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‘Great Smell of Brut’, leadership and teamwork – Kevin Keegan tells all.Subscribe to de-cooded
It seems it is not just ageing rockers who have an insight or two on leadership and teamwork (check out my May 18 blog, Start Me Up). Those of us ‘of a certain’ age will remember Kevin Keegan, not just for his endorsement of ‘The Great Smell of Brut’ or his hairstyle – the epitome of the ‘70s coiffurist’s skills – but more for his skills in the world of soccer.
The slightly sad legacy of Brut pales alongside Keegan’s footballing talents, amongst which were winning the Ballon d’Or (twice), the European Cup with Liverpool and the German league with Hamburg. Last Saturday (6th October) he took part in Radio 4’s Saturday Live telling the tale of his progress from rags to riches. As well as being funny and engaging Keegan’s story was littered with remarks that, perhaps unsurprisingly, provided helpful reminders on the way that teams and leaders work. Here is a summary of four of them.
- Great teams unleash individual talents. Keegan went from playing fourth division football for Scunthorpe, to a month later appearing for Liverpool. In his words “I was still the same player, but [at Liverpool] good players could see you making the run and put the ball there”. He had not got any faster but was now part of a team of individual talents that worked together. They produced an effect which was transformational – “I was scoring goals for fun at the top level, and yet I couldn’t score in the fourth division”.
- Team players use each other’s skills to mutual benefit. At Liverpool, Keegan and John Toshack proved an unstoppable combination – to the point that an academic came to conduct experiments with them to see if they were telepathic. Keegan’s analysis was more prosaic. They simply understood what each of them did well and supported each other in doing it – “We made a great partnership out of doing simple things well. He would win it and flick it on for me to run onto…”
- Learn how to score. Without mentioning ‘continuous improvement’, ‘lifelong learning’ or any other buzzphrases, Keegan was clear that he got better because he learnt from everyone – even those he disagreed with. All his experiences taught him something, the rejections and failures probably more than the successes – “you have to miss to learn how to score”.
- Leaders work with people. Throughout the interview, Keegan mentioned individuals who had shaped him. These ranged from the nun, Sister Oliver, who refereed his matches at school with a crucifix around her neck, to Bill Shankly and Bob Paisley. What struck a chord was that never did Keegan talk about their technical ability or that they had great strategies or systems. Instead, he talked about the way they dealt with people. Shankly taught him “how to treat people” while Paisley instilled the essential leadership attribute of humility “how to be modest when you have been really successful”.
Aside from these nuggets, it is worth listening to Keegan’s views on footballers’ pay, the Academy system and, best of all, the story of Michael Jackson coming into the Fulham dressing room just before the match – “it just killed my team talk” ….there are some things that nothing can prepare you for.
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