8 Quotes by Alex Ferguson that Will Inspire You to Self-Discipline Leadership
Can you name a manager of a company who stays in his position for 26 years? This is Alex Ferguson — a legend. Not only for Manchester United but for the entire football family. He was a manager of MU for as long as 26 seasons — the longest in the history of English football. At the end of his career, he was the most titled manager in history. What can you learn about leadership from Alex Ferguson?
#1 In the long run, the rules prove to be more important than the immediate benefits
Throughout his career as a manager, Ferguson was known for setting high expectations and high standards. In winter 2011, Ferguson discovered that his players were in the city center on the second day of Christmas. The next day, when they’ve arrived at the training — some of them were still drunk. Ferguson decided to remove 3 players from the team for the next match with Blackburn, and everyone had to take part in additional training this day. In the end, Manchester United has lost the match and at the end of the season, because of this loss, they didn’t win the entire Premier League. But Ferguson still believed he did right because in this way he set high standards for his players — and it paid off in the future. The next season Manchester United was first in Premier League, with 11 points more than its local Rival — Manchester City.
Lesson for leaders: Act by the rules. If you will do it, even if it’ll hurt from a short perspective, in the long perspective it will give you much more benefits.
#2 Once you bid farewell to discipline you say goodbye to success
Just at his beginnings at Manchester United stadium Old Trafford, Alex Ferguson found that players were traveling without any order — they were wearing clothes with many different sponsors at them. The decision was clear — after a short time all the players started to travel in MU’s clothes and flannel shirts. This small change helped him to integrate his team and set working standards for the entire team, just from the beginning.
Lesson for leaders: look even from small possibilities to grow the discipline of team members. You don’t have to be ruthless to be demanding.
#3 Advice often comes when you least expect it, and listening, which costs nothing, is one of the most valuable things you can do.
One thing Ferguson decided was not to lead training for himself but to give this responsibility to his other coaches. This way — staying a bit outside — he could observe more and control players easier. As he says — it allowed him to observe the whole of the situation, not only part of it — and thanks to this, to make better decisions as a leader.
Lesson for leaders: Observe, listen, and learn to understand the context in which you make decisions. Decision-making is your main responsibility as a leader.
#4 For me drive means a combination of a willingness to work hard, emotional fortitude, enormous powers of concentration and a refusal to admit defeat
Alex Ferguson came from a working-class family. His father was working even 60 hours a week, in a shipyard. Ferguson liked to work as well — waking up each day at 6 am, being often the first man in the workplace. Evidence of his diligence is that he missed only 3 of 1500 matches of Manchester United. Three words describing him from the co-author of his biography are preparation, perseverance, and patience. When he was asked what would he change if he would be a newbie manager again, he answered: I’d focus even more on training.
Lesson for leaders: Accept that you have to work hard. It’s also necessary regarding leadership positions.
#5 Part of the pursuit of excellence involves eliminating as many surprises as possible because life is full of the unexpected
Ferguson was known for his deep understanding of his opponents. It helped him also at the Champions League semi-final with FC Barcelona, 2008. Before the match, his assistant Carlos Queiros has placed big mats on the pitch to show exactly where each of the players should play. He stacked several mats almost one on top of the other to emphasize how close Scholes and Carrick had to play together on the pitch. Barcelona has not scored a single goal this match.
Lesson for leaders: Be a prepared leader. Growing chances for success is about eliminating as many surprises as it is possible.
#6 When you run any organisation, you have to look as far down the road as you can
Ferguson was also known for long-distance planning — mainly regarding developing his team. He had a 3-year plan for many aspects of the football team, including supporting the development of youth players, selection of young teenage players, and planning transfers. When Ferguson came to MU, just 85 people were working there, together with employees responsible for washing clothes and cooking, while in 2021 it was almost 1 000 people. He started when the club was worth 20 mln pounds, while in 2021 it was more than 3 billion pounds. Most of this time Ferguson was MU manager, building the team.
Lesson for leaders: Plan in the long-term of the key aspects of your organization. If a leader plans the future, he can control it better, even if the plan will change.
#7 Hard work will always overcome natural talent when natural talent does not work hard enough
Ferguson believed that determination and persistence are more important than talent. If he could choose an ultra-talented player or an ultra-determined — he would choose the second one. That was with David Beckham. As Ferguson admits — when Beckham joined the club, he was training not only in the morning and afternoon. He decided to train in the evenings also, with the younger players. His body’s performance score was such good, that it was above the scale.
Lesson for leaders: Know who you are looking for in your team. Don’t look only for talents, but also for persistence and determination.
#8 You cannot lead by following
Ferguson knew he can’t just wait for the best players — he needed to sell MU vision to them. He believed that each boss is a kind of a seller, so he needed to lead, even before a player decide to join his team. The same was with David Beckham. Tottenham Hotspur London, a club from Beckham’s city, wanted him to join their club as well. To attract him, Ferguson had to meet with his parents and family members. MU invited Beckham to some summer trainings. They’ve even sent him MU’s shirt and invited him to the dressing room of the team when they were playing in London. And all this happened because this teenager had the potential to be a good player for MU. This determination in showing the importance of bringing Beckham to MU was key — and he finally decided to join Manchester United instead of Tottenham.
Lesson for leaders: Actively sell your vision. Waiting for other people to tell you what to do is not about leadership — people expect direction from you, as a leader.
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