There are few stories in professional sports that rival the rise from futility to triumph of Claudio Ranieri, the coach of the now-Premier League champion Leicester City FC.
Ranieri was a perennial underachiever as a coach, having been fired from seven of the 12 teams he helmed. Before taking over the reigns at Leicester City, he was head coach of the Greek national team when it suffered its most humiliating defeat ever to the Faroe Islands.
And yet, it is the same Ranieri who is now being celebrated for leading Leicester City, a team with an equally underwhelming record of achievement, all the way to English Premier League championship.
How improbable was Leicester City’s triumph? At the start of the Premier League season, UK bookmakers put the odds on Leicester winning the championship at 5,000 -to-1. The bookies had better odds on someone finding Elvis Presley still alive. In fact, the odds on celebrity-at-large Kim Kardashian winning the 2020 US presidential election are better.
So how did Ranieri pull off the triumphs of all triumphs in English football?
In sports, you can attribute an improbable result in any one game, or perhaps a playoff series, to simple fate or good luck. However, achieving and then sustaining this kind of success over the course of the elongated Premier League season is something else altogether.
In another recent blog, I wrote about the need for leaders to have a clear formula for success. It’s what separates great leaders from the average ones.
Sometimes, you have to change your formula, and this is what Ranieri did. Many football journalists believe the key to Ranieri’s turnaround as a leader was a result of a change in his coaching style and philosophy. He created a new formula for success.
Over his high-profile, 30-year career, Ranieri became infamous for constantly tinkering with his lineup, running out different combinations of players in a bid to find a winning chemistry. As his resumé clearly shows, this was not a winning strategy. His detractors began to refer to Ranieri as “the Tinkerman.” It was not a term of endearment.
At Leicester, however, Ranieri took a different approach. Unable to rely on high-priced superstars to power his team, Ranieri created a new style of play that emphasized balanced attack and speed. Football observers now believe that Ranieri, at 64, has evolved into one of professional football’s greatest innovators.
The lessons in Ranieri’s late-life success are pretty obvious for business leaders. His willingness to finally change the way he led, and to find a new formula for success that matched up with the resources he had at his disposal, set an important example for leaders of all stripes.
Too often, leaders I have met respond to a lack of success by questioning the performance and motivation of others. Given his past, If things aren’t working out, it clearly must be someone else’s fault, right? Rarely, it seems, are leaders willing to look critically at themselves andmake the changes necessary to find success. Sometimes, big changes.
Ranieri had to re-invent himself as the coach and leader of his team. He clearly heard some of the criticism that was leveled at him as the “Tinkerman” and made a conscious effort to find a different way of inspiring and directing his players. To me, this represents innovation in its simplest and purest form.
Think about your own situation right now? Are you not getting the results you need to get or want to get? Are you having trouble raising the overall performance of your organization? Do you find yourself running into the same hurdles, facing the same setbacks, and otherwise failing to achieve your goals?
Then change. Find a different formula for leadership success. Have the courage to try a new approach. Listen to what people are saying about you and re-invent yourself as a leader.
This week’s Gut Check question: Do you have the guts to re-invent yourself as a leader?
The second edition of The Leadership Contract is now available in hardcover and a Kindle edition.
About the Author
Vince Molinaro is the Global Managing Director of Strategic Solutions at Lee Hecht Harrison. He is also the author of The Leadership Contract – a New York Times and USA Today bestseller. Vince has spent more than 20 years as an adviser to boards and senior executives looking to improve leadership in their organizations.Follow on Twitter More Content by Vince Molinaro