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Leicester City – A Lesson in Leadership

Leicester City – A Lesson in Leadership
3 May 2016 James Dillon

Unless you have been asleep for the last week, you will know that our local football club, Leicester City, have been crowned Champions of the English Premier League. The success of Leicester City gives hope and inspiration to hundreds of thousands of smaller businesses that money and size is not everything.

‘Semper eadem’ is our city’s motto which is latin for “always the same”, but following the achievements of our modest football club, nothing is the same from here. Since the title was confirmed on Monday, the City of Leicester has been united in celebration and people from all over the world have been following with interest

As a lifelong supporter and season ticket holder at Leicester City, I am still in a state of disbelief, but THEY DID IT!

Mindset + Differentiation = Success

I am sure there are many, many lessons to learn from the exploits of Jamie Vardy, Claudio Ranieri and company, but where to begin? At the start of the season, Leicester City were 5,000-1 outsiders for the title and Claudio Ranieri’s appointment as Nigel Pearson’s replacement was greeted with somewhat of a negative reaction. Yet, they managed to pull off the greatest title victory in the history of English sport.

People ‘Man’ Management

Leicester City’s squad was assembled at a cost of £54.4 million, the same amount of money their title rivals Manchester City spent on a single player, Kevin De Bruyne, in 2015 and their sole ambition for this season was to avoid relegation. However, Claudio Ranieri is the manager responsible for giving the squad the belief in not only themselves but each other and created a synergy which resulted in the first top flight championship title in an 132-year history.

“I want you to play for your teammates. We are a little team, so we have to fight with all our heart, with all our soul. I don’t care the name of the opponent. All I want is for you to fight. If they are better than us, Okay, congratulations. But they have to show us they are better.”

Claudio Ranieri


Throughout the season, the headlines have been all about Jamie Vardy and Riyad Mahrez, but what about the man previously known as the ‘Tinkerman’ and the ‘nearly man’? In his almost 30-year management career, Ranieri coached at 12 clubs before joining Leicester City last year. He was sacked from seven of them, and never won a top division title during that time.

At Leicester City, Ranieri’s leadership has built on an already established team spirit and nurtured a tight-knit culture at the club. Like most great leaders, he has allowed his team to shine and to take the limelight. His ‘public’ leadership style appears to be calm and he frequently chose to downplay expectations and Leicester’s achievements throughout the season to take the pressure off the players. Yet, behind the scenes, there must be a man with vision, confidence and a steely determination.

“I always tell my players to find the fire within themselves. A chance like this will never come round again. Seek that fire, if anything they demand to dream.”

Claudio Ranieri

I well remember the Newcastle United manager, Kevin Keegan, losing his cool in a famous rant about Alex Ferguson. In 1995-96, Newcastle had held a 12 point lead over Manchester United, but lost the title by four points. He chose (or was provoked) into a series of poor decisions and into losing control of his mindset.

Mindset Management

Mindset management is all about controlling and managing thoughts and emotions. Instead of talking up Leicester City’s chance of winning the title, Ranieri set a number of smaller (SMART) targets which included keeping the first clean sheet, achieving 40 points and then securing Champions League football. He chose to build a quiet sense of confidence, purpose, resolve and rewarded his players with extra days off and even pizza!

Ranieri also chose a system of playing that did not replicate the style of other clubs – he chose instead to play to the player’s strengths. By finding the ‘Leicester City way’, Ranieri did not have to take on the big clubs on their terms. Here is where I believe the main lesson is for Small and Medium-Sized businesses – DO NOT try to be something you are not. Be proud of what you are, find your own way, your own style and use this to differentiate yourself from the BIG players in your industry.

Be a David If You Are Not a Goliath

Whilst there is only room in most markets for one or two ‘Goliaths’, I think there is always enough room for lots of ‘Davids’. At Exponential Training, we pursue a ‘David’ strategy. This means (to use another sporting analogy), we ‘punch above our weight’. Instead of using a weight advantage, we aim to be agile, inventive and ready to spot and seize opportunities just like Jamie Vardy! Like Leicester City, the Exponential Training team believe in the way we play and what we are doing. When we are successful, we celebrate together, but do not get carried away with our successes.

Leadership has underpinned the success of Leicester City this season, from the Thai Chairman, Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha, to Claudio Ranieri and to the Leaders out there on the pitch. The challenge now of course for Leicester City, just as it is with any business that experiences success and growth, is how to sustain it!

I very much look forward to seeing what the future holds for Leicester City Football Club and I am extremely proud of what our City has achieved!

James Dillon is Business Development Manager at Exponential Training and has over 5 years experience working with current and aspiring Managers, Coaches and Consultants. James works with both past and potential clients in order to help them find the right training & development solutions to meet their specific needs. You can contact James or connect through LinkedIn.


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