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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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731 minutes (Crystal Palace 2, Chelsea 1)

A goal via two defenders is still a goal and for Palace it contributed to a victory against last season’s champions.

Conte opens his interview answering a question on the  impact of injuries and the international break and whether this was the cause of defeat.

” I don’t know for sure – to play without three important players is not simple, the game was not simple.”

” We need to try to understand this situation, to work to put it right despite these issues. ”

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He declines to share what we he said at half-time to the players.

“I prefer always to keep private what I tell in the first-half and in the second-half.”

Instead he throws the conversation forward.

“Now we have to prepare for the next game in the Champions League and try to do our best.”

And he refuses to answer a question on the gap developing at the top of the Premier League.

“At the end of the season we will see what happens.”

Instead he draws on the rhetorical technique of Epizeuxis to stress what he needs his team to do next.

“In these circumstances we must work, work, work, work, work, work to try to do our best.”

Leadership communication lesson

A loss as much as a victory is an opportunity for a leader to reinforce the behaviours he expects and demands from his team. Conte may not make the specifics visible in his post-match interview, but you can be in no doubt as to the approach he wants from his players. Repetition is a powerful and underused communication tool for many leaders. An audience will always remember much less than you imagine, so repeat and repeat again the messages you want to land.

 

 

 

Every day is tough (Everton 0, Burnley 1)

Nowhere is the current gap between expectation and results greater in the Premier League than at Everton.

A net spend in excess of £50 million to be 2 points from the relegation zone.

For Koeman, “We started well. We played aggressive. Over the total game we were the better team.”.

“The first shot on target is a goal for Burnley and if you analyse Burnley you know it is then very difficult.”.

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Did the confidence drain from his players subsequently?

“Always there is a reaction. This is normal in the situation, there is an impact on the players, the team and the fans.”.

“I can’t complain about the attitude and commitment of my players. We will go on, we will continue, what I saw today is how we need to be to come out of this difficult situation.”

Were his selection decisions correct?

“In life you don’t get a second opportunity – I am not unhappy with what I saw from the team.”

It is confident and polished interview and one that suggests Koeman believes he still has time to turn the situation around.

Leadership communication lesson

Most leaders will never have to defend their team from criticism as publicly as in football, but the decisions leaders take on this issue can define their success or otherwise. A sense of loyalty is built one grain of sand at a time and can be washed away in an instant. This does not mean a leader will never criticise a team publicly. Control and judgement must however be the watchwords before public criticism is aired.

We fought hard, we fought hard (Southampton 0, Man Utd 1)

All three points for United in a performance in which for Mourinho, “we fought hard, we fought hard.”

Defensive solidity was the most important element.

“We did for 20 minutes what many Premier League teams do for 90 minutes with five at the back and defend with a very low block.”.

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Pressed to praise Lukaku, Mourinho is qualified in his response.

“He is a striker who is scoring goals. His work is important for us.”

“He could score a second goal and kill the game. He did not, but his work is important like anyone else.”.

In contrast – given the opportunity to comment on the performance of his wide-men – Mourinho picks out Rashford as being “phenomenal”.

This contrast in approach to two of his strikers is likely influenced by their relative confidence.

Lukaku’s goal return in comparison to Rashford’s this season means Mourinho is knowingly directing his praise where he feels it can have most impact on the player and more importantly on his team.

Leadership communication lesson

The ability to publicly – and privately –  praise members of a team is an important tool for many leaders. As with any tool, however, it needs to be used knowingly. What should matter most to a leader is the objective they are pursuing and the decision on how to use praise should flow from this. Fairness is important and it is clearly a fine line to tread, but if praise can have more impact on the performance of one individual over another then it should be used in this way.

 

 

 

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.