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View transcript

When it's better to be behind than in front.

When it's better to be behind than in front

Soccer managers are a breed apart when it comes to ritual and superstition.

Take the case of ex-Leeds United boss Don Revie, who would wear the same suit until his team lost, always took the same route to the dug-out at his side's home ground of Elland Road and had a fear of ornamental elephants.

Or what about Argentina general manager Carlos Bilardo, who guided his team to World Cup glory in 1986? He routinely carried a statuette of the Virgin Mary to games and banned his players from eating chicken because he thought it brought bad luck.

And then there's the example of Peterborough United manager Darren Ferguson. He banned his father, Manchester United boss Sir Alex, from attending his team's 2011 League One play-off final against Huddersfield Town at United's home ground of Old Trafford because he feared that his successful father would be a jinx.

On a website devoted to the antics of amateur managers, one admits that he always covers his face when his team has a penalty and chants a song when a penalty is awarded to his side's opponents. Another says that he prefers his team to enter the dressing room 1-0 down at half-time rather than 1-0 up.

Just a little bit bonkers? Well, maybe not - at least in the case of the last of these examples - because Jonah Berger and Devin Pope who have analysed more than 18,000 professional basketball games, reveal in the May 2011 issue of Management Science that teams that are slightly behind their opponents at half-time actually win more often than sides that are ahead by one.

The reason, it seems, is that trailing slightly increases a team's motivation and effort and so makes it more likely to come out on top. Or as the authors conclude with impeccable logic: ‘Losing can sometimes lead to winning.'

Of course, for this motivational effect to take place, the manager must have forged close bonds with his players during the trials and tribulations of a nine-month season and have earned their respect. In football, that goes without saying. But the world of business is a slightly different matter.

In the May 2011 issue of the Harvard Business Review, Hassan reveals that, in many companies, the people most responsible for success or failure happen to be the ones with whom the chief executive spends the least amount of time - the shop-floor supervisors, head of sales or boss of research and development.

Hassan, the chief executive who led dramatic turn-arounds at Schering-Plough and Pharmacia and is now a senior adviser at Warburg Pincus, argues that systematic interactions with individuals and small groups of front-line managers are important in executing a company's strategy and represent an all-important feedback loop that allows the chief executive to stay abreast of the latest developments in the business.

The author provides guidelines on how chief executives and other senior managers should structure their interactions with this vital - and often overlooked - cadre of managers.

Oh, yes - and just to recap on the football, Ferguson Senior stayed away from the Old Trafford play-off match...and his son's Peterborough side won by three goals to nil!