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Sir Alex Ferguson is a Scottish former football player and manager (however

more widely known during his managing tenure) who managed Manchester
United Football Club from 1986 to 2013 . Having won 49 titles during his time
at Manchester United, one can arguably attest that he has been Uniteds most
successful manager thus far. His honors were most definitely not gain through
sheer luck or favor. Rather, Sir Alex Fergusons leadership skills were what
propelled United to great heights. Such was his influence in the team that
upon his retirement, for the 2013-2014 season, Manchester United finished
outside of the top 3 for the first time in premier league history as well as failed
to qualify for the champions league (a top four finish) for the first time since
1995 despite having much of the same team as the 2012-2013 season, the
last season which Alex Ferguson managed and clinched the Premier League
title. As such, it is undoubted that Sir Alex Ferguson has been a great
influence to the success of Manchester United, and we will be analysing his
leadership secrets to success.
DISC Analysis
Alex Ferguson is a dominant leader as he is driven, self-assured, competitive,
accepts challenges and is able to see the big picture. Being brought up by a
working class family in Govan, the ship-building district of Glasgow, Ferguson
learned the value of community, hard work and perseverance in the face of
opposition. In an interview with Harvard Business Review, Ferguson said, I
used to be the first to arrive in the morning. In my later years, a lot of my staff
members would already be there when I got in at 7 AM. I think they
understood why I came in earlythey knew there was a job to be done. There
was a feeling that if he can do it, then I can do it. 1This exemplified his drive
in his duties of managing Manchester United.
When he first took United in 1986, they were second last position in the
league and were almost relegated to a lower division. In Fergusons first
season, United managed to finish 11th place.2 This exemplifies his acceptance
for challenges and performing in the face of adversity.
Ferguson is self-assured and is able to see the big-picture. He is unwavering
in his beliefs and repeatedly went against conventions even with the criticism
of many detractors. Even in times of great success, Ferguson worked to
rebuild his team. He is credited with assembling five distinct league-winning
squads during his time at United. He also placed a huge emphasis on cherry
picking and grooming young players. As Ryan Giggs said, Hes never really
looking at this moment, hes always looking into the future, Ferguson is a
visionary leader with foresight who can think and solve problems in an
unorthodox manner, to go beyond what is conventional and accepted.
MBTI Analysis
Ferguson is widely regarded as ESTJ.
Just like ESTJs, Ferguson naturally takes-charge. He is self-confident and
aggressive. He is demanding and critical at times, as he possesses
1 Elberse, A. (2013, October 1). Ferguson's Formula. Harvard Business Review, 3.
2 Elberse, A. (2013, October 1). Ferguson's Formula. Harvard Business Review, 2.

unwavering beliefs, and does not hesitate to express himself when a player is
not meeting standards. He is extremely straightforward and honest.
This can be evidenced by Fergusons belief that a player should be
reprimanded when he is not performing to his abilities. When players commit
mistakes or deliver subpar performance, he would lose his temper and
immediately reprimand and correct them. Ferguson believes that there is
nothing wrong with losing his temper if its for the right reason and his done in
the right way. He believes in laying issues on the table, dealing with them, and
then moving on without holding grudges. Due to this, Ferguson once had the
moniker Furious Fergie. 3
Another predominantly ESTJ characteristic Ferguson embodies is how he has
a clear vision of how things should be, and he has a flair for devising systems
and action plans. He knows the required course of action to complete a
specific task.
His unorthodox and firm stance on how to manage teams is a testament to
this. Firstly, he has foresight and set up the United youth programme, which
was to groom promising young players. Stars like Ryan Giggs, David
Beckham, Paul Scholes and Gary Neville were under this youth programme. 4
Secondly, he has bought and sold big name players, which got the
disapproval of many detractors. An example is the sale of Paul Ince, Mark
Hughes and Andrei Kanchelskisin in 1995 despite strong opposition from the
Board. Ferguson believed that selling these three extremely talented and
experienced players was for the better of United, and went ahead with the
decision despite the outcry from fans and the Board alike. 5 Ferguson replaced
Ince, Hughes and Kanchelskis with new, younger players from the
abovementioned youth programme, which contributed greatly to United's
success in the 199596 season as well as the triumphs of subsequent
seasons. These events clearly showed the acumen and foresight he possess
in managing and his acute sense of knowing what is best for United.
Big Five Model Personality
1. Surgency and Extraversion
Determination & Dominance
Although Ferguson is the most decorated Football manager in England, his
numerious successes were never overnight miracles. Ferguson took three
years to mould St Mirren (the first team he managed) into a championship
winning side. At Aberdeen he also needed three years to instil his vision,
3 Oschadleus, J. (2013, May 1). Furious Fergie or Marvellous Motivator? ActKnowledge. Retrieved
September 20, 2014, from http://www.actknowledge.com/furious-fergie-or-marvellous-motivator/

