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Secrets of
Leadership

A CONVERSATION WITH
MARTIN PORT &
KEVIN KEEGAN OBE

EPISODE 3

How do you build trust with a team?

September 2020

4 mins 10 secs

Discussion

Martin: How do you build trust? Where does it come from in a football team?

Kevin: It’s only five letters in trust, but it’s such an important word when you’re trying to lead people. If they don’t trust you, you can’t lead them. If you say to some guys let’s run through this brick wall then they think “That’s a wall, I’m gonna hurt myself.” A good leader will go first, run through it, and take the fear away.

You can’t manufacture trust. I think you have to be honest with people. I’ve had so many occasions where I called players in, individually, to tell them they weren’t doing well enough. I would say that they’re quite a way off getting into this team and that it was important to know that. They’d sit down and argue their case, but you need to be very, very honest with those people. It’s what builds trust and lets them know you aren’t just saying something to pacify them.

We sometimes have players who are under 2-3 year contracts, who know as well as you that they aren’t going to play. To pull them in and say “I know you’ve got two years left but I think it’s better you move to somewhere you can play, because you’re 23 or 24 and you need to be playing” lets them know where they stand with you. You can’t let them get false hope, or send your assistant to do it.

I used to have a good rapport with players because they were happy to come and speak with me. It goes both ways, they could come and see me and say “I didn’t think you were fair with me today” and you each trust the other will listen. With that circle of trust around the whole team you have a chance for success.

In business you need the same thing. Everyone has to feel important, everyone has to feel that they’ve got a role to play; when people feel out of it, you as a leader need to see it. If you’re really on the ball you see it in the group.

You need control of your group. In football you can’t control the crowd, you can’t control your board of directors, but your players need to be controlled so that they have the freedom to express themselves within the boundaries you set. They can’t be scared to come to you and let you know how they feel.

If you want to apologise in front of the group, that’s your choice as a manager. You might say to everyone “Before we start I want to apologise for what I said to x player yesterday, I’ve been thinking about it and I shouldn’t have said that.” That lets everyone else trust that you’re aren’t afraid to own up to your mistakes, that you don’t get it right every time. And I don’t think any leader truly does.

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