Be wary of the Mourinho syndrome at workplaces

Have you ever wondered what it takes for bees to make sweet honey or ants to store food for the whole season? It takes teamwork. One of the trending global stories in the past few weeks was the sacking of Jose Mourinho from Manchester United Football Club and the instantaneous resurrection of the team’s form soon after his dismissal.

By George Manyaya

There have been mixed reactions, debate on the cause and effect and resultantly countless theories have emerged. For the avoidance of making this article seem like a football commentary, I will dwell on some of the lessons to be learnt from the development and the threats leaders need to be mindful of in the workplace. Business and sports leadership are synonymous in that both require managing teams.

If you juxtapose the two, it is apparent that they both involve competition and for you to be the winning team, there must be harmony, the will, and the winning mentality. These attributes must be ubiquitous in teams and organisations. The cornerstone in achieving all the above is inspirational leadership, which I will explore in this discussion.

Inspirational leadership, which for purposes of this discussion will be used interchangeably with motivational leadership, is a prerequisite when leading teams. The National Research Council of Canada postulates: “Inspirational leadership is about energising and creating a sense of direction and purpose for employees and excitement and momentum for change. It involves energising individuals to strive towards a compelling vision of the future by embracing and embodying values . . . Ensuring that those who are led work collaboratively towards a shared purpose”. I concur with this definition and respectfully argue that Mourinho, popularly known as “The Special One” did not apply the principles of motivational leadership. The result of a dispirited team is that business performance is affected negatively, as most organisational targets will not be met.

Most leaders in organisations, churches, schools and communities have become so self-absorbed with titles and high positions and can be likened to the “Special One” syndrome, treating subordinates in a somewhat abrasive, disrespectful and oppressive way, which in my view perpetuates adversity.

The impact and consequences of a demoralised team cannot be underestimated. No matter how qualified and experienced the leaders may be and regardless of whether you get the best personnel, if you cannot nurture effort and talent or cultivate potential, you can end up failing. Those in the manufacturing and mining sectors may have, at least, experienced some harsh and blurred realities, whereby shareholders invest in all resources and the organisation has the best talent.

Despite all these factors, the plant experiences persistent long down times, the quality of products is compromised, sales are not increasing and, as a result, the business is not as profitable because most of the departments are not scoring. Your competition may not even have the same financial muscle or capacity that you have, but if they have a motivated workforce, they will win more than you in the market.

In most cases, the roots of this are that your team is covertly/overtly not aligning with your vision and they are not inspired to achieve the set goals as a natural reaction to your leadership style.

Most team leaders are popular for blaming everyone except themselves when the chips are down. Instead of cheering up team members, they resort to criticising them publicly. True leaders take full responsibility in the midst of a crisis and talk with their employees to make amends. As a leader, you are obligated to make every department or player feel relevant and you need to satisfy the internal publics first as the employee is king.

Consequently, if you satisfy the employee, you are guaranteed of customer satisfaction. Imagine having great talented players like Paul Pobga, Anthony Martial and Romeo Lukaku firing blanks when they play for your team, but days after your departure, they all start to gel and produce excellent winning performances even before your replacement has settled in. The “Special One” was contemptuous of his players, but inanely expected them to perform. When employees are treated more like a liability rather than an asset, they default into “do it yourself” mood.
Similarly, in marketing, engineering, production and logistics departments, you have the equally talented “Martials and Pobgas” of the team, but because of poor interpersonal skills and the way you manage them, they are not working with their heart and goals are not met.

While we do not condone team members to undermine their leaders, naturally employees lose faith in the cause when they feel that the environment is inapposite and the leadership does not inspire cohesion. Conflict is common, but it must be managed well in order to avoid divisions. Inspiration starts with stimulating a culture of respect, fairness and mutuality through communicative strategies that encourage your team and make them believe that they can be successful. Inspired employees are dedicated and productive and, in turn, inspire those around them to deliver.

An effective leader must possess several traits, among them honesty, commitment, good communication skills and openness, delegation capability, accountability and most importantly, the propensity to inspire others. You can inspire your team members through positive recognition, as it makes employees more devoted, willing and creative.

Bill Wash summed it up when he propounded that: “People thrive on positive reinforcement. They can only take a certain amount of criticism, and you may lose them altogether if you criticise them in a personal way…you can make a point without being personal. Do not insult or belittle your people. Instead of getting more out of them you will get less”

Lack of reinforcement stifles production and in this modern age, instilling fear, narcissism and bullying do not have a place in business. I have come across several leaders who have fashioned the master and servant relationship and brag that, “I pay my team adequately and give them bonuses so they are obligated to perform”.

Inspirational leadership goes beyond remuneration; it is about promoting individual respect, dignity and integrity in the workplace. For the sack of clarity, the argument is not meant to discredit the various motivation theories, but instead, emphasise on some fundamentals, which some leaders are not prioritising. The work place also runs on psychological fuel and if the manager has good social skills, all employees will go an extra mile to please him even when the times are hard.

One of the most popular theories of motivation is the Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, where he identified five levels of sequential needs. My contribution is that we should not only concentrate on the issues he raises in isolation because behaviour and needs are shaped by a multiplicity of factors. For instance, you can meet all the security and safety needs of your employees or you can have the highest paid players in your team, but that is not the ultimate remedy for results. If you do not keep an open perspective of human nature and different psychological needs, you may fail to actualise potential, inspire and lift the morale of every team member.

This is clearly buttressed by McGregor’s XY theory, where theory Y is explicit that when managers have a positive opinion of subordinates, it encourages a more collaborative and trust-based relationship in the team. Inasmuch as there will always be stubborn and big-headed players, work on their misdemeanours, but do not shut out their potential or effort as it is cancerous to engage in open warfare with your subordinates.

Inspirational leadership and engagement are effective in that they bring mutual trust in the team. In the process, a leader will coach, mentor and guide subordinates and this will help the team to bond and eventually bring about loyalty. Providing an environment of understanding, unanimity and faith are the barebones of effective leadership. Where there is unity, there is commitment and team members reserve all their energy to production and capacity issues. Motivation and commitment are paramount in business just as they are in sports and even war situations. One of the key sources of literature in warfare, Sun Tzu in the book Art of War submits that: “The business of the commanding general is to bring all forces together, lead troops by your actions, not by your words . . . the goal of leadership is to make the soldiers think and fight as one team.”

It is important to note that Mourinho is arguably one of the best and most successful managers of all time, as his record of accomplishment can speak for itself. He, however, lost the plot on the leadership style and in the process, fought his players and competition simultaneously thus, there was no fused team vision. This is the archetype of most workplace leaders and it has destroyed business.

The secret to leadership is appreciating diversity and when you climb up that ladder, always remember that you are not superhuman, you need to inspire your team and treat them fairly and with dignity.

As leaders, we must be wary of nurturing the “Jose Mourinho Syndrome” because when you are fired for incompetence, your successor will not put much effort, but re-ignite the team spirit, bring back the glory and become a hero using the arsenal you had. The best restraint to this is to “treat your men as you would your own beloved sons, and they will follow you into the deepest valley”.