Thursday 17 May 2012
In association with League Managers Association
Hope Powell CBE
Breakthrough Leadership: England's football coach talks tactics
Blue Fin Venue, London
Born in 1966, Hope Powell is a good vintage for English football. Her love of the game, she told the London Business Forum (LBF), began at a very young age – kicking a football around the estate she grew up in with the boys. As a player she realised that she wanted to be paid to work in football, which is why she began her career as a professional coach.
When Powell played football there was no such thing as a professional female football player, she explained. Women had to pay to play and whilst things have moved on, women players still have to supplement their footballing salaries with other jobs.
The difference between men’s and women’s football has played in Powell’s favour in one way, she admitted. Powell has beaten Sir Walter Winterbottom’s record for the number of games managed by an England football coach, which she believes is in part down to the unique environment in the women’s game: “In football, the industry is results driven […] whereas in women’s football it isn’t like that at this moment in time […]. What I’ve been able to do is put a long term plan in place.”
The England women’s football team has undoubtedly benefitted from Powell’s long tenure. It has given her and her team the time to put a “sustainable programme” in place and to try new things within that structure, experiment with new ideas and improve resources.
Still, managing a team with limited resources is one of Powell’s daily challenges and one that was not unfamiliar to her business audience at this event. “We have to work very cleverly together to bring the best out of what we’ve got," she said. That includes bringing the best out of her people, which include not just the players but other coaches and support staff, all of whom Powell has handpicked and identified as people who will move women’s football forward.
Powell explained that her relationship with those she leads is built on trust. As an ideas person, Powell told the LBF that she empowers people to bring those ideas to life and has a clear philosophy in place that “everyone buys into.” They know what needs to be done to achieve the team’s short term, medium term and long term goals.
Powell is certainly a tough cookie and she’s had to be to fight for the women’s game at executive level. Within the FA she has a reputation for being fiery, “I go for the jugular too soon,” she admitted. Importantly, Powell has recognised that instead she needs to identify the battles that are worth fighting for. If you have a 70% chance of winning, go for it, she told the LBF, “25%, don’t bother because you just piss people off.”
Powell’s overall ambition for the England team is for it to be “the leading nation in women’s football.” After fourteen years in charge, she is careful not to relax. “The danger when you’re in a position of influence, or you are the key driver,” she said, “[is that] you can get comfortable.” Learning from others is still vital even when you are a leader she suggested: “You always have to check yourself and you always have to let other people check you.”
Powell is currently bringing together her team for the Olympics, which she believes will open up new opportunities for football. “It will really give us a platform to raise the awareness […] and hopefully will leave a really positive legacy.” As the first sporting event to kick off the games, all eyes will be on Team GB’s women’s team in July. Creating a Great British team presents a new challenge for Powell too as it also falls in a crucial period for the England team: “It’s a challenge; the timing of the Olympics is smack bang in between our two European qualifiers.”
Powell has sought the advice of Great Britain’s football managers to help her in pulling together a medal winning squad. She and her team are working hard with the players using team building activities to help those who haven’t played together before understand how best to do this. The best team building exercises she insisted are player led as she finds they are “really creative” and are the most successful at breaking down barriers.
It was clear to everyone that women’s football is in safe hands with Powell. Her love of the game and self-belief have been crucial to her success and the women's national team has made huge strides forward under her governance. “If you know you are good at what you do, you must stand your ground and I do because I’m good at football,” she said. Powell will be an inspiring force for women’s football for some time to come as it seems she has much more to give. “I think we can achieve so much more and I’m excited by that,” she concluded.