Gareth Southgate: Deconstruction of a Leadership Style

The Euro 2020s have been the cause for much controversy and argument over the past month, and particularly in the last week or so. However, it’s not controversial to say that the English team, under Gareth Southgate’s leadership has gone from strength to strength, showing a continuous and consistent improvement in performance through successive tournaments. 

Leadership is something we focus on a great deal at RPfT, so it’s great to observe leadership that is working well and it’s been fascinating to deconstruct Southgate’s style.  It’s clear that he has drawn from many leadership styles and techniques to create his winning formula. The good news is that businesses and organisations can learn a lot from the methods Southgate (and his team, let’s not forget them) has utilised to improve productivity and instil loyalty and pride in everything the English team does.


So, what can we learn from Southgate’s leadership style?


Empathy – the big takeaway from Southgate’s leadership success is his obvious empathy.  Of course, he has the advantage of having once been in the same position that they are in, but that’s not the key to empathetic leadership.  Being able to really listen and understand his team is a great way to connect and understand the best ways to motivate individuals and teams.

Communication – Southgate is a skilled communicator, both within his circle and in his public facing activities.  He is able to articulate a clear vision, focus on the key messages and rouse great emotion from his words.  See his “Dear England” letter for a good example of this.  It’s also clear that he understands communication that really works, means listening as well as talking.

Teamwork – We’re not just talking about the players here, although it is said that Southgate encourages each of the players to value both what they and every other player contributes to the final outcome of a game.  However,  Southgate’s style of leadership also depends on teamwork.  He draws from a board that offers fresh ideas and perspectives from experts in all walks of life.  One of his advisers, Sir Dave Brailsford drove British Cycling to success in the 2008 and 2012 Olympics, by using the marginal gains strategy – a strategy that has been widely adapted by business.  Southgate also delegates areas of decision making to his leadership team.  Having the courage to pass responsibility to other people can be frightening, but if ego can be parked and you have provided the right training and skills, and nurtured the right team members, it’s a strategy that pays off.

“I like the players to speak up in meetings – I like them to have an opinion on the game, because in the 85th minute they have got to make a decision that might win or lose the game and we can’t make all those decisions from the sideline.”

Gareth Southgate

Trust– It’s obvious to the outsider that Southgate’s players genuinely trust him.  More than that though, he trusts them too.  He has spoken in the past of the need to build his players up to be able to make decisions themselves in the final analysis.  As he says, “We can’t make all those decisions from the sideline”, and this is true in business too.  Building trust in your team, your brand, your customers – is a key component for success.

Integrity – Sticking to your word, taking responsibility, and defending your team are qualities that the best leaders have, and Southgate seems to exemplify them. He never oscillates or passes the buck.

Sustainability – Southgate, like any good leader, is playing the long game.  While some managers might feel the need to show immediate gains, his style is to implement a sustainable, long term strategy.  This usually results in an improvement of performance that remains consistent, rather than short bursts of brilliance that burn your team out.

Wellbeing – It is now accepted that caring for the wellbeing of your team is a central part of good leadership.  Improving resilience, confidence and mental health all have a positive effect on productivity and retention.  Through his words of support and displays of comfort to his players, it’s clear Southgate values their wellbeing highly.

Coaching – This seems obvious, since Southgate is literally the coach, but the coaching style of leadership can have a transformational effect on team members and is already used very effectively in the business world.


If you’d like to know more about how to develop these qualities within your organisation, or other areas of leadership, don’t hesitate to get in touch.