great leadership means never showing doubts to the team despite any obstacles

A Lesson in Leadership from Sunderland Boss David Moyes


I love listening to leaders they can teach you a lot. No just about great leadership; but also about how not to be a leader. So I listen carefully to (And watch their body language too) the English Premier league managers/coaches and what they say.

I pay particular attention to the start of the season.

At the start of this seasons English premier league, Sunderland manager David Moyes said and I quote from the BBC sport website.

Sunderland boss David Moyes told the club’s fans to prepare for another relegation battle this season after Sunday’s 2-1 defeat by Middlesbrough.

The Black Cats have lost their first two games under Moyes, who replaced new England boss Sam Allardyce this summer.

Asked about supporters fearing another season-long struggle, he said: “Well, they would probably be right.

“That’s where they’ve been every other year for the last four years, so why would it suddenly change?”

Moyes added: “I don’t think you can hide the facts. People will be flat because they are hoping that something is going to dramatically change – it can’t dramatically change, it can’t.

(Emphasis added by me)

This weekend Sunderland were relegated from the lucrative premier league. It will cost the club millions.

The Leadership Lesson Learned…

In my opinion, from the above few sentences alone it highlighted:

  • He had no personal belief
  • Lacked any belief in the team
  • Probably lacked self-confidence to get more out of his team
  • Didn’t possess enough belief in his own abilities to get the best out of his team
  • His goals were far too low
  • Had no stretch goals or vision of where he wanted to take the team
  • Totally void of any real leadership ability (Due to recent events in his career)

If he did have the above, he wouldn’t have said these things.

Instead, David Moyes became the prophet of his downfall. His language in the above statements is diabolical. Even if he had thought that his team were going to be in a relegation battle, he should not, in a million years, give that message to his players.

I don’t care about the quality of his squad or what the boardroom or owners were doing or not doing with the club.

As a leader, which Moyes was (And still is) he should have the personal belief in his own abilities to coach the players and instil them with self-belief and confidence. From his above statements he obviously lacked that belief.

Personally, I think he has lost these qualities after being sacked at Manchester United and ‘failing’ when he went to manage in Spain.

Every leader has obstacles to his goals. It is their job to overcome or work around them or turn them to their advantage. That is why she or he leads in the first place.

My Own Example

A number of years ago I was asked to go to a foreign country, along with two other great leaders and help save a company from the brink of collapse. Not only that, we had a target of 70 million to hit in the first 12 months.

As a leader, you are either a glowing example or a horrible warning

Our attitude and message to staff was not “We will be struggling” it was, “We can do this”.

There had just been an economic crash in South East Asia. The staff were demoralized as they knew the company was on the brink of going under. We had every excuse available to come out with a defeatist attitude.

But it was our duty as leaders to inspire, to instil personal belief and self-confidence. We constantly shouted the message from the rooftops that we would hit our target and beyond. We did.

What Leadership Message Did Moyes’ Players Receive?

Well first and foremost they were told they should expect to be in a ‘relegation battle’ very early in the season. They were in the bottom three almost all season.

A little further into the season Moyes publicly stated that he “did not have the right quality’ in his squad. I really don’t think that would do much to his players confidence, do you?

Great leadership may well be an art; but it is an art that can be learned

It doesn’t matter what he personally thought, he should not have shared that message publicly. This shows to me that he was making excuses so he couldn’t be viewed as a ‘failure’ should they get relegated. This in turn shows that somewhere inside, he lacked the belief and probably the self-confidence as well, to do a great job at Sunderland.

As a leader, we have to hide all doubt from the teams or people we are leading. We have to show the utmost belief in the goal or objective we have set and in the team we are leading to reach it! It doesn’t matter how bleak it may appear or look to us, we do not show that to the team.

Stretch Goals

In the above position I mentioned, I was the leader of over 150 people (Amongst other responsibilities). We had massive targets to hit each and every month.

But I wanted to go one further so I set stretch targets (after reading Jack Welch). I raised the bar extremely high. It was exciting and helped us all get very creative.

We had so many obstacles that were constantly hindering us to reach our objective. But as their leader I helped turn them all into positives for the team (This also helped me of course).

Be mindful, as a leader about what you say. Your team is watching and listening to your every word and gesture. You will either be an outstanding example or a horrible warning!

In the 40 glorious months that I was there, we never missed our targets once; and our department was judged on a month by month basis. In fact, we surpassed our objectives and set world records within our industry. We found ways to do it by stretching our goals.

Now compare that to Moyes who had a target of,  “Struggling with relegation because people will be flat… and things cannot change, they just cant” 

Most of the people who worked with me were the employee’s who had ‘failed’ in sales and were transferred over rather than sacked or retrenched. They came to my department with huge doubts in their personal belief, abilities and more often than not, were suffering from a huge deficit in self-confidence.

But I believed in them. I never doubted that they could be outstanding and excel in their new role. Most of the time I was right about them and I think that was a major contributing factor to our success.

And Finally…

Here is David Moyes comment from this weekend after relegation was confirmed:

“My feeling at the start of the season was it was going to be a hard graft, and I’d rather be up front with people than tell them something different.”

Not an ounce of belief. At this point in time, he does not know if he is going to manage Sunderland in the Championship division. If he doesn’t, then he mustn’t have much belief or confidence in his abilities.

If I was in his shoes, I would dust myself down, and tell my team we are going to win the championship and be back in the premier league next season.

In fact my team would be aware of my 5 year plan. To win the premier league. And I wouldn’t stop telling them until we had all achieved it. That goal and focus would be in their very core.

And I would have been telling the media that from the onset of taking the job on.

Isn’t that better leadership than telling everyone I am going to be a in a relegation battle?

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Rob Hamilton

I am a published author and writer of several ebooks. Known as the Mind Coach, I help people unlock their true potential so that they can achieve their dreams and goals and perform better more of the time.

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Robert Hamilton

Robert Hamilton

Robert is a published author and expert mind coach. A certified NLP Practitioner, Timeline Therapy™ and Life Enhancement Coach (Dip). Rob has studied the mind and performance for 30 years.

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