Is Jurgen Klopp’s approach the future of management and leadership?
“I have this helping syndrome. I really care about people and I feel responsible for pretty much everything.”
There is a shift in society. The world is changing. The world of sports management, well management in general is also going through significant changes. Nothing more than the comparisons between the previous and current crop of successful football managers show this change.
Football managers have always fascinated me. In some ways a lot more than the actual players. How does a manager successfully manage in most cases 23 players who have different educational backgrounds, different ethnicities, different ages, different nationalities and even speak different languages? Only 11 can play so how do you keep the ones not in the limelight happy? I’ve always believed that the majority of skills that are learnt in sport are transferable to working life.
There is a clear change in the profile of footballers, with the majority of players now being considered as “millennials” or “Generation Z.”
Step forward 51 year old Jurgen Klopp.
There have been many questions regarding Jurgen Klopp from outsiders of Liverpool F.C. including myself. His lack of trophies since his spell in charge has led people to question his qualities. That said it is probably harder to find a more likeable manager in Europe than Jurgen Klopp. He has his philosophy and an incredible energy that people are drawn in to. At Liverpool he has been creating his project which has taken time but he is able to do it in a manner where the journey has also been fun. His achievements this year speak volumes of the man.
“Yesterday I asked myself what it all means, and then I realised: someone has decided that it’s necessary to show people that you can really get knocked down twice, three, four times and still get up again”
Back at the young age of 33, Jurgen became the manager of Mainz 05, a small team in Germany (second tier of German football) who were facing relegation and had four different managers within the past year. He miraculously not only saved them from relegation but was able to get them promoted to the Bundesliga (top tier of German football). Despite having the smallest stadium and smallest budget, he was able to guide Mainz 05 to European football. League titles with Borussia Dortmund as well as reaching the Champions League final meant the world was starting to take note of the German.
In the last decade (especially in the last five years) we have seen a change in the most successful managers. Pep Guardiola, Mauricio Pochettino and Jurgen Klopp represent the new breed of managers.
Father-figure like respect, yet also friends and companions of their players. Of course they maintain that they are the boss and they are very disciplined but they keep this power without ever showing any dictatorial traits. This is a major change in not only football but also in life.
Their power or leadership isn’t dictated through creating rules or a bible of things you can or can’t do with no debating. Instead the effective leaders understand how to communicate their vision, and create a buy-in for it. Footballers are just like everyday people are constantly seeking something that they can put on their Instagram. They want to share experiences. Jurgen Klopp embodies this completely. Klopp celebrates goals like a footballer or fan would, his approach of hugging each of his players after a game publicly is a sign of understanding his group of players. Much has been made of the “hugs” but there is no denying how affectionate his approach is. That transparency of his passion to the Anfield fans and players enable him to create a connection of loyalty and trust.
Just ask Liverpool fans and players, few will murmur a bad word about their manager. A few years ago, his approach would be unthinkable with leaders expected to draw boundaries and make people understand the “power” dynamic.
Jose Mourinho recently spoke of young players being brats drawing comparisons of players from ten, twenty years ago to now. He spoke of Frank Lampard at 23 having great maturity and being a man unlike people of his age now. However, he did admit that he must change and adapt otherwise he as a manager and leader will be left behind. They are not “brats” , they are just a different generation.
Choose to accept it or not, but the reality of today is different. Social media, mobile phones, ipads are important for this generation. Pep Guardiola arguable the greatest coach on earth clearly has irritation with his player Mendy’s regular social media activity. However, he does not prevent him or tell him to stop posting things. He understands that he is dealing with a generation of people who have grown up in the smartphone era and broadband internet since near birth. Jurgen understood this and created a WhatsApp group where the squad could remain in touch with each other during the summer break. He was furious at a member of his staff when they did not know that Andy Robertson was about to be a father. Of course there is more to Jurgen than just his man-management skills, his tactical approach that enables his teams to play offensively attractive football is much to be admired. The high temp, gegen-pressing and constant analysis of every opponent have played a major role in his success. However, it is his man-management skills that are particular fascinating as they are clearly very transferable across all industries.
“Leave a room and try to make sure that people don’t feel worse from the moment you came in”.