Southgate’s biggest challenge

Southgate’s biggest challenge | How can leaders bounce back from failure?

Kieran Howells, myGrapevine Feature

How can leaders bounce back from failure?
The England football team face the challenge of bouncing back from their Euro 2020 final loss – as manager, it will be Gareth Southgate who has to make his team resilient for the future.

Leaders may well identify with his position; resilience at work is hard to master. However, Southgate’s post-match interview shared some insight into his plans

What can you take away from his experiences?

Football fans will likely still be feeling the sting of England’s loss on penalties at Sunday’s Euro 2020 finals. However, the resounding sentiment among critics is that manager Gareth Southgate, and his refreshing approach to leadership, were the core driving factors in England’s success.

However, whilst much work went into preparing the squad for the Euros, Southgate’s biggest challenge now lies ahead – and it’s an issue that many leaders will likely have faced themselves, or inevitably will at some point in their careers. Southgate must now dust off the defeat, learn from his mistakes and motivate his team to do better next time.

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But this isn’t a simple as just getting a good night’s sleep and starting again. Southgate’s team, as with employees, deal with the blow of a failure in different ways – something leaders need to be aware of.

“People are coming into projects with different expectations, perspectives, levels of investment, and different things at stake,” Susan David, Founder of the Harvard Institute of Coaching, recently told Harvard Business Review. “Some people may be very resilient and others might feel more bruised,” David said.


So, what’s the first step in bouncing back, and creating both resilience and engagement among your team? According to Ben Dattner, an Organisational Psychologist, leaders must make it known that, as the boss, they are to blame. He says that accountability on the part of the leader is a unifying factor. “It doesn’t matter whether one person on your team is at fault or if everyone bears some of the responsibility, it’s your job as the manager to help the entire group move on,” he says.

And this is, of course, exactly what Southgate did. Post-match, he spoke to reporters, stating: “That is my responsibility. I chose the guys to take the kicks. I told the players that nobody is on their own in that situation. We win and lose together as a team. They have been tight throughout and that’s how it needs to stay. That is totally my responsibility.”

Emotional intelligence

When a whole team has rallied together, and the outcome wasn’t as expected, many may naturally question not only their own competence, but the time the team has invested. It’s easy to feel like all that work was for nothing, which may lead frustration or even anger in some cases. All good leaders know that this is simply a part of the ‘bouncing back’ process. Refusing to allow people to feel the loss is counterintuitive in the long run, whilst giving people the time they need to feel the loss makes the next stage of dusting off and getting back up easier. It’s also important to acknowledge that, whilst you may have suffered a failure, you’re still collectively developing on the road to success.

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Southgate talked on this in his interview, stating: “They’ve just got to hold their heads up high. We win together, we lose together; these boys will grow for it and it gives us more motivation to do well in the World Cup next year. It’s going to hurt for a while now but we’re on the right track.”

Setting a course together

There comes a time when naturally, the narrative shifts from the past to the future. This is where engagement begins, by including your people in the conversation around setting a course. This doesn’t just mean blindly carrying on, but learning from past mistakes and taking on further self-improvement. Identifying weaknesses and making these KPIs is essential in growing at a team, but only 30% of employees strongly agree that their manager involves them in goal setting, according to recent Gallup data.

In fact, only two in 10 employees strongly agree that their performance is managed in a way that motivates them to do ‘outstanding’ work. Yet, the benefits of ensuring that staff are an active part of this process are significant. Employees whose managers involve them in goal setting are 3.6 times more likely than other employees to be engaged. This also means that one-on-one conversations about successes and failures are a must and will further build on the concept of looking forward, not backward.

As a leader, it’s your job to ensure that your team are resilient enough to pick themselves up and move forward. It’s not an easy process, but with a strong focus on communication, a clear vision for the future and a view to further development, a loss can and should be nothing more than a steppingstone to further success.

Many eyes will be on Gareth Southgate as he plots a way forward from this moment but his first comments after the match do suggest that he is looking to treat Sunday’s loss as a lesson in failure to drive success going forward.