18th September 2020 – I’ve had a few businesses in my life but I’ve always started them from scratch. The journey can be very lonely at the beginning, which is a struggle.
But what do you do if you are taking on a failing business? Or become the manager of an under performing team.
When I sat down with legendary football manager and BigChange ambassador Kevin Keegan for a recent mentoring session, he told me that – hard as it may seem at the time – founding your own business is much easier than taking on someone else’s.
“At least you got a blank piece of paper,”
“In football, you start when there are problems already there. You don’t get a management job unless there are problems; the club has got relegated, lost a lot of games, or results have been poor. You are going to a place where confidence is low, they have been getting beaten a lot and they are down.”
When Kevin was appointed manager of Newcastle United in 1992, they were second bottom in the league and facing relegation.
“We still had 16 games to play when I joined and I didn’t know anybody,”
he told me.
“I also felt very, very lonely.”
How did he turn around the losing side? Kevin explains the five simple steps that can take any team from zero to hero.
Step one: Find someone that understands the organisation and can give you the inside track
“I got Terry McDermott, who knew the club better than me,”
“I said come and work with me, it’s a big job. I knew straight away that I couldn’t do it on my own. I needed help from someone who understood that club because we didn’t have time to learn.”
McDermott became Kevin’s right-hand man at the club, helping with training and supporting the players.
Step two: Invest in the future of the organisation
“At that time, the place was filthy,”
Kevin told me.
“Players were eating sandwiches in the gym and sticking them in a corner. This is what happens when things go wrong in football.”
He gave the players two days off and did up the dressing rooms and baths, building new cubicles and giving everything a fresh lick of paint.
“When they came in, you could hear the players saying, ‘Wow’,”
“I said to them, ‘Look, it’s not a lot. That’s the least you deserve. You’re a footballer’.”
Step three: Treat your team like superstars
“Players were taking their own kit home to wash it,”
“I said, ‘You won’t be doing that any more’. They were travelling to games on the same day. The club took the view that the players weren’t good so why put them up in a hotel? Wasn’t anything to do with football, the first things I did. It was to do with cleanliness and respect for the players.”
Step four: Incentivise your team to win
“Get relegated or not,”
Kevin told his players,
“We’re going to make this better. But the other side is that you guys have got to help me. Then I can start on the training ground. I can say to the chairman, ‘Look, these guys are battling for this club. We can get out of relegation. We need a better training ground.”
Step five: Leverage success
“When we had a better training ground, and you fetch players to join you instead of another club, they think, ‘Wow’,”
Kevin said. Success begets success, and Kevin has always had the business acumen to maximise his advantage. He not only rescued the Magpies from relegation into the third division, he helped the team win promotion into the Premier League, becoming one of the most famous figures in Newcastle’s football history.
At BigChange, I’m lucky to have a brilliant team that is hard working and committed. But every team can have a bad day or a bad week. This session with Kevin taught me that I really have to focus my energies on building up the team’s confidence when things get tough.
I pride myself on always trying to create a great work environment. When we moved into our most recent offices, it felt like a huge step up and the impact on morale was immense. It felt like we had been promoted to the Premier League! But there is always more that I can do to show colleagues that we want to invest in them, their happiness, and their future.
I’m so grateful to Kevin for always bringing me back to basics, and giving me this insight into what it takes to be a truly great leader.
Watch episode 4 of Secrets of Leadership just click here.