What business leaders can learn from Mourinho

Two years ago, when Cristiano Ronaldo and Jose Mourinho worked together in Real Madrid, Ronaldo told pressmen that Jose Mourinho was the best coach in the world. In his words, “I am playing with the best coach in the world,” he told Sky Sports News HD. “I am around great players, a fantastic coach and it is great, when you play around great players it is easier.” At that time, the duo had just helped to prise the Spanish La Liga Cup title away from Barcelona. Leaders are often full of confidence and lifted spirits when their followers talk good about them. These days, many organizations and corporations make it appear as if only leaders matter.

No one needs to know about the great feats of subordinates or followers. Leaders matter a great deal, while followers hardly matter at all. How true are these sayings? Cristiano Ronaldo did not say what made Mourinho special. But is it a coincidence that Mourinho is also called ‘The Special One’? What brought about the urge to write this article is not even about Jose Mourinho and Cristiano Ronaldo. It is about a response that Mourinho made in reference to Mikel Obi, the most controversial Chelsea player. Mikel Obi fell under intense heat recently for lack of agility on the field of play.

Both at home in Nigeria and abroad, many of his erstwhile fans believe his time as a football star is gradually coming to an end. One thing almost everybody complains about the player is that he is too complacent. All he does is pass the ball, pass the ball, most of the time, unreasonably and never thinking of being creative with it. His club coach, Jose Mourinho doesn’t see it the way many people do. He sees Mikel as a real leader should. He recognizes the strength and weakness of the player and thought of better ways to exploit these.

So, in essence, where others see a failing Mikel, Mourinho sees a worthwhile football player. Earlier in October 2014, while granting interview to the Evening Standard, Mourinho explained the reason why he always brought Mikel on from the bench. He said, “People on the bench are also coming on strong, the way they are playing, the way they react. Mikel comes on and gives stability to the team. I think we’re in a good moment. When I play Mikel, I don’t need to say something to Nemanja Matic or Fabregas or to the team. They know what is going to happen, what the team are going to do. They know what Fabregas can give us when he then plays as a number 10 rather than a number 8. The team is very solid.” The most powerful words in the quote above is that Mikel, no matter what anyone else thinks, brings stability to the Chelsea team.

For example, when Chelsea take a scoring lead and the time is just dragging along and never seeming to come to an end, Mourinho can count on Mikel to make sure that the opposition do not have the opportunity to score till the end of the match. If Mikel is useless to millions of Nigerians, his boss has found him invaluable, at least, in some way.

The lesson here is a simple one. As business leaders, you must know the make-up of all your subordinates. Find out how their weaknesses can be used as strength in your organization. I think this is the main reason why Mikel has been in Chelsea for nine seasons. In today’s world, leadership is required for corporate success.

Someone has to take the lead. Leaders need to acknowledge the importance of understanding their followers better. They should look for ways to determine and appreciate differences among subordinates. These distinctions have critical implications on how leaders should lead and managers should manage.