Leadership Lessons: Jurgen Klopp’s playbook

Welcome to the next installment in my ongoing leadership series, where I break down the insights and lessons we can learn from high performing leaders across many arenas.

For this one, I’m focusing on another sports coach and this time in the form of Jurgen Klopp. The ever enigmatic, philosophical and master tactician of the football field. It’s funny that I’ve chosen another leader from the world of football as I don’t really follow the sport (I’m more of a combat sports fan myself). However, Jurgen is always a character that has interested me and especially his approach to leadership, as we’ll explore here.

For those who aren’t familiar with Jurgen, here’s what our friends at Wikipedia can tell us:

Jürgen Klopp is a German professional football manager and former player who is the manager of Premier League club Liverpool. Klopp is regarded by many as one of the best managers in the world.

His sides have been described as playing heavy metal football by pundits and fellow managers, in reference to their pressing and high attacking output. The importance of emotion is something Klopp has underlined throughout his managerial career, and he has gained notoriety for his enthusiastic touchline celebrations.

His emphasis on emotion is something I will focus on throughout this piece.

In a 2018 article, the Guardian said “Klopp’s inclusive leadership, ensuring everyone feels nurtured and needed, is at the root of his success.”. Klopp himself said “I have this helping syndrome, I really care about people and I feel responsible for pretty much everything.”

To understand Jurgen’s leadership style and philosophy, I have scoured articles and videos across the digital world. Through this research, I have come to understand why he is not only looked at as a visionary leader in sports but also in the game of life. Klopp’s ability to galvanise groups of people and focus on bringing the positives to others are no doubt key components of his success

Here are some of the valuable insights, lessons and reflections I came across.

Invest in relationships

Speaking to Western Union in 2019, Jurgen said “ All we do in life, how I understand it anyway, is about relationships”

Klopp lives this by making sure he knows each person by name at their Melwood training facility and the same goes for his players too. This allows them to create an atmosphere of working towards a goal together. They win and learn together.

This is something which translates to the business world and really, all of life too.

It is our relationships and the effort we put into nurturing these that provide the most value. Whether that is creating the right relationships in the workplace to help with building a product which will provide value to others or investing time with friends and family to keep connected with your community.

The ability to build relationships is essential for any leader and all humans.

Be an example to your people

You cannot say one thing to then do another and expect people to trust you.

You must lead by example and show that you walk the walk too. This is an essential behaviour to show your people that you are all in this together and are here to support each other no matter what.

In the same interview with WU, Klopp shared his own approach “I try everything to be as successful as possible. I live 100 per cent for the boys, with the boys, what we do for the club. I think that’s leadership in the first case. As a leader you cannot be the last who comes in and the first who goes out; you don’t always have to be the first coming in or the last going out, but you have to be an example.”

If we want others to follow then we must lead by example. You don’t tell people what to do, you show them how and do it together.

One thing that Klopp continued to highlight in the interviews I watched is his complete confidence in the people who form the support network around him. He credits these people as a crucial factor in enabling him to be a successful leader.

Hire smart people, support them and let them grow

Something you’ve probably heard before, is to hire smarter people than you and let them use their expertise to do what needs to be done.

Many of you have probably heard this Steve Jobs quote: “It doesn’t make sense to hire smart people and then tell them what to do. We hire smart people so they can tell us what to do.”

Jurgen has a very similar philosophy, “I need experts around me. It’s really very important that you are empathetic, that you try to understand the people around you, and that you give real support to the people around you. Then everybody can act.That’s what leadership is: have strong people around you with a better knowledge in different departments than yourself, don’t act like you know everything, be ready to admit, ‘I have no clue in the moment, give me a couple of minutes and then I will have a clue probably.’ My confidence is big enough that I can really let people grow next to me, it’s no problem.”

As a leader, you cannot know everything. The purpose of a team is to create a team of experts who can work together to achieve a common goal. Of course, this requires a degree of vulnerability. Yet, being vulnerable in saying “I don’t know but let’s work it out together” can create better connections with your people too.

It’s not only about hiring smart people around you. They need support to feel empowered and enabled to do their role and explore their own ideas. Good leaders provide an environment that supports their people and creates the platform in which they can grow too.

Believe in yourself, have confidence in your skills and expertise.

In his continued conversation with WU, Klopp explained his philosophy on confidence.

“Confidence is very important for a leader. If I would expect from myself that I know everything and I’m the best in everything, I couldn’t have confidence. But I don’t expect that. I know I’m good in a couple of things, really good in a few things, and that’s enough.”

To be a leader or to aspire to be one, requires a degree of confidence. But, note it is confidence and not arrogance that’s needed. As Jurgen points out, having confidence in your own abilities is vital.

You should know where your strengths are, explore what you don’t know and let other people help you with their expertise. No leader can go it alone as we explored earlier. 

Be confident in your skills, expertise and what you bring to the group but don’t be blinded in thinking that you are the expert in everything and anything. That’s impossible for all of us. Believe in yourself but be humble and open to others. Just as you support your people as a leader, let them help you too.

Listen, learn and keep things simple

One thing great leaders learn is the art of listening. The skill of active listening is such an important one to acquire. If you wish to understand and form deeper connections with your people, say less and listen more.

It can be your key to learning how you can help on an individual basis and improve the way your team works.

In order to listen and learn about your people, you need to build an environment in which they can do this. Keeping things simple and not overloading everyone with lots of information, especially your new people, can create the opportunities to learn more about one another.

Klopp provided an example of his own philosophy in this interview “ I always have a lot of information to share with the players. But I keep it not because I want it all to myself but because they have to play a game and they need to play it with freedom”

“When a new player comes in, I don’t give them any information. I let them play, learn about them and what they do naturally. We can then make assessments, see what’s working and what we might want to work on. I learn a lot about my team everyday, like how to treat them and work with them. A lot of discovery happens in 1:1 conversations just as much as group conversations. I try to learn more and help my people do the right things at the right moment.”

There’s a lot we can pickup from this extract. Firstly, don’t overload your people with lots of data and create decision fatigue. Decipher the right information they need and share it when they need it most.

Secondly, you learn more everyday about life and the people around you. Learning is an everyday behaviour which we all partake in whether we recognise it or not.

Lastly, one on one time with each of your people is just as valuable as group meetings. Building strong relationships means you must connect with people in one on one situations. Provide safe environments for them to express thoughts, feelings and let them be heard. You can learn an incredible amount about your people in both these settings so make sure that you invest the time for both.

An overview of Jurgen’s leadership playbook

In summary, here’s what we can learn from Jurgen on leadership.

  1. Invest in relationships
  2. Be an example to your people
  3. Hire smart people, support them and let them grow
  4. Believe in yourself, have confidence in your skills and expertise.
  5. Listen, learn and keep things simple

Resources for you

The content and research that influenced this post:

Klopp on Klopp: Life is my preparation

The Guardian: Jurgen Klopp on Liverpool, the Champions League and Brexit

The world according to Jurgen Klopp with Western Union

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