Man U's Alex Ferguson reveals it's all about 'the love' to Harvard University class

Alex Ferguson, manager of Manchester United, has explained how he got to the top and how he manages his players, to a class of Harvard undergraduates.

by Michael Northcott
Last Updated: 19 Aug 2013

Alex Ferguson last night told Harvard Business School students some of his secrets about how he reached the top and how he has managed to stay there for 26 years. 

Speaking openly about how he manages football players, he said: ‘There is no room for criticism on the training field. For a player – and for any human being – there is nothing better than hearing ‘well done’. Those are the two best words ever invented in sports. You don’t need to use superlatives.’ This cuddly side may come as a surprise to many.

He was speaking to the students having been the subject of an academic study by the business school’s professor Anita Elberse. Fergie, who turns 71 on New Year’s Eve, is famous for never speaking up about his management style. He added that criticism is a short, sharp thing for him, saying: ‘You can’t always come in shouting and screaming. That doesn’t work, no one likes to get criticised. 

‘But in the football dressing room, it’s necessary that you point out your players’ mistakes. I do it right after the game; I don’t wait until Monday. I do it, and it’s finished – I’m on to the next match. There is no point in criticising a player forever.’ Even in David Beckham’s case when he committed the sin of becoming distracted by his wife.

Fergie also revealed that he doesn’t tell players who will be in the team until the actual day of the game. ‘For a three o’clock game, we tell them at one o’clock and before that I speak to the players I’ve left out.

‘I do it privately. It’s not easy, but I do them all myself. It is important. I have been dropped from a Cup Final in Scotland as a player at ten past two, so I know what it feels like.’ He added: ‘I try to give them a bit of confidence, telling them that it is only tactical, and that there are bigger games coming up. But I believe you must make quick decisions and move on. Why should I go to my bed with a doubt?’

Speaking to the Harvard Gazette about the experience of discussing his management style with students, Ferguson said: ‘The part of the discussion from which I learned the most about myself was when they were discussing the balance between ‘fear’ and ‘love’ in my approach to managing people. 

‘If you look at my history, there’s all this hype about hair dryers and anger and so on. But the students acknowledged another side to it, which is more apt in terms of how I have fostered relations with people and developed the team over the years.’

Find this article useful?

Get more great articles like this in your inbox every lunchtime

Upcoming Events

Latest on MT

The Boeing 747 is heading for retirement

The Boeing 747 is heading for retirement

ARCHIVE: Joe Sutter, the so-called 'father of the 747' has just passed away. Here's a look at what he left behind.

Can shared leave help stop shocking rise in pregnancy discrimination at work?

Can shared leave help stop shocking rise in pregnancy discrimination at work?

So, pregnant women face more discrimination at work than they did a decade ago. Hardly a ringing endorsement of the much-hyped diversity agenda.

Brexit makes us a whole new investment prospect for foreigners

Brexit makes us a whole new investment prospect for foreigners

EDITOR'S BLOG: The FDI figures look good for now but the future is highly unclear despite the pound's slide

Brain gain: 5 things bosses can learn from neuroscience

Brain gain: 5 things bosses can learn from neuroscience

Neuroscientist Dr Tara Swart offers five ways to train your brain and get a competitive edge.

7 pieces of corporate jargon to avoid on your CV

7 pieces of corporate jargon to avoid on your CV

Management speak makes you sound smart - to other idiots. So action this results-oriented roadmap for plain speaking success going forward.

Is the EU picking on Apple with its €13bn fine?

Is the EU picking on Apple with its €13bn fine?

It may be unfair to single the iPhone maker out as a tax avoider, but mud sticks and fines sting.