4 Oschadleus, J. (2013, May 1). Dont Call Me Boss The Ferguson Legacy ActKnowledge. Retrieved
September 20, 2014, from http://www.actknowledge.com/ferguson4/

Bagchi, R. (2010, October 18). Six Manchester United players that Sir Alex Ferguson let go. The
Guardian. Retrieved September 20, 2014, from http://www.theguardian.com/football/2010/oct/18/sir-alexferguson-player-rifts

discipline and a winning culture before the perennial underachievers won the
first of their three Championships under his guidance. 6
Ferguson possesses a dogged determination to win, even when the odds are
stacked against his favour. He is a decisive leader who makes prompt
analysis and decisions, and often comes across as confident, calm and in
control. 7
Ferguson speaks fervently and assuringly, which inspires United players to
achieve success. He comes across as someone dependable, trustworthy, and
as someone who absolutely knows what hes doing.
2. Agreeablesness
EQ & Sensitivity
On the surface, Ferguson seems to be lacking in emotional intelligence and
sensitivity to the feelings of the footballers under him, as he is infamous for
harshly scolding and castigating players.8 However, he was also always
sensitive to the players emotions and made sure to encourage them from
time to time. His pre-game and mid-game talks also display emotional
intelligence and sensitivity on his part.
Generally, my pre-game talks were about our expectations, the players belief
in themselves, and their trust in one another. I liked to refer to a working-class
principle. Not all players come from a working-class background, but maybe
their fathers do, or their grandfathers, and I found it useful to remind players
how far they have come. I would tell them that having a work ethic is very
important. It seemed to enhance their pride. I would remind them that it is trust
in one another, not letting their mates down, that helps build the character of a
team.
In halftime talks, you have maybe eight minutes to deliver your message, so it
is vital to use the time well. Everything is easier when you are winning: You
can talk about concentrating, not getting complacent, and the small things you
can address. But when you are losing, you have to make an impact. I liked to
focus on our own team and our own strengths, but you have to correct why
you are losing.9
His vital morale boosting encouragements were tailored to specific situations
and propelled United to numerous last minute miracles.
In his autobiography, Managing My Life, Ferguson talks of the importance of
building a spirit of trust and loyalty within his players.
6

Oschadleus, J. (2013, May 1). Britains Most Successful Manager has No Managerial Ability.
ActKnowledge. Retrieved September 20, 2014, from http://www.actknowledge.com/ferguson-1/

Oschadleus, J. (2013, May 1). Furious Fergie or Marvellous Motivator? ActKnowledge. Retrieved
September 20, 2014, from http://www.actknowledge.com/furious-fergie-or-marvellous-motivator/

Tevez resigned to leaving United when loan expires. (2009, May 10). AP Worldstream. Retrieved
September 20, 2014, from http://www.highbeam.com/doc/1A1-D983GI400.html

Elberse, A. (2013, October 1). Ferguson's Formula. Harvard Business Review, 4.

