With West Ham United being the first football club to be relegated from the English Premiership in the 2010/11 season – a team widely regarded as playing below its potential – what lessons are there for you to learn from the performance of the sacked Hammers manager Avram Grant?
1. Recognise your personal qualities and build a ‘bubble’ – a role and space where you play to your strengths. Despite leading two clubs to bottom place in two successive seasons Mr. Grant is rumoured to have a new job lined-up at Chelsea FC as Director of Football. They presumably can recognise a quality in the man, but in a specific role.
Every manager has strengths and weaknesses. In what ways are you the equivalent of Avram Grant in your job? Do you need to create a ‘bubble’, defining your role, so that you reduce your negative impact and capitalise on any strengths?
2. Have two operating modes: one where you can boldly go and be innovative and sparkle. The other, is where you dig in, face up to adversity. West Ham have repeatedly lost 2-0 leads – including their deciding game at Wigan. A key reason being they lacked the tactical switch between attacking and defending, holding on to what you have, when others are trying to take it away..
What are you two modes in your work? What ways do you need to engage them more, or switch between them more effectively?
3. You need alignment for what you are trying to achieve, from the very top to the very bottom. Grant’s tenure at Upton Park was marked by constant rumours of the club’s Board not being happy with him. These rumours surfaced in January with strong indications that Grant was a walking man.
Yet, he stayed on. Alignment from the very top, the very bottom of what you do means that you maximise your resource, ensure every act is in accordance with your central goal, and every bit of resource is pulling together in the right direction.
How aligned are you in your workplace?
4. To be an effective manager you need credibility. Credibility can be created through your actions, track record and playing upon what others want to believe.
Grant in his former role as manager of Chelsea FC was a penalty kick away from winning the Champions League title. Yet, as a caller on Talk Sport observed: “My mum could have managed that Chelsea team, given the quality of the players.”
To what extent is your credibility built on what you are, rather than being in the right place at the right time? What ways can you demonstrate success to earn credibility points?
Equally, what ways can you identify where the next right place and right time is?
5. Discover your golden nuggets. Sometime s you don’t need to find gold down a gold mine, it is around you, possibly almost under your nose. One positive act of Grant was bringing back a player from the extreme margins, who had been loaned out to a lower league club. Young Freddie Sears, by all accounts, was one of the few players during the season to do a sterling job.
What assets or positive opportunities are there which you are currently blind to? What can you re-examine and make use of, perhaps in a different role to what was originally intended?
6. Manage your context. A manager does not just manage their team and its resources; they also manage how those resources respond, adapt, or seize opportunities from the context within which they operate in.
Avram Grant’s team selections and tactics puzzled many where he seemingly failed to take into account the opposition, their strengths or gameplans.
Away at Bolton he played a 4-3-3 formation, where Bolton was known to have two strong wingers, where a 4-5-1 formation would have been better suited. (Needless to say, West Ham lost 3-1)
7. Take it on the chin. Admit you got it wrong. At one point Avram Grant ended up blaming puddles on the pitch as a cause of his team’s failure to win a game. The buck stops with you: what ways do you need to own up, accept responsibility, but then use this as a building block to learn from, gain feedback, and move forward to be better the next time?
Ironically, for a team known as the ‘Academy of Football’ Avram Grant’s management has provided some valuable academic lessons for managers everywhere.
PS. Yes, I am a West Ham fan. As we have learnt over the years at Upton Park, you lose some, you draw some…