On Arsenal’s Leadership; what is it, who is it, why is it?

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On Arsenal’s Leadership

By Martin Doyle

Much has been said and written about the leadership of Arsenal, mainly around the lack of leadership on the pitch. I want to think about leadership in this article, I want to explore it with you and ask one fundamental question – what is it? I want you to go through this article as if you were Arsene Wenger, and think of Cesc Fabregas as your captain and ask important questions. At the end of the article, choose your captain.

Take a moment and conjure the image of what you believe a leader looks like, the stereotype of a leader…..

Do you think that image is the same for everyone? Now ask yourself does a leader have certain traits? Is a leader born? Do they develop and is it therefore behavioural? This issue of perception make leadership one of the most observed and least understood phenomena on earth.

There is not one definition of leadership. Stogdilla leading scholar in the field of leadership stated “…there are almost as many different definitions of leadership as there are persons who have attempted to define the concept.”

There is a vast academic field containing six main schools of thought, along with their own theories. As we go through the field put yourself in the shoes of Wenger as best you can and think about Cesc.

Trait Theory

The earliest theory on leadership was “Trait Theory of Leadership”. The most prominent work on this theory was conducted by Thomas Carlyle and Francis Galton. Carlyle identified the common skills and traits of men that rose to power. Galton looked at the leadership qualities of men that were in power, Galton concluded that the leadership skills diminished after the first and second relations and believed that leadership was something you are born with. This early research led to the first theory of leadership, namely trait theory.

The early research was empirical with over a hundred studies conducted which led to the following key traits:

Intelligence                Dominance                Adaptability                Persistence

Integrity Socio economic status                Self confidence

If we look at these traits would you say Cesc does not possess any of them? The conception of these early studies was that a leader is someone that stands out in a group because of their ability to help the group attain their goals. This view proposed that leadership could not be viewed as a static set of attributes ideal for any environment. The main contribution of early trait theory was to shed light on the idea that leadership could be situation dependent. Do Cesc Fabregas’ abilities stand out on the pitch? Do his abilities help the team attain their goals?

Situational and Contingency Theory

Situational and Contingency theory was also provoked by trait theory and was more focussed on the situational or environmental factors which create leadership. Herbert Spence stated that the “times produce the person” and not the other way around. The proposition of this theory is that different characteristics are suitable for different situations. The conclusion being that no one single optimal set of attributes exist. We need to consider the optimal set of attributes we want from our captain, what are the attributes we need?

Style and Behaviour

The style and behaviour of a leader is another important perspective within Leadership research. Two main studies were carried out initially to examine this phenomenon, the Ohio State Leadership studies and the Michigan State Studies.

Fleishman performed a factor analysis on a questionnaire containing 150 items of behaviour. The author revealed two major types of behaviour “Consideration” and “Initiating Structure.” “Consideration” involved concern for people and focus on interpersonal relationships. “Initiating structure” was a leaders concern for completing a task.

The research found that there were three types of behaviours.

Task Orientated Behaviour: This found that effective leaders did not spend time doing the same tasks as subordinates; the behaviour involved more delegation and planning – I think there is a massive call for this type of behaviour at the club from many sections of the Arsenal support. However, is it fair to suggest that as a leader Cesc cannot alter behaviour when it is called for?

Relations Oriented Behaviour: The effective managers were also found to be supportive and helpful with subordinates. Some of the behaviours that were particularly effective were showing trust, acting friendly and being considerate to subordinates and supporting the subordinates with resources. I think, and I cannot say for sure as I do not know the man, but I think Cesc shows this style of leadership, which is a good thing, right???

Participative Leadership: the effective managers were also found to supervise groups as opposed to individual supervision. The managers used group meetings to facilitate their decision making, improve the communication of the group and promote co-operation. I think this is a given for any captain on the field…. But if you think of it as leading by example, doe Cesc do this? I think he does.  Think back to when Ramsey broke his leg.

Leadership Style

Transformational leadership is derived from early theories of inspirational leadership. According to Burns the transformational approach creates a significant change in people or followers’ lives. The leader is able to re-shape perceptions and values and changes the aspirations of their followers. This is in contrast to the give and take attributes of transactional leadership which is more of an exchange process and is criticized for not being able to achieve high levels of motivation. Bass believes that the two styles are not mutually exclusive, though they have distinct characteristics.

Transformational leadership increases motivation and performance, while transactional leadership involves an exchange process and is not so effective in achieving high motivation and performance. It is considered that using both styles is the ideal, and this is what effective leaders can do. Think deeply about Cesc, this theory is about the charisma of the leader and what he gets from his team mates.

Emotional Intelligence

Scholars believe that high emotional intelligence is critical for a leader to improve leadership effectiveness, emphasis is being placed more and more on Emotional intelligence (EQ). EQ is made up of five attributes (self-awareness, emotional management, self-motivation, empathy, and relationship management) it is the combination of being in control of one’s own emotion and monitoring the feelings, beliefs, and internal states of others.

