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The walls within: working with defenses against otherness

Online Conference 5-11 July 2021

Its an Emotional Game: Learning about Leadership from the Experience of Football

Those attending this session are invited to explore some of the key emotional issues concerning leadership that have come to light during consultancy work in the football industry. The paper is based on an ongoing, four year-long, consultancy working with a professional football manager; and, more recently, working with professional footballers who are seeking to become managers. The main focus is on that aspect of leadership of the football manager that concerns the struggles associated with his process of managing the boundary between what is inside and what is outside: between what is in his mind and what is happening in the external environment, especially other people's minds. In particular, it explores the impact of individual dynamics from the perspectives of both the manager and the team as a whole. In doing so, it looks at the complex interplay of individual and task boundaries and the effect on other team members of the desires of both leader and followers. The paper will commence with an introduction about what we mean by affects, feelings and emotions. About how they cannot be isolated from other human processes. And, about the extremes - the highs and the lows - about feeling angry or feeling happy and elated. The paper is not concerned with an in depth discussion on 'management' and 'leadership' but to put matters into context will briefly consider what we mean by the terms. I shall also refer to the need for an approach which is based on 'learning from experience'. One important area that will be explored is a phenomenon which I shall refer to as a 'lack of self-perception': The inability to reflect, to look at ourselves, to perceive what is going on around us, and to understand what is happening. The experience of this intervention has been that the most important factor to produce a lack of self-perception is over-emotional involvement. This may result from either fear and anxiety, enthusiasm and excitement, over-involvement or alienation. Whatever the cause, the effect is a temporary incapacitation of the manager or leader's self-control leading to a loss of the ability to carry out the role of management or leadership. But, of course, we need leaders who are enthusiastic and indeed passionate, leaders who will encourage other team members to develop and to move on to greater and better things. In this instance, this created a huge conflict for the manager, which affected his relationships with his team members and caused him to struggle in an attempt to find ways of dealing with it. Another important and related area that will be explored is that concerning the struggles of the manager around his emotional involvement in task activity. An involvement that resulted in dysfunctional team behaviour and an inability on the part of the manager to be able to help team members. I refer here to the important concept of 'emotional distance'. I shall describe the anxiety provoking experience of the manager who through self-reflection became aware that being over emotionally involved was adversely affecting his ability to manage. Especially, regarding that aspect of management concerning his ability to provide containment for his team members. Only to find, that when he became less emotionally involved, he was then viewed by his team members as uncaring, rejecting and uninterested. Particular areas for discussion are 'passion' and 'vision'. For example: Where does passion fit into this? What is 'passion'? Is it simply an important desire? Is it linked to vision? Isn't vision a desire? Where does vision sit with the need for participation?