Guardiola or Mourinho: who’d be the best tech startup leader?

You couldn’t get a greater contrast in leadership style than Pep Guardiola and Jose Mourinho, a fierce football rivalry currently being broadcasted daily to the world from Manchester. It’s a deeply personal rivalry that encapsulates the best of and worst of modern football as they locked horns recently for the twentieth time in their careers in the Manchester derby.

Pep has the edge over his Portuguese foe with ten victories, while the ‘Special One’ has four wins, with six ending draws. Guardiola has learnt quickly from his first season mistakes with City, his squad have grasped his exacting demands and he is on course to deliver the title playing captivating football. Mourinho has brought a winner’s mentality back to United, but looks unable to thwart Guardiola’s direction of travel.

Mourinho and Guardiola worked together at Barcelona between 1996-2000, when Mourinho was a coach and Guardiola a player, but have been rivals since. In the summer of 2008, Josep ‘Pep’ Guardiola was appointed as manager of Barcelona. He was young and inexperienced, fresh from a successful period leading their B team. Not exactly qualifications for taking the reigns of one of the most iconic sports teams in history, but he went on to win 14 titles in four years.

Pep may not have been the expected choice, but he had new ideas for a team stuck in old ways. Most importantly, he had the courage and the discipline to make those ideas come to fruition, following the ‘total football’ vision of his mentor, Johan Cruyff, who gave the gangly, slow-footed, Guardiola his first opportunity as a youth player.

But it’s not enough to just have new ideas. You need the discipline to follow through when you’re going through the fire. And that’s what both men have: single mindedness, self-belief and mental toughness to do things their way, and simply ignore the brickbats thrown at them.

Guardiola lost his first Spanish League match of 2008, dropping the big named players whilst giving a young Messi his debut. But after the opening week loss, the team racked up a twenty game undefeated streak en route to their first Spanish title since 2006. The highlight of the campaign was a 6-2 victory over rivals Real Madrid, in Madrid.

Guardiola established his philosophy of tiki-taka, despite the dwindling appeal of possession football. By artfully advocating a playing style based on possession, short passing play and attack in which the ball is played forward from defence all the way to goal by means of pinpoint combination play, Barça captivated the footballing world.

He was a perfectionist, he studied his rivals and focused on small details. He used risky tactics to surprise and outwit. His leadership style has evolved to that of being very personal – emotional, motivational and yet also authoritative. Pep has crafted an aura of passionate thinking, discipline to a philosophy and warmth to his team.

Mourinho contrasts this with an abrasive and sometimes sulken attitude that the world is against his, that he’s an animal corned to fight. Mourinho is also a perfectionist, equally passionate, buy is pragmatic and plays to win rather than be overly concerned with style. He isn’t above overt public criticism of his players either.

Their rivalry hit a new level in 2010, when Mourinho was appointed Real Madrid boss. During the next two seasons, as the pair vied for domestic Spanish and European honours, their relationship turned ugly. Barcelona 5-0 Real Madrid in La Liga fixture at Camp Nou is the greatest of humiliations in Mourinho’s management career, and put a clear marker down.

Following his departure from Barcelona on a year-long sabbatical, Guardiola resumed his skirmish with Mourinho in August 2013, when Bayern Munich met Chelsea in the UEFA Super Cup. Bayern won, and Guardiola scored another victory over his long-time adversary. That’s not quite how Jose saw it though: The best team clearly lost. They just scored one more penalty.

So, both have enjoyed stellar success, leading several teams, but how transferable are their leadership capabilities to other industries? For example, who could make it as a tech startup leader? Who is the more perceptive and innovative strategic thinker? Who would develop the startup culture and talent best? Whose leadership philosophy offers more potential for long-term success in the maelstrom of the startup environment? Let’s consider the key qualities of a startup leader, and assess each.

1. Growth philosophy As beautiful as it is bold, Guardiola has not wavered from his determination to play firmly on the front foot, ignoring the critics who argued that his philosophy was not transferable to the hurly burly of the Premier League. Stylistically, Mourinho has suffered from constant comparison with Guardiola, purists have bristled at some of his perceived negative tactics. Guardiola’s way of playing is now so established that players can be rotated and there is often no discernible difference.

Guardiola and Mourinho may have very contrasting beliefs about the best way to go about achieving success but they share the same obsessive desire for winning and there is little doubt both have overseen marked improvements. But for me, theirs is a one-sided rivalry – where one has moral courage the other shows only fear in putting in the type of structure that looks to enhance his players’ attacking qualities.

Organisations are now becoming more aware of the need to identify the fundamental reason for their existence or their “why”. Guardiola has taken this further by taking a belief system and aligning it to the mission objective, of playing reputation for playing with flair.

Mourinho’s philosophy is to minimise the risk of defeat, Pep’s is to win with confidence and self-belief. For a startup, you have to be bold and push out from your comfort zone into the learning zone to get ahead of the competition and take your own performance to new heights. Best fit: Pep

2. Talent development Guardiola’s skills as a coach have born fruit this season with many of his squad showing huge signs of improvement, younger players such as Sterling and Stones, and established players too, notably De Bruyne, whose game is at a new height. Mourinho has done a similar job in this regard, with the stark improvement from more modest talents in a less naturally gifted squad, and brought about a sharp upturn in performance levels from his tough love.

