Tony Mowbray: Celtic gets the Natural Leader they wanted

June 17, 2009
Tony Mowbray

Tony Mowbray

Tony Mowbray was the leader the Celtic Football Club board wanted. His appointment will test the impact of an appointment based on character and potential

Why was Tony Mowbray the front-runner when the Celtic board looked for a replacement for Gordon Strachan? The story offers insights into a belief system about leadership.

Throughout his footballing career, Mowbray has consistently shown what the BBC referred to as the characteristics of a Natural Leader.

David Hay [former Celtic manager] , gave an insight into the necessary attributes any Celtic manager must possess.
“You’ve got to be strong, single-minded and have a good football knowledge … and you must finish above Rangers!”
No one can know whether the Yorkshireman can wrest the league title back from the blue half of Glasgow. What is certain is that Mowbray’s leadership qualities have shone from early on in his career, when at the age of 22 he became club captain at Middlesbrough. His boss there, Bruce Rioch, thought so highly of the towering centre-back, that he said if he was going to the moon and could only take one man with him, then Tony Mowbray would be the man he would want by his side

David Hay omitted to mention other necessary attributes for selection success at Celtic. These surely include the ‘favourite son’ syndrome.

Mowbray won the trust and loyalty of Celtic fans at his time with the club. In some ways a favourite son can be assimilated into the family, in which case the affection is at least as strong as that conferred on the bloodline.

Later, Mowbray earned a reputation in England as a coach who encouraged his teams to play attractive football.

At West Brom this year he was considered to have made a reasonable job with the resources at his disposal. He was not much criticised when the club was relegated from the Premiership a few weeks ago [June 2009].

The limits of charisma

Leaders we deserve has taken the view that The Natural Leader is part of a discredited notion of leaders who achieve transformational change through force of character traits. Mowbray has valuable personal attributes which will serve him well as a leader. The club has reason to feel they have got the leader they wanted.
But the fate of the charismatic leader is to inspire through harnessing a wave of emotion. The tide can suddenly turn, as Ewan Murray points out

He must [now] deal with a scenario in which expectations are higher than he has ever encountered – as a manager, that is; Mowbray should be well aware from the four years he spent as a Celtic player just how much success counts and defeat hurts for both halves of [the city of Glasgow].

He is the man who started Celtic’s pre-match huddle, has frequently spoken of his fondness for the club and their supporters and there will be an obvious emotional pull towards Parkhead. Mowbray showed tremendous dignity in coping with the death of his former wife when a Celtic player; Bernadette’s family were and are all staunch [Celtic] supporters.

Mowbray’s first challenge may be his biggest. Two sets of qualifying matches for the Champions League will open Celtic’s season. Strachan found out only too well that defeat at stage one can have massive implications

To be continued …

A few hours later. My first comments ‘damned with faint praise’ the appointment. This was not intended to suggest that Celtic had made a big mistake. My point is that most complex leadership challenges require skills that are rarely possessed by one person. That’s why leadership is increasingly seen as a process which requires a team each member of which has leadership skills and responsibilities. Mowbray, the Celtic Board, the coaching staff, even the fans contribute in different ways and different times to success and failure.