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Leadership and Motivation: the Southgate effect

17th Jul 2018
Edenred UK
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Despite it being the French team who eventually lifted the trophy after the World Cup final on Sunday, there is widespread agreement that the way Gareth Southgate conducted himself as manager during the tournament and his integrity, honesty and empathy were the deciding factors in his team’s solid performance this year.

Not only that, he successfully managed to re-engage and excite an entire nation in his team and the World Cup, something which had been missing in recent years thanks mostly to the lack of relatability between manager, players and supporters. 

Southgate has a leadership style “built on incredible levels of trust between him and his players and staff”, says Michael Caulfield, a sport psychologist. And his success in quietly transforming the England team from plucky young underdogs into national heroes has not gone unnoticed in the boardrooms of corporate Britain.

According to celebrity booking agency NMP Live, agents have been fending off calls from banks and other big businesses asking Southgate to share management and motivational advice with them and talk to them about leadership and how to change the culture of an organisation. 

Leading by example

Having been in the same shoes as his team on previous occasions, Southgate is a credible and respected leader who understands the challenges the players face. As such, he was able to gain their trust and buy-in from the outset.

Being able to demonstrate understanding and managing your team at work by mentoring and being approachable will empower your people to perform better and feel valued. This mutual trust means that your workforce can focus on the task at hand rather than worrying about pleasing or disappointing their manager. 

Team work

The success of this year’s England team has been a team effort and not down to individual gifts, real or imagined, of one or two golden stars. Gone are the indulgent excesses of individual footballing egos – in came the understatement, modesty and a sense of collective effort.

Perhaps it is this collaborative approach that can provide the answer to productivity problems in the workplace? By focusing on team objectives and outcomes, everyone is equally accountable for the success of the business – this leads to a sense of collective responsibility, where success is shared and openly celebrated.


The way Southgate was able to simultaneously and with equal sincerity celebrate the winners and console the losers of a match speaks volumes about his ability to show true empathy. In the past, football has been about instructing and telling off – now it’s about talking, listening and empathy as well.

When it comes to empathy, treat your team members as individuals rather than a homogenous group. Different approaches work for different people but the fundamentals of kindness, listening and empathy will take you further than barking orders or disapproval. Praise is the ultimate motivator.

Praise and recognition

There are few, if any, situations where praise isn’t more motivational than a telling-off, or allowing someone to dwell on mistakes. Raheem Sterling may have missed a couple of chances in the game against Sweden, but he also created mayhem for the opposition defences. He will have been praised for his contribution to the team rather than criticised for his mistakes.

Constructive, regular feedback in the workplace is of course essential to professional development and something your people will expect. Inspire your people with a vision for success and provide the support and encouragement to help them achieve it. 

As with the England team, this change in behaviour and attitude will create a culture of mutual appreciation and recognition in the workplace. Recognition is the essential link between inspiration and great performance – make it personalised and genuine, and watch motivation grow. 

It doesn’t take an expert to work out that if you keep doing the same things, you’ll get the same results. Southgate was a refreshing change as a manager, proving that sometimes employers need to consider a full-scale review of their values, behaviours and leadership approaches to drive better engagement and performance. 

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