Business Leadership Lessons From Gareth Southgate

Despite the Euro final result, Gareth Southgate has demonstrated some key leadership traits throughout the tournament that every good leader should aspire to.

In the wake of the Euros final result, Paul Hargreaves, explains the leadership lessons that can be learnt from England manager Gareth Southgate. 

No matter how his players perform, Southgate rarely shows disappointment and puts compassion at the forefront of his leadership style. He has been praised for his leadership throughout the Euros, and there are some essential leadership qualities that have stood out, including:


When talking about England’s loss, Southgate was quick to place the blame on himself for choosing the penalty-takers. He took the responsibility for the team, rather than allow any of his players to get the blame for the outcome. Self-sacrifice is a key part of business leadership, but it’s not something any of us usually have training in.

In the Western world especially, many of us have been brought up to believe that sacrificing our own material dreams is painful in some way, deeply upsetting and reduces our happiness – when actually the very opposite is true. Sacrificing our own gains for others is what leads to greater fulfilment and profound happiness; yet many of us are denied that privilege by the impulse to cling on to what is ours, often through fear, rather than letting it go. In other words, we haven’t discovered the great sense of fulfilment that self-sacrifice can bring.

Being the kind of leaders who put their necks on the line in order to do the right thing, deepens us as people and helps us find ourselves; we would do well to encourage everyone to do this and thereby find their own individual deep sense of fulfilment.


Southgate is a leader who always acts with compassion and kindness, consoling his own players and even Danish players after they lost to England – and if I had to choose one characteristic of leadership to focus on above all others, then being a compassionate person would be top of my list.

The word “compassion” literally means “a suffering with another”. It is about feeling what another person feels and being upset because they are in physical or emotional pain. There is a sense in the West that if we don’t look after ourselves and pursue our own happiness first, then we will somehow be less happy. The reverse is true. As we reach out to others with compassion and put ourselves last not first, we increase our own happiness.

During the past fifty years, leaders who have operated with high levels of compassion have stood out as being different, as there are so few of them; but if there is one characteristic that leaders need more than any other in this third decade of the 21st century, it is compassion.


Image by Кирилл Венедиктов –, CC BY-SA 3.0,

Southgate instantly spoke out about the “unforgivable” racist abuse of players following England’s defeat and actively supported LGBT inclusion initiatives. This is vitally important in an increasingly unequal world, with wealth and power being concentrated in fewer people’s hands than ever before – and it’s up to the people that hold the power to change it.

Inclusivity needs to be brought into the centre of all leadership. It’s about empathy; about understanding how others, who may be different to us, are feeling. We must connect with those people who are not the loudest people in the room in order to understand how we have taken opportunity away from them. Otherwise, we will never be able to do anything about their plight, and we will never be truly inclusive. Just as it would be a paradox to describe ourselves as humble, it is only the people different from us within our companies and organisations who should be given permission to describe us as inclusive. When some voices within our businesses, communities or nations are not free to express themselves fully, we are all weaker for the missing notes.


As CS Lewis said, “Humility is not thinking less of yourself, it’s thinking of yourself less.” Southgate is a football manager whose ego is at the forefront of the decisions he makes, unlike some other managers, but very clearly seems to think of his players first.  Good leadership is a gentle hand of the tiller, supporting those who work for you and letting them receive the glory when everything goes well, yet taking the blame when the opposite happens.  

We just know that if England had won the other day, he would have praised the players, yet in defeat, he blamed himself in the media interviews for the decisions on who took the penalties.  Good leadership just like good refereeing is about doing a good job without drawing attention to yourself the whole time.  Only secure grounded human beings, confident in their own ability, but also knowing that they often make mistakes are happy giving others the limelight for their own good job done.


Another leadership quality clearly exhibited by Gareth Southgate on the touchline was a sense of calm. During extra-time against Denmark there was a huge amount of tension, yet, despite what may have been happening inside him, he radiated a sense of calm to his players.  

For some of us, this doesn’t come naturally, but, as leaders, we must learn in some situations to keep our head whilst others around us are losing theirs.  I use in The Fourth Bottom Line, the example of Nelson Mandela who had a reputation of being rather hot-headed in his early life but exuded a sense of calm when being released from prison. But that is not to say that leaders should be emotionless.


Vulnerability is also an important quality of leaders and Southgate showed emotion too during the tournament.  Good leaders show emotion as they are not afraid to show their humanity to those they lead.  People trust those they think to understand them and being open and vulnerable generates trust and is a characteristic of good leaders.

Paul Hargreaves is a B-Corp Ambassador, speaker and author of The Fourth Bottom Line: Flourishing in the new era of compassionate leadership.

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