Why Di Canio may be just what SAFC needs…for now

courtesy of bbc.co.uk

courtesy of bbc.co.uk

Why Di Canio may be just what SAFC needs…for now

Many a football fan will be waking up today to the news that Paulo Di Canio is the new manager of Sunderland Football Club. Di Canio is a character who splits opinion. A genius on the pitch as a player, capable of amazing skill; but a self-confessed fascist off the pitch who was once banned for giving a Nazi-style salute (he described it as a Roman salute). But what do we know about his leadership style and will it help Sunderland to avoid relegation with 7 games left?

Read a full review of Di Canio at his previous, and first, managerial appointment here . He was renowned for demanding very high standards of discipline, which could be broadly summarised in a tee shirt logo as “My ay or the Highway”. Di Canio’s time at Swindon was characterised by frequent outbursts, dysfunctional relationships…and success in the form of promotion in his first season. The approach used is typical of the Autocratic style of leadership, as described by Kurt Lewin back in 1939. And the Autocratic Style is just what Di Canio seems to exemplify.

The Autocratic style of Leadership is perfectly suited to situations where there is great urgency, and time is short. This perfectly describes Sunderland’s situation in the English Premier League today. So, he may be just the right man to help Sunderland avoid the drop. However, as he found at Swindon, he does not have absolute authority, so he is going to have to develop other leadership styles, maybe more collaborative. The smartest Generals, who are rarely on the field of war but observe from the sidelines, know that you need trusted Lieutenants to carry out your orders on the field. Di Canio will need to identify, or bring in, people he can trust.

Similarly, he needs to foster relationship with the Chairman and Board if he is to get the autonomy and funds he needs to succeed.

I won’t be surprised if he succeeds this year (though as a Newcastle fan, I hope it starts after the Tyne-Wear derby). After all, when there is a fire, you need a fireman to take control and douse the flames. But what about when the fire is out  and you need to win hearts and minds  and inspire people? Perhaps Di Canio could do worse that read a bit of more recent Leadership theory. I would suggest a bit of Kouzes and Posner  .