What Sir Alex can teach us about long term success

Saying bye on a high… Sir Alex Ferguson. Photograph: Gordon Flood, Wikipedia
10 May 2013 @ 9.09 pm
| Opinion

Saying bye on a high… Sir Alex Ferguson. Photograph: Gordon Flood, Wikipedia
Saying bye on a high… Sir Alex Ferguson. Photograph: Gordon Flood, Wikipedia
Even if you’re not interested in football, you can learn something from the success of Fergie, says Miles Salter

 
The big news sports story of the week – that Alex Ferguson will leave his role as Manchester United supremo – has brought dozens of tributes and accolades from those working within the world of football.

Ferguson’s timing is impeccable – by the time he finishes, he will have been in charge for almost 1,500 matches. His final match – which sees Man U against West Bromwich Albion on 19th May – is a hot ticket right now, with some tickets selling for over £2,000.

Concerned about an up-coming hip operation, Ferguson leaves on a high. This season has seen more glory for the club, which under Fergie’s lead has won a remarkable 49 trophies. The words “greatest football manager” have been used many time in the last few days, with his name on either side of the phrase.

Ferguson’s path to glory, however, was not always smooth. In 1989, Man U supporter Pete Molyneux unfurled a banner deploring the manager’s early record in charge: “3 Years of Excuses and it’s still crap…ta ta Fergie”. The banner became famous, and must have rankled Ferguson at the time.

But to his lasting credit, Ferguson hung on in there. He didn’t give up, and he didn’t quit. Instead, he kept working, kept developing the team, kept turning up at the touchline. We all know what happened: he turned the club around, making it the bastion of football and business that it is now.

David Moyes, who leaves his role at Everton to fill Sir Alex’s shoes, must be daunted at the prospect.

Ferguson is no saint: he has has plenty of bruising encounters with others (including a flying boot which injured David Beckham) and a bullying ban of the BBC from Man U interviews following a documentary about his son’s business affairs. But Ferguson’s ability to stick with the club through thick and thin teaches all of us a valuable lesson in the power of reliability and… well… keeping going.

If you have had overnight success: congratulations! But the reality, for most of us, is that it takes years to see success in any endeavour

And his tenure at the club is noticeably longer than that of many football managers, who get the heave-ho as soon as the right results don’t come in. There have been some pretty short term moments in football: in March this year Blackburn Rovers sacked Michael Appleton after only 15 games. The infamous 44-day reign of Brian Clough at Leeds United in 1974 became the stuff of football legend, and was eventually captured in the film The Damned United. It’s heartening to see that Nigel Worthington of York City looks set for a much longer tenure than Clough’s, but we shall see…

Short term-ism is one of the curses of our age. We expect results to come so quickly. If you have had overnight success: congratulations! But the reality, for most of us, is that it takes years to see success in any endeavour.

In almost every aspect of life (business, family life, sport, the arts, the environment) we need to take the long term view. We need to ask ourselves, how will this relationship / business / project / planet look in ten years, 20 or 50 years from now? In his great book on personal development, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen Covey urges readers to “begin with the end in mind”. Too often, however, the “end in mind” is a short-term goal. British politics is based on short term survival, short term impact. If you know your government could be thrown out in four years’ time, all your efforts are based on the short term, rather than taking the long view.

As a nation, we would be in a healthier state if we took the long view, rather than the short one. Ferguson’s success as a football manager shows us the power of resolve and commitment. And it’s only in the long term that commitment reveals itself to be a goldmine.


2 thoughts on “What Sir Alex can teach us about long term success

  1. I am a journalism student at Liverpool Community College and would like to know if I could possibly borrow this image of Sir Alex Ferguson? Please note that I am only using it for a college assignment and the product id not for publication. Thank you

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