The Secret Behind Jürgen Klopp’s Dominance – A Story of Transformational Leadership

In this article we will explore the reason for Klopp’s success as Liverpool Manager over the past few seasons, specifically in relation to his leadership style.

Irrespective of football knowledge and experience, being an effective leader is quite simply one of the most important factors of being a successful Premier League manager – as demonstrated with many other legendary managers, namely, Sir Alex Ferguson.

Hopefully this article will give you some insight into why Klopp is one of the very best leaders in world Football, and may perhaps help you to be a more effective leader in your own chosen domain.

As I am a Sport Psychology graduate, I will first cover the theory of ‘transformational leadership’, before dissecting how Klopp embodies this leadership style.

What is ‘Transformational Leadership’?

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Definitions

Transformational Leadership “involves the building of relationships with followers based on personal, emotional, and inspirational exchanges, with the goal of developing followers to their fullest potential” (Callow, Smith, Hardy, Arthur, & Hardy, 2009, p. 396).

This is a direct antithesis of transactional leadership, which “involves exchange processes between leaders and followers, with followers receiving direct rewards (and punishments) for their work” (Callow et al., 2009, p. 396).

In other words, transformational leadership is less concerned with directly rewarding or punishing behaviours, and is instead aimed at fostering cohesive relationships, promoting team values and identities, and inspiring the individual players to constantly improve and contribute to the team.

An example of a transactional leader is Jose Mourinho. He often publicly states that he will drop underperforming players and promote players that find form:

“So the word is not rotation, it’s an opportunity for people to play and to try to get a place in the team for Spurs and if some of the guys that played against West Brom don’t have a place in that team, they don’t have a place in that team.”

Whilst Mourinho has had success to date as a transactional leader, this leadership style does not work as effectively long-term and the players will only respond to direct rewards/punishments for a certain length of time.

This is likely why players often turn against him toward the end of his reigns, and why his spell at clubs usually last no longer than a few years!

Specific Components of Transformational Leadership

Transformational leadership can be broken down into four key behaviours, known as the four “Is” (Bass, 1985; Price & Weiss, 2012):

  1. Individualised consideration – this refers to the ability to consider players’ individual needs, and make sure there are regular one-on-one meetings. Each player should view the leader as their ‘mentor’ and feel individually appreciated.
  2. Intellectual stimulation – this refers to the leader’s ability to encourage player creativity, and encourage those below him to develop their own identity. This is critical as it allows players to adapt and manoeuvre difficult emotional and physical challenges.
  3. Inspirational motivation – this refers to the ability to inspire and motivate the players, especially at a ‘team level’. Creating visions and team goals that can be followed at a mass level, with individual goals created within the general structure of the group. This will improve overall commitment to the team and club.
  4. Idealised influence – this refers to the way in which transformational leaders exert their influence within a group. They provide a sense of belonging which encourages players to buy into the long-term objectives of the organisation, and drives them to achieve their own goals.  They are also known for setting examples themselves, and for modelling behaviours or values – ‘do as I do not as I say’ – in other words, they ‘walk the walk’. The best way to sum up this final element, is that the leader serves as a ‘role model’.

Therefore, to summarise, leaders with a transformational leadership style are able to consider their players’ individual needs, encourage player freedom and creativity, inspire and motivate their players at individual and team levels, and lead by example in order to increase commitment and a sense of belonging to the group.

Is anyone already spotting the striking similarities between a transformational leadership style and Jürgen Klopp’s management style?

What is the Outcome of Effective Transformational Leadership?

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So we have discussed what a ‘transformational leadership style’ entails, and alluded at some advantages of adopting this style.

In fact, this is style of leadership is supported by scientific evidence. Research has found specific direct positive outcomes associated with a transformational leadership style, including:

  1. Improved motivation levels (Bass & Riggio, 2006). Due to the setting of team goals, the individual one-on-one meetings, and the faith the leader shows in his players, transformational leaders inspire the players to constantly improve and help the team.
  2. Improved commitment to the cause (Korek, Felfe, & Zaepernick-Rothe, 2010). Transformational leadership has been shown to increase ‘affective commitment’ to the cause. This means that players are much more emotionally attached to the club and to the team, and this is clear to see in the current Liverpool squad!
  3. Improved overall satisfaction (Kao & Tsai, 2016). This is an obvious and simple outcome, players generally feel happier playing under a manager that is transformational, as opposed to transactional!
  4. Improved team communication/cohesion (Cronin, Arthur, Hardy, & Callow, 2015). Players will communicate better and work better as a team due to the emphasis on team goals, and due to each member feeling individually appreciated.
  5. Increased likelihood to do more than originally expected (Bass, 1985). Players are likely to feel empowered and be far more aware of the importance of the task at a team level, and as such are more likely to value the task and overall vision (Smith, Arthur, Hardy, Callow, & Williams, 2013).
  6. Better overall performance in the specific domain (Charbonneau, Barling, & Kelloway (2001). As well as increased commitment and happiness, players generally will perform better when supported in a transformational fashion – again, clear by the improvement in performance from the current Liverpool team!

[If you want to read in more detail, the title of the articles referenced above can found at the bottom of the article. Furthermore, there are hundreds of additional articles on this topic too, so a quick search on ‘Google Scholar’ will give you plenty more to read.]

