Leadership lessons from Sir Alex Ferguson


What lessons can headteachers take from the management style of Sir Alex Ferguson? Our headteacher diarist considers the pros, and cons, or Sir Alex's approach.

The great football manager Sir Alex Ferguson has been discussing his successful managerial style with Harvard academics. 

In dealing with a football-playing staff of 30 millionaires, fragile on confidence, Sir Alex reveals that he views “hard work” as a talent and says his expectation is that his players “work harder than anyone else”.

He also reveals that the most commonly used phrase is “well done”; a key to anyone in a managerial profession – and key to any good headteacher.

It is a shame that the armchair Sir Alex does not take this mantra to match days, where his intimidation of referees and their assistants has a major affect.

As someone who tries to referee in the Evesham U-13 A League, I now regularly meet pseudo Alex Fergusons; testosterone-fuelled fathers who wish to discuss the vagaries of the offside rule. 

Sir Alex is a role model and his “rants” have a major affect on what is considered to be acceptable behaviour and shows how modelling behaviour can positively or negatively affect those involved in the practice.

Nevertheless, his mantra of appreciation of hard work and regular praise is one that schools could replicate. 

The Teaching Awards are a much-needed tribute to those in the profession. We returned  after half-term to four nominations, three of which were from ex-students completing their first term at university. One lovely nomination correctly read: “Her colour-coding, marking, care and dedication are legendary.”

On receiving accolades and appreciation such as this, how could you not be moved and think this is a great job? This appreciation is needed and at times in the past year you would think the hostility directed at the teaching profession had reached fever pitch. 

“Nearly half of all newly qualified teachers leave the profession within five years.”

“Seventy per cent of teachers do an ‘all nighter’ to prepare for lessons.”

“Ofsted head Sir Michael Wilshaw tells teachers they must work extra hours for a pay rise.”

These were some of the demoralising headlines recorded in the dark month of December, and you will note that I have not mentioned the education secretary and his constant hectoring edicts.

For our school, we were recently “outed” by The Spectator with the headline “treating Islam with special reverence is cultural suicide and just plain wrong”. This mischief-making, incorrect, bigoted article was an attack on what schools should teach and how they should teach the British society! 

For the record, the philosophy and ethics GCSE course, taught by the RE department, aims to promote tolerance and understanding of all religions and the course consists of four modules, three on Christianity and one on Islam.  

The following week saw the school, despite not being named, field enquires from the majority of the tabloid papers. The purpose of their enquiry was not to say well done or to find facts, but to see if the “loony left” had taken over their schools; yet another realisation that the empire was crumbling.

My brief flirtation with national media left me bewildered and distressed. I, like everyone, believe I am working hard and that the school generally is having a major, positive impact on the lives of our children.

Appreciation, thanks and well done has more of an impact than inaccurate, cheap sound-bites – Mr Gove please take note!

  • Diary of a headteacher is written anonymously and in rotation by three practising headteachers from schools across the country.


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