Mick McCarthy sacked: The case examined from a situational leadership perspective

February 14, 2012

Mick McCarthy is dismissed as manager of Wolves football club after a run of poor results, and a crushing defeat to local rivals. LWD examines his case from the perspective of situational leadership

A Guardian report briefly summarised the demise of Mick McCarthy:

Mick McCarthy has paid an almost inevitable price for Wolves’ dismal run of form, with the Midlands club announcing the sacking of their manager on Monday morning [Feb 13th 2012]. Despite earlier support from the boardroom, McCarthy’s position appeared untenable as Wolverhampton Wanderers slumped to a 5-1 home defeat by West Bromwich Albion on Sunday

“Wolves have today announced that manager, Mick McCarthy, has left the club with immediate effect. The board took the difficult decision to terminate Mick’s contract after a run of form which has seen Wolves pick up only 14 points in the last 22 league games, culminating in yesterday’s 5-1 defeat at home to West Bromwich Albion. Mick joined Wolves in July 2006 and led the club to the Championship title in the 2008-09 campaign, before keeping the club in the Premier League for the past two seasons. The board would like to place on record their sincere thanks and appreciation to Mick and he leaves with the very best wishes of everyone connected to the club. The club will be issuing a fuller statement in due course.”

As fans stepped up their displays of dissatisfaction with McCarthy a few months ago, he reacted angrily afterwards. I noted in an earlier post [Oct 28th 2011]:

At the post-match interview, the manager was visibly angry. He chose not to reveal the origins of his anger. This of itself was unusual. He has earned a reputation of the almost stereotyped no-nonsense, blunt-speaking Yorkshire man.

Checking back I found another post recounting a famous confrontation with team captain Roy Keene, when McCarthy was manager of Ireland’s world cup team. These and numerous other reports suggests that Mick McCarthy’s leadership style is seen as uncompromising, committed, and confrontational.

Credit where credit is due

As McCarthy’s fate became discussed, commentators made the reasonable case that McCarthy had succeeded well with the resources at his disposal, including those successes in gaining and securing promotion to the Premiership for his club [2006-2009].

Situational leadership

The case can be studied applying the notions of situational leadership, still a popular form of leadership development courses.
The approach takes participants beyond the idea that there is one best leadership style. It was an advance over a century-long search for traits of effective leaders. Situational leadership suggests that “it all depends” on situational factors including the maturity of the people involved (the football team or squad in this example).

Four basic situational styles

S1 directing
S2 directing and supporting (coaching)
S3 supporting (with lower level of direction)
S4 delegating (reduced leader interventions of support or direction).

At its core, situational leadership courses suggest that as a team develops in maturity, the leader needs to place emphasis on differing combinations of task focus and people focus.

Growing with the team

It seems likely that some leaders can ‘grow with the team’. It may be that McCarthy had considerable talents at directing (style S1) perhaps finding it difficult to work comfortably with complex situations requiring more flexible ‘individualized attention’ of team members.