The value of inspirational leadership

In a post just before Christmas, I’d written about the importance of working with managers who believe in us. The impetus for that post was watching the highlights of a Manchester United game under the new interim manager which saw the team hit 5 goals for the first time in 5 years.

That match, it turned out, was a watershed moment. Under the leadership of the interim manager, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, Manchester United went on an impressive winning streak – 7 consecutive games, 8 consecutive away games, and victories against top rivals. Through this process, we learnt that Solskjaer wasn’t just a club legend brought in to tide the team through the rest of the season. He was an astute manager and an inspirational leader.

While he’s exceeded all expectations so far, he faced the biggest challenge of his reign yesterday. His only defeat thus far came in the European Champions League against heavyweights Paris Saint Germain. He lost two of his best players to injuries in the first half and the team lost 2-0 in the first leg.

So, he headed to the second leg facing a task that had eluded 106 other teams who lost 2-0 in the first leg in the knock out stages. In the world’s elite football tournament, no one made their way back at 2-0. But, that was not all. He also had 10 senior players out of his 22 member squad injured. So, he fielded a make-shift team with 4 teenage substitutes – all of whom had never played a game in the Champions League for Manchester United. And, to top it off, he’d lost his talisman – midfielder Paul Pogba – as he was suspended after two yellow card fouls in the first leg.

Against all odds, the team won 3-1 and are through to the quarter finals. They rode their luck, they took their chances, and they made it.

This victory was a great reminder of the value of inspirational leadership to me. United were given a 6.7% chance by the bookmakers at the start of the game. But, Solskjaer got every member of the team to believe in their own capabilities, to keep faith in each other, and to dig deep and find that extra bit of energy and resolve when they most needed it.

When that happens, individuals and teams are capable of overcoming absurd odds.