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Visionary Leader Paper

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Visionary Leader – Sir Alex Ferguson


This paper examines Sir Alex Ferguson, former coach of English Football team Manchester United as a visionary leader paper. Even though I’m not a supporter of Manchester United, I decided on ‘Sir Alex’ because of some of the major hurdles he had to overcome before making Manchester United arguably the best team in global football. For over 20 years, Sir Alex’s approach to management transformed one of the most underachieving clubs in English football and built a global brand which a lot of people readily identify with today. The paper looks at some of the personality traits I identified, a few weaknesses and also certain characteristics and traits that made him successful at Manchester United.

A Successful Era

Sir Alex Ferguson began his illustrious Manchester United career in November 1996 when he took over as boss of the renowned but underachieving club. His job was reportedly on the line after a particularly rough stretch early in the 1989-90 seasons, but the Sir Alex displayed remarkable courage and self-confidence to overcome some terrible defeats to win the FA Cup that year. This paved the way for the string of successes that followed: the European Cup Winners' Cup in 1991, the League Cup in '92 and the elusive Premier League championship in '93.

Ferguson's crowning achievement came in the 1998-'99 season, when he became the first manager of a British side to win the treble: the Premier League championship, the FA Cup and the European Cup. It marked the start of a stretch in which saw Manchester United win three consecutive Premier League titles, and four in five years. In 2003, Ferguson received the Manager of the Decade award, presented by the FA Premier League to mark the first 10 years of the Premiership. Ferguson again led his side to three straight Premier League titles from 2007-'09, along with European Cup and FIFA Club World Cup victories in 2008, and back-to-back League Cups in 2009-'10. In December 2010, he surpassed the 24-year-plus tenure of Sir Matt Busby to become the longest-serving manager in United's history. Fittingly, he ended the season with another milestone victory that gave United a record 19 Premier League championships. On 8 May 2013, Ferguson announced his retirement as manager of Manchester United. During his 26 years at the club, he won 38 trophies, including 13 Premier League and two UEFA Champions League titles. Ferguson’s dynamism and success have earned him several accolades and recognition from all over the world and not just in England. Harvard Business School appointed Sir Alex as a teacher for its program titled the Business of Entertainment, Media and Sports. Harvard describes Sir Alex Ferguson as "the greatest soccer coach in history," It must be said however though; Sir Alex did not achieve all this overnight. He displayed certain characteristics, traits, behaviors and a unique leadership style that enabled him to scale the heights of English football to become what we know him for today.

Unmatched Passion for the Game

First of all, Sir Alex was very passionate about the game of football. He displayed a trait we see in many successful leaders today – Enthusiasm. Whenever you watched Sir Alex roaming up and down the sideline, celebrating a goal, chewing the ear of a referee off, or the animated way in which he addressed the press and his players; it was hard to think that he was a 71-year old man. Many thought he would never retire – such was the energy he had demonstrated towards his job. Sir Alex has proved that passion and enthusiasm is the deepest energy source, and enhances not only your own performance but those you lead.

Fiery Fergie

Secondly, Sir Alex was firm but fair in his dealing with every member of the team. Assertiveness refers to being forthright in expressing demands, opinions, feelings and attitude (DuBrin, 2012). Sir Alex had a somewhat fiery temper. In 2003 he infamously lashed out at a stray soccer cleat on the ground in frustration, which accidentally ended up hitting David Beckham and caused a wound above his eye. Some people may have viewed his temper as a negative trait however, he was able to gain respect from his players by using that same temper in building close relationship because he was unafraid to show emotion, and sometimes anger to discipline them when they didn’t meet the standards and expectations that had been set. It is critical for a leader to be able to connect with his/her followers. The players felt like they were being listened to, supported and valued. Sir Alex knew when to draw the line and be assertive in order to get his message across. This was perhaps Ferguson’s greatest strength – even players who left the club under bad circumstances still had very god things to say about him. According to BBC Sport, Cristiano Ronaldo - whom Manchester United sold to Real Madrid for a then world record fee of 80 million pounds - tweeted after hearing of Sir Alex’s retirement, “Thanks for everything, boss”.


In the English Premier League, there have been all too many familiar stories of coaches being sacked by the team owners just because the coaches could not earn the trust of the players. Players felt uneasy because they felt the teams were going to cash in on them if they ever received any good offers from other clubs. Sir Alex on the other hand, worked tirelessly to earn the trust and credibility of his players. He used the media to deny any rumors or speculations about his players’ leaving to other teams. This credibility allowed Sir Alex to easily earn the respect of some of the big egos in the game. For example in February 2012, Wayne Rooney praised Sir Alex’s leadership skills calling the Scot "a great leader". Rooney also admitted that Ferguson's man management skills place him amongst the greats.

Gracious in Defeat

Above all Sir Alex proved to be a very humble manager. Sir Alex never allowed any single player to rise above the club, and recognized the importance of instilling humility in his players. People often criticized his decisions to transfer players such as David Beckham, Cristiano Ronaldo and Carlos Tevez – but were proven wrong when the team went from strength to strength. Sir Alex Ferguson recognized that it takes more than one person to achieve success and valued the development



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