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Judith Germain

The Maverick Paradox

Maverick Catalyst

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Gareth Southgate: six leadership attributes of a Maverick Leader

England's Football Manager Gareth Southgate has been widely lauded for his leadership style. His Maverick approach is what brings such success.

“My advice to the FA go and get #Mourinho as your head coach and appoint Southgate as the FA chairman they’re both perfect for the job … get Southgate away from the players … as far as you can!! #engbel” – tweet on 16 November 2020 by Mido.

Mido’s tweet above and his calls (and others) to replace Gareth Southgate as England’s Football Manager, is a classic example of what happens when you don’t understand a Maverick Leader’s strategic direction and thought process. It also demonstrates the frustration felt when a Maverick Leader wilfully refuses to follow a prevailing trend or opinion, choosing to instead listen to their own internal driver to success.

We can all agree that Southgate is an unusual England Manager. But why exactly? For me, he clearly demonstrates his belief that using a more Maverick Leadership style will develop a different England squad – one that comprises good role models and one that the whole nation can be proud of. These are traits that previous managers have not prioritised. 

Through his quiet influence, he has enabled onlookers to redefine what ‘good sportsmanship’ is and has given his players space and support to be influencers themselves.

Southgate, however, believes firmly in my definition of Maverick Leadership – ‘it’s who you are and what you do’. Effective Maverick Leaders believe in this philosophy and are driven to ensure that all leaders role model change and stand up for what they believe in.

“All of us are ambassadors for England” – Gareth Southgate’s Letter to England fans.

He clearly believes that every one of his players are leaders and Southgate empowers them to take responsibility and have an opinion on what they are asked to do. He understands that to lead is to have courage and that bravery does not come naturally. Southgate remarks in his book, ‘Anything is Possible: Inspirational lessons from the England manager’, that ‘bravery exists in all of us, but you need to understand yourself first’.

So, let’s take a look at the leadership attributes that drive Southgate to success – that is, success as he defines it.

The six attributes of a successful Maverick Leader

We can use the acronym WHINES™ to describe the Maverick attributes that all good leaders possess, and to understand Gareth Southgate’s internal drivers that make him different from all the England Football Managers that have gone before him.

These drivers have, ultimately, led him to nurture, develop and build an England squad that sees themselves working towards the greater good and integrate their own leadership ability, on and off the pitch. 

1. Wilful intention

Maverick Leaders have the determination to do something regardless of what other people think or wish. They believe that they alone are in control of their own destiny. We can see this internal driver working within Southgate by the way he has made decisions that have courted bad public opinion. 

This maverick attribute of wilful intention is also demonstrated by the way that he encourages his young team and his pursuit of a multi-talented team with diverse backgrounds. Southgate believes strongly in accepting difference and that teams with diversity of thought are smarter and more agile.

2. Honest belief

Mavericks are consumed by their internal drivers and are compelled in the first instance to follow those drivers. They have a strong sense of ‘the truth’. Gareth Southgate believes that his squad are ambassadors for England, and we can see that commitment when the England team decided to ‘take a knee’ before their games despite strong criticism from fans.

Southgate commented before the team’s warm up game against Romania that ‘they’re making their stand’ and will not be answering any more questions as they had made their stance clear. Thus, making it clear that not only was he prepared to stand by his team he was going to protect them. 

His commitment to his honest belief, stands in sharp contrast to leaders like the Prime Minister that publicly wavered on stating what he felt, choosing to walk the tightrope between two opposing opinions. Maverick Leaders stand by their principles even when challenged.

3. Influential 

Without trying all Mavericks are influential, which we can see in Southgate’s role modelling of how a leader should conduct themselves. He has shown empathy, compassion and emotional intelligence towards his team and the opposing teams. Through his quiet influence, he has enabled onlookers to redefine what ‘good sportsmanship’ is and has given his players space and support to be influencers themselves.

4. Knowledgeable

Mavericks need to be intellectually challenged, so will naturally seek to improve their knowledge. Southgate’s pathological pursuit of excellence and knowledge is well documented. He is open and curious of new ideas and has sought advice from experts.

Notably those that are skilled at psychology, so that his players can improve their emotional intelligence and resilience. He has commented in interviews that he intends to free his players of the ghosts of past teams’ failures and enable them to develop and grow to play their own game. 

5. Execution and output driven

Mavericks are not interested in other people’s egos and will not ‘move into action’ if it’s obvious to them that action will not fundamentally change the status quo to an acceptable (to them) level. Southgate has chosen consistently to concentrate on making the decisions that will be best for the team and the game.

When in 2017 Southgate dropped Wayne Rooney from being England Captain it was to a backdrop of criticism. He commented at the time ‘the key for me is how we develop more leaders’ – this desire to empower more leaders is a key criterion of success for effective Maverick Leaders.

6. Success driven

Mavericks excel in the pursuit of success (success defined by them) whilst embracing the possibility of failure. Southgate has experienced many failures both personally and collectively with the team. What is perhaps unique and admirable is his way of seeking improvement and his determination to see failure as just another stepping stone to success. If he enables his players to have the same mentality, then he will enable a stronger, more rounded team, where success on and off the pitch is guaranteed.

Maverick DRIVEN Leaders™ are objective, ethical and principled. They are also execution, success and output driven. They ensure that objectives are met and that their followers not only have a clear strategic path to follow, that they feel empowered to act autonomously. There is much that the nation can learn from Southgate’s Maverick style whilst he grows and matures in his leadership. 

Interested in this topic? Read ‘Why leadership is the most critical skill HR needs to develop in a constantly changing world.’

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Judith Germain

Maverick Catalyst

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