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Leading A Team Like Gareth Southgate

July 9, 2021
7 minute read

It can often be hard to find leadership role models to aspire to,  however, since the Euro 2020 started this summer, one man has  stood out: Gareth Southgate. His empathy, thoughtfulness and empowerment have led to success on the pitch as well as positive results off it. Gareth believes that building strong and open relationships and giving ownership to his players can help the Three Lions develop into a team who have the ability to compete with the best in the world.

But how easy is it to lead in this way?  In this blog we will show you 6 simple steps you can take to lead your team just like Gareth Southgate!

1. Use your voice

You’re a leader, you have a voice and you have the option and responsibility to use it in favour of those who don't. Southgate understands that young people look up to the England squad, and that they have a social responsibility to act in a way that promotes strong values and ethics both on and off the field.

Similarly, as an early years leader, your parents, families, children and staff team look up to you as their role model.

"I like players to have responsibility; to think about what we are asking them to do, to have an opinion on the way we are asking them to play and the way we are asking them to train” explained Gareth.

In your setting,  giving your staff different roles to play, such as SENDCO, Behaviour Co, or art ambassador, allows your practitioners autonomy and responsibility within the wider team. What’s more, it is also important to hear their views and ideas about what you have asked them to do. Use your staff meetings and supervisions to invite staff to offer their thoughts and opinions, encouraging their voice within the setting.

2.  There’s no end of match whistle to leadership!

Leadership matters off the pitch as much as it does on the pitch: it’s who you are behind the scenes that counts as much as who you are in the heat of action. Gareth would not expect the England squad to win a tough match without preparation; success is a result of months of careful planning and hard work.

A good leader will research the challenges ahead and its context inside and out to gauge a thorough understanding of the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats in front of them. Part of this is analysing the performance of your own teams, services or products, but it is important to give equal attention to your competition and the broader playing field (or market) that you’re moving in. This is a proactive way to help you to anticipate, prepare for and surpass obstacles, rather than stumbling through the unexpected towards failure. Why not download our team SWOT Analysis and Skills Gap Analysis to help you with this?

“As a coach, you always have to be there to support the person - improving them as a player becomes secondary to a degree.”

3. It’s an 11-man game!

There is no place for an ego if you want to do a good job and support a team performance – no leader can succeed on their own, but great things happen if we create an environment where our team can flourish and explore their individual potential. Even though he has a job that has been described as harder and higher profile than the Prime Minister, Southgate remains humble about himself and never lets his job title define who he is.

Furthermore, it’s ok to be vulnerable as a leader – Southgate admitted recently that he knows his place in the pecking order at home is behind the kids and the dog!

As an early years leader, we often feel forgotten about in the brilliant work we do, but our teams, families and children appreciate our efforts, even if they don’t always show it!

4. Let your team shoot their ideas

Whether it be sport or early years, if you’re a leader then you have the opportunity to show that there are some things that transcend whatever business we’re in – we all have a role to play in proactively creating a more inclusive and fairer society. Gareth is a strong advocate for democracy and believes in allowing players to make their own decisions, rather than being reliant on him for guidance  

“I think if the players have some ownership of what’s going on then that's going to help them make better decisions on the field and also buy into the way that we are trying to progress.”

“When you have team meetings you are communicating certain messages to the team,” explains Southgate.

"But every meeting can be slightly different depending on what you want from it. There are meetings where you are delivering information, meetings where I am seeking opinion and looking for contribution from the players and times when I am looking to check their understanding of things.

“But for me, the most rewarding communication is one-to-one and that may be in a formal meeting or a very informal environment."

We know how essential this democracy is as well as the feeling of being part of the wider picture in developing teams. Whether it be your team meetings, social events, formal training or one to one supervision, communication is key, with leaders listening more than they speak

5. “It’s only a game of football”

The past does not have to define the future: athletes recognise that one set of results (win or lose) does not and cannot predict the future. Southgate's team has demonstrated that they have the ability to write their own history, despite attempts by the media and others to hang the past around their necks.

The same goes for leading our settings. We may not have got the Ofsted grading we wanted, or perhaps that parent complaint is still ringing in our ears, but that doesn’t define how we move forward in our leadership. Use that feedback as a platform from which you can make progress and improve practice within your setting

6. Have empathy

One of Gareth’s biggest attributes is empathy.  As a leader, you don’t have to prove that you’re perfect. It is inevitable that you will make mistakes and face setbacks. But, as a good leader, you will show yourself to be accountable and to take ownership of those setbacks, sharing the lessons that you learn along the way to empower others.

“As a coach, you always have to be there to support the person - improving them as a player becomes secondary to a degree.

“But if a player feels that you respect them and you want to help them, then they are more likely to listen to you and follow you.”

Perhaps most powerful of all, Southgate is a life-long learner – he has visited successful Olympic sports coaches, business leaders and military leaders in order to continue learning about high performance.  He draws on a constant learning mindset to fuel his ongoing leadership journey and pursuit of a broader definition of success.  This is essential in our sector too. Developing ourselves as leaders, educators and early years professionals enables us to provide outstanding care and practice, changing the lives of children and families across the globe!

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