Jun 27th 2020

Five ways Jürgen Klopp’s leadership style helped Liverpool to the top

by Matthew Smith and Sean Figgins

Matthew Smith is Senior Lecturer in Sport and Exercise Psychology at the University of Winchester.

Sean Figgins is Senior Lecturer in Sport and Exercise Psychology and Research Methods at the University of Chichester.    

 

It is 30 years since Liverpool FC were last crowned champions of English football. In those three frustrating decades, there have been highs as well as lows, including last year being tantalisingly close to topping the table.

But their time (slightly delayed by a pandemic) has finally come. Under Jürgen Klopp, their charismatic German manager, Liverpool have won the Premier League.

So how have Liverpool’s fortunes been transformed? Here are five leadership tools that help to explain how Klopp has inspired his team to become champions again.

1. Create a clear vision and identity

When Klopp first arrived at Liverpool in October 2015, he outlined a positive and exciting blueprint identity to inspire players and fans at a time when Liverpool were not performing well.

“I believe in a playing philosophy that is very emotional, very fast and very strong,” he declared.

He added: “My teams must play at full throttle and take it to the limit every single game. It is important to have a playing philosophy that reflects your own mentality, reflects the club and gives you a clear direction to follow.”

Clearly outlining a unique playing identity that aligns with the club’s values was a shrewd move. Leaders who are able to create a shared identity have been seen to motivate teams to greater performance.

2. Represent this identity

Klopp’s own behaviour reinforces his managerial approach. He demonstrates confidence, authority and consistently demonstrates an intense, passionate approach.

It is key for a leader to represent the core values of their team or group. This leads players to trust in their leader, and respond positively. At Liverpool, this can be seen in a number of ways, not least in Klopp’s passionate – and sometimes controversial – celebration of goals and victories.

These displays of emotion, happiness and positivity seem to have a contagious effect throughout the team. Such celebrations also create a strong connection with fans who see how much success means to him.

3. Reinforce belief and create trust

Klopp came in to Liverpool after enjoying success at the German side Borussia Dortmund, and with a specific style of high-tempo play. This kind of reputation and experience can create a strong belief in players.

Klopp’s charismatic communication reinforced trust in his methods and competence as a coach, and so the messages Klopp passed on were believed. In turn, and while recognising his own limitations, Klopp demonstrates a high level of trust in his players and support staff.

He has said:

I know I’m good in a couple of things, really good in a few things, and that’s enough. My confidence is big enough that I can really let people grow next to me, it’s no problem.

I need experts around me. It’s really very important that you are empathetic, that you try to understand the people around you, and that you give real support to the people around you.


Read more: Liverpool, Premier League champions: 'A proud supporter of the Reds, I felt blue for 30 years. No longer'


Having the trust of others, and reciprocating such trust, is at the heart of a coach’s ability to inspire their players. One of Klopp’s major strengths has been his ability to do this. As forward Sadio Mané commented: “He’s great as a person. I trust him blindly, like most of the dressing room.”

4. Develop strong connections with players

Klopp is renowned for his hugs, but alongside this he shows genuine interest in, and care for, his players. Midfielder Georginio Wijnaldum cited this as a major reason for choosing to sign for Liverpool over other clubs:

He said: “In the meeting with Jürgen we had a laugh and did not speak only about football. He was interested in my personal life and that was good for me. He was not only interested in Wijnaldum the footballer but Wijnaldum the person.”

Soon after signing Andy Robertson, Klopp was reportedly confused that another member of staff had no idea his new left back was due to become a father, saying: “How can you not know that? That’s the biggest thing in his life now. Come on!”

Our research highlights how showing genuine interest in players strengthens the trust between coaches and players which, in turn, enhances a coach’s inspirational capabilities.

Klopp’s emotional displays are important to developing connection, as coaches who display “harmonious passion” (showing a strong desire to engage in an activity they love) have higher quality relationships with athletes.

5. Promise big – and deliver

When Klopp first arrived at Liverpool, he stated that Liverpool would win the title in four years. (This is his fifth year, but fans will no doubt forgive him for being a year late.)

But reputation needs to be backed up by results on the pitch, and Klopp reinforced this belief with early success. The team reached the final of the Europa League in his first season, the final of the Champions League in the third, and then won the Champions league in his fourth.

Progression in the Premier League was also evident. Liverpool finished fourth in Klopp’s first full two seasons, second in the third, and are now champions in his fourth full season.

 

Ultimately, leaders need to demonstrate improved performance for players and fans alike to buy into their approach. Klopp has certainly achieved this, and will no doubt have enjoyed an emotional celebration as his team clinched the coveted league title.

