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What can top execs learn from soccer bosses?

Paul Ellis,Pierre-Philippe Marcou | AFP | Getty Images

Compared to the stresses faced by soccer managers like Sir Alex Ferguson and Jose Mourinho, company bosses have it easy.

"No offense to the captains of industry but even a FTSE 100 chairman can postpone a board meeting. A manager can't postpone a football match and every match is a shareholder meeting, sometimes in front of 88,000 people," said Howard Wilkinson, chairman of the League Managers Association, a body representing soccer bosses in the U.K on Thursday last week.

It is these pressures, and the lessons that business can learn from the world of sport, that are covered in "The Manager", a book of management insights from leading Premier League club coaches. Mike Carson, the book's author got into the minds of 28 managers including the former Manchester United boss Sir Alex Ferguson and Chelsea coach Jose Mourinho.

Carson says that CEOs can learn from soccer bosses and told CNBC the qualities it takes to get to the top:

Managing outrageous talent

"Genius is a mystery and most leaders encounter genius somewhere but with genius comes challenge," Carson said.

The author claims that talent requires good leadership to see their potential.

Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho is good at handling big players because he "embraces talent" and "offers friendship".

Quoting Mourinho, Carson told CNBC, "'People say to me you can't be friends with players. I say you have to be friends with your players'. How else are you going to get the best out of them?"

Leadership in a crisis

Taking command of the situation even if you don't know the right course to take is crucial in a crisis, according to Carson.

The uncertainty in business and the economy resulting from the financial crisis has shown the need for strong leadership.

"Leadership is about leading from the front, not because I know what I'm doing, but because I am the leader. It is about moving forward together," Carson told CNBC.

Combination of empathy and steel

Showing understanding but making the tough calls -- such as when Real Madrid manager Carlo Ancelotti helped out a player through tough personal problems -- is a key characteristic that makes the top soccer managers and company bosses the best at what they do.

"The biggest challenge of leadership is human leadership from all business leaders," Carson said. "If we are going to transform an organisation you have to get to the heart of the organisation which is the people. If you can inspire and lead individuals, they will inspire and lead in turn."

Balancing stakeholder needs

Businesses have to deal with shareholders, customers and managers, but how can you please everyone?

A "shared vision" with the chairman is the way forward, according to Carson.

"There are a raft of stakeholders and the successful manager balance that well. They relish the challenge. They get their priorities right and getting a good relationship with the chairman is key," he said.

Ability to take perspective

Stepping away from the action and assessing the situation is crucial to success.

"The great leaders take cool decisions in hot moments, even while it is kicking off," Carson told CNBC.


—By CNBC's Arjun Kharpal: Follow him on Twitter ArjunKharpal

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