Gattuso and being a Manager : Sometimes maybe good, sometimes maybe sh**

This post is a part of what is becoming a series where I try to find inspiration and connections between Football and Creative agencies. The first one was about Collaboration or the lack of itand the second about What Creative agencies can learn from Les Bleus

In most creative agencies, becoming a Creative Director then an Executive CD is a natural evolution for good creatives. This move from a “player” role to a managerial one (even if it’s within “Creative”), is never an easy one because you are suddenly not only in charge of creative work but also Creative teams.

There’s an interesting parallel with football and good players moving to a managerial position at the end of their career. Now, in football and unlike the creative business, becoming a manager is not the only evolution for great players. Most coaches didn’t have a great player career: Jose Mourinho, Arsene Wenger and Sir Alex Fergusson for example. But in some cases, great players find themselves “promoted” to coaches or managers near the end of their career, like Deschamps, Southgate or more recently Gennaro Gattuso.

Gennaro Gattuso

Gennaro Gattuso is an ex-Italian world cup winner who recently became a coach for the legendary AC Milan , a club where he spent 14 years as a player and won everything. At the end of his great career, he decided to become a manager. Not an easy move for a player with a strong reputation on the field.

I explained in a previous post why I always look for inspiration in football coach/manager’s experiences. Gattuso’s transformation from a player to a manager is unique because of his character: His Grinta (Italian for Grit) pushed sometimes beyond red lines on the pitch. No one could imagine that the player who got into a fight with referees, players and sometimes coaches would become a great manager.

Looking at Gattuso’s trajectory, there’s a lot of similarities with the challenges that creatives face when they move to a CD/ECD position in agencies, and definitely few things to be inspired by.

You’ll face a tough audience. Do it with honesty.

Gattuso had a tough stint as a coach in Greece, a league where games are tough, fans passionate, salaries inconsistent and sports media pretty active.

Facing tough conditions and especially a tough audience during press conferences, he spoke his mind laying down his beliefs, the reality of his club, his objectives…in a very “Gattuso” way with the now famous “Sometimes maybe good, Sometimes maybe shit”.

As a Creative Director, you’ll most probably be facing a tough audience, that doesn’t always have the creative aspect as it’s first priority, or that have some concerns you’ve never though about or the worst of all, tensions/conflicts with colleagues.

Facing any kind of tough audience with the honest, clear, simple truth will always pay off at the end. It sets the expectations right, helps you being consistent and also get a clear feedback from your audience.

The more you try to sugar coat things, the higher the chances of backfire down the road. Because this tough audience is not going anywhere. You’ll face them, again and again, every working day.

Do not change….everything.

Some people change. Some don’t.

Googling pictures of Gattuso is a fun experiment: you can find the same expressions of him as player and coach. The man didn’t change much because somehow, and despite all critics, people would be disappointed if he changes: When you hire Gattuso as a coach, you’re expecting a Gattuso. Not someone else.

He kept his very energetic style, his brutal and total honesty when speaking to media, his sense of commitment on the pitch, a “never cheat” attitude. It was weird to see such an attitude from a coach at a high level but it wasn’t unexpected. By staying true to himself and his reputation, he could defend his ideas.

You might be tempted to read some management books when you move in a position that needs you to learn these skills. And by adopting whatever you read, you might be tempted to change too many things in the way you think, behave or act.

Ben Horowitz quote about these books is an illuminating one :

Management books are generally written for like how — here’s how you to not screw up your company. But if you start a company, that lasts like a week and then you’ve screwed it up. And then like where is the book for that? And that’s what was missing.

Like Gattuso, if you’re given a managerial position it means probably that you’re expected to “come as you are” and it’s definitely the best way for you to feel good in the job. Keep your ideas but be ready to question them. Try to find your style and stand by what you truly believe in.

You’re a Rookie manager. Accept it.

Gattuso during an AC Milan game.

One of the biggest challenges for Gattuso, and any other good player becoming a coach was to move from a player who was arguably one of the best in his position to a Rookie manager. Being in a position where you have to learn things again, where you might be sometimes not sure what you’re doing because you lack experience is not a comfortable position. Especially when you’re accountable to millions of fans.

Instead of denying that, adopting a lingo he didn’t master, a posture that doesn’t suit him and especially claiming all success to himself, he tried to have an honest view of himself when asked about his contribution to AC Milan revival

I want to clear this up, as I am not a great coach. I’m still in the early days, I’m not a guru of the bench and I’ve achieved nothing yet.
At the same time, I am not the person that some seemed to think I was. People forget I’ve been working over these five years, I won a league title in Lega Pro, I had some very tough experiences in difficult circumstances abroad.

It’s always challenging to find yourself in a position of learning things with people looking up at you for answers, almost all the time. Despite what you might believe, no one thinks you’re a superman. They know you’re a rookie manager. But you’re the manager so they ask you these questions.

If people come to you, it’s because it’s your job (managing people, issues, finding solutions and making things happen…) not because they believe you’re infallible. Again, you’re a Rookie manager and everyone knows that. So be honest about it and seek help, advice, and information whenever you need it.

Focus on the team.

This is one of the best pictures of Gattuso during his time with Milan AC. After a win again Lazio, he called all players, substitutes included and allowed them to…slap him.

When asked why he did that, this was his answer

Despite facing critics, club managers, fans, opponents, the media… he cared about what he needs to care about the most: his team. The players, the people that make him what he’s, that will help him achieve his objectives.

When you move from a creative to a manager position, you will spend a lot more time meeting people from outside your team and that might make you shift your focus. Your number one priority is your team because they can make or break whatever plans you drew. No one else outside your team can help you achieve your goals.

Bonus track.

If you wanna know more about the man, here’s a great interview, with an incredible story about what he did to raise $15k for interns at the club when he was a player with AC Milan .

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