Strategic Leadership & The Chelsea Football Club

Many people, particularly fellow football supporters, will consider my headline an Oxymoron. Roman Abramovich arrived at my beloved Club, Chelsea, in 2003. Under his ownership, there has been an impressive haul of silverware, and the global reach of the Club has all been transformed out of all, of recognition from the ‘black and white days’.

In my view, not all change has been for the better. Leadership, as practised by managers who come and go in a bewildering fashion is sadly lacking. It is nigh impossible for a Leader to develop the culture and environment on a sustained basis if they don’t hang around long enough to do so. Organisations have Values. The issue here is that if the ‘Team’ ( Players and Supporters) feel that those Values challenge their core beliefs or ignore them, then significant challenges ensue. In their seminal work, ‘Primed to Perform‘, Neel DOSHI and Lindsay McGregor, describe the relationship between culture and performance. Doing your job is Tactical Performance. Taking ownership of your role, and maximising your energy and commitment, for the greater good is called ‘Adaptive Performance.

Leadership creates the environment and culture which maximises adaptive performance of the entire Team. It is the responsibility of the senior decision- makers of an organisation to deliver the maximum Adaptive Performance.

The current Chelsea Football Club Business model appears to be focused upon hiring the most well-known Managers, determining the composition of their visible assets ( players) for them and placing them under an intolerable pressure to succeed. The Chelsea Academy produces a veritable conveyor belt of rich talent. The strategic purpose of the most senior Leadership at Chelsea Football Club is to regard these ‘rough diamonds’ as expendable. For the most part, they are loaned out to other clubs ( some35 at the last count) or sold on. The strategy produces a significant cash injection to the Club, but to many fans, eye’s the Leadership of the Club lacks Soul! In essence, the Leadership of my Football Club is seriously at risk of perpetuating a strategic error, that has potentially fatal consequences:

  • The culture produces at best Tactical rather than Adaptive Performance
  • Managers are not permitted to display Strategic Leadership
  • The vaunted Chelsea Academy is becoming a conduit of talent for other clubs
  • The best young players will cease to choose to come to the Academy as there is little realistic chance of progressing to the First Team
  • Managers will come to Chelsea purely for the pay packet. There is no expectation of longevity, so no reputational damage to themselves
  • Similarly, with Players, Academy Products have the Club in their hearts to a greater extent than ‘Mercenaries’
  • The Customers ( Supporters) will fall out of love with the Club.
  • The Brand Reputation and Value will be tarnished, perhaps, irreparably.

An Alternative Strategic Leadership

The picture above represents the young, vibrant Chelsea of the mid-1960s that I grew up to cherish. They were known as ‘Docherty’s Diamonds’. This referred to their shining talent as well as market value. Culminating in a traumatic relegation, Eddie McCreadie, a former player became Manager during the final gloomy days of Division One. He rejuvenated the team, packed it with Youth products ( plus the legendary Ron ‘Chopper’ Harris) made an 18-year-old Ray Wilkins captain, and the morale of the entire Club was transformed for the better. Promotion to Division One was achieved at a canter, with polish, poise, and performance at levels not seen for years. The truism that Leadership creates the environment and culture that enables performance to thrive was demonstrated again.

Primed to Perform describes the Three Principle positive drivers for performance as Play, Purpose, Potential. The Three Principle negative impactors on performance as Emotional, Economic and Inertia. The ‘Third Wave’ of a Strategic Leadership at Chelsea Football Club that embraces the principles of Primed to Perform may be at hand at the end of this ‘Winter of discontent’.

A successful first Season at Derby Football Club, taking them back into the Premier League could propel Frank Lampard and Jody Morris into the Managerial dugout at Stamford Bridge. Both understand and exemplify that Leadership has Soul. They fully appreciate the provable impact that culture has on performance.

As the saying goes :

Management is doing Things Right. Leadership is doing the Right Things.


Tony Munday
Tony Munday
TONY developed his expertise during his Police career of 34 years. Whilst a Senior Leader, for 15 years, he recognised the challenges and pressures faced by Leaders, including those which were of his own making. Tony was a ‘maverick ‘as a Leader. He became accredited in, and practiced, coaching as a Leadership Style, and Situational Leadership (adopt a style relevant and appropriate to the context). This was unusual amongst colleagues and peers, who maintained a firm adherence to a ‘command and control’ style, on most occasions. Tony recognised that it was impossible for him to effectively lead and micromanage. In order to develop appropriate trust and motivation amongst those he had responsibility for, he ensured that he knew the person behind the role. This enabled Tony to effectively performance manage, with fairness. Where appropriate, Tony practiced a ‘service’ style of Leadership. He saw his role, as providing the strategic direction, the environment, setting the values and developing the people, so they took responsibility for delivery of their own and other’s performance. The subsequent trust gained, enabled Tony to save significant time compared to peers who micromanaged. Tony used this time on strategic planning and development of people, enabling them to maximise their potential, including out of his teams or departments. This was unique amongst his peers. Many peers behaved as if the first responsibility of their team was to make ‘them’ look good. This stifled development of their teams. Tony’s teams and departments consistently outperformed their contemporaries.

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