Fabio Capello on the management of fear

England football manager Fabio Capello has had a remarkably successful career in Italy, Spain and now as manager of England (ok, he hasn’t won anything yet, but they have qualified for the World Cup). Sports analogies are used too often in the world of management speak (even for a sportsfan like me) but according to an article in the Guardian about his presentation at the Global Sports Summit in London, Capello reveals a couple of interesting truths.

First, he says that when he took over England the quality of the players was very high in training but not in matches.

“I understood everything when they played Switzerland in the first match, the same players who played well in training played with fear, with no confidence, and I said this is a big problem of the mind,” he said. “Step by step, game after game, we have improved a lot.”

Second, he talked about learning from other disciplines and sports. I didn’t know, for example, that when he was sporting director at Milan, he oversaw not just football but also the volleyball, rugby, baseball and hockey teams.

“It’s really, really important to know the psychology of different players in different sports, it was important for me to improve my psychology. Rugby and ice hockey is about fighting, volleyball is a system of movement on the pitch and in baseball you have to stay concentrated for a long time to catch one ball.”

I have managed teams – on and off the sports field – and both of these lessons resonate. However well you explain the tactics and technique, the most difficult question is how to motivate people to believe in their ability and translate that into performance.

Interdisciplinary thinking has also often been the most inspirational for me. I once attended a conference for advertising sales staff and the most engaging, inspiring, creative speaker was a designer called Dick Powell of Seymour Powell. He had nothing to do with sales or media, but he argued that the key to dealing with customers and coming up with new ideas and products was to look at things from a different angle. Question presumed assumptions and you will come up with innovative and, if implemented correctly, better solution.

About the authors

Stefan Stern writes a column on Tuesdays on management. He is winner of the 2010 Towers Watson award for excellence in HR journalism, and has previously won awards from the Work Foundation and the Management Consultancies Association.

Ravi Mattu is the editor of Business Life, the FT's management features section, and a former editor of the Mastering Management series. He joined the FT in 2000 from Prospect magazine

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