A starting point for studying an individual’s leadership behaviours is to select a set of critical incidents which collectively throw light on the person and their behaviour patterns over an extended time period. That is what sports journalist Michael Carr did recently [May 2011]. His top ten Alex Ferguson incidents are:
1. Treble champions (1998/1999)
2. You don’t win anything with kids & managerial mind games (1995/1996)
3. Putting the boot in (that David Beckham dressing room injury 2002/2003)
4. Rivalry with Arsenal’s manager Arsene Wenger (1996 – Today)
5. First Premiership Crown (1992/1993)
6. A battle of footballing philosophies (with Jose Mourhino’s Chelsea 2006/2007)
7. A dramatic turnaround (Arsenal snatch championship defeat in March 2003)
8. Surpassing Liverpool’s nineteen league titles (
to be confirmed, Confirmed May 14th 2011. 2010/2011)
9. Panorama accusations (after which, AF refuses to give interviews to BBC, 2004)
10. You’ve gotta be joking ref! (FA punishment for various comments about referees, 2011)
The stories provide a wealth of information about one of the most successful leaders in Football of all time. They provide ‘compare and contrast’ opportunities with two other great managers (Wenger and Mourniho). They remind us that leaders are humans with human faults and weaknesses. A besotted fan might find plausible explanations to explain dressing-room outbursts like the one which speeded up David Beckham’s departure as a strength. Leadership theories might treat this as an unintended consequence rather than part of a grand strategy to get rid of David Beckham.
Critical incident analysis
Professor Cathy Cassell is a distinguished management scholar and long-time football supporter. She teaches her students at Manchester Business School qualitative research methods, including critical incident analysis. This approach helps a researcher identify the various themes which recur within a set of stories and their critical incidents. So come on Cathy. Let’s be ‘avin you. How about putting Sir Alex under the microscope on your courses next year?