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.


We fight all together (Brighton 1, Tottenham 2)


When Spurs win the narrative is of a side maturing together, a side that understands the complex interdependcies between themselves.

When Spurs lose the narrative is of complacency, a side that failed to bring in new players to strengthen the team.

A manager could find these logically inconsistent positions frustrating, but against Brighton there is much to please Pochettino.


“It was important for the victory, the performance was very goood.”

“I am happy because the 3 points is very important to us – we needed to feel again the victory.”

“We play so well in different parts of the game.”

Brighton’s strenghts are then called out.

“Brighton are an agressive team and work so hard.”

“Our team work very hard too. With the ball we play good football. I am pleased with the performance and the reaction.”

On their challenging start to the season, Pochettino is resolute.

“It is not a drama. We know what to do. We will work hard and give our best. Today we show great quality – we fight all together. ”

Leadership communication lesson

Pochettino’s interview is a great demonstration of the power of the collective. No individual is metioned. It is the team alone that is praised. With pressure on the club, he looks to bring the team together through the words that he chooses. It is a strategy and performance as impressive as his team has demonstrated on the pitch.





When I am critical of my players (Brighton 3 – Man Utd 2)

A weekend away in Brighton and Mourinho fails to find the spark in his relationship with Manchester United.

It is a story of mistakes for Mourinho.

“We were punished by the mistakes. Sometimes players and teams make mistakes and you are not immediately punished. We were always punished by every mistake we made – and the third goal is too hard.”


“At half-time we tried and the team in the second-half tried, but from the mental point of view the accumulation of mistakes and the punishment by the goals was step-by-step giving confidence and happiness to a good team like Brighton. ”

Given the opportunity to exorcise his players in publc Mourinho ensures the criticism is publicly shared amongst all of the players.

“When I am critical of my players you don’t accept it. The press and pundits are very critical of me when I go in that direction. Please do not ask me to go in that direction, because it is not good for me.”

“I will be very, very happy to analyse my players performance when it is very good. It is a great thing to stand in front of the cameras and say player A, player B, player C, they were fantastic, they had a fantastic performance. ”

“When I cannot do that, do not push me to the other side, because I cannot go to the other side. ”

In praising no-one, Mourinho criticises everyone.

Leadership communication lesson

Communication is never simple and one way in which leaders are often confounded is by failing to appreciate the meaning listeners can take from things which are not said. In his interview Mourniho plays with this quite deliberately and leaders that aspire to be good communicators need also to control for this variable. All good communicators will share large-scale communications with intended audience members to test for undertstanding. Excellent communicators will also test for any meaning the audience could infer from content that is not contained in the communication.


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.