A game of one whole, not two halves: What we can learn from the leadership of Mancini and Southgate

14th July 2021

It’s likely you’re already bored of the post-match commentary following the England v Italy Euros final. The match, the players and the tournament have been scrutinised, questioned and dissected to the minutest of details – and not always in a positive way.

What we’ve taken away as leadership experts, however, is something hugely positive. We’ve seen, played out in full public view, the type of leadership qualities that many others should aspire to. And those qualities can be seen in both Southgate and Mancini – regardless of the final win.

Mancini got the fundamentals of leadership right from the very start of his work with the Italian team: His approach focused on:

  • Clear goals: to rekindle Italian fans’ love for the national team; to bounce back from not qualifying for the 2018 World Cup; and to win the 2020 Euros.
  • Collective team identity: unifying the team behind a common bond; playing with true Italian spirit; and the mindset to be equally strong in attack and defence.
  • Strong team dynamic: going beyond the sum of individual parts by forming a strong collective, not just a group of talented individuals.
  • Building engaged talent: mixing together young talent who’d had less success at big clubs with more experienced players to help guide them through the tournament; giving youth a real chance to shine.
  • Distributed leadership: identifying and maximising leadership qualities among individuals in the team; ensuring the squad was supportive of each other; creating a deeply bonded team.
  • Open dialogue: whether in training or on the pitch, the communication between manager and team has been consistently open, transparent, honest and two-way.

Southgate, meanwhile, has exemplified the traits of a balanced, human leader – a position that’s essential for modern leadership success. Whether in the pre-tournament build-up, during the tournament itself, and after the disappointment of the final, he’s shown:

  • Humility: showing respect for the opposition, regardless of who they were; talking in terms of ‘we’, not ‘I’; giving others credit first; admitting his mistakes (including that 1996 missed penalty); and taking full responsibility for the 2020 final penalty shoot-out choices.
  • Humanity: praising those who hadn’t played but who had trained just as hard as those on the pitch; handling the need for players to self-isolate; his thoughts on the Christian Eriksen incident; and taking full responsibility for defeat in the final.
  • A learning mindset: being continually open to new ideas from outside the world of football to enhance diversity of thinking; a clear willingness to learn from the mistakes of the final as the squad builds for the 2022 World Cup.

Leadership in football is no different to leadership in the business world. The Euros have been a fascinating watch in terms of seeing how diverse leadership approaches make all the difference to the final score. It’s very similar to living and breathing our own leadership work.

We coach leaders who are clearly outward-facing and willing to seize the future, and those who hold on to a singular, narrow mindset, reject diversity of thought, and surround themselves only with like-minded individuals. In those situations, it’s very clear who’ll come out on top.

While England may not have lifted the trophy, there’s little to separate Mancini and Southgate in the leadership stakes – giving their teams a great advantage when it comes to likely future success.