Business Lessons from the Foxes

So, Leicester City have won the Premier League. And by a wide margin. Meanwhile my team are going down. Goodbye Arsenal and Chelsea: we can look forward to Burton, Brentford and Blackburn next season. Suddenly the 10:53 York to Newcastle seems rather less attractive…

But congratulations to the Foxes. It’s a fantastic result for the club – and for people who need to produce a business blog every week.

You can expect to see a plethora of Leicester-inspired articles. But let’s try and dig a little deeper. Yes, of course it’s a triumph for teamwork: yes, of course Leicester demonstrate that the whole can be far greater than the sum of the parts and yes, clearly, pizza works. But let me look at four factors that I think have really contributed to Leicester’s success – and which I hope (he said, looking wistful) we’ll see at Newcastle next season…

Newcastle United v Leicester City - Premier League

NEWCASTLE, ENGLAND – NOVEMBER 21: Leicester City’s manager Claudio Ranieri his team’s third goal during the Barclays Premier League match between Newcastle and Leicester City at St James Park on November 21, 2015 in Newcastle, England. (Photo by Ian MacNicol/Getty images)

Take time off. This may seem a strange one to start with – but it’s a perennial theme running through this blog: you need to re-charge your batteries. On Valentine’s Day Leicester lost 2-1 at Arsenal. They’d already been knocked out of the Cup and weren’t due to play again for 13 days. Despite the defeat Ranieri didn’t order the players in for extra training. He did exactly the opposite – and gave them seven days off. As Jamie Vardy said:

The gaffer [gave us] a week off to completely forget about everything and re-charge our batteries. That moment showed what he’d thought of us as a team and how much work we’d put in. I went to Dubai and I remember sitting there on a sun lounger and Sunderland were there: running up and down the beach doing fitness.

Take time off yourself: make sure your team take time off – and trust them not to abuse it.

Get the right people around you. What do footballer managers traditionally do? Fire the backroom staff and bring their own people in. But Ranieri kept the backroom staff – and made just one addition. Claudio Ranieri’s not a footballing genius: Leicester are the 16th club he’s managed and he was previously sacked by Greece after steering them to defeat against the Faroe Islands. But he had enough experience to recognise that there was the basis of a great team in place – and not to make changes for the sake of making changes.

…And then he played people in their natural positions – a stark contrast to all too many managers. The parallel holds good in business: hire the right people and concentrate on what they’re good at. Put round pegs in round holes and play to their strengths: that’s when they’ll be happy, and that’s when they’ll succeed.

It’s not a disadvantage to be the underdog. Leicester were famously 5,000/1 to win the Premier League at the start of the season. Outside their diehard fans, no-one gave them a chance. But as the possibility of winning became a probability, they gathered a groundswell of support. By the end of the season they were everyone’s second team. We all love the underdog – and I think that’s an increasing trend in business.

My experience is that consumers and businesses are gradually moving away from the ‘big boys.’ They want to deal with the smaller suppliers, the local producers. They want to know the stories behind the business, and they want to speak to the boss. They’re ready to work with the company who – in the words of the old Avis ad – says ‘we try harder.’

So don’t ever be afraid to go after business you previously considered out of reach. The big boys don’t have a monopoly on ideas, innovation, quality and delivery – and more and more people are embracing that.

Make time for your family

Another core theme for the blog: no amount of success is worth it if it comes at the expense of the people you love. After 30 years in management – starting with Vigor Lamezia in the lower reaches of the Italian leagues – you might think that nothing could have moved Ranieri from the TV as Spurs played Chelsea, aiming to keep the title race alive. No – his priority was 1,300 miles away in Rome where his mother, Renata, was celebrating her 96th birthday.

There you have it: the four key lessons you can learn from Leicester’s success – both on and off the field. And yes, there’s an obvious post for next week: 7 Mistakes Newcastle Made that your Business can Avoid. But there’s only so much pain a man can take…


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