The Five Lessons Gareth Southgate can Teach us about Leadership

Well, that’s it. The World Cup is over. Football didn’t come home. What started as an ironic, self-deprecating joke by England’s supporters turned into the belief that it just bloody well might! But it wasn’t to be. Football decided instead to head over to our European neighbours, France. And who can blame it really. France is a lovely country and its national side played an attacking, free-flowing and exciting brand of football and were surely the best team in the tournament.

We got to the semi-final though, and that’s still decent, but now that it’s over and we’ve come to terms with the crushing disappointment that England didn’t win, what can we learn from this experience?

I think the more important takeaway from this World Cup has been the positivity and togetherness in the England camp, something that’s not always been there in previous squads. Squads arguably with better, certainly higher profile, players This positive approach has clearly come from the manager, Gareth Southgate, who’s been a breath of fresh air with his honest, thoughtful and genuine style of management.

Not a lot of people had much faith when Southgate was appointed the England manager. His quietness was mistaken for weakness and his thoughtfulness for lack of direction, but he got the team playing well together, without any hint of ego or behind-the-scenes problems that previous England squads have had. And he’s managed to reach a World Cup semi-final.

So how has he achieved it? What’s been different about his management style to his predecessors, and what can we learn from it? Here’s my five key leadership lessons from Gareth Southgate’s England World Cup run that we can all implement in our own workplaces:

Be Honest and Authentic

Southgate’s honest approach to management has been evident in his interviews, and has been refreshing to witness. His players have clearly bought in to his philosophy too. As a leader you need to be authentic. You need to believe in what you’re doing to get others to believe in it. Do your research, put the thought and time into making a plan that you feel confident about and have faith in your approach. Clearly inform your team of the goal and make them aware of the plan and their individual tasks. Be open and honest about it. Talk about why you think it’ll work, but be open to suggestions too. Listen to their ideas and take them on board. You need your people to believe in the direction you’re going to make it work, and this is only possible in they believe in you and why you’ve made the decisions you have.

Be Brave with your decisions

Don’t shirk the difficult decisions. Dropping Wayne Rooney from the England squad, a talisman for England for so many years, can’t have been an easy decision for Southgate, but for the balance and cohesiveness of the squad it was one he felt he had to make. This applies to all the decisions you make as a leader, don’t dodge the tough decisions, but think them through and make sure you’re not making them on impulse and without the proper consideration. Be bold, but be able to justify your decisions to your team.

Be Positive and Generous

We’re all just humans, and we all need a bit of encouragement and guidance occasionally. Southgate’s man-management has been exemplary; taking the time to talk to every player individually at the end of each game to offer some words of encouragement and advice is evidence of this.

Making sure your team has the skills it needs to succeed is important, but creating the right atmosphere and environment for success is crucial too. This can as simple as having regular meetings where the staff’s goals and achievements are discussed, but also the company performance. Don’t be shy about talking to them about the company’s performance, they need to know if things aren’t going well, and if you’ve got a good team togetherness they’ll be as keen as you are to make it work.

Trust your people

It helps to hire good staff. Be careful with your recruitment, take on people that you’re confident can do their jobs well, but also are a good cultural fit for the company. Skills can be learned but the right attitude can be much harder to teach. Once you have a team together give them the trust they need to do their jobs, help them to feel valued and important, this will give them and the confidence they need to create great work, to share ideas, to make suggestions and help drive the business

Lead by Example

Be calm and measured in your approach, and don’t panic when things don’t go to plan. You set the tone for your company, your attitude and ideas seep into every aspect of the business, make sure they’re the values that you want the company to represent – for Flow it’s creativity and quality in our work, and openness and honesty in our relationships with clients and collaborators. The team are aware of these values and make them as part of the company’s ethos as much as I do.

Work hard. Be thorough. If your team can see that you are committed to the company’s success they will be too. Be passionate about the work you do. For us that’s creative work, and I’m still as obsessed with great design and animation now as I was before starting the company. If your team can see you’re into it too, and you care about the standard of the work you’re doing, they will too.

