Welcome to Harvard, Leicester City...

Welcome to Harvard, Leicester City...

At Harvard Business School there is a much battled-over and prestigious league table - that of the most requested and most studied case study. Case studies are HBS' stock in trade and this year one of the world's unexpected and unfashionable examples is going straight in at No.1. Having won the richest, biggest and most watched sporting competition, the English Premier League, Leicester City are about to test the pronunciation skills of thousands of post graduates from around the world.

Claudio Ranieri's Thai-backed team have defied near incredible odds (5000-1 was widely quoted) to achieve what is just about as close to impossible as it gets in professional sport - out-doing even Moneyball's infamous Oakland As.

George Clooney as Claudio Ranieri anybody?

So as the players make the most of their victory parade through the streets of Leicester today, is it just a one-off fluke, or are there really lessons other teams and other leaders can learn from Leicester's annus mirabilis?

Here are my 4 to start us off.

1. Culture beats talent

The very, very best? They are an invincible blend of the greatest talents and the most powerful culture; Steve Waugh's Australians or Pep Guardiola's Barcelona perhaps. But what if, like virtually everybody else, you don't have a monopoly on talent? Does great talent and average culture beat average talent and amazing culture? A question for the ages that Leicester City have answered once and for all.

A great and defining culture is in every leaders grasp should they choose to recognise its transformative power and commit totally to the behaviours that define it. Culture is a hard, physical thing and its' creation and maintenance is a leader's greatest challenge. Leicester have shown what can be achieved if you really get it right.

2. If you love them, let them go

Brilliant leaders are mentors, not dictators. Technocrats micro-manage; modern leaders create teamship (to use a phrase beloved of Sir Clive Woodward) then focus on removing the barriers (emotional or physical) to allow the team to do their thing.

Ranieri reportedly said, "I will speak little of tactics". His strategy was his culture: 90 minutes of football, like a business cycle, is a series of micro strategies executed by those directly involved - those face-to-face with the challenge. Ranieri trusted that his team already had the knowledge and skills to do it right - his job was to allow them to be the best they could be.

Ranieri knew that sometimes his best tactic was to get out of the way.

3. All great successes start with failure

Could Ranieri have won the greatest prize of all without first failing at one of the biggest jobs in football - managing Chelsea? Fail fast has become a boring and popular cliché.

But sometimes failing is necessarily a slow process. The last time he managed in the UK, Ranieri was mocked as 'The Tinkerman', with its connotations of indecision and immaturity.

Ranieri's crowning achievement is surely his ability and willingness to grow, change and learn. These skills require a humility that is even starker in the macho, received wisdom world of football. But they are no less relevant in the (often all too similar) world of business.

He failed into the manager we least expected - the 'anti-tinkerman' - a manager of consistency, adaptability and strength.

4. It's not life and death...it's less important than that

Ultimately though, he taught his players the most important lesson of all.

The larger than life Liverpool manager, Bill Shankly, once famously said, "Some people believe football is a matter of life and death... I can assure you it is much more important than that."

Ranieri proves the opposite. He has shown us - and his team - the value of perspective.

He freed them to play without fear. He freed them to focus on the inputs. To perform to their highest personal level, to do their job in the team and the outputs, win or lose, would look after themselves.

Instead of chewing his nails down to the quick, he flew to Italy to take his elderly mother out to lunch as the title was clinched. Some things are more important.

And maybe finding that balance, looking the twin imposters in the eye without flinching, is what got 2016's Premier League Champions over the line.


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