 

Matthew Smith, Senior Lecturer in Sport and Exercise Psychology, University of Winchester and Sean Figgins, Senior Lecturer in Sport and Exercise Psychology and Research Methods

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Browse articles by author

More Essays

Feb 3rd 2023
EXTRACT: "The built environment we inhabit is just the residue of a much greater imaginative world that never saw the light of day, evoking what might have been or still could be..."
Jan 18th 2023
EXTRACT: "In 2018, former US president Bill Clinton coauthored a novel with James Patterson, the world’s bestselling author. The President is Missing is a typical “Patterson”: a page-turner of a thriller, easy to read, with short chapters and large font. Patterson is accustomed to collaborative writing ..... He is as much a producer as he is a writer, using a string of junior collaborators to run his factory of novels. Patterson outlines the plot, the coauthors write the story, Patterson offers feedback. While he doesn’t seem to do much writing himself, it is a system that has made Patterson a rich man."
Jan 14th 2023
EXTRACT: "With hindsight, 2022 will be seen as the year when artificial intelligence gained street credibility. The release of ChatGPT by the San Francisco-based research laboratory OpenAI garnered great attention and raised even greater questions.  In just its first week, ChatGPT attracted more than a million users and was used to write computer programs, compose music, play games, and take the bar exam. Students discovered that it could write serviceable essays worthy of a B grade – as did teachers, albeit more slowly and to their considerable dismay."
Jan 14th 2023
EXTRACT: "The thought of her, as always, gave me a jolt of hope, and a burst of energy. And a stab of sorrow."
Jan 14th 2023
EXTRACT: ".....if academic discourse and campus debate are shut down every time a person feels offended, how can universities possibly examine controversial topics? Without intellectual freedom – one of the great achievements of American civilization – they can’t."
Jan 5th 2023
EXTRACTS: "London's Tate Britain and Paris' Petit Palais have collaborated to produce a wonderful retrospective exhibition of the art of Walter Sickert (1860-1942).  The show is both beautiful and fascinating. ----- Virginia Woolf loved Sickert's art, and it is not difficult to see why, because his painting, like her writing, was always about intimate views of incidents, or casual portraits in which individual sitters momentarily revealed their personalities.  ------ Sickert's art never gained the status of that of Whistler or Degas, perhaps because it was too derivative of those masters.  But he was an important link between those great experimental painters and the art of Lucian Freud, Francis Bacon, Frank Auerbach, ...."
Dec 5th 2022
EXTRACT: "One of the great paradoxes of human endeavour is why so much time and effort is spent on creating things and indulging in behaviour with no obvious survival value – behaviour otherwise known as art. Attempting to shed light on this issue is problematic because first we must define precisely what art is. We can start by looking at how art, or the arts, were practised by early humans during the Upper Palaeolithic period, 40,000 to 12,000 years ago, and immediately thereafter."
Dec 3rd 2022
EXTRACTS: "As a portrait artist, I am an amateur at this compared to the technology gurus and psychologists who study facial recognition seriously. Their aplications range from law enforcement to immigration control to ethnic groupings to the search through a crowd to find someone we know. ---- In my amateur artistic way, I prefer to count on intuition to find facial clues to a subject’s personality before sitting down at the drawing board. I never use the latest software to grapple with this dizzying variety.
Dec 1st 2022
EXTRACT: "In the exhibition catalog Lisane Basquiat writes: 'What is important for everyone to understand… is that he was a son, and a brother, and a grandson, and a nephew, and a cousin, and a friend. He was all of that in addition to being a groundbreaking artist.' "
Nov 24th 2022
"The art of kintsugi is inextricably linked to the Japanese philosophy of wabi-sabi: a worldview centred on the acceptance of transience, imperfection and the beauty found in simplicity.....nothing stays the same forever." --- "The philosophy of kintsugi, as an approach to life, can help encourage us when we face failure. We can try to pick up the pieces, and if we manage to do that we can put them back together. The result might not seem beautiful straight away but as wabi-sabi teaches, as time passes, we may be able to appreciate the beauty of those imperfections."
Oct 25th 2022
EXTRACT: "The prime minister of India, Narendra Modi, was quick to congratulate Sunak, referring to him as “the ‘living bridge’ of UK Indians”. In the difficult waters of British and indeed international politics, all eyes will be watching to see how well the bridge stands."
Oct 5th 2022
EXTRACTS: "In the Guardian, Peter Bradshaw eulogized Jean-Luc Godard as 'a genius who tore up the rule book without troubling to read it.' This is a fundamental misunderstanding." ----- " As had been true for Picasso - and Eliot, Joyce, Dylan, and Lennon - it was Godard's mastery of the rules of his discipline that made his violation of those rules so exciting to young artists, and his work so influential.  But perhaps these innovators' mastery of the rules can only be seen by those who themselves understand the rules."
