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The 5 Business Lessons We Learned from Sir Alex Ferguson

In the tech world, Steve Jobs was Apple. In business sector, Mark Cuban was money. In the soccer world, Sir Alex Ferguson is, and will always be, Manchester United.

Some call Sir Alex Ferguson the greatest coach in history. For those who were able to witness his greatness from the start, they saw not just a manager, but a leader who would make the impossible dream a reality.

Before retiring in May 2013, Sir Alex Ferguson spent twenty-six years as the manager of Manchester United, one of the biggest English football clubs in the world that ranked amongst the most successful and valuable franchises in sports.

Prior to United, Ferguson began his professional career as a player where he played for various clubs from 1957 to 1974. It wasn’t until a year later where he got his first coaching experience with East Stirlingshire. After coaching various clubs and seeing incredible success, Ferguson was given the opportunity to take over as boss in November 1986 during a very unstable period for the renowned but underachieving Manchester United.

(Learn more about Sir Alex Ferguson’s history here.)

During that first year, Ferguson’s biggest worry was the overall morale of the team. In recent interviews, he notes of the severe drinking problem and depression many players were undergoing before he arrived at Old Trafford. Still, even with the hurdles, and the fitness problem, Ferguson knew that there was a way to rebuild the team. He used his philosophy of core development and family to help boost morale and confidence with his players. Eventually, his hard work paid off during the 1998-1999 season where he was able to be the first British manager to clinch the treble (the Premier League championship, the FA cup, and the European Cup. From there on, the Theater of Dreams, became a show of beautiful soccer, incredible players, and iconic wins.  For 26 years, Sir Alex became synonymous with winning. Having acquired 13 English Premier League titles, 2 UEFA Champions League trophies, and over 25 other domestic and international trophies, it is no wonder why the fans still call him the boss.

But beyond the wins and the titles, Sir Alex was looked as more than a manager for the first team, but the manager for the club. When we look into Ferguson’s managerial tactics, we learn that he focuses on culture for his success. He has stated in multiple interviews that the team is not just Manchester United. Rather everyone, whether they are the grounds man or Cristiano Ronaldo, has a play in United’s victories. Below, you will find five key lessons we can learn from the boss. These are lessons that can be applied in any sector that you are working in. Just as Sir Alex says, we are all United.

1. Create a Foundation and a Culture

Upon his arrival at Manchester in 1986, Ferguson was set about creating structure for the long term by modernizing and leveraging United’s youth program. For him, he wanted to establish two centers of excellence in which players can both develop and optimize the club for the greater good. One fine example was the infamous and world-renowned player David Beckham. Having invested in Beckham’s talents, the young star was able to make celebrity soccer status during his time at United. No matter what industry you are in, you approach needs to be systematic. You need to cultivate a culture in which individuals can thrive in and succeed.

2. Dare to Rebuild

In addition to creating a foundation, Ferguson has always had the capabilities of rebuilding and revitalizing the Manchester United team. Various teams often lack the level of consistency and strength after winning a Premier League title. For Sir Alex, his decisions were driven by a keen sense of where his team stood in the cycle of soccer. While at times he had to cut certain players, he knew this was necessary to reach his goals for United. Like any business or industry, you need to be open to change, even if they are difficult. Know when to reflect, but most importantly know when to rebuild.

3. Communication & Recognition

For Sir Alex transparency and honesty has always been apart of his style. He believed that in order to succeed, there has to be a strong level of communication between all parties. Whether that is with players, administrators, investors, reporters, workers, and the fans, communication and recognition needed to be there. For him, anyone who is Manchester United was always and has been apart of the wins. That is what makes a culture. For any business or organization, this level of communication is necessary for success. Being able to talk about the strengths and weaknesses of a group or of an individual is something that has to be noted if you want to improve in the long run.

4. Consistency

Like any high level organization, consistency can oftentimes be a problem. For Sir Alex Ferguson, he believed in providing that level of consistency and authority throughout his time at United. While the administration and owners had a play in keeping him for that amount of time, Ferguson was able to leverage his time and build a level of confidence from his staff and his players. Similar to United, you want to keep that same level of professional and personal consistency in your work. Having this type of work ethics builds the drive and effort you are looking for in every one of your employees.

5. Personality

John Quincy Adams once said that, “if your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more, and become more, you are a leader.” For your personality, you need to assume a strong leadership role. During his time at United, Ferguson made sure that he had control of any decisions about his team. Having this level of authority and confidence is something that is vital to your success. An individual can have all of the resources, but at the end of the day, it all depends on the individual and whether or not they can optimize it for the best.