What we learn from Gareth Southgate

The powerful effect of Altruism in Leadership as perfectly demonstrated by Gareth Southgate

 8 Jul 2018

There are so many fascinating things about England’s progress as a team within this World Cup – not least the role of Gareth Southgate as their leader. 

Having accompanied my daughter to Old Trafford to watch her favourite football team, Manchester United, many times - I am well used to watching the antics of ‘The Special One’ and various other visiting Premiership managers cavorting up and down the touchline shouting and gesticulating and being undoubtedly the centre of attention. 

Gareth Southgate treads a different path.  A path where everything is not about him. 

Whatever leadership style you choose to call it – Servant Leadership, Legitimate or Intent-based Leadership to name just a few – it’s the trait of Altruism which is at its core. 

Altruism is a powerful force for effective leadership, business outcomes and positive social change.

In our own Job Fit Profile for Senior Leadership roles the trait of Altruism features strongly within the ‘Leading a Team’ component.  And our own Tindall Perry anonymised norm group of Senior Leaders who have completed our psychometric assessment bears this out. 

Leaders like this put people first, empower them and create conditions where team members can flourish and develop to their full potential.  This is Altruism purely done in the interests of others. However ultimately, it will backfire if the mission is deceitful and secretly self-serving as the team see through that quickly and the vital ingredient of trust is lost. 

In People Follow You: The Real Secret to What Matters Most in Leadership, Jeb Blount explains, “Ultimately, people follow leaders they like, trust, and believe in, leading to higher productivity and long-term development. Managers don’t get paid for what they do but rather for the performance of their people. By putting people first, you’ll position yourself and your company for success.”

Gareth Southgate certainly seems to have developed the trust of his team.  They are a diverse group and although they are all ridiculously wealthy young men, they are from different backgrounds and have some very different routes to the top.  By all reports he’s got to know his team well as individuals – many of them talk in interviews about valuable one-on-one time focusing on them as people and not just as footballers.  Calling on this altruistic repertoire of leadership means team members feel more involved and feel included and valued.  Ultimately the results are an increase in productivity, giving that extra discretionary effort and wanting to go ‘above the beyond the call of duty’ for the team. 



Inclusive Leadership – the view from Six Countries summarises the Four Attributes of Altruistic Leadership as;

• Humility—Reflecting on and admitting mistakes. Learning from criticism and different points of view. Acknowledging and seeking contributions of others to overcome one’s limitations

• Empowerment—Enabling direct reports to develop and excel

• Courage—Putting personal interests aside to achieve what needs to be done. Acting on convictions and principles even when it requires personal risk-taking

• Accountability—Demonstrating confidence in direct reports by holding them responsible for performance they can control.

In fact, Humility was one of the most significant indicators, after empowerment, of Altruistic leadership in this study – and one I think we quickly recognise in Gareth Southgate. But it is also one of the leadership attributes that is most opposed to common notions of traditional ‘hero’ leadership. Research suggests that we most readily associate leadership competence with attributes like charisma, self-promotion, speaking up first, and speaking longest. Yet these characteristics may not actually be useful or effective in creating inclusive and successful environments.

Humility in a leadership context means releasing any tendency to have to be right all the time and to have the final say.  Rather than seeing discussions as an opportunity to gather ideas and then ultimately impose your own point of view, humble leaders use dialogue to genuinely understand and absorb other perspectives. When people feel listened to, engagement and innovation follow more easily. As Simon Sinek, concisely put it as the title for his book – ‘Leaders Eat Last’!

When using our game-based assessment created by Arctic Shores, we describe Altruism as…

“Concern to ensure others feel valued, which is likely to be reflected behaviourally through interpersonal warmth, kind gestures and active listening. More altruistic individuals may also be more driven to workplaces where ethics and positive social development are emphasised. A tendency towards making choices to optimally benefit oneself characterises those lower in this trait”

I know Gareth Southgate’s legacy will ultimately be decided by England’s final position in the World Cup and as they head into the Semi Final, who knows whether football really will come home, but either way I have a feeling that Gareth Southgate’s leadership style will be a topic of conversation for some time to come. 

Joanne McTiffin, Tindall Perry Insights




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