At least a million lines have been written about leadership and Sport. Strangely very little has been written about one of the greatest achievements in sporting history and the manager that made it happen. In May 1967 Glasgow Celtic Football Club became the first club in Northern Europe to win the European Cup and the players all agreed that their manager Jock Stein had been pivotal to that success. Mr. Stein’s character was formed in a hard living mining area of post war Scotland where honesty and straight forwardness were survival tools, but he is also someone that we can all take some inspiration from. Any leader can make people do things but it is a very different type of person who makes you want to do it and Jock Stein was one of those men.
Just how did Mr. Stein get his players all aiming the same way and working as a team? Well we have to look at what he inherited as a football team before we can see how he fixed it. Prior to Mr. Stein’s arrival at Celtic Park they had good players and a fantastic support but inconsistencies were the order of the day. They had not won anything significant in years and the team selection was all over the place. They had a wonderful man as their manager, Jimmy McGrory who had been an outstanding player but he was constantly being undermined by the chairman. So let’s look at this from a modern management perspective.
The problems included: 1. An under performing team. 2. A lack of leadership. 3. No team spirit. 4. A lack of technical knowledge from management.
As you would agree these failings are each able to kill a project of business on their own. Having them all at once is nothing short of a disaster. The saviors of the day came (arguably) in the shape of the support. Their increasing frustration at the interference from the chairman leading to poor results led them to vote with their feet. They simply stopped coming to see games. Not in droves I hasten to add but in enough numbers to make the money men see a drop in revenue. Again arguably this led the chairman to make his decision to change manager. Now, if you were approached to take over this team what would first first decision be? Would you insist upon clear goals (every pun intended) ? Would you demand a big salary because it was a big job? Would you get the consultants in to determine the job in hand? All good options but Jock Stein made one thing clear and made it clear even before he took the job: Team Selection, training and the buying and selling of players were HIS responsibility and his alone. In short he fixed a major management problem before he even took the job. Jock Stein was now to blame for every failure and to be applauded for every success. This sounds simple and in retrospect it is, but in those days this was unheard of and it became the new way of thinking for a lot of people from then on.
With the lack of leadership solved Mr. Stein had to start work on the other problems. Almost immediately he moved the playing position of an under performing member of Celtic’s forward line. Bobby Murdoch had been a decent forward and had been tried in a few other positions but Mr. Stein seen something that few others had. By moving Bobby into a controlling midfield role he had created one of the best footballers that Europe has ever seen. He became the powerhouse of that team and is still talked about with reverent tones today by those in the know. This (amongst many other changes) showed Mr. Steins technical skills and that they no longer had a lack of technical knowledge from management.
Now he took the team away on a pre-season tour of the USA where he got each player’s strengths and weaknesses highlighted and discussed with the other players. Each person in the team was told what their job was and in no way did they misunderstand their roles and responsibilities. Training became team oriented, ball skills were worked on and each player was given points to improve their game. No small groups were allowed to gossip and no moaning and complaining was tolerated. In this way a team spirit was created and a will to win was born. This team that went on to become known as the Lisbon Lions were quite simply the best in Europe and management disasters had been replaced by leadership excellence. Please note that I am over simplifying Mr. Stein’s achievements here for the sake of clarity in a management/leadership blog. His skill and character had to over come many issues and he did so with quiet dignity and superb aplomb.
I would like to finish with a quotation from Danny McGrain who was a great servant to Celtic Football Club and worked with Jock Stein for many years. In his foreword to the book, Celtic The Jock Stein Years by Graham McColl Danny writes:
“As soon as Mr. Stein asked you to do something you would find that you could do it because you had such belief in his judgement. You knew that we would not ask you to do anything of which you were incapable.”
Any leader in the world would be proud to have these words said about him……..