· 3 min read · Features

How will Jose Mourinho’s leadership style land at Tottenham Hotspur?


The new manager's leadership style has been divisive in the past. Changing from a 'hero' leader to a 'connected' leader could help turn the club's fortunes around

A week ago, Jose Mourinho was appointed manager of Tottenham Hotspur Football Club. And last weekend, the team won their first league game away from home since January.

Many Spurs fans (and players) were shocked when previous manager Mauricio Pochettino was sacked. Some felt he should have been given more time to return the club to the Premiership’s top four – something Mourinho has now been tasked with.

The two managers are known for their fairly different leadership styles.

Pochettino became renowned as an adaptable manager, open to embracing a range of tactics. However, towards the end of his time at Spurs his style became more rigid and he told journalists that it would be impossible for him to change his management philosophy.

In the past, Mourinho has been criticised for enforcing his own views on the teams he manages. This time around, he has stated that he is going to approach the role with an open mind and is willing to adapt and be flexible. This agile approach would help him make the most of the opportunities around him.

Mourinho has always been something of a ‘hero’ leader. The stories surrounding him have often been more about him than the teams he leads. He famously described himself as the 'Special One’ when he arrived at Chelsea in 2004 and the term has stuck. His volatile behaviour and willingness to court controversy ensured he grabbed headlines throughout his time in English football at both Chelsea and Manchester United, with his history of acrimonious exits and public fallouts with players.

As a hero leader, Mourinho likes to call the shots. Hero leaders quite often achieve short-term success but can struggle to sustain it in the long term.

It is likely that Mourinho could achieve more sustainable success in his new role if he can become a more ‘connected’ leader.

Connected leaders communicate a clear direction, purpose and values to engage the people around them. They are skilled at leading through influence rather than control. Mourinho could create this strong sense of purpose by helping the Spurs players draw on their rich heritage. To boost the team’s performance, he needs to build an environment of trust and create long-term confidence.

So will Mourinho's leadership style work at Tottenham?

There are some early signs that Mourinho is already focused on positive team culture. Hours after his appointment, he brought the squad together at the club's training centre and encouraged them to pull together to save the season.

Then, in his first interview in the new role, Mourinho promised passion for the job and for the club. He described the sense of happiness he felt and spoke of his respect for Spurs.

He said he had deliberately not complicated the picture for the players since taking over the team, making just three changes from previous manager Pochettino’s most recent line-up before their game against West Ham and ensuring that everyone was comfortable with their role.

It was notable that after last weekend’s victory, he talked about music being played in the dressing room and the sense of happiness and celebration. This positive reinforcement is an important step in building that all-important trust.

There is a view that Pochettino was too slow to retire some senior players, something that Mourinho is unlikely to shy away from. One person that he’ll almost certainly want to hang onto is the club’s star player- Spurs and England captain Harry Kane. Renowned as a supportive captain who is widely respected by his fellow players, Kane has made it clear that he is at the stage of his career where he wants to win trophies. As well as helping Mourinho to notch up more victories, he could help to integrate new players and build team cohesion.

Mourinho doesn’t just need to connect with the Spurs players. He also needs to connect with the fans, many of whom are put off by his past and his controversial comments over the years. Many fans appreciated former manager Pochettino’s positive attitude and focus on nurturing younger players. He encouraged the belief that they were all working towards a common goal. If Mourinho can build on that legacy, he is more likely to engage sceptical fans as well as players.

Premiership football managers are not always given much time to prove themselves. Mourinho has asked Tottenham chairman Daniel Levy to give him at least one full season to end the club’s ­11-year trophy drought. He will be under scrutiny from the club’s owners, its fans, and the media.

Can he get the team and all these other stakeholders on board and transform Tottenham? Many of us will be watching the story unfold with great interest – but will that story be more about Mourinho, or more about the club itself? Let’s wait and see.

Simon Hayward is CEO of Cirrus, an honorary professor at Alliance Manchester Business School, and author of The Agile Leader and Connected Leadership

Further reading

One common goal: HR at Everton Football Club

The FA's Pippa Grange: How culture coaching improves performance

HR's coming home at the Football Association