Did you follow Leicester City and their progress to the number one spot in the Premier League?

Did you wonder if your business could achieve a similar coup? Have your business results been in the same league …. or is it time to show exactly what your company is capable of?

Like many women I don’t follow football. Yet recently, Leicester City had me on the edge of my seat, checking the football results every 2 minutes. They won! That win is a wonderful example to anyone and to every business that aspires to achieve great results. It is 21 years since any but the top four teams [1] won the Premier League but Leicester did exactly that.

Here are three clear, powerful lessons for companies who have decided to transform their business results – and outstrip their competition, even if they are up against giant organisations. The story of Leicester City is a wonderful tale of a tiny team, taking on massive opponents!

It is David and Goliath all over again.

Leicester City was nearly relegated out of the Premier League last year. Their odds of winning the Premier League this year were 5,000 to 1.  Yet their success was so outstanding that it has inspired both footballers around the world and thousands of non-football people like me!

Unlike their opponents in the Premier League, Leicester City have only 16 players. Many of the other teams have 40 or more players. Their budget has been relatively tiny – what they paid for the whole team equates to the same amount of money Manchester City paid for just one player!

Vardy and Mahrez scored an impressive 24 and 17 goals respectively during the season. The whole team became impressive, severely limiting any space the opposition could use for attacking them. They became a difficult team to play against[2].

What allowed them, for the first time, to deliver that success? It seems clear that Claudio Ranieri, their Manager, played a large part. Having said that it took him quite a long time to work out the right balance – his attempts with Milan and Chelsea were not nearly as successful.  There is an interesting parallel there with Steve Jobs and Apple.

1. Leadership is setting your people up for success

“I always thought the most important thing a good coach must do is build the team around the characteristics of his players.” said Ranieri[3].  Rather than creating an organisational structure based his own theories, Ranieri understood where his players were strongest. He worked out who each player was and their mind-set. Then he built a structure around them so that each person could add maximum value. What a breath of fresh air. How many times have I seen companies who make it hard or nearly impossible for their staff to meet their goals!

Then he pulled the whole team really close together, making it easier for them to intercept the ball (357 “interceptions” half way through the season is extremely high (I am told!)). Yet the structure was so strong that, if the ball did reach the back, each of the four defenders also had the ability to defend one of one if required.

Leicester’s success was built on trust. My company, Strategenic, tracks the world’s most successful companies.  Over and again we see how essential trust is – from the leadership team down. This year Leicester City learnt that they could trust their coach to have their best interests at heart. “I told the players that I trusted them and would speak little of tactics.” Like all great leaders, he reminded them that they were more than capable: “It was important to me that they all ran hard, just as I’d seen them running towards the end of last season….. I trust you. I will explain some football ideas to you every now and again, as long as you give me everything.”[4] Then he stuck to his word, so his team learnt they could depend on him and could be themselves – at their very best.

He was careful not to overstretch them. He gave them two days off each week, in mid-season he set them free to travel as they wished (something I understand is unheard of) so that they had the energy to do their absolute best in each game.

So he:

  • showed them they were heard and understood
  • told them he trusted them and proved that was the case
  • showed he trusted them to deliver the best they had to offer

The result – real teamwork that left the competition standing.

Then, with trust and strong teamwork as foundation stones, Ranieri then challenged his players to “find the fire within themselves.” He reminded them that they would never have an opportunity like this again so they needed to seek that burning fire within themselves and to be proud of it. Ranieri gave them freedom to dream – and dreaming is an incredibly powerful way of achieving goals we never thought possible.

Interesting isn’t it. A world class team with outstanding performance.  Yet, although the strategic thinking is clear, it doesn’t sound like some magic system or formula. It sounds very human centred. I hear that Ranieri is likeable . . . and he sounds it. His form of leadership is not about putting himself at the centre but about providing a safe, stable, inspiring environment that has literally brought out more of the best in his team than anyone thought possible.

How many companies do you know who elicit such trust? It is worryingly rare. Yet there are such powerful examples. Apogee look after their people and build trust. The result – they are growing at over 20% per annum and leaving their competition standing.

2. Doggedly track progress – at every level

You can’t just track the end results – you need to track the leading indicators too. Leicester City didn’t just look at the end results, the goals. They tracked every leading indicator. Then those indicators informed the changes they made with great success.

Each player’s performance was tracked during each training session and each game – so they understood what was working well and where the gaps were – from fitness levels to the distance run to tackles, interceptions, passes, where they let the other team through and, of course, the goals.

Tracking is equally essential for top business performance. I am always flabbergasted by how few businesses have the ability to track improvements other than by the final revenue and profit numbers. Leicester could never have done so well without the insight to hone and improve their approach.

When we work with clients, helping them to focus on a few leading indicators, their results transform amazingly quickly.

3. Hone for top performance – without micro managing

Until now Ranieri had a reputation for tinkering. Yet he kept every team player in the same position through the whole season. He had learnt how to balance his approach so that he never once undermined the trust by micro managing his team.

So, with that trust firmly in place, half way through the season Leicester was doing well but their passing accuracy was only 72% (the worst of any team in the Premier League[5]). Nor had they won a single game without letting the other team score at least 1 goal. At that point Ranieri tightened up the team’s defence. He challenged them to block the other team whatever it took and even promised them pizza after each match where they didn’t concede a single goal to the other side. In the remaining 19 games, Leicester stopped their competition from scoring at all ten times! What an immense turnaround.

Using the data, Leicester City pinpointed the biggest gap and, being careful to only change one area so as not to unbalance the team, Ranieri closed the gap, which allowed the team to go to the very top! Number one in the Premier League. Who would have thought it!

Is it time for your business to improve your winning rate – right now?

What can you learn from Leicester City? What is stopping you from great results like these? Click here and scroll down for a free white paper on the 5 ways businesses kill growth.

I would love to hear what you think about this article. What do you think about Leicester City’s success? What else do you think businesses can learn from them?


[1] “Leicester City’s Business Secrets” by Robert Plummer Business Reporter, BBC News

[2] For the full details of how the team played “Tactical breakdown: How Ranieri’s Leicester City has overtaken the EPL” by Liviu Bird on www.si.com gives a thorough description

[3] “The Secrets of Leicester City’s success according to their Manager” by Andi Thomas of SB Nation

[4] “The Secrets of Leicester City’s success according to their Manager” by Andi Thomas of SB Nation

[5] “Tactical Breakdown: How Ranieri’s Leicester City has overtaken the EPL” by Liviu Bird on www.si.com

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