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Charismatic Leadership at Brighton & Hove Albion FC (BHAFC)

By Terri Bailey Chartered FCIPD, Director Auralite 23 – HR Consultancy

30th January 2017

I think it would be honest to say I have never been a huge football fan, it just never held any appeal to me.  Now as a Mum to two boys aged 11yrs & 7yrs who in the past 18 months joined a local football team and have suddenly become obsessed with football, I had a choice to make.  Do I pass these activities over to ‘Dad’ to deal with or do I get involved, stay close to my sons and remain interested in their lives.  Well there really was no choice was there?  My oldest son decided to support our local team Brighton & Hove Albion with my youngest opting for the more popular Chelsea first with Brighton following a close second.

Having worked in leadership roles for many years and now in the wonderful position of running Leadership & Engagement programmes that develops Charisma – specifically around leadership, I started to notice certain elements of BHAFC’s Manager, Chris Hughton that intrigued me.  Now this could be due to my oldest son, who exposes me to every element of the team, players bios, verbal match reports, every goal scored and every goal saved (his hero is David Stockdale).  He has learnt the history of all Players, he can recall match scores at the drop of a hat including who scored and he has learnt all about aggregates. His thirst and capacity for knowledge of this team is insatiable.  Although I still feel exasperated that he can’t learn his time tables!  I started to watch the video clips of Chris Houghton and started noticing elements of his character and leadership style that I believe has made this team the team it is today.  One that will hopefully make that leap they missed out on so narrowly last year, with promotion to the Premiership.

When presenting at speaking engagements I often talk about my guiding principles to drive employee engagement.  Working as a HR Director in a business that had on average 88% employee engagement for over 10 years it is fair to assume we were doing something right along the way.  My guiding principles are not new, but I did them consistently.  I cared about my team and their lives, I developed them all and I ensured that they were rewarded and recognised for the great work they did.   I could not have asked for more dedicated, loyal team who went on to win 9 different industry awards. My pride in them was immense and always will be. 

So let’s take some examples of why I would consider Mr Hughton a charismatic leader.  It looks like he has already mastered the principles above.  You can certainly see from watching the games, listening to the Players being interviewed and hearing Chris speak that he is driving engagement in his team and that is delivering results in their performance.

I noticed on many occasions when he was interviewed he would always praise the other team.  He is generous with his praise to his Players, the coaching team as well as the wider management team at BHAFC.  He is honest about the areas the Players need to improve on and would have a very clear focus on what they need to do next time – whether they have won or lost that game.   His previous experience as a coach puts him in an ideal position for providing advice, guidance and motivation to drive the performance of the team.  He comes across as very authentic, honest and true to himself.  Interestingly, there seems to be very little ‘ego’ on show when you hear him being interviewed.  Most people have egos in some form or another but his is not the overriding facet of his personality that comes through.  To the best of my knowledge, although there is a video on YouTube entitled ‘The Magic Man’ all about him, he is not claiming to be ‘A Special One’!

He is also courageous in his decisions.  Whether it’s sending Players out on loan, not ‘starting’ or even playing certain Players – and there is always disagreement from the fans, he is confident in his knowledge and decisions.  He is playing the long game.  He has a season to get through and although most weeks there is a new game to play he needs to think about the future with his eye always on the vision of what they are trying to achieve.  He is also reviewing the talent coming up the ranks, again looking to the future.

His exit from Newcastle could have made him bitter and vengeful.  However when you hear him speak about it, although hurt at the time, he focused on the good – the support he received from the Newcastle fans.  Rather than let that old hurt blind him into revengeful focus, he made peace with it, learned from it and then looked to the future with great focus and positivity.  Trump could take a leaf out of Chris’s book. What this has enabled him to do is a build up a fantastic team who not only respect him but like and admire him.  He would not be able to achieve that holding onto old ‘hurts’ that drove his own agenda.  To build a great team everyone needs to see what the end goal is to truly buy into the vision and to have the drive to want to achieve it. 

Another example of the bonds he has created in the team was when, very sadly Anthony Knockaert’s father passed away.  He and a number of players made the journey to France to attend the funeral.  Soon after in a game against Bristol City, Steve Sidwell scored an incredible goal from the half way line.  He ran over to the stand to collect and hold up Knockaerts shirt with other players helping.  It was an emotional dedication to Anthony and his family, who were not there but were known to be watching at home in France.  Sidwell commented afterwards it has been a difficult week and that goal was for Knockaert and his family.  The crowd went crazy and you could see how happy every Player was, paying homage to their team mate.  On his return Knockaert spoke openly about the support he has had from the Club in an interview.  You could see how close they are as a team.  There was nothing fake or contrived about this, the emotion was raw for all to see.  This show of love and appreciation seems to have had a huge impact on this player who said he would always want to stay at BHAFC.

In Nikki Owen’s book ‘Charismatic to the Core – a fresh approach to authentic Leadership’ she talks about Emotional Contagion – the Leaders mood is contagious.  When you have great leadership in place this can elevate teams to dizzying performance heights – exactly what BHAFC are trying to achieve. 

So it seems there is much that can be learnt from Chris Hughton’s leadership style.  He is clear on his vision, he drives the performance of his players as individuals and as a team, he cares, he is low on ego but big on team and he seems like a thoroughly nice man to boot!  There are a number of premiership managers I have seen interviewed who could learn a lot from this man’s authentic and charismatic leadership style.

In a few weeks’ time my oldest son will be walking out as a Player Mascot for the Burton Albion game against BHAFC.  He has saved his Birthday and Christmas money to do this and I am very proud that he has focused on this as a goal and made it happen.  I know, I for one, will be watching him with a huge amount of pride.  Whatever happens with Brighton this season they are instilling loyalty, confidence and pride not only in the Players but also in their fans, something the whole management team at Brighton & Hove Albion can be proud of. 

If you are interested in hearing more about The Charisma Connection - the future of Leadership & Engagement please contact me.  

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