Arsene Wenger and Mark Hughes: Even Fifth-level Leaders can be Petulant


I have tended to think of football managers Mark Hughes and Arsene Wenger as good examples of Fifth Level Leaders. But that doesn’t make them perfect

The thought struck me after this week’s spat between two men who have earned much respect in their managerial careers as football managers. Wenger can hardly appear on our domestic TV screen without Susan declaring her unshakeable approval of Father Abbot. My admiration for Mark Hughes goes beyond the fact that he would have been a most successful Manager for Wales if the country had been a tenth as rich as Arabia.

Some while ago I nominated Wenger and Hughes as examples of fifth level leaders after the concept advocated by Business guru Jim Collins. My admiring comments included the following appreciation:

I would say that the style of the fifth-level manager has most obviously been exhibited, over an adequate time period, by Arsene Wenger of Arsenal, who has been rightly admired for creating teams that are built to last. For many years, he has displayed the fifth-level style, which is partly that of an absence not a presence. The absence is of behaviours that appear to be driven by personal ego, sometimes to the detriment of the short-term consequences. As we saw above, fifth-level leaders were not aggressive, not self-promoting and not self-congratulatory.

Among the younger managers, I would nominate Mark Hughes of Blackburn Rovers FC as a fifth-level leader in the making. If I am right, he epitomizes the absence of what might be termed ‘aggressiveness in the service of the ego’. As a player, aggressiveness was the hallmark of his style, although he had a far gentler inter-personal style off the pitch.

Public Petulance

Anyway, this week, the two men had a very public display of petulance on the touch-line of the Man City v Arsenal FC cup tie. Mark Hughes’ Manchester City won rather easily. Wenger’s policy of playing his brilliant emerging players backfired. I haven’t found out what it was all about, but it all ended with Wenger losing gracelessly, stalking down the tunnel apparently making a big gesture of not shaking hands with Hughes. Hughes gesticulated angrily at the retreating Wenger.

The Perfection Myth

Big deal. The Media made much of it.

Arsenal manager Arsène Wenger recorded another touchline bust-up after Arsenal’s 3-0 Carling Cup defeat, adding to his more infamous tirades against fellow managers.

Childish. Well, yes it was a bit. But why all the fuss? I can’t help thinking it is because the myth of the Great Leader still lurks behind the cool rationality of a more modern age. We still seek perfection in our attempts to understand what makes a good leader great. So, one more time, you don’t have to imitate slavishly all the behaviours of successful managers. You don’t have to rant and rave at players who are not performing. Maybe the ranting and raving has a short-term effect in the heat of battle. Maybe it’s sometimes valuable. Maybe it’s a style which tips over into uncontrollable ranting, or other regressive behaviours.

The style of a fifth level leader tends towards a controlled approach in which quiet determination is linked to fierce resolve. But self-control stores up other psychic pressures. It may lead to the occasional outburst in frustration and disappointment. It is at odds with our views of how great leaders perform. It’s time we came to terms with the myth of perfection.

One Response to Arsene Wenger and Mark Hughes: Even Fifth-level Leaders can be Petulant

  1. […] have written quite a lot about Mark Hughes in LWD. Recently he seemed to have been under strain in public. Mostly, however, he confirmed a view that his leadership style was non-charismatic but that of a […]

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