Sep 29th 2022
EXTRACTS: "For many of us, some personality traits stay the same throughout our lives while others change only gradually. However, evidence shows that significant events in our personal lives which induce severe stress or trauma can be associated with more rapid changes in our personalities." ----- "Over time, our personalities usually change in a way that helps us adapt to ageing and cope more effectively with life events." ----- " ....participants in this study recorded changes in the opposite direction to the usual trajectory of personality change." --- "....you might like to take the time to reflect on your experiences over the past few years, and how these personality changes may have affected you."
Sep 21st 2022
EXTRACTS: "It might seem like an obscure footnote among the history-making events of 2022, but the year of Queen Elizabeth II’s death coincides with the 300th anniversary of Adam Smith’s birth." ----- "As a committed Stoic, Smith had little patience for greed. The whole point of Roman Stoic philosophy was to use personal moral discipline to support the rule of law and constitutions, and to make society a better place." ----- "When we read Smith, we are better served to think of the example of Elizabeth II than of those driven by personal greed. It might sound archaic, but, as Britons’ response to her death suggests, these values still appeal to a great many people today."
Sep 14th 2022
EXTRACT: "On the day of Queen Elizabeth II’s death, the former Prince of Wales was proclaimed King Charles III. Although it’s been known for decades that Charles would succeed his mother, there were rumours that he might, once king, choose the name George due to the contentious legacies of Kings Charles I and Charles II."
Aug 25th 2022
EXTRACT: "An over-emphasis on looking for the chemical equation of depression may have distracted us from its social causes and solutions. We suggest that looking for depression in the brain may be similar to opening up the back of our computer when a piece of software crashes: we are making a category error and mistaking problems of the mind for problems in the brain. It would be wise to observe caution with drugs whose effectiveness is not certain, whose mode of action is unknown, and which have many side-effects, especially for use in the long term."
Jul 29th 2022
EXTRACTS: "China uses incarcerated prisoners of conscience as an organ donor pool to provide compatible transplants for patients. These prisoners or “donors” are executed and their organs harvested against their will, and used in a prolific and profitable transplant industry."
Jul 29th 2022
EXTRACT: "In the first episode of season three of The Kominsky Method (2021), there is a funeral service for Michael Douglas’ character’s lifelong friend Norman Newlander (played by Alan Arkin). By far the most inconsolable mourner to give a eulogy is Newlander’s personal assistant of 22 years who, amid a hyperbolical outpouring of grief, literally cannot bring herself to let go of the casket. It is a humorous scene, to be sure, but there is something else going on here that is characteristic of employer-employee relations in this era of neoliberal capitalism. “Making him happy made me happy,” she exclaims, “his welfare was my first thought in the morning, and my last thought before I went to sleep.” That isn’t sweet – it is pathological. ----- Employee happiness is becoming increasingly conditional on, or even equated with, the boss’ happiness. As Frédéric Lordon observes in his book, Willing Slaves of Capital (2014), “employees used to surrender to the master desire with a heavy heart…they had other things on their minds…ideally the present-day enterprise wants subjects who strive of their own accord according to its norms.” In a word, the employee is increasingly expected to internalize and identify with the desire of the master."
Jul 20th 2022
EXTRACT: "For three decades, people have been deluged with information suggesting that depression is caused by a “chemical imbalance” in the brain – namely an imbalance of a brain chemical called serotonin. However, our latest research review shows that the evidence does not support it."
Jul 13th 2022
"But is he “deluded”? " ---- "....we sometimes end up with deluded leaders because we ourselves can be somewhat delusional when we vote." ---- "David Collinson, a professor of leadership and organization at Lancaster University, associates this predicament with excessive positive thinking, or what he calls “Prozac leadership,” in reference to the famous antidepressant that promises to cheer people up without actually fixing what is wrong in their lives. “ ---- "In politics, Prozac leaders come to power by selling the electorate on wildly overoptimistic views of the future. When the public buys into a Prozac leader’s narrative, it is they who are already verging on the delusional." ----- "Another potential example is Vladimir Putin, who has conjured a kind of nostalgic dream world for his followers and the wider Russian public."