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Harvard Business School professor Anita Elberse has been studying the leadership methods that Sir Alex Ferguson used to become the most successful manager in the history of English soccer.
This week, she published "Ferguson's Formula" — a list of Sir Alex's eight core concepts when building Manchester United into a world powerhouse — in the Harvard Business Review.
When he became manager in 1986, Man U hadn't won the league in 20 years. He spent six seasons building the team from scratch, and won his first title in 1993. By the time he retired in 2013, he had won 13 league titles and built a club that's now worth $3.1 billion.
Here are his eight secrets to success. The HBR article has in-depth explanations for each point from Sir Alex, which we boiled down to a sentence or two.
1. Start with the foundation
Sir Alex says his first order of business was bringing in young players and building a youth system that could sustain the club for years, rather than signing veterans for short-gain success.
2. Dare to rebuild your team
Since he wasn't afraid of being fired, he made decisions based on what the team would look like in four years. He thinks that every team should be retooled every four years.
3. Set high standard — and hold everyone to them
He tells a great anecdote about how meeting high standards can become contagious: "I used to be the first to arrive in the morning. In my later years, a lot of my staff members would already be there when I got in at 7 AM. I think they understood why I came in early—they knew there was a job to be done."
4. Never, ever cede control
You have to get rid of an employee if he's creating discord and trying to wrest some of your power, even if he is the best player in the world. Don't worry about whether employees like you.
5. Match the message to the moment
Ferguson says there is no general rule about when a manager should criticize players and when a manager should encourage players. The context of a situation determines the best message to send to your team.
6. Prepare to win
This is more about risk-taking than anything else. Ferguson's philosophy is that if you're down 2-1, you might as well put on an extra offensive player and lose 3-1 rather than play conservatively and lose 2-1 anyway.
7. Rely on the power of observation
Early in his career, he delegated managing practices to assistant coaches so he could simply watch and observe what was going on with each individual player. He said, "I don't think many people fully understand the value of observing."
8. Never stop adapting
English soccer exploded into the multi-billion dollar business it is during Ferguson's tenure, but he was still able to win, regardless of the changing nature of the sport. He explains, " I believe that you control change by accepting it."
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