The leader is then able to provide useful information and guide their teams thinking and action. The captain has to deal with people and there are many different personalities. Each person has their own role to play and their own motives, how you deal with an unhappy team-mate may be different to how you deal with a talented up and coming youth player who isn’t happy. The different approaches and skills for these relationships could be linked to the emotional intelligence of the leader and how they decide to deal with such issues may help the captain to reflect on their own approach and develop their own emotional intelligence. Is this a strength of Cescs?

This article only skims the surface of leadership, but I think it will help us to think about leadership more deeply. There are a lot of issues to consider when you select a leader with every person having strengths and weaknesses. It is not necessarily a given that a task oriented captain shouting and organising is the best choice.

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22 Replies to “On Arsenal’s Leadership; what is it, who is it, why is it?”

  1. Sorry to say but leadership isn’t something which can be defined with a certain set of principles. You can look at how a player behaves on the pitch and come to know whether he has ability to lead a team or not. Its like an aura which is created by his presence.

  2. Leadership can only be defined and integrated once the needs of the group are established. More over, group needs differ from group to group, so a leader perfectly suited in one group may not have any impact as a leader of another group.

    After reading both Vieira and Tony Adams biography, its funny how they both mention they’ve been club captains on almost every team they’ve been on.

    My image of a leader is Big Tone, plain and simple.
    But, who knows if his leadership would have the same impact on today’s Arsenal crop vs. the squads of the 90s.

  3. I think Thomas Vermaelen is the best candidate for the captaincy. He just has the look of a captain and he was the captain at Ajax.

  4. The dark prince is right.Some people are born leaders, they have a magnetism to them.While it is true that fabregas is a leader with the ball at his feet he is not a vocal leader(i dont mean vocal as in those braindead loudmouths in the league who shout their mouth off without turning on their brain) or a charismatic presence that inspires hes teamates to fight and to relentlesly be devoted to the cause.

  5. I really liked this article. As you yourself state, it just makes the reader think more about the issue rather than provide an answer. What actually is leadership? what qualities does a leader have? Are leaders born or made?

    I have always been of the frame of mind that leaders are made. People grow into the role that they are required to play. Some do it extremely well, some not so much.

    Personally, I don’t think a leader has to be the shouting, and organising type. For that matter, I don’t think a leader needs to be an appointed leader-a captain. In that sense Wenger is right when he declares that he wants 11 captains on the field. On different occasions, people will gravitate and look towards a different person. There are times we could do with a Tony Adams type leader. But there are also other times where we need a Cesc type leader. Something that isn’t apparent because we have Cesc.

    Adams had his lieutenants that provided the necessary guidance when other sort of leadership was required. Does cesc have this? I think Vermaelen and Van Persie can fulfil that role, but these are the two we have missed most this season. For me if we have all 3 on the field, then we have the leadership we need. Vermaelen brings a little calm at the back I think. He just looks imperious. Robin has a bit of the devil and some fight in him. Cesc has the no nonsense get on with your job attitude. All are different qualities but all necessary. A shouting style figure might actually help there. But I don’t think it is absolutely essential.

    Damn this comment is long. Sorry. But kudos once again for this article, Martin.

  6. Thanks for your comment DP,

    I agree that leadership doesn’t have a set of principles or one perspective. Thats why i wrote the article, there are many theories and perspectives to explore the facets of leadership. I wanted to highlight that it is not merely a Tony Adams or John terry style of leadership, but many different attributes and styles. What makes a leader a leader isnt always clear cut.

    Shard Thanks for your comment also,

    I agree with you, I like to think leadership is an entity in its own right, so concur that eleven leaders are required, and different leadership is needed at different times for different circumstance. Id rather have Fabregas leading a charge, and vermaelen defending the keep!

  7. @Shard: Yes, that’s it exactly. Who says it has to be 1 guy leading? Different styles may be needed in different situations. Like when Diaby needes a good rollicking, Van P stepped up and gave it to him. Cesc might not be that type, that this doesn’t mean other won’t step in and scream and organize when it’s needed. I actually like the shared leadership model, it brings the team closer together, and enhances the synergy needed for our kind of team.

  8. @C4

    I think the ONE Captain routine, is actually a belief in, or a need for, having a hero or a messianic figure to look up to.

    The captain- the armband- does have some role. An important and essential role. But it won’t be enough on its own. The captain won’t be enough on his own. A team absolutely needs leaders, or people simply willing to be leaders, all over the field. At times, the team needs and looks for a leader on the field. Anyone who steps up according to that situation is a leader and the rest of the team, including the appointed captain, will respond.

  9. I`m of the firm belief that leaders have the genetical ingredients and when you add opportunity and experience you`re getting towards the finished article. I can certainly relate to a previous comment, “It`s like an aura which is created be his presence”, I have witnessed this on several occasions in my life, some have a greater `presence`( or persona if you like) than others but the way they conduct themselves disciplines others and makes them want to follow. Always remember, a captain is the guy who spins the coin, a leader is the one who rallies the troops when the chips are down.

