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What Lessons can Businesses Learn from Gareth Southgate?

In 1996 England went out of the Euros on penalties. The man who missed the crucial penalty was Gareth Southgate, now the England manager.

Speaking about the miss recently he said, “I’ve had a couple of decades to think about it. I was a volunteer. The type of character I was, I felt you should put yourself forward.”

As we all now know, England also lost the final of Euro 2020 on penalties. Football was not scheduled to come home – unless you live in Rome. But throughout the campaign – and the subsequent inquest – Gareth Southgate has won widespread admiration for his approach. It is not always easy bringing players from different clubs together, but as BBC pundit Karen Carney put it, “This isn’t a team, it’s a family.”

So is it just football that can learn lessons from Gareth Southgate? Or can his approach be applied more widely – perhaps also in the business world, as the UK looks to recover from the pandemic?

Everyone agrees that Southgate is modest and approachable. He has a clear vision and he communicates it well. These are key traits in any successful business leader.

There is, though, an even more interesting point about the current England manager. He is prepared to surround himself with ‘non-football’ people. It’s something you often see in professional sport and in business: if everyone in your management group thinks in the same way and comes from the same background, you are by definition limiting your options. As the old saying goes, “If everyone thinks the same, no-one thinks very much.”

From the start of his time as England boss in 2016, Southgate has surrounded himself with people who think differently. At the time of writing the FA’s Technical Advisory Board includes Sir Dave Brailsford, former performance director of British Cycling; Colonel Lucy Giles, from Sandhurst Military Academy; Kath Grainger, an Olympic rower; the rugby coach Stuart Lancaster and the tech entrepreneur Manoj Badale.

“I like listening to people who know things I don’t,” Southgate says simply. “That’s how you learn.”

Listening seems to be another of the England manager’s key strengths. Anyone watching the tournament couldn’t help but be struck by the number of conversations Southgate had with Steve Holland, his assistant manager. More often than not, it was Holland doing the talking and “the boss” doing the listening.

Will those strengths of Southgate’s – a clear vision, an ability to communicate, an acceptance of new ideas and a willingness to listen – be enough to finally see England succeed in the 2022 World Cup? Who knows? You suspect Italy, France, Brazil and Argentina might have other ideas…

What is certain though, is that those characteristics are absolutely essential in business. As the UK slowly recovers from the pandemic, they’re traits every business leader needs to adopt.

…And perhaps we can throw in one final character trait: bravery. Gareth Southgate was brave enough to take a penalty in 1996, as were five young men a few weeks ago. As Italian legend Roberto Baggio famously said, “Only those who have the courage to take a penalty miss them.”