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August 18, 2011 / Mervyn Dinnen

The Wisdom of Herbert : Management Insights 80 Years On

‘The anxiety which is felt in some cases when teams are threatened with the loss of their status must be almost beyond bearing. I know of one club who in their plight insisted on their star players being in their homes every Friday night at nine o’clock, and officials visited them to see that the rule is observed. Recently I have heard of the complaints of players who declare that every Friday night they are spied on, and that they are threatened with all sorts of penalties if they do not observe the club curfew. I have no patience with such supervision. If I were unable to trust a player I would not retain him. In my experience I have found that the man who is treated fairly, and in whom confidence is placed, will not let you down.’

Wise words.

If you changed the word ‘club’ to ‘company’ and ‘players’ to ‘employees’ and said that at a conference or unconference in relation to employer brand and social media you’d be a guru. It would be tweeted and re-tweeted, blogged about and quoted.

And it’s true. If you can’t trust your employees then you shouldn’t have them working for you…likewise if you treat them fairly, and with respect, you will get the best out of them.

But this quote isn’t recent. It’s not from this week, this year or this century. It was written in 1932!

It was written by Herbert Chapman, a man who was named Greatest British Football Manager of all time in a Sunday Times poll in 2004 and is widely regarded as the father of modern football. His revolutionary and pioneering legacy is long and impressive:

  • Created teams at two separate clubs that won hat tricks of Division1 titles
  • Created the counter attacking style that so many teams use now
  • First manager to have complete control over team (buying, coaching, selecting)
  • First manager to have strict training regimes using physiotherapists and masseurs
  • Advocated white footballs and numbered shirts
  • Started the tradition of managers leading teams out for cup finals
  • Got a tube station re-named (Gillespie Road to Arsenal)

There’s more, but I don’t want to lose the non-sports fans! I have read a bit about Chapman…as an Arsenal supporter it’s hard not to know about him as he was the person who took a struggling team that had never won a trophy and turned them into one of England’s top 5. And now I’ve got some more to read about him.

As part of my membership pack for the new season at Arsenal (we used to be season ticket holders, now we have gold memberships – not sure if Herbert would have approved!) I’ve got a book, a special edition that has been put together collecting all the articles he wrote for the Sunday Express in the early 1930s.

Alongside his views on football are his views on management and leadership. I’ve only read a few so far, but they are incredibly insightful. And most of what I’ve read is just as applicable today as it was 80 years ago! Like the quote at the start…just plain common sense which has somehow got twisted and complicated in modern management speak.

So over the next few blogs I’ll be bringing you some more of Herbert’s wisdom…a lot of it simple philosophy, most of it still insightful and relevant. He was a very single minded, focused individual who had not been a great player himself (in fact he had a fairly pedestrian playing career) but who knew how to organise, empower, respect and get the best out of his team. And had unique idea on how his team could play.

As a starting observation…

If I were unable to trust an employee I would not retain him. In my experience I have found that the employee who is treated fairly, and in whom confidence is placed, will not let you down.

…is as true today as when he wrote it!

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5 Comments

Leave a Comment
  1. Kevin Ball / Aug 18 2011 6:41 AM

    Are you thinking of the avaricious Monseiur Nasri as you write this, I wonder?

  2. Damon Lenszner / Aug 18 2011 10:27 AM

    Herbert Chapman mmmm. Wonder what he would have made of today’s ‘modern manager –

    “To put it in gentleman’s terms if you’ve been out for a night and you’re looking for a young lady and you pull one, some weeks they’re good looking and some weeks they’re not the best. Our performance today would have been not the best looking bird but at least we got her in the taxi. She wasn’t the best looking lady we ended up taking home but she was very pleasant and very nice, so thanks very much, let’s have a coffee”
    – Ian Holloway on the “ugly” win against Chesterfield.

  3. Damon Lenszner / Aug 18 2011 10:28 AM

    In modern terms Holloway’s quote could be taken as – win the business – win it the right way or win it ugly – but win it!

    • Mervyn Dinnen / Aug 23 2011 6:48 PM

      The wisdom of Ollie would make a brilliant book – and blog series – in it’s own right!

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