Regarding youth development, then this is a stick with which Mourinho’s critics have liked to beat him but the irony is that it is the Portuguese who has demonstrated greater willingness to give Academy graduates meaningful game time whereas Guardiola, has, for all the City hierarchy’s eagerness to promote youth, appeared at times to pay little more than lip service to it.

Mourinho has given 1,382 minutes to Academy Graduates compared to Guardiola’s 1,141. Mourinho has maintained United’s 80-year tradition of naming an academy player in every match-day squad; getting regular playing time remains a serious challenge for City’s youngsters.

Yet Pep’s emotion, manhandling and yelling at his players until they see the light of his thinking, is one that would bring more success in a startup. You can’t be a spectator in a startup, you have to be leading the charge on the front line. Pep’s on the pitch in his head, you can see his engagement with the team at an individual level. Jose is more standoffish, less emotional, lacks warmth, and maybe as a consequence, hasn’t created a winning culture to help foster a unified team vision. Best fit: Pep

3. Emotional Intelligence Guardiola is a perfectionist – but no more so than Mourinho – yet has stronger emotional intelligence. Mourinho is more outspoken about individual players, pointing out their shortcomings in public. Pep is an idealist focused on process of playing beautiful football, Jose is a realist simply focused on results and winning football. Pep is emotion, Jose is passion.

The secret of leadership is insight into human potential and understanding of the individual, and Pep is known for understanding the ambitions and personality of each player. Lionel Messi, the world’s best player was called up by Argentina to play at the Olympics much to the disappointment of Barcelona who didn’t want to risk their best player getting injured.

Pep went against the wishes of the club and supported Messi playing at the Olympics because he knew how important this was to Messi and the loyalty he would receive in return from the player. Pep nurtures and huddles with his players, you sense Mourinho creates a more hierarchical ‘master and servant’ relationship. When asked about this kind of situation Guardiola replied We’d never start telling them off. If the game’s going badly you only earn credibility by correcting what they’re doing rather than shouting about it. Best fit: Pep

4. Self-awareness Startup leaders live in a state of discomfort, constantly restless about improving – and are comfortable with it. When running a startup, life is constantly in a state of flux – one key hire or departure can make or break a team, one key customer sale can set the month up for success, one flaw in the technology could be a six-month setback.

Recognising this and pressing forward anyway takes a tremendous amount of tenacity, but also self-awareness, being able to take intrinsic and extrinsic criticism with a grain of salt. There’s no doubt that Pep has a stronger jaw for criticism, although he can bristle, and has developed a healthier balance of paranoia and confidence compared to Jose wounded animal personality.

When things are not going well it’s difficult not to allow your emotions to overtake you and influence your decision-making. Your focus needs to remain on want needs to happen to correct performance and the diagnosis of how and why the situation happened and what can happen later. Your influence has to be to add value, not criticise.

Guardiola took a debut season of his own self-doubt and has grown a near-perfect second one. Just twelve months ago Guardiola was at his lowest ebb as City boss, but has carved a near-perfect team from his own self-doubt. He doubled down. Rather than adapt, he was going to go the opposite direction, and apply his principles to the fullest degree possible.

He has placed even more faith in himself. He was even more determined and focused and was ruthlessly decisive. I don’t get a sense of this critical self-awareness and the need for more determination to make it happen from Jose. You sense he’d walk away from the situation. In a startup, you can’t walk away, you simply have to dig in Best-fit: Pep

5. Use of resources Guardiola has built a reputation for helping players raise their game, but he also has a habit of spending more money than his rivals every season. He has already splurged £400m+ since arriving at the Etihad in July 2016. It is irrefutable that he has been able to buy success, working at three clubs, which have been in the world’s five richest by income and spending during his time with them.

He’s not so far from becoming a transfer market £1bn man, laying out £896.6m since starting out at Barcelona in 2008. Mourinho – whose £1.1bn expenditure exceeds that of any other manager – and Carlo Ancelotti, who’s shelled out £970m, are the only two who have spent more. The Catalan has laid out £99.6m a year on average, compared with Mourinho’s £65m.

Meanwhile, after the 2-2 draw with Burnley, Jose was bemoaning his £300m spend at United wasn’t enough to compete with City Best-fit: neither – both work with monopoly money, could they do it with the meagre resources of startup funding?

Mourinho is undoubtedly a successful leader, but not someone you warm too and doesn’t create a sense of loyalty and camaraderie in the team. Mourinho talks a lot, but is he really just saying everything he wants you to hear? His overtly intentional mind games and media distraction strategies have often dogged him. He’s strong, but can be self-indulgent, belligerent and dogged, becoming an isolated figure without affection.

Contrast this to Pep, always ready to motivate, his emotion and connection to his players from the touchline during the game is inspiring. He has successfully turned the team’s formation, tactics and training approaches on its head within a short period of time.

City play the Guardiola way with discipline, clarity and purpose. That would not have been possible without him first sitting his players down and helping them understand what he wants from them and he wants to play. The success they are currently having probably started at the lunch table and not on a football pitch. Creating this understanding, togetherness and trust are the essentials of effective startup leaders. I think Pep’s got it.