Tactics are important but they dont win football matches. Men win football
matches. The best teams stand out because they are teams, because the
individual members have been so integrated that the team functions with a
single spirit. There is a constant flow of mutual support among the players,
enabling them to feed off strengths and compensate for weaknesses. They
depend on one another, trust one another. A manager should engender that
sense of unity. He should create a bond among his players and between him
and them that raises performance to heights that were unimaginable when
they started out as disparate individuals. 10
Ferguson believed that teamwork and cohesion were imperative in a football
team, and always made sure to foster strong team bonds. This portrays his
emotional intelligence again, how he successfully used psychological tactics
to propel United to numerous successes.
3. Conscientiousness
Achievement-Striving
Winning is in my nature. Ive set my standards over such a long period of
time that there is no other option for meI have to win. Ferguson displays a
dogged determination for success even at the face of adversity. Fergusons
teams had a knack for pulling out victories in the late stages of games. Over
10 recent seasons, United had a better record when tied at halftime and when
tied with 15 minutes left to play than any other club in the English league. This
can be attributed to Fergusons aggressive and systematic approach to
training for such situations. He had players regularly practice how they should
play if a goal was needed with 10, five, or three minutes remaining. We
practice for when the going gets tough, so we know what it takes to be
successful in those situations, one of Uniteds assistants has said. 11 Ferguson
instills and imbues United with his insatiable hunger for success, giving them
a common goal which helps to overcome tough training sessions.
4. Openness
Someone who is open is imaginative, independent minded and has divergent
thinking and beliefs. Ferguson is an open individual, as evidenced by his
unorthodox plans and decisions for United. These included his belief in the
youth programme and his unpopular decisions to sell players. He is
independent minded as is not one to stick to past and proven methods or
conventions.
5. Neuroticism
Neurotic individuals tend to experience emotional instability, anxiety,
moodiness, irritability, and sadness. Ferguson is definitely not neurotic, as he
is someone who is very clear-headed and knows exactly what to do and how
to do it. He is also focused and confident, as seen by his aforementioned
foresight in managing, and his unrelenting beliefs in Uniteds direction.
Although his fixation on winning might seem as a sign of neuroticism, he is
10 Oschadleus, J. (2013, May 1). Furious Fergie or Marvellous Motivator? ActKnowledge. Retrieved
September 20, 2014, from http://www.actknowledge.com/furious-fergie-or-marvellous-motivator/

11

Elberse, A. (2013, October 1). Ferguson's Formula. Harvard Business Review, 6.

definitely not one to wallow in times of loss. In his novel, he wrote on losing,
My first thought was always: Think quickly about what you should be doing.
My mind went straight to the business of improvement and recovery. It was an
asset for me to be able to make quick calculations when it would have been
easier just to be disheartened. Ferguson is nothing like a neurotic individual
in this sense, who would be deeply daunted and demoralised by failure.
Instead, he learns from failure and sees failure as a stepping stone to future
successes.12
Leadership Traits & Ethics
In the dramatic world of football where passions run wild and tempers
run high, it comes as no surprise that even managers themselves may find
themselves heatedly caught up in the game and Sir Alex Ferguson is no
exception to this rule. Known for his blistering temper, Ferguson is an
unyielding disciplinarian unafraid to criticize his players and admonish them,
should they perform badly. His temper is so renowned that the term hairdryer treatment was coined in an article by The Guardian (2012); a reference
to the scoldings he gave his players in the dressing room where the force of
Fergusons yelling was likened to the explosive hot air from hair-dryers.
Fergusons fiery temperament is unparalleled- football fans from all around
the world will find it hard to forget the fallout between Ferguson and Beckham
after a particularly harsh hair-dryer session in the changing room that ended
with Ferguson kicking a boot at Beckhams head (The Guardian, 2012). More
important than Fergusons explosive temper however is what underlies it- that
is Fergusons unrelenting ambition and desire to win; his temper merely
serves as a tool and a means of motivation for his players to perform their
best. Ferguson demands exacting standards from the United team (BBC,
2011), never once compromising on them, and it was this vision of success
that spurred the club to unmatched heights and victories. Fergusons vision
and ambition acted as glue that united the team, even in the face of his
cantankerous temper, as he instilled pride and loyalty in his players (BBC,
2011).
An undeniable aspect of Fergusons leadership would be his firm
autocratic style. This controlling aspect of his leadership is in part due to
Fergusons task-oriented habit of initiating structure. In a leadership behavior
model, initiating structure deals with how a leader defines and organizes his
12

