Matthew Smith is a Senior Lecturer in Sport and Exercise Psychology, University of Winchester, while Sean Figgins, Senior Lecturer in Sport and Exercise Psychology and Research Methods, University of Chichester.
The article was originally published in The Conversation, an independent source of news and views from the academic and research community.
It is 30 years since Liverpool FC were last crowned champions of English football. In those three frustrating decades, there have been highs as well as lows, including last year being tantalisingly close to topping the table. But their time (slightly delayed by a pandemic) has finally come. Under Jürgen Klopp, their charismatic German manager, Liverpool have won the Premier League. So how have Liverpool’s fortunes been transformed? Here are five leadership tools that help to explain how Klopp has inspired his team to become champions again.
1. Create a clear vision and identity
When Klopp first arrived at Liverpool in October 2015, he outlined a positive and exciting blueprint identity to inspire players and fans at a time when Liverpool were not performing well. “I believe in a playing philosophy that is very emotional, very fast and very strong,” he declared. He added: “My teams must play at full throttle and take it to the limit every single game. It is important to have a playing philosophy that reflects your own mentality, reflects the club and gives you a clear direction to follow.” Clearly outlining a unique playing identity that aligns with the club’s values was a shrewd move. Leaders who are able to create a shared identity have been seen to motivate teams to greater performance.
2. Represent this identity
Klopp’s own behaviour reinforces his managerial approach. He demonstrates confidence, authority and consistently demonstrates an intense, passionate approach. It is key for a leader to represent the core values of their team or group. This leads players to trust in their leader, and respond positively. At Liverpool, this can be seen in a number of ways, not least in Klopp’s passionate – and sometimes controversial – celebration of goals and victories. These displays of emotion, happiness and positivity seem to have a contagious effect throughout the team. Such celebrations also create a strong connection with fans who see how much success means to him.
3. Reinforce belief and create trust
Klopp came in to Liverpool after enjoying success at the German side Borussia Dortmund, and with a specific style of high-tempo play. This kind of reputation and experience can create a strong belief in players. Klopp’s charismatic communication reinforced trust in his methods and competence as a coach, and so the messages Klopp passed on were believed. In turn, and while recognising his own limitations, Klopp demonstrates a high level of trust in his players and support staff. He has said:
I know I’m good in a couple of things, really good in a few things, and that’s enough. My confidence is big enough that I can really let people grow next to me, it’s no problem. I need experts around me. It’s really very important that you are empathetic, that you try to understand the people around you, and that you give real support to the people around you.
Having the trust of others, and reciprocating such trust, is at the heart of a coach’s ability to inspire their players. One of Klopp’s major strengths has been his ability to do this. As forward Sadio Mané commented: “He’s great as a person. I trust him blindly, like most of the dressing room.”
4. Develop strong connections with players
Klopp is renowned for his hugs, but alongside this he shows genuine interest in, and care for, his players. Midfielder Georginio Wijnaldum cited this as a major reason for choosing to sign for Liverpool over other clubs: He said: “In the meeting with Jürgen we had a laugh and did not speak only about football. He was interested in my personal life and that was good for me. He was not only interested in Wijnaldum the footballer but Wijnaldum the person.” Soon after signing Andy Robertson, Klopp was reportedly confused that another member of staff had no idea his new left back was due to become a father, saying: “How can you not know that? That’s the biggest thing in his life now. Come on!”
Our research highlights how showing genuine interest in players strengthens the trust between coaches and players which, in turn, enhances a coach’s inspirational capabilities. Klopp’s emotional displays are important to developing connection, as coaches who display “harmonious passion” (showing a strong desire to engage in an activity they love) have higher quality relationships with athletes.
5. Promise big – and deliver
When Klopp first arrived at Liverpool, he stated that Liverpool would win the title in four years. (This is his fifth year, but fans will no doubt forgive him for being a year late.) But reputation needs to be backed up by results on the pitch, and Klopp reinforced this belief with early success. The team reached the final of the Europa League in his first season, the final of the Champions League in the third, and then won the Champions league in his fourth. Progression in the Premier League was also evident. Liverpool finished fourth in Klopp’s first full two seasons, second in the third, and are now champions in his fourth full season.
Ultimately, leaders need to demonstrate improved performance for players and fans alike to buy into their approach. Klopp has certainly achieved this, and will no doubt have enjoyed an emotional celebration as his team clinched the coveted league title.
Matthew Smith, Senior Lecturer in Sport and Exercise Psychology, University of Winchester and Sean Figgins, Senior Lecturer in Sport and Exercise Psychology and Research Methods This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.