Wholesalers can learn from one of football’s all-time great managers, says Nick Shanagher
“My father was a farmer, and he and my grandfather worked on the land. My father started at four in the morning and worked until six, seven or even eight o’clock at night.
“We had ten cows to make milk and Parmesan cheese. This was the only work in the area. My father needed to control our finances very carefully each year.
“In Italy at the time you could work on the property of one owner but 50% of what you made went to that owner. I hated [the owner] but those were the rules. I never saw my father angry with these people. I only saw my father happy.”
This is the post-war childhood of Carlo Ancelotti, as described in his book, Quiet Leadership. The book is not about the world of football, where Ancelotti is one of a handful of all-time great managers, but about how to inspire top achievers and how to build great teams.
Having watched Ancelotti marshal his thoughts on the sidelines of many top European games, it is impossible for me to say what someone with no knowledge of football would make of this book. But if you love football and leadership, it opens a fascinating window on the power of owners and the minds of top players like Cristiano Ronaldo, who contributes a few words of his own.
As a player, the first leader Ancelotti met in football was the Parma playmaker Lucio Mongardi, who taught him that everyone in the team should be equal.
The manager who inspired him was Nils Liedholm, a Swede in charge of Roma, where he played next. “In Russian, they say the boss is not always right but he is always the boss, and this is the way it was for me with Liedholm. When you make a decision you take into consideration the thoughts of the people involved to understand what they are thinking. Liedholm did this. He was very smart.”
At the end of his first season at Roma, Ancelotti and a friend in the squad wanted to rent an apartment together and leave the first-team training ground accommodation.
“Are you sure?” Liedholm asked. “Yes, we are sure,” they replied. “OK, no problem for me,” Liedholm said. “But I think that you both need to train with the youth academy, not with the first team. If you want to train with the first team you have to live at the training ground.” Ancelotti and his friend looked at each other and said together: “OK, we’ll stay at the training ground.”
Throughout the book Ancelotti shares real insight, often from his attention to day-to-day matters, such as when he was hired to make Paris Saint-Germain great: “I needed to introduce the conditions and organisation that would help build the kind of winning mentality that the big clubs all possess. The players needed to understand, as those at Milan had done, that they were part of a great club – but I had to begin the process slowly, slowly, softly, softly. I spoke with the players about what we would do and, day by day, we began to improve the culture of the club. We didn’t impose any of this. We just organised things for the players and made it welcoming for them to stay so that they would want to stay.”
Ancelotti has always learned. He learned from Sir Alex Ferguson, who he said trained Ronaldo to become both an engaged player who is fully committed, and an aligned player whose commitment always works for the greater good of the team.
But professional football also comes with the need to manage upwards and deal with the presidents. This means even the best managers have short tenures at big clubs. What does this feel like? His former assistant Paul Clement explains what happened after Chelsea lost to Manchester United in the Champions League.
“When we got back to the dressing room at the end of the match, Mr [Roman] Abramovich was there on his own waiting for us. Everybody sat down and there was a period of silence. A lot of people started looking down at the floor to find answers that weren’t there…”
Quiet Leadership helps you to understand what Carlo said next, and to think about what you as wholesalers can do to develop your business.