6 Jun 2019

What Leaders Can Learn From Gareth Southgate

Holly Maguire writes in Entrepreneur on the power of nice and why leaders should commit to kindness. 

Image credit: Ross Kinnaird | Getty Images featured in Entrepreneur

“Nice” is one of the most underestimated words in the English language. It is perceived as gentle, weak, submissive even, but it is in fact insanely powerful. Nice engenders respect and followership. Nice puts you in first place, not last. The one lesson I want to impart to those starting a business is commit to kindness and be a bit more like current Men’s England football manager Gareth Southgate.

"Entrepreneurial role models have all too often been cut from the same cloth, from a certain White House occupant to the U.K.’s own Mike Ashley and Phillip Green. We have grown up in a world where bullish, bulldozing and "bully boy" characters succeed. Recent high-profile unseating of this type of leader has put a spotlight on the new type of leaders the modern world is demanding."

Southgate’s leadership of the England team is a great example of the resurgence of “nice.” While he never meant to have the job -- the bullish Sam Allardyce was meant to be England Manager at the 2018 World Cup before he broke ethics rules -- Southgate has defied expectations and has made the role his own. Since taking over as England Manager in 2016, Gareth Southgate has taken the men’s team to their first World Cup semifinal in 28 years, defied the dreaded penalty shootout against Columbia and guided the boys to the latter stages of the newly created UEFA Nations League.

Compared to the bluster of Sam Allardyce or the cold shoulder of Fabio Capello, the reign of Gareth Southgate as England Manager has been one of positivity and cooperation, for both players and fans. In contrast with other England managers that banned players from interacting with their wives, he has embraced players' families, notably encouraging Fabian Delph to return home for the birth of his child during the World Cup. While players may attend more than one World Cup if they are lucky, being present at the birth of your child is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

Southgate also trusts his players and encourages them to take responsibility for their own actions. He helps them to tell their own stories. Take Raheem Sterling, whose gun tattoo sparked fury from sections of the public including the founder of Mothers Against Guns, Lucy Cope, in The Sun. Instead of allowing the story to spiral, Southgate defused the situation by giving Sterling the platform and the support to properly explain the situation to the press. In comparison, John Terry was left isolated by former England Manager Fabio Capello after speaking his mind on England’s lackluster start to the 2010 World Cup.

Just as football teams rely on the people within them, around them and supporting them, businesses are built for people by people. If you build your company on toxic foundations then you will have a bad footing to engage your customers on. In a fully connected world, company walls are open to the public. Internal culture is now your brand culture; your everyday actions and words made visible to your prospective talent, suppliers, collaborators and, most importantly, customers. Authenticity, respect and courtesy is demanded (and called out if absent). If you lead with kindness then it will infiltrate every part of your business and enrich your brand.

Following Gareth's lead, I've put together three tips we use at Superunion to encourage a kinder workplace.


As former England manager Fabio Capello displayed in publicly calling out John Terry during the 2010 World Cup, rudeness has a negative impact on the bottom line. Another great example of the impact comes from former Campbell’s Soup global CEO Douglas Conant, who introduced a high performance culture powered by civility when he took over the company in 2001. Nine years later, he turned the business around, increased the share and market share and won numerous best place to work awards.