Leadership lessons: The Sir Alex Ferguson approach

A legendary figure in world football and probably all of sports management.

Sir Alex Ferguson lead the Manchester United football team for 26 years, winning a list of awards so long I couldn’t list them here. He’s considered one the greatest and most successful managers of all time.

I also have a soft spot for Sir Alex as he’s a fellow scot (technically I’m half scottish) from Glasgow, who is very much a by product of his working class roots, which we can see flows through his leadership style.

I finished his book titled “Leading” at the end of 2018 and it purely focused on how he lead a multitude of groups of individuals over his 26 year tenure. With valuable insights on human behaviour, experiences across multiple high-stress situations and his part in developing the global brand of Manchester United.

What I learnt most from this book were the ideas of presence, compassion, forward thinking and how to adapt to constant changing and high stakes environments.

For me, Sir Alex shared 3 essential components that every leader should have in their toolkit.

Watch, listen & read.

Great leaders watch, they take in their surroundings, the people and assess their environment. They are mindful of what’s in front of them, not what they think should be in front of them.

Real leaders listen. They take the time to listen to the problems of those around them and seek council from those who have been there before.

Any leader wanting to keep being great and helping those around them, must keep evolving their thinking and understanding of the world. Reading, whether a book, article or wisdom on a post it note is an essential behaviour that allows us to continually grow.

These are nothing fancy, just the small things that produce big returns which matter most.


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The cost of kindness

There isn’t one, it’s free.

So why not be good to your fellow human, wave at people, say hello – be a kind person.

It cost us nothing to be kind to another human and it even might make you feel a little bit happier too. When you see someone who looks down, then fire them a smile or when someone looks like today is not their day, then a simple hey, how are you? can go a long way.

You can change someones world in a moment with an act of kindness, an act at no cost to any of us but it’s rewards can be limitless.

You can feel good, make others feel good and put some more good out into this world, because we honestly need more of it. You’d be surprised at how kind many people are, can be and will be when you make a little effort.

Remember the cost of kindness is always free, so why don’t we use it a little more?

Here’s my act of kindness to let you know:


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It’s simple enough if it’s straight from the heart

What bothers you so?

Communicating what you want doesn’t have to be so complicated. Following that dream or diverting your current course doesn’t have to be complicated either.

To know what you want only requires a look inside. Do not been swayed by the expectations of society, the lure of status or the want to be accepted if it is in conflict with your whole being.

If you feel it then you should listen, as it’s you and only you who has to live with these matters. So whether, it’s telling that person how you really feel about them, saying no to that opportunity that doesn’t feel quite right or even yes to the one that does.

It’s always simple enough if it’s straight from the heart.


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What I would tell my younger self on the truth of life

I’m currently in the midst of reading a variety of excellent insights from a network of mentors in Tim Ferriss book “Tribe of Mentors“.

I’ve come across some fascinating pieces of wisdom so far, yet this extract on advice that was shared with a university student about to enter the real world from what I consider an unlikely source of a partner at a venture capitalist firm is so powerful.

I feel it’s not only something that should be shared with those about to enter the world on their own for the first time, but also serve a a reminder to all of us who are already operating within it too.

I believe I’ll be revisiting this passage many times.

“Life will go faster than you know. It will be tempting to live a life that impresses others. But this is the wrong path. The right path is to know that life is short, every day is a gift and you have certain gifts.

Happiness is about understanding that the gift of life should be honoured every day by offering your gifts to the world.

Don’t let yourself define what matters by the dogma of other people’s thoughts. Even more important, don’t let the thoughts of self-doubt and chattering self-criticism in your own mind slow you down. You will likely be your own worst critic.

Be kind to yourself in your own mind. Let your mind show you the same kindness that you aspire to show others”

These are the original words of Mike Maples Jr, partner at Floodgate, a venture capitalist firm.

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