Ferguson, A. (2013) Alex Ferguson: My Autobiography. Retrieved September 20, 2014

role and the roles of followers, is oriented toward goal attainment, and
establishes well-defined patterns and channels of communication (Judge,
T.A., Piccolo, R.F. & Ilies, R. 2004). Fergusons way of defining his role and
the role of his players in the club is clearly highlighted in an interview with The
Daily Mail when he plainly stated that the most important man in the [football]
club is the manager (Wheeler, 2013). Indeed, Fergusons focus on
maintaining hierarchy and initiating structure was greatly exemplified by his
removal of David Beckham from Manchester United in 2003. Despite being
one of the worlds most illustrious football players at the time, Beckham found
himself unceremoniously booted out of United following a dressing-room
disagreement after Uniteds loss to Arsenal. Beckham had already cemented
his position as an international football celebrity by then and it was this,
coupled with Beckhams marriage to Victoria Posh, which led to the duos
disagreements. Ferguson decried Beckhams rising celebrity status, claiming
it caused his ego to inflate as Beckham could not accept Fergusons criticisms
(Herman 2013). In his autobiography, Ferguson revealed that David
[Beckham] thought he was bigger than Alex Ferguson (Herman, 2013) and
said that The minute a Manchester United player thought he was bigger than
the manager he had to go. Authority is what counts (Herman 2013; Chapman
2013), illustrating his iron grip on autocracy and his high level of power in the
club. It is obvious that Ferguson expects all Manchester United players to
unquestioningly follow his every instruction whether they want to or not, as
evident in his decree that United players below 23 were not allowed to accept
a Chevrolet despite the automobile company being their sponsor (Brooks,
2012). Although the rationale for Fergusons ban was to keep his younger
players humble, it still exemplifies how Ferguson is fixated on controlling
every aspect of his players lives for them to give the club their best.
While Fergusons autocratic style has led United to many victories both
home and away, it may be seen as too draconian and heavy-handed in
todays working environment. The current generation of millennials and even
the baby boomer generation themselves are moving steadily to a more
consensus-based approach (Berndtson, 2013) - a direct contrast to
Fergusons leadership style. The deputy dean of Cass Business School,
Professor Cliff Oswick, elaborated on this further, saying that The age of the

autocratic, macho, rock star CEO is over. The idea that one person can be
responsible for all the major decisions in an organization is no longer realistic
(Berndtson, 2013). Moreover, Fergusons autocratic style caused the whole
club to be reliant on him and him alone (Little 2013), leading to a dismal
season for United when Ferguson retired and appointed David Moyes as his
successor. Thus, a wholly autocratic leadership style would not be greatly
unsuitable off the football pitch and in the context of a regular business
environment today.
However, it should be noted that despite his scathing temper and fierce
disciplinarian attitude, Ferguson still commands respect from his players and
opponents alike- a testament to his great leadership. Beckham himself is still
appreciative of Fergusons managerial style despite their fallout, saying that
Ferguson made [him] successful as a player beyond Manchester United
(Barker, 2013). Ferguson is not a completely unfeeling leader- he factors quite
strongly under consideration behavior as well. Consideration is defined as
the degree to which a leader shows concern and respect for followers, looks
out for their welfare, and expresses appreciation and support (Bass, B.M.
1990). Ferguson is can be seen as a father figure and he shows individual
consideration to the United players. Cristiano Ronaldo, Paul Scholes and
Ryan Giggs are but only a few of the players who have openly called
Ferguson a father figure, as reported in The Daily Mail (2010). From a 14year-old fledgling player, Ryan Giggs has grown up to be one of the most
famous wingers in football history and was still playing under Fergusons
management at the ripe age of 40 (The New York Times, 2013), highlighting
the loyalty he pledges to Ferguson, despite being one of the most highly
sought-after players on the market. Additionally, Ferguson is famous for being
fiercely protective of the club and its players. He would shelter the team from
external criticism despite his hair dryer exhortations. He prided club loyalty
above all else, as evident in his signing Eric Cantona on. Despite critics
condemning him for recruiting Cantona who was known for his ficklemindedness when it came to choosing to stay at a particular football club
(Smythe, 2010), Ferguson steadfastly stood by his decision and defended
Cantona from even United supporters themselves. Ferguson also goes
through the trouble of speaking to each player individually before a match,

