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Jose Mourinho's sacking from Manchester United is the epitome of workplace hubris

Lianna Brinded
Head of Finance, Yahoo Finance UK
Manchester United just sacked manager Jose Mourinho. Photo: Action Images via Reuters/Jason Cairnduff/File Photo

Jose Mourinho was unceremoniously sacked from Manchester United (MANU) on Tuesday. While two-and-a-half years ago, his appointment was full of promise, his abrupt exit shows that he succumbed to one of the biggest mistakes you can make as a manager, any type of manager — hubris.

The illustrious manager came with a legacy — with Portuguese football club Futebol Clube do Porto, more commonly known as ‘FC Porto’ or simply ‘Porto,’ he won the UEFA Champions League in 2004, before lifting it again with Italian side Inter Milan in 2010. That’s the same amount of wins as a manager as one of his predecessors Sir Alex Ferguson who brought Man U to victory in 1999 and 2008.

When it came to Chelsea, he hit the ground running and won the League Cup against Liverpool before going on to claim the Premier League title. The result from that last game meant the team finished 12 points ahead of their nearest rivals Arsenal. The following season he led Chelsea to victory by retaining the Premier League and the team also won the Community Shield.

Over his career, there were other cups and accolades that were steered by him and led him to self-proclaim that he was a ‘special one.’ But it’s exactly that attitude that led to the downfall of the once lauded football manager — he continually made a raft of classic managerial mistakes that contributed to his hubris.

Jose Mourinho’s career in club management Graphic: PA

The need to adapt

Legacy and a good track record will undoubtedly serve you well in your career but it doesn’t mean that once you’ve achieved success at another club, or company, that the hard work stops.

All teams are uniques, even though the sector may be the same. It’s for this reason that managers need to continually adapt to new environments and team members, even if strategies or management styles you employed before had worked but do not necessarily in your new role.

In the Harvard Business Review, two professors of management said “the manager must adapt his or her style to the needs and style of each particular individual. This of course takes a good deal of work on the part of the manager, but again, this is perceived as being part of the job, not a special favour.”

“One of the core lessons for managers is that coaching isn’t always about telling people the answer. Rather, it is more about having a conversation and asking good, open-ended questions that allow the people you are coaching to reflect on what they are doing and how they can do things differently in the future to improve performance,” they added.

READ MORE: Manchester United sack Jose Mourinho after rollercoaster two-and-a-half years in charge

 

Taking responsibility

As Yahoo Sports UK’s reporter Dimitri Kondonis pointed out in his digest over Mourinho’s sacking, the freshly ousted manager was resistant to admitting his faults.

Sports commentator Jim Beglin supported this notion by saying: “Slagging your players off in public makes no managerial sense. A recipe for the growth of contempt. Mourinho continued to deflect blame rather than accept some of the responsibility. United can remove the shackles of his chaotic control.”

Mourinho was famed for deflecting blame and taking credit — the opposite of what takes to be a good manager.

For example, in August this year, Man U endured a crushing 3-0 defeat against Tottenham. However, Mourinho took it as an opportunity to remind the media that he has won more Premier League titles than the division’s 19 other managers combined.

A report the Harvard Business Review sums up why this attitude was a big mistake for Mourinho, who was brought in to turnaround Man U.

“It’s no big news that leaders in turnaround situations tend to play a more prominent role in their companies than leaders in business-as-usual scenarios,” said Tobias Fredberg, an associate professor of management at Chalmers University in Gothenburg.

“What’s interesting is, in interviews, the CEOs who had led turnarounds took personal responsibility when things went wrong and did not hesitate to share the credit with their teams when things went right.”

Return on investment

The biggest responsibility of a manager, in football or any job, is to produce results. And Mourinho had two-and-a-half years of failure.

With every signing or penny spent, there always needs to a ‘return on investment.’ This means getting results with every strategy, wage cheque, action you make. It also means understanding where there are problems within staffing and a team and address it before it damages the whole supply chain.

As Yahoo Sports UK’s Kondonis said that “after signing [footballer] Paul Pogba for a then-world record £89m ($112.8m) as his star man, the France World Cup winner rapidly became his biggest problem at Old Trafford.”

Mourinho failed to rein in Pogba which had detrimental effects on the club. That very expensive hire had wide-reaching repercussions, leading to match-costing errors which infuriated the fans, hierarchy, and manager at the club — creating an “almost constant toxic atmosphere surrounded the club,” said Kondonis.

In the management world, Mourinho’s behaviour can be described as a “diminisher.”

According to former vice president of Oracle University, Liz Wiseman, and author of the book Multipliers: How the Best Leaders Make Everyone Smarter, Mourinho’s failure to tackle unproductive staff leads to a diminisher. That is someone who “always needs to be the smartest guy in the room and shuts everyone else down,” and “they tend to be know-it-alls in how they set direction.”

“They base strategy on their insight. They only see what they know and then never ask their company to do something other than that. In this way, they limit what’s possible in an organisation because their business can only take on something they have an answer to or know how to do.”

So, Mourinho has no one to blame apart from himself.