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.


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.

I’m sorry for Michael Oliver (Man Utd 1, Man City 2)

You cannot win the title before Christmas, but it appears others are happy to concede defeat before Christmas.

Mourinho is the only manager not to and ‘happy’ is not a word to associate with him.

Invited to answer where the match was lost, his answer is,

“Clear penalty.”


“I’m sorry for us, I’m sorry for Michael Oliver – I think he had a good game, but clear penalty.”

“Last season we had a similar situation with Mark Clattenburg against Man City.”

“I’m sorry for Michael Oliver. The referee is a human being – he tries his best.”

“They (Man City) scored two very bad goals – unbelievable to concede. What they are good at, they were not good at –  rebounds.”

How would he analyse his own team’s performance?

“We did good things, we did bad things.”

A Match of the Day pundit could not have put it better.

Leadership communication lesson

Few leaders will have the charisma or platform to be able to completely ignore a question as Mourinho does at the start of this interview. The ability though to use a question to deliver the messages you want your audience to focus on can be the difference between a good communicator and a great communicator. Mourinho’s refereeing argument may only be appreciated by the most one-eyed of Man Utd fans, but it suits his immediate purpose in re-directing attention from the limitations of his own side.


Whatever is best for the football club (Sot’n 4, Eve 1)

Everton continued to plumb new depths of despair away to Southampton at the weekend.

How they can be the only Premier League club to have taken points from Man City is one of the great mysteries of the 17/18 season.

David Unsworth’s continued presence as manager is less of a mystery, explainable through a panicked sacking and shambolic recruitment process.

His post-match interview is as confused as his team’s performance.


In being led by the first question, he starts with a defence of the team, highlighting the positives and excuses.

“We came back into the game – it was a fantastic srike by Gylfie.”

“We missed Niasse – in my opinion he should be on the field. Injuries are absolutely killing us at the moment.”

Then it is as if he suddenly remembers the score and its implication.

” I can’t stand here and defend the players. It was completely unacceptable. Everton fans are rightly furious and so am I.”

“I’ll take my responsibility, but players have to come with the football club also – if they don’t, I’ll get players who do.”

One can only imagine the new players will need to be found within the club as it is difficult to see Unsworth  being given responsibility for a transfer budget.

Leadership communication lesson

Consistently reading and reflecting the mood of an audience is fundamental to the success of any leader. In Unsworth’s situation the mood is one of anger and with such a powerful emotion he had to start his interview in this place. If your mood misses its mark at the start, it is very hard to play catch up, so invest as much time as you can in understanding your audience before any significant communications.




We have 22 points

Arsenal had much to celebrate over the weekend as they stayed above Burnley on goal difference.

The first question is on the importance of Sanchez, Ozil and Lacazette  with Wenger arguing that “they could work properly, as we had the luck that in the International break Sanchez did not play and Lacazette played only one game.”

Questioned on Ozil’s work rate, Wenger describes him as an “Intelligent player an intelligent man” who can “add a defensive side to his game, he is not a specialist, but he can do that job.”


Were Arsenal lucky with the refereeing decisions in the match?

“I did not see that. I did see that the foul was a foul. In a lot of games we have not had the luck.”

Can Arsenal continue at this level?

“People always want definite opinions, nothing is permanent in our job. All we can do is focus on our performance in the next game. Let’s continue to move forward.”

“We have 22 points, Tottenham have 23 points – no-one has made a present to us.”

Wenger resists making any comparison with Burnley.

Leadership communication lesson

Arsene Wenger’s refusal to see advantageous refereeing decisions may raise a wry smile, but they also demonstrate his strategic approach to communications. Wenger uses his post-match interview to positively frame any performance and to praise or defend his players. An incorrect decision in his team’s favour helps him achieve neither objective, so he pays it no attention.