As England make somewhat unexpected progress in the World Cup, it’s interesting to take a look at the part played by manager Gareth Southgate. Southgate is unusual in terms of national team managers/coaches in that he didn’t have a long and distinguished club management career – he only coached one team, Middlesbrough, in the Championship (second tier) from 2006-2009. He came into the England job having been under-21 coach from 2013, and inherited the top role after Sam Allerdyce ‘left by mutual consent’ following allegations of malpractice. So, Southgate is not the usual England coach – he’s younger, he’s less encumbered by expectation… and he turns out to have elements of host leadership in his style.
This interesting and uplifting story was posted on Twitter recently by Jake Humphrey, sports commentator and currently host of football on the BT Sport channel. I reproduce it here – it bears close examination:
“Back in 2007 I was working on Sportsround on CBBC. I spent my time interviewing all kinds of sports people, plenty of whom were footballers. I quickly got used to being kept waiting 2-3 hours past the time the interview should happen, interviews being cancelled at the last moment, or doing interviews in nondescript rooms to keep us away from seeing training or interrupting players.
Some of the stories you wouldn’t believe!! I didn’t mind it, no worries, it was part of the job, and a kids TV show is hardly the top of everyone’s list!! However, our trip to @Boro about a decade ago couldn’t have been more different.
10 minutes after we were due to chat to Gareth he came running down the small hill from the training complex to the pitch where we were standing, apologising profusely that he got held up in a meeting. He immediately knew my name…and the name of all the crew I was working with!
Straight away he said ‘come and meet the players’ and took us right into the centre of the training pitch, stopped the players working, and told them about us and how crucial he believed sport was on children’s TV to inspire the next generation.
We were then asked what WE wanted to do. Which players WE wanted to speak to, whether WE wanted to stick around for the whole of training. Nothing was too much trouble. At the end of training, and our filming, he was the one shaking hands, thanking us for coming, seeing us out.
And 10 yrs later he leads his country into our biggest game in a decade. I’m so pleased a good guy is getting what he deserves, & from what I’ve seen of his press conferences, his relationship with the media, & how open his players have been, he has stayed true to his principles.”
It’s worth looking at this through the host leadership lens. Southgate is clearly treating his visitors as honoured guests. He welcomes them over the threshold (Gatekeeper), he knows who they are and introduces them to others (Connector), he offers them choice and possibilities (Inviter), he takes care of the space (Space-Creator)… so many aspects of great hosting and host leadership on show in this one short story. Following England’s last-16 win over Columbia, he was widely pictured consoling opposition players (right). Whatever your allegiances in footballing terms, it’s fascinating to see a new generation of leader who also brings a new generation of leadership with him.