explaining his decision in choosing to let them play or not, therefore affirming
players whilst simultaneously soothing their disappointing. Additionally,
Ferguson does not deride his players in public, choosing to scold them in the
privacy of dressing rooms and never revealing his players shortcomings to
the media, calling his dressing room dress-downs sacrosanct (Wheeler,
2013). This thus inspires the players trust and confidence in Ferguson, even
though he is reprimanding them as the United players know that Ferguson is
genuinely protecting their best interests and the interests of the club, winning
him their respect. This lesser-reported side of Fergusons leadership behavior
being high on consideration is definitely advantageous as an effective team
needs to establish some sort of rapport with their leader for maximum gain
(Bass, B.M. 1990). If a team is unable to communicate effectively or establish
a two-way relationship with their team leader, the probability for dissatisfaction
and a breakdown in communications is very high and would more than likely
result in a non-completion of goals (Bass, B.M. 1990).
In addition, a key leadership trait in Fergusons managerial history is
his willingness to adapt to new situations by taking risks and introducing
change (Harvard Business School, 2013). When Ferguson first started out,
Manchester United was in shambles and majority of the players there were
old. Despite derisive comments from detractors, Ferguson remained a
visionary and put the whole club through a complete overhaul by actively
seeking out newer, younger players. Ferguson had a vision for Manchester
United to compromise of seasoned veterans and fresh fledglings, striking a
balance between aged experience and youthful vigor. He sought to unite the
players together by scheduling senior and younger players to warm up and
play alongside each other every day, as reported in Harvard Business School
(2013). Signing on players like Beckham, Cantona, Wayne Rooney and Ruud
van Nistlerooy (all of whom would become household names), it goes without
saying that Fergusons risks paid off as Manchester United enjoyed season
after season of unprecedented winning.

Contingency Leadership

The main idea of the contingency approach in leadership is that leadership


effectiveness depends on the interaction of two factors: the leaders task and
the relationship he/she enjoys with his subordinates rather than a pre-existing
model one can use to organize his/her organization.[1] Hence, it is interesting
to first explore Fergusons approach using Fiedlers Contingency Leadership
Model.
Judging by the above model, Fergusons leadership situation fell under
situation 3. This was because; a football manager essentially needed good
leader-member relations, the task of playing football and the training involved
were essentially highly unpredictable and tailored according to each players
needs, and that Ferguson had a strong hold over his players. Hence,
according to Contingency Theory, the most appropriate leadership style he
should adopt would be one that is task-oriented.
Alex Ferguson displayed strong senses of a task-oriented leadership style. He
was a leader that focused on getting things done rather than ensuring good
relations with his players[2].
He believed that his main task was to lead Manchester United to victory, and
that he would do anything to win. This includes letting go of good players if
they were not committed entirely to winning[3] or even players with good
relations with him and the club but with a diminishing form, displaying an
intense commitment to the task at all costs.
One of Fergusons greatest trials came during the English Premier League
season of 2004/05 and 2005/06, where Manchester United were consistently
trailing behind rivals Chelsea. Then Manchester United Captain and key
player, Roy Keane, criticized his younger teammates on the quality of their
play and made personal attacks against them. For a club that was built on
unity, Roy Keane demonstrated traits that went against the values of the club.
Despite Ferguson recognizing Keane as a key player in Uniteds playing
strategy, he made the difficult decision of letting him go[4].

