Sven and the art of leadership maintenance

England manager Sven-Goran Eriksson is everywhere at the moment - on the front pages of the tabloid newspapers as well as on the...

England manager Sven-Goran Eriksson is everywhere at the moment - on the front pages of the tabloid newspapers as well as on the back. And now he is the subject of a book that seeks to encapsulate his leadership qualities, writes Ross Bentley.

An eventful start to a managerial term in which his team demolished arch-rivals Germany on German soil and qualified for the 2002 World Cup, elevated Eriksson to legendary status. It also caught the attention of commentators Julian Birkinshaw and Stuart Crainer, whose book, Leadership the Sven-Goran Eriksson Way, dissects his techniques to discover nuggets of leadership wisdom. "While politics is sullied by cynicism, the sporting world is perhaps the truest arena for the practice of modern leadership," they argue.

The traditional view of a successful leader is someone who is flamboyant and loud, says Birkinshaw. But that is not how Eriksson plays it. "On the surface Sven is very quiet and he doesn't do a lot," says Birkinshaw. "But what he does demonstrate is a high level of self-awareness - he is realistic about his strengths and weaknesses.

"He is a people person, good at dealing with people on a one-to-one basis but he has built a close team of people around him who complement his skills. These are task-orientated people like Steve McClaren and Tord Grip."

Birkinshaw says the understated Swede has gained the confidence of the England football squad in such a short time because he comes across as a real person, rather than someone who is larger-than-life. "There is a self-effacing aspect to his nature which is attractive," says Birkinshaw.

"But at the same time he manages to keep a distance from his players, unlike, say Kevin Keegan, who was 'one of them'. This gives Sven the space to make those tough choices that any manager has to make."

The authors assert that Eriksson is an exemplar of the Swedish school of management; a subject covered as they examine the management style of Swedish corporations.

Birkinshaw spent three years living and working in Stockholm and found the Swedes to be anti-hierarchical, preferring to minimise the gap that exists between senior managers and employees.

"In the UK we are more stuck in our ways when it comes to class structure," he says. "Swedes are far more collectivistic than people in the UK or US - they are in it with their peers. They are less bothered by formal contracts and job titles.
"There is a greater emphasis on empowerment and trust, and if you consider the size of workforce Sweden has been more successful than the UK in business."

Leadership the Sven-Goran Eriksson Way by Julian Birkinshaw and Stuart Crainer is published by Capstone.

Give yourself a Sven makeover
  • Be true to yourself and realise what your strengths and weaknesses are, and use them as an asset

  • Listen to your team and accommodate their views before making a decision

  • Keep it simple - do not have everything regimented but let your team improvise as they go along

  • Have a strong second in command - someone who will complement your skills and someone who you trust.

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