It is a troubling start to the season.

One match in and Conte is communicating a separation between himself in the owners in tone and dress.

Conte may feel that – with a title-winning season behind him – a separation will hurt Chelsea more than it hurts himself.

Leadership communication lesson

Understanding the importance of tone and even dress, is a lesson many leaders need to learn. Words are important, but we communicate through emotion and visually. Consistency must be the aim for any leader. How you say it and how you are seen to say it, must align with your aim. For more formal communication opportunities – a speech for example – you need to both practice and seek feedback on these specific areas. Get this wrong and your speech will fail.

 

I will love my club my whole life (Arsenal 3, Everton 1)

Only one significant story line was still alive on the final day and even this concluded as everyone had expected.

For Wenger it was “A sad day, the first time in 20 years we have not qualified for the Champions League.”

He could not bring himself to say the words “Europa League” and instead praised his players.

In the last 2 months his players had “responded in a strong way”, “they have learned” and “it is important to keep them together.”

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Pressed on his own commitment to the club, Wenger said “I will love my club my whole life, even if I wanted I will not be capable to change that.”

His use of a tricolon adds rhetorical weight to his passion.

“My commitment. my loyalty and my love for the club cannot be questioned.”

The speculation about his future “was a big handicap for the team”. The team “played in a very hostile environment and more than ever we needed to stick together and be very strong together – that is why I tell you this group of people are remarkable and they deserve to be supported in a different way”.

Arsenal fans have only the cup final left to show they can support these remarkable people in a different way .

Leadership communication lesson

Pathos is the appeal to emotion and is the most powerful of the persuasive arts. To work its magic however it must be a shared emotion with the audience. Laughter, for example, is so powerful as it is the audience sharing an emotion together. Wenger, though,  is too far down the road with many Arsenal fans for pathos to have much impact and this is likely to become clear after the cup final.

 

One more game, one more time (West Ham 0, Liverpool 4)

A convincing win for Liverpool in a game they could not afford to lose.

For Klopp the game was “Fantastic, but difficult.”

“The start was not that good – we gave away easy balls.”

Klopp gives a tactical reason for the challenges of the first half.

“With our new system, we played the diamond, so our second post was completely free.”

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Half-time provides Klopp with the opportunity to show the players “video analysis of 2 to 3 things” so they can understand the need to fill up the centre when playing with two wide strikers.

Klopp does though deflect praise for the impact of this decision, “It is not about the system, it is how the players use it.”

The rest of his interview is dedicated to managing expectation for the Middlesbrough game.

It is “One more game, one more time. We have a normal week. Recovery, preparation, we go against Middlesborough,”

Klopp uses Antithesis, putting together two opposite ideas in a sentence to achieve a contrasting effect:

“Middlesborough have nothing to lose, but we have everything to win”

Klopp’s focus is only on Liverpool.

“Counting points before you have them is really silly.”

“We will prepare ourselves and try to do our best.”

Leadership communication lesson

When to publicly take credit for a result is a challenge for many leaders. Take no credit and you may be unpleasantly surprised that others will take the same view. Take credit too publicly and you risk alienating the team you are dependent on. Klopp’s approach can be usefully adopted. When talking about success, look for a narrative that places your decisions at its heart, but focus on the excellence of your people. This will reassure your stakeholders and flatter your people.