4 May 2016

Leicester City’s against-all-odds English Premier League football title teaches us that a leader is “the one who makes us feel special”, not somebody who considers themselves “the special one”.

University of Queensland School of Psychology expert Professor Alexander Haslam made this observation after Leicester went from 5000-1 outsiders to champions in the world’s most-watched football competition.

“Manager Claudio Ranieri’s redemption follows a trajectory from ‘I’ to ‘We’,” Professor Haslam said.

“From his first day as Leicester manager he was keen to make it clear that it was not he who was special, but the team and league that he had come to serve.

“Previously Ranieri had a terrible reputation for tinkering with his teams, where his actions mimicked those of many corporate managers, whose passion for restructuring belies a desire to show the world what a great leader they are.

“But by the time he arrived at Leicester, Ranieri had learned the hard way, and no longer was his coaching a matter of imposing his personal will on the team – it was a matter of helping the team discover and impose their collective will.”

An Australian Laureate Fellow specialising in social and organisational psychology, Professor Haslam has long-held interests in the fields of leadership, power and tyranny.

Leicester City fans celebrate victory. 

His commentary about Leicester’s path to victory was co-authored with colleague Professor Stephen D Reicher from the University of St Andrew’s, Scotland, and appears in a lead article for The Psychologist, a publication of The British Psychological Society.

The British Psychological Society has its main office in Leicester, a city with a population of 330,000, compared to the 2.5 million people living in renowned football stronghold Greater Manchester.

Professor Reicher contrasted this season’s success for Ranieri against the fall from grace of Jose Mourinho - nicknamed “The Special One” - who was sacked by defending champions Chelsea.

“The point at which Mourinho became convinced he was ‘special’ appears to have been the starting point for his decline,” Reicher said.

“Indeed, there is a long history of leaders whose success seduced them into thinking they were above everyone else, and who thereby transformed success into failure.

“By thinking of leadership solely in terms of the characteristics of the individual leader, we actually compromise performance and organisational effectiveness.

“This is a salutary warning against a romantic model of leadership; a powerful illustration of the dangers of falling in love with one’s own reflection; a lesson to political and business leaders alike.”

You can read Professor Haslam's original article here.

Media: Professor Alex Haslam, a.haslam@uq.edu.au , +61 7 3346 7345; Robert Burgin, UQ Communications, r.burgin@uq.edu.au, +61 7 3346 3035, +61 448 410 364.