For those who aren’t football fans (soccer if you are reading in the US), Manchester United recently lost to Chelsea 1-0 in the English Premiere League having dominated much of the game. Louis Van Gaal gave a post-match interview to Guy Mowbray of the BBC’s which has variously been described as “feisty”, “seriously spiky”, “prickly”, “increasingly intense”, “angry” and, probably more accurately, “incredibly patronising”.
Mr. Van Gaal is undoubtedly one of the football world’s most successful current managers. His trophy list as a manager is hard to match. OK, he has had plenty to spend since joining Manchester United less than a year ago, but has rapidly turned around their previously waning fortunes.
Van Gaal has a lot of characteristics which are admirable in a leader. For starters, he is clearly highly competent, takes the hard decisions, quickly where necessary, can manage a team and squad of highly paid personalities, is clearly robust … the list goes on … but he clearly has what it takes
So back to the events of Saturday. Some would say Guy Mowbray should not be shoving a microphone in Mr. Van Gaal’s face and asking anodyne questions immediately after a defeat United were clearly smarting from; Maybe they would continue, even the best leaders have an off day, or Mowbray is paid to do this.
I don’t buy that, for a number of reasons.
Great leaders set standards and examples: Leadership is a privilege. People look up to you, are directed by you, follow you. In a civilised society great leaders don’t absent themselves from standards, on the contrary, they set them.
If anything, when you are on a roll where you are idolised by vast numbers of often highly impressionable people, we are entitled to expect even higher standards from you, not lower ones.
Great leaders remain in control under pressure: There are times leadership puts you under pressure – often immense pressure. Great leaders know how to cope and don’t drop their standards.
Great leaders treat others with dignity: Doing your very best to humiliate someone who is only doing their job (and for which they are paid a tenth of what you are) is not big, not funny, and certainly undermines respect for both you and your organisation.
So next time Mr. Van Gaal, by all means defend your team, by all means push back on the anodyne, by all means express disappointment but spare a thought for the person interviewing you – that way you and your club may really deserve the labels of greatness.