Former Manchester United manager David Moyes reacts during a past match. Moyes had never won a major trophy and yet he was expected to deliver instantly. Photo/AFP



For the record, I only support two teams — Gor Mahia and Harambee Stars. However, having an accountant who is an ardent Manchester United fan means that I have to put up with the entire goings-on of the English Premier League.

I guess we wouldn’t normally take lessons in leadership and particularly succession planning from football. Their reputation for hiring and firing managers on a whim, or the occasional poor performance, is legendary. But then last week the inevitable happened. David Moyes was sacked as Manchester United coach.

There are some big lessons of leadership transition here that apply universally.

Mission Impossible

Why is a club that has achieved so much success over the past two decades doing so abysmally when it comes to succession planning?

The Old Trafford management — club owners, board of directors, and coaching staff — appears to have gotten so drunk with all the trophies predecessor Alex Ferguson had helped to win for 20 years that they couldn’t care less about putting all those proverbial eggs in one basket.

Perhaps Man-U’s major stakeholders were too reliant on just one man — Alex Ferguson. Consequently, they let the ball drop on one crucial matter — succession planning. Ferguson was unable to find an internal successor — not his assistant manager, first team coach, nor any of his veteran players. Ferguson was then forced to look externally for a replacement.

Moyes had never won a major trophy as a football manager and yet he was expected to deliver more or less instantly at a club whose previous manager had won 13 English Premier League titles and two European Champions Leagues.

As if this was not mission impossible, his body language, demeanour and communication with the media suggested that he did not feel that he was up to the task. How could someone who has never won a trophy as a manager be suitable to manage a team of megastars who are expected to win championships season after season?

The harsh reality is succession planning is never easy — and the ultra-competitive world of football amplifies the challenges on the front pages of the global media.

In a world where success lasts only a week, and where every minute decision is dissected and analysed by thousands of fervent armchair critics, there is an immense pressure on club boards to find the right man for the job.

Phase out slowly

If Moyes was indeed the chosen one, wouldn’t it have made more sense to perhaps make him part of the management team when Sir Alex was there and get him working and learning from him? This would have allowed him to gain some valuable experience.

The club also allowed Moyes to remove Sir Alex’s entire management and coaching team and bring in his own people.

Performing badly

Would you appoint a new store manager and allow him to replace your assistant manager, customer service manager, duty managers and supervisors with external people who don’t know the culture of your business or your people?

Highly unlikely, unless your business was performing badly. But as Man-U were already league champions this kind of drastic action was not required.

I guess we can learn lessons from the Man-U management problems. The team will also need to learn quickly — if they don’t get the next appointment right then they could spend a number of years in the wilderness.

Lack of success will result in loss of revenue, higher debts and cut-backs on the playing squad. Make sure your business is not exposed if a key person decides to move on.