  10. I have never met him but cesc strikes me as a man of motivation, dignity, grace, talent, inspiration, empathy with fellow players and let’s face it he has won the most coveted medal of all. We are very lucky to have him, his appearancein our shirt should be cherished.
    He is not a Adams shouty
    type, a keane scare the shit out of you type, the John Terry shag your team mates gf type but we have seen on countless occasions cesc rescue the team. Wenger is right English football is obsessed with the combat role of the captain. Cesc has passion, witness the home game vs everton. If he had been fit all season, we would have won something. He was desperate to play the cc, and we now know why, he knew we needed him even if he was not fully fit.
    Hopefully we have him for another year or so as Barcelona do not need him yet, or will not pay the right price. Let’s cherish every game he plays for us, he is one of the finest to wear the shirt.

  11. To me there is no laid down formula for leadership. Many times leaders are not appointed, don`t wear an arm band or have a title they just arrive when the circumstances demand. Each leader is unique and has his own way of controlling a situation, that`s what makes it so difficult in selecting one.
    You never know his qualities until, as Kipling said, “the guns begin to shout”.

  12. @Aussie Jack: Kipling, now, is it? Is there anyone on earth, let alone in the Anglo-sphere that’s Anglo enough to measure up to so august standard of manhood? You do raise that bar so high. Yes, you’re right: it’s football – the moral equivalent of war!

  13. I think that leadership should be able to be felt on the field and it should show when times are dire.

    Cesc showed it once after he scored the goal against Stoke (in the game Ramsey’s leg was broken)..

    But a “leader” should show a different body language than what Cesc has been displaying in games this year. When the team seems down, it doesn’t seem like he is feeling down too. It doesn’t seem like he is rallying the troops in some way..

    That fact, plus his open opinion about wanting to go back to Barca. That’s fine.. everyone has childhood dreams.
    But I don’t think that someone like that should be elected as captain.
    I think someone with a innate passion for Arsenal should hold the job. Someone like v.Persie or Wilshere (or maybe in the future Frimpong)

  14. Hi Bob…Kipling? ,well almost. I misquoted the great man, it was “shoot” not “shout”, my apologies.

  15. For me a true leader should be able to motivate the whole team to take up their responsibility. Whereas he could be a heroic figure, one who rescues the team from difficult situation, he should be prudent enough to realize that at the end of the day he is a team player… thus he must communicate at all times.

  16. The greatest attribute of a leader is the ability to motivate and inspire his followers to do better and never give up even when things go south.Does Fabregas has these characteristics?Its an emphatic no!

  17. Footballers are a bit like dogs in some ways. The dog that doesn’t panic, shows no fear (even in a bad situation) and confronts the opposition directly is the pack leader and whilst other dogs share those qualities, the outstanding individual is usually the pack leader.
    Sometimes a more intelligent player might choose to do things that the less intelligent players misinterpret which could cause their heads to drop. But they can learn the requirements of leadership quicker so it goes both ways.
    A good example is someone like Xavi, no matter what goes on, he just passes the ball back and forth between himself and usually Iniesta, knowing that even if takes five minutes of back and forth passing a chance will eventually turn up.

  18. Isn’t it strange that we tend towards thinking of leaders as being taller than average (Adams, Vieira) when, in fact some of the greatest ‘leaders’ on the pitch are often smaller. Frank McLintock was hardly the tallest of men; Alan Ball was quite short.
    We also ignore (because we don’t often see it) how their leadership is expressed off the pitch. Adams tended to lead people down to the pub which he enjoyed and just about coped with. But how many others’ careers were undermined in some way (e.g. shortened) by following his example?

  19. @Aussie Jack: And, AJ, would the sun ever set on this, your recommended kind of Kiplingesque shooting leadership?

  20. @Aussie Jack: I mean, seriously mate, isn’t it time to bring back the Hangman?! Surely the fear of the Hangman would be the right kind of leader’s best friend, wouldn’t you say? That’s it: back to the future. A taste of the lash and the table is ours!

  21. @Shard:
    Sure, I don’t think there’s a need to abolish the captain with his armband and all. That’s something which is necessary for most people, to “complete the picture”. Otherwise they feel uneasy, even though there may not be a need to. It’s a bit like religion. Most people need it to function “correctly”. Just the knowledge that ultimately, there’s someone else to carry that responsibility is usually enough to put people at ease. i guess that’s why so few people in society are leaders.
    In Cesc’s case, my suspicion is that he was made captain to help retain him. I think AW got smart and realized that if he was just a regular player, he’d probably have less of an issue leaving the team. But as a captain, it puts the responsibility of leading the less experienced players to glory, and psychologically it’s more difficult to just up and leave them without winning something. AW knew Cesc would be a sought after player. Even a below par Cesc is many times better than most midfielders in the game. By a mile. So AW made him captain to give him that feeling of responsibility so he can stay and help the team win. E.g. the way he stepped up and saved us when we couldn’t get through the liverpool bus by winning the penalty. You could see how he took it upon himself. He’s clearly not the only player capable of doing that, but he felt the responsibility, and that gave him the extra push to pull it off. He led by example. Little did he know…
    Anyway, this is why I think AW spoke of the shared leadership model. The other guys can plug the holes that Cesc doesn’t fill with his skill. But Cesc is the one to put the minds of the other players at ease by being the guy who’s ultimately responsible.

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