Can we learn much from Brian Clough’s leadership style?

My leadership students this week chose Invictus as a book or film worth studying. Would they have voted for Brian Clough, if they had seen The Damned United, screened by the BBC this week-end?

A case can be made for studying leadership in its widest variety of forms, including the actions of dictators as well as saints. Can we learn more from studying Nelson Mandela, or Mother Teresa or Ghandi than from studying Hitler, or Stalin. And what about sporting leaders such as Brian Clough?

The Damned United, [released March 18th, 2009], concentrates on one of Clough’s few managerial failures, who after less than two months managing Leeds United Football Club, was fired for a combination of bad results and an abrasive style which extended to the club’s board of directors.

It was rescreened by the BBC [10.30pm, BBC2, Sunday July 18th, 2010].

Brian Clough is fondly regarded nowadays, not because he was ahead of his time but because he was very much of it, despite upsetting football’s authoritarian old guard with his cocky contempt for them. He would never have got away with his genius in today’s world of agents and multimillionaire egos. With copious footage, this documentary traces his rise from a dazzling young centre-forward scythed down in his prime, turned brilliant, self-assured manager, to the ruddy-faced figure he cut in his sad decline.

When the film was first released, Prof Szymanski of CASS Business School told the BBC “It was socialism if you like …You do see this idea in business sometimes. The focus was on the needs of his players. These were his frontline staff – they’re the ones under the pressure, they’re the ones who deliver, so you need to meet their needs whatever it takes. …[however] he was a very overbearing employer, incredibly paternalistic – like Stalin and just as frightening.”

Clough himself never over-analyzed his management technique.
“They tell me people have always wondered how I did it” he once said. I’m told my fellow professionals and public alike have been fascinated and puzzled and intrigued by the Clough managerial methods and technique and would love to know my secret. I’ve got news for them – so would I”

Would Clough make a good business leader? In one of his teasing philosophical dialogues, Plato has Socrates ask a similar question: ‘would a military leader be a good director of a theatrical chorus?’ But in Plato’s account, Socrates was too cute to suggest that there was a simple answer to that question.

Acknowledgement

Image from The Tactician

6 Responses to Can we learn much from Brian Clough’s leadership style?

  1. Simon says:

    Thanks for reminding me to watch this. There are two Brian Clough programs on the BBC tonight – The Damned United @ 9pm and The Greatest Manager Engkand Never Had @ 10.35pm. Both on BBC2.

  2. Tudor says:

    Thanks Simon. I caught the first, which was very worth watching, and saw enough of the second to admire the portrayals of the first even more.

  3. Kamel Mnisri says:

    Tudor,
    It is amazing because students in Dubai, Singapore and Malaysia choose Invictus as a movie worth watching and analysing. I listened to them and I did watch it on my way back home. The story tells us much about Mandela leadership style. The only thing we all know NM and his leadership style could be looked at from different perspectives but puting the story in sport context was interesting.
    I will try to watch The Damned United.

    Thanks

  4. Kamel Mnisri says:

    Tudor,
    It is amazing because students in Dubai, Singapore and Malaysia choose Invictus as a movie worth watching and analysing. I listened to them and I did watch it on my way back home. The story tells us much about Mandela leadership style. The only thing we all know NM and his leadership style could be looked at from different perspectives but puting the story in sport context was interesting.
    I will try to watch The Damned United.

  5. Tudor says:

    Dear Kamel,

    This feels like a possible global issue?

    Hope you caught the Clough movie as I gave the wrong time….

  6. Tudor says:

    Remembered this after watching United [Easter Monday 2011]. More carefully defined as a ‘drama based on a true story’.

    Here there are other coaching heroes: The boss (Busby), the coach (Jimmy Murphy). But the heart of this drama is the Munich air disaster which wiped out the Busby Babes and the spirit of the club. Very Moving.

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