How to be a “Special One” – 3 leadership lessons from Jose Mourinho

Love him or hate him, few football fans underestimate the return of Jose Mourinho, “the Special One”, to the Barclays Premier League this autumn.

Leadership lessons from Jose Mourinho

In the eyes of many pundits and bookies, Mourinho’s return has instantly installed Chelsea as favourites for the league – despite finishing fourteen points behind Man United last season. Low and behold, two games into the new season, Jose’s Chelsea already sit cockily on top of the table.

Can business managers learn lessons from Mourinho’s leadership style to become “special” leaders?

Both professional football and business share a need for strategic awareness, meticulous attention to detail and exhaustive hard work. Mourinho’s leadership style provides three very specific lessons however that highlight the importance of psychology in successful motivation.

1. Connect with individuals

In a 2011 BBC interview Mourinho stated that above all else, “football is a human science”. He consciously takes time to connect with every member of his organisation as individuals – from superstar players to backroom staff members – to get to know them personally, and understand their different fears, drives and ambitions. This enables Mourinho to judge the true mood of the group and tailor his communication to each person individually. According to Deco “Mourinho is special because he is one of the few managers capable of changing your mentality”.

 2. Specify your mission clearly – and the behaviours required to achieve it

Mourinho famously wrote to each of his Chelsea team before meeting them: “from here each practice, each game, each minute of your social life must centre on the aim of being a champion”. He then issued a detailed code of conduct that every player was required to buy into, regardless of their seniority. Mourinho provides his teams with a vivid image of both his goal and the behaviours he requires to achieve it. Players who buy into Mourinho’s philosophy and put the team before the individual prosper; those who waver are ruthlessly marginalised. Either way, his mission and expectations are made crystal clear – “I only go to war with those I trust”.

 3. All the world’s a stage

Mourinho appreciates that as the leader of his organisation, the eyes of his colleagues are constantly upon him. Team meetings, press conferences, TV and newspaper interviews all present opportunities to send his players messages to increase their chances of winning. Every public word and action is chosen with premeditated precision to reinforce a point, achieve some goal or influence the mood. For example his verbal uber-confidence and non-verbal swagger are consciously designed to cascade to those around him. He is already the source of many leadership quotes. As Frank Lampard commented, “he makes us believe we are better than we are… He brought my confidence to a level it had never been”.

So… Perhaps the most interesting insight we can draw from Jose Mourinho’s leadership style is that whilst he may be portrayed as “the Special One”, what really makes him unique is his ability to connect with his colleagues and get the very most out of them as a collective unit – something any manager can relate to.  As Jose likes to say: “good eggs, good omelette”.

If you are interested in honing your skills as a leader in your organisation speak to us about the IMI Diploma in Leadership starting this Autumn. The programme is aimed at dramatically enhancing leadership skills, awareness, impact and judgement. To know more check out the brochure or watch this clip.

Dr. Simon Boucher is Chief Executive Officer at the Irish Management Institute. His expertise is in the areas of leadership development, leadership coaching and enabling peak performance.

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