After David Moyes’ Manchester United sacking, how can a leader ensure success?

David Moyes failed in his bid to emulate Sir Alex Ferguson at Manchester United, so what can a new leader do to outshine his predecessor?

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David Moyes, who followed the legendary Sir Alex Ferguson as manager of Manchester United, is not the first executive to have an earlier than expected departure. But his headline-grabbing exit made me pause for a moment and ponder: "What can a leader do to ensure his success?"

Given his past achievements, when Moyes arrived at United he must have been hoping to continue his proven track record at Everton. Frankly speaking, every leader believes in their prospects of succeeding in a new role, whether at Old Trafford or in a corporate environment.

We all know that the primary reason for a sacking is a lack of results, which was definitely the reality for Moyes. Falling from the top spot to seventh in the English Premier League was enough to put a big question mark on him.

Unfortunately, premature pink slips exist and are not limited to the sporting arena. They are equally applicable in the corporate world and even throughout this region.

When a senior American executive stepped off the plane a few years ago to take the helm of a major conglomerate in the Emirates, he came to the region with an accomplished executive pedigree.

But he made a fundamental mistake; he brought with him his tried-and-true “playbook”. I am sure he thought: “Why should it be any different here? I will do what has always brought me success.” So he embarked upon his plan, which included several “housekeeping” strategies.

Expected to lead the group into a new era of positive change, his importing of non-native leadership practices earned him an unexpected early return ticket home, not even completing one year in the role.

Previous success and what worked for you before does not guarantee that it will work again. In fact, most likely it will not. So create a new playbook.

Just as Moyes had to work with the existing team, which may have peaked before his arrival, so does nearly every leader who steps into a new role. This highlights one of the elements of success in a new role – having the right team in place. Not everyone has the luxury of clearing the decks and rebuilding a team from scratch - creating a real challenge for any new leader.

Good players in sports and employees in business account for success. If you have a team of good employees, you will do well. That is if you can harness them in the same direction and get them to perform well together.

Your immediate concern needs to be the performance of the existing team. Even if you are going to make changes to some of the positions or players, begin with helping everyone who is there now to succeed. Too frequently leaders lose their first six to nine months waiting until they make changes before starting to lead the organisation forward. This is a foolish mistake, as the majority of the organisation will stay intact and you can never redo your honeymoon.

Commentators speculate that Moyes underestimated the clout of the Class of 92 of Sir Alex’s golden generation. They are a group of influential and well-connected former players with lines of contact to the powers that make the decisions.

I guess politics and coalitions are every bit alive on the pitch as they are in the boardroom. Here is a lesson not to be ignored – don’t rely on positional authority when faced with an organisation’s political campaigners. You can try to fight them in public or embrace them in private.

Leadership success is rooted in carrying the flame of the organisation’s soul. During times of leadership change, as a new leader you need to be careful not to extinguish that flame by acting prematurely or in the wrong way.

Before changing direction or people, you are advised to understand what and who you are working with. Embrace the people and give them the opportunity to succeed.

Tommy Weir is a leadership adviser and author of 10 Tips for Leading in the Middle East and other leadership writings. Follow him on Twitter: @tommyweir.

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