The Blog

The Media Is No Place to Define Your Relationship

By posting photographs of his inner circle of advisors and coaches on Facebook, Andy Murray was tempted last week to use the media to define some important relationships. Murray's appointment of Amelie Mauresmo, at least on a temporary basis, to replace his former coach Ivan Lendl allegedly caused trouble in the tennis champ's camp. Assistant coach Dani Vallverdu and fitness trainer Jez Green apparently only discovered Murray's intentions when they read about Mauresmo's mandate in the media. Why would Murray, a man able to see several volleys ahead, make this simple, unforced error? Was Murray fearful that his confidants, had he consulted them, might have smashed his idea for the new appointment back over the net? Maybe the omission of a chosen few from his decision-making was deliberate in order to redefine some boundaries they had crossed. Bringing a new player into your circle of consiglieri redraws the network of relationships between the leader and each member of the team; it changes the power dynamic between the members themselves; and it can, if managed clumsily, lead to petty jealousies and poor behaviour. One snap carefully released to the media to demonstrate that peace has broken out in the Murray camp may have eased some surface team tension. Better now for Murray explicitly to define the relationship he wishes to have with each team player, and to brief them on the relationships he expects them to have with each other: 'This is what I value most in each of you; this is what I need each of you to do; this is how we will resolve conflicts together; and this is when we will check how we are doing in support of a cause that is bigger than any one of us.'

Sir Bradley Wiggins' track record extends to negotiating his relationships in public. This week the cyclist declared he was 'done with the road', still sulking from his omission from Team Sky's Tour de France line-up. Team Sky's general manager Sir David Brailsford, at whom Wiggins' media missile was aimed, might easily have retorted that he 'was done with Wiggins'. Instead, with trademark guile, Brailsford offered to 'find ways to support' his man whilst clearly defining some boundaries. If the admired coach is to grant the graceless Wiggins a new contract, he will do so on his terms and in private. Box office attraction on his bike Wiggins may be, but winning only silver in the saddle at the Commonwealth Games - again - and whingeing to the press demonstrated neither performance nor politesse.

There can be no quibbles about Louis Van Gaal's recent performance. Having inspired the Netherlands to third place in Brazil's World Cup, he needs to negotiate very little with his new club, Manchester United. Van Gaal appears to hold all the cards, taking over a team that languished in seventh place in the league last season and inheriting a commercial partner, Ed Woodward, whose relationship with former manager David Moyes failed spectacularly. Van Gaal nevertheless used the press last week to lay down a marker, criticising the club's lengthy pre-season commercial commitments, for which Executive Vice-Chairman Woodward is responsible: 'when you have commercial activities and dreadful distances, having to fly a lot and the jet lag, it is not very positive for a good preparation.' Woodward should have kept his counsel. Instead, he took Van Gaal's bait and used the media to record the importance he - and the club - attach to pre-season tours, opening up to scrutiny a fundamental difference of opinion in their early working relationship. Of course commercial success is high on Woodward's agenda. Fail to delight his new chums at Chevrolet, the £53million -a-year shirt sponsors looking to extract their pound of player, and Mr Woodward may find himself following former manager David Moyes into a Manchester United afterlife. But to take to print to placate his new man about future tours with promises of prior consultation was naïve: 'I know we've only just moved in together and that you really don't like me hosting dinner parties every night but, just to be clear how we do things around here, Louis, dinner parties are here to stay. As a demonstration of my commitment to our new relationship, here's what I will do differently in future. I'll check the dates and invitation list with you and I'll guarantee the guests leave before midnight.'

The courtship of Van Gaal took place whilst the Dutchman was ending a love affair in Brazil, so it is no surprise that the new pair are still feeling their way towards a comfortable cohabitation. Using the media to negotiate key features of their relationship is not going win the pair a Premier League partners' medal and there will only be one winner: 'I have to adapt to this big club but I think also that this big club has to adapt to Louis Van Gaal.' There is your clue, Mr Woodward, and your cue to leave the media to the top man, not the money man.

Relationships between leaders and their circle of coaches, advisors and assistants need to be defined, nurtured and reviewed in private, not in print.

Richard Hytner is Adjunct Associate Professor of Marketing, London Business School, and Deputy Chairman, Saatchi & Saatchi Worldwide. His book, Consiglieri: Leading From The Shadows, was published on 4th June 2014 by Profile Books.

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