“Many thanks”. What does that even mean? In my head, I’m envisaging someone carrying a huge wicker basket full of ‘thanks’, dishing them out to everyone who walks by. It’s such a strange and formal term and one I really struggle with as an account manager.

When it comes to our clients, I like to make them feel as at home as possible and that starts from our very first email contact. Often, it’s their first interaction with Flow as a team so it’s important that they feel looked after and welcomed from the get-go. Despite the old adage, clients are people, not dragons so it’s best to communicate with them in that way.

I find that when I introduce more friendly, conversational language, clients relax and respond more openly to me about their project aims. No one wants to be spoken to as if there’s a robot on the other end – they want to know that it’s Sarah, who’ll just nip over to the animation team and let them know of any amends that need sorting.

Building that rapport is much like building a friendship, albeit a professional one. I find face-to-face time or calls are the best way to do that as it gives me a good sense of who I’m working with and how they like to work. It’s my job as an account manager to find out what they’re about so I can ensure the project runs as smoothly as possible.

Finding ways to connect with clients makes for a better project and a more trusting working relationship. Maybe they like a rhubarb gin of a Saturday evening. Maybe their son plays ice hockey on a Wednesday night. Or maybe they have a real passion for Harry Styles – I mean, who doesn’t? Whatever makes them tick, getting to know about it can really help with project management.

It’s helpful when you need to have those more awkward conversations, too. If you’ve worked hard to build a relationship, suddenly explaining a difficult deadline doesn’t feel like ‘pushing back’. So remove that daunting feeling and chat it through over a coffee. Your clients know you’re human too, and there’s always a way to problem solve when you feel like you’re part of the same team, clichéd as that sounds.

Of course, you always need to read the situation. Not every client is going to be a fan of you signing off an email with ‘cheers!’, or laughing on the phone about bad karaoke at their friend’s wedding. It goes without saying, but it’s always important to keep that professional air amid building your rapport. Some clients like formality and that’s fine, that’s what works for them and allows them to get the job done. It’s your responsibility to use your emotional intelligence as an account manager and trust your instinct.

So, don’t be afraid to get under your client’s skin to understand their nuances. From my experience, it’s the best way to get the most out of the project for everyone involved. Give it a go, what’s the worst that could happen?

Ta v much 😉


We’re all extremely proud to have won the prestigious award at the Greater Manchester Business Awards last week.

We’ve had such a great start as an agency we sometimes have to stop to remind ourselves that we’re still pretty new, and are still finding our way in the world like a little baby turtle finding it’s way to the relative safety of the ocean, whilst avoiding being eaten by predators along the way.

We’re not sure if we’ve made it yet to that lovely warm gulf stream, but life as an agency has gone really well so far. We’ve created some superb work for a lovely set of clients, we’ve grown the team, set up a great studio in the Northern Quarter and established ourselves as an agency.

It’s not always easy to tell how things are going though when you’re so busy with getting the work done! That’s why it was an honour to be nominated by our clients for a business start-up award to recognise what a great start we’ve had.

The award category was for companies that have been trading for less than two years, and was open to any business in the Manchester area. We were all very surprised to be short-listed and delighted to win Start-up of the Year at the Greater Manchester Business Awards last week at a glitzy event at the Raddisson Blu Hotel in central Manchester.

The judges were particularly impressed by the range of high profile clients we’ve worked with in our first two years, the campaigns we’ve delivered, the standard of work and the results for our clients. They specifically mentioned our multi-award winning branding campaign for Arts Council England, and our campaign of social videos for BBC Three.

A lovely way to start 2018, and a bit of extra spring in our steps now as we near our second birthday! Massive congrats to the team who have worked really hard, and thanks to some super clients for trusting in a new agency.

You can see highlights of the night, including us collecting our award, in the video below.

Flow Creative