A crossover moment for me this week between one of my favourite leisure time podcasts (Quickly Kevin – a 90s football podcast) and work related topics.
The issue here, specifically, is (Sir) Alex Ferguson’s management style.
On Quickly Kevin, Lee Sharpe (one of Ferguson’s players in the ’90s) recounts how Ferguson has blanked him at events since Sharpe called Sir Alex a “bully” in his book/biography. This immediately rang some alarm bells for me given Ferguson is often put on a pedestal within the (admittedly bizarre at times) business press and leadership education industries. For example:
The reality is that leadership/management preference is highly culturally and down to personal preference. Ferguson, Brian Clough (a personal hero of mine) and other greats of sports coaching would no doubt be seen as bullies today – not to mention the various cases of subterfuge over the years in cycling, athletics, gymnastics, etc. Indeed Clough, even at his near peak, was criticised for his treatment of Justin Fashanu.
I am currently watching the US version of the Office (very late to the party, I know). As silly as it is, Michael’s attempts at humour and “fun” in the office are very indicative of the problems of culture given that we are all different and will want different things. This is ultimately why we often have a dichotomy in workplaces between dull/quiet experiences where we revert to the mean of neutrality to avoid conflict over noise, “fun”, etc. and the opposite where teams are hired based on existing relationship, personality, etc. and thus we have “bro” cultures in tech and other uniform team building approaches that actively avoid diversity (even if the people hiring do not realise it). In the later the manager is likely to be empowered to act as they wish. In the former there may be perceptions of bullying as people are beaten down to the norm.
As we are all different we then need to be actively careful in picking our own heroes – personally I mute anyone on LinkedIn who shares positive posts related to Richard Branson. For me he is an example of many of the things wrong in the world (not least double standards over the environment). Let us be careful with our heroes and listen to dissenting voices. Personally I would rather celebrate those we have worked with who have had a positive influence on us than celebrating such big names.