Book Review: Quiet Leadership
Are there lessons to be traded between elite football management and business leadership? As much as Carlo Ancelotti comes across as a decent and kind sort, I’m really none the wiser after reading this 2016 memoir come leadership handbook.
I suppose I had fair warning. Ed Wilson pretty much summed it up in his review of the book for When Saturday Comes when he suggested that its ‘wisdom is hardly revelatory, and neither are the anecdotes that illustrate it’.
Take the concept of the ‘leadership arc’, which opens the book. Sounds intriguing, and apparently there’s an extensive literature associated with it. We learn that the arc goes a little something like: courtship; honeymoon period; success (if it comes); plateau; cracks begin to appear; break-up. Hardly revelatory, indeed.
Going one step further, a key aim is to interrogate whether it’s possible to identify ‘key tipping points, moments at which the leaders themselves can alter the [arc’s] course […] by exiting of their own accord or by remaining in the post by changing the dynamic’.
The former doesn’t get much of a look in thereafter, but a multitude of tidbits are used to demonstrate how Ancelotti’s ‘Quiet Way’ approach might help a leader go about changing the arc’s course. Amongst other things, Ancelotti never meets aggression with aggression; always opts to find a solution to a problem, rather than seeking someone to blame; and strives to protect the team from the chaos at board level. All well and good but, once again, hardly revelatory.
A connected issue is that these tidbits are never systematised in a way that transforms the book into something more than the sum of its parts. While Ancelotti’s ‘Quiet Way’ is referred to throughout and a ‘Leadership Arc: The Quiet Way’ end of chapter feature attempts to distill key points, the addition of a summarising chapter or appendix might have helped to provide the reader with an ongoing reference source.
All of this isn’t to say that the book is a total washout. Episodes from Ancelotti’s time in the game, such as his reflections on what it was like to work for Roman Abramovich and his take on the relative importance of data and psychology in football management, remain just as fascinating four years after publication. Ancelotti also offers some interesting musings regarding the importance of club cultures and the role of the manager within the broader organisation. And yet the overriding effect of the book is one of bamboozlement, suggesting that the boundaries that separate these two genres are rarely breached for a reason.