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Can Mourinho really change a culture set in stone?

27th Nov 2019
Engage in Learning
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The appointment of José Mourinho as Tottenham Hotspur Head Coach (note – not Manager!) was both surprising and yet long awaited. Having been out of work for the past 11 months since his sacking at the hands of Manchester United, it was obvious to anyone who knows how the managerial merry-go-round works that – at some point in the not too distant future –  the “Special One” would be back.

The rather rapid demise of Mauricio Pochettino laid the way for this albeit shock appointment. The Argentinian had guided Spurs to a Champions League Final in Madrid back in May but was unable to capitalise on their progress and his team had come away empty handed.  Couple that disappointment with a terrible start to the new Premier League season – and talk of unrest in the dressing room – meant Poch had to go.

Pochettino’s style of leadership it has since emerged was the mentor/ friend/ big brother which – all the time the players were performing – suited them well. The problems seemed to happen when the team was NOT winning and the leadership style was seen by some as weak. Indeed the club always suffered from the tag of being “Spursy” – a culture of failing to achieve their potential by not being ruthless enough on the pitch.

In business as in sport (which is also big business) the culture of the teams is driven by the style of leaders in place. Changing the culture of an organisation through learning and development must take this into account. Of course the greatest leaders throughout history have always had their own distinct style. Think of Juliani, Thatcher, Ghandi and Obama. Very different people who led in different times and circumstances but had their own style which was very successful.

Every employee can affect organisational culture, but it is the role of the leader which is most significant:  the choices they make touch every area of the business: recruitment, employee engagement and performance which all impact how successful the business ultimately becomes.

It is true that one of the greatest differences between successful teams and those who fail to achieve is employee confidence in senior leadership. By setting the mission of an organisation and empowering employees to achieve that mission, leadership builds the foundation of company culture — but is also not afraid to change it when it needs to be changed.

It’s one thing to say it. It’s another thing to see it in action. José Mourinho would seem to be proving just that within a matter of days. Since his appointment the team have played 2 won 2. The players who were sidelined under his predecessor are now taking part in matches and scoring.

And last night Mourinho’s Spurs qualified for the Last 16 in the Champions League. Can they win it? That would be the epitome of culture change.

I, for one, wouldn’t bet against them.

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