Motivation Theories
In any organization, be it a company or even a football club, people are
affected and driven by various types of motivation.
Ferguson is a leader that places motivation as a cornerstone of his leadership
style. Many of his implemented policies are centered on theories such as the
Hierarchy of Needs Theory, Goal Setting theory and the Reinforcement
theory.

Hierarchy of Needs Theory (Need Based)

It is stated that people are affected and driven by Maslows five levels of
needs physiological, safety, belongingness, esteem, and self-actualization.
These proved to be a key success in Fergusons leadership over Manchester
United, and cemented his success in the club.
Ferguson consistently ensured the best training facilities and training for his
players to grow in terms of their technical skills as footballers. He also
ensured that fringe benefits such as medical attention and yoga lessons were
provided to the players to ensure their physical well-being.
Ferguson also established a strong sense of unity among the players,
ensuring they treat their teammates as a family and the club as a second
home[5]. He gave players the recognition they deserved when they performed
well in a game and ensured that their efforts were well rewarded by allowing
them to start on the soccer pitch more frequently on games[6].
As to fulfilling a players self-actualization, Fergusons approach was rather
unique. While he did give players autonomy in negotiating their own salaries
etc., he insisted on maintaining absolute control over his players during
training and the development of skills. Ferguson frequently adopted an I know
best approach to the players. Interestingly, the players still had strong respect
for him despite the lack of independence he gave them.
Such incidents prove that while Ferguson is effective in motivating his players
by achieving the first 4 levels of the Hierarchy of Needs Theory, he is
ultimately still effective in fulfilling a players self actualization. He is able to
ensure players are able to continually develop their skills, albeit under his
complete control, and yet allow them to maintain a small amount of autonomy.

Goal Setting Theory (Motive Based)


Ferguson was especially adept in the theory of goal setting. The Goal Setting
theory proposes that specific, difficult goals motivate people. In this case,
Ferguson was constantly able to set goals for his players, motivating them
into achieving these goals.
One such example would be Fergusons ability to set short term goals at
critical junctures to motivate players to do their best. Wayne Rooney had an
amazing run during his 2011/12 season. However, it was interesting to note
that it was during that season when Ferguson set a 40 goal target for him[7].
This resulted in Rooney achieving a record 34 goals that season, as opposed
to his 18 goals per season average[8].

Reinforcement Theory (Consequence Based)

One of Fergusons greatest traits and weaknesses is his usage of


reinforcement, allowing players to feel motivated to perform their best to get
positive reinforcement from him. Additionally, he does not hesitate to use
negative reinforcement as a means to motivate his players not to make the
same mistakes they have made. Ferguson did not hesitate to reprimand his
star players when they are not doing well, and was extremely impartial with
his treatment of them and the rest of the players[9].
Wayne Rooney, one of Uniteds key players, was reportedly given Fergusons
famed hairdryer treatment, in which players in the dressing room were
treated to a dressing down by Ferguson who felt like a hairdryer blasting in
their face. This was apparently done to ensure players knew their mistakes
and thence did not repeat such mistakes in the following games. Players were
inevitably motivated to perform their best to ensure they do not receive such
negative reinforcement, and motivated to get praised by Ferguson[10].
However, there were cases where the players were unable to take Fergusons
negative reinforcement. Carlos Tevez of Manchester United was one example
in which Fergusons reprimanding and benching caused a lack of motivation
for him to continue playing for Manchester United, resulting in his departure
from the club to their rivals Manchester City[11].
Motivation Process
Motivation is hence ultimately a process and should be viewed in a cyclical as
opposed to a linear perspective. Ferguson has successfully implemented his
motivation process in such a manner, allowing the people under him to be
motivated through need based, motive based and consequence based
motivation.