NOW… Let’s link this successful leadership style to the mastermind of Jürgen Klopp.

How is Jürgen Klopp a ‘Transformational Leader’?

Photo Credit: https://www.anfieldwatch.co.uk/video-beautiful-drawing-of-jordan-henderson-and-jurgen-klopp/

In this final section I will dissect some quotes from Jürgen Klopp over the past few seasons, and explain how they demonstrate the four elements (four Is) of effective transformational leadership.

1) Individualised Consideration

The first two quotes encompass the part of transformational leadership known as ‘individualised consideration’.

Klopp is focused much more on the ability to build relationships with his players than their ability as footballers. He treats them as human beings and builds from a high level of happiness and satisfaction.

More specifically, he is able to consider the players’ individual needs and is successfully empathetic in the face of adversity. Further, he understands the importance of one-on-one meetings, which is apparent in his relationship with his players.

Here are some quotes to demonstrate this first element:

1.“It’s really very important that you are empathetic, that you try to understand the people around you, and that you give real support to the people around you. Then everybody can act.”

2. “You learn more about your players each day, and you know how to treat them, and how to deal with them. A lot happens in one-on-one talks actually.”

3. “All that we do in life – how I understand it – is about relationships… as a football team we have to work really close together. Each player knows each name of each person that works at Melwood.”

This is supported by Pepijn Lijnders (Liverpool Assistant Manager), who said that:

“Jurgen creates a family. We always say: 30 per cent tactic, 70 per cent teambuilding,”

Here, once again, the emphasis is on fostering positive interpersonal relationships, personal satisfaction and team cohesion. For Klopp and Liverpool, it is much more than just Football, it is a way of life.

This individualised consideration also explains why Klopp is able to remain popular and successful over longer periods, as players’ satisfaction will remain high even if the team is not performing well!

Photo Credit: https://www.liverpoolfc.com/news/first-team/368238-trent-alexander-arnold-on-jurgen-klopp

2) Intellectual Stimulation

Klopp is also renowned for encouraging ‘intellectual stimulation’, that being, encouraging creativity and freedom in his players, another aspect of the ‘four Is’.

Klopp makes sure not to overwhelm his players with instructions and information, and allows them the ability to express themselves. This increases individual satisfaction and fosters a fluid style of football, as demonstrated successfully in his front three of Mo, Mane and Bobby.

“I have a lot more information than I give to the players. Not because I want to keep that, just because they have to play a football game, and football is a game.”

He could give his players more information and instructions, but instead refrains as he wants them to be able to express themselves as individuals.

3) Inspirational Motivation

How does Klopp deliver ‘inspirational motivation’? How does he create a vision?

Klopp often talks about the future and his visions, but does so in a fashion whereby the vision is a general goal related to success and positivity, for example:

“The plan is to make it the best time of our lives… we feel like we can do even better, so let’s try to do that and enjoy the ride”.

With Klopp, one can often sense that he is always focused on the betterment of the club and his players, and this enhances the players’ commitment to the vision that he is creating.

He rarely points at specific targets such as ‘winning the league’, and is instead focused on improving as a club and enjoying the journey!

4) Idealised Influence

Lastly, Klopp ‘walks the walk’. In the aforementioned four Is, we mentioned ‘idealised influence’, whereby the manager demonstrates the behaviours he is asking for himself, and this is perhaps Klopp’s biggest strength:

“I live 100 per cent for the boys, with the boys, what we do for the club and all that stuff… as a leader you cannot be the last who comes in and the first that goes out… you have to be an example as well, that’s how it is”.

Yes, he is a leader, but he will never be seen to simply tell the players what they should be doing, he will instead show them! What a brilliant leader he really is!

Conclusions

Therefore, it is clear to see that Klopp demonstrates all four of the key components of transformational leadership, and this fosters personal satisfaction, team cohesion, and ultimately, effective performance on the football pitch.

This article should not take away from his footballing genius, but hopefully it has demonstrated the importance of a transformational leadership style, above and beyond traditional transactional leadership styles.

Getting the most from your team is ultimately the main job of any leader, not just in the sporting domain, and Jürgen Klopp has certainly managed to perfect that.

References

Bass, B. M. (1985). Leadership and performance beyond expectations. New York, NY: Free Press.

Bass, B. M., & Riggio, R. E. (2006). Transformational Leadership (2nd ed.). Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum.

Callow, N., Smith, M. J., Hardy, L., Arthur, C. A., & Hardy, J. (2009). Measurement of transformational leadership and its relationship with team cohesion and performance level. Journal of Applied Sport Psychology, 21(4), 395-412.

Charbonneau, D., Barling, J., & Kelloway E. K. (2001). Transformational Leadership and sports performance: the mediating role of intrinsic motivation. Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 31(7), 1521-1534

Cronin, L. D., Arthur, C. A., Hardy, J., & Callow, N. (2016). Transformational leadership and task cohesion in sport: the mediating role of inside sacrifice. Journal of Sport and Exercise Psychology, 37, 23-36.

Kao, S. F., & Tsai, C. Y. (2016). Transformational leadership and athlete satisfaction: the mediating role of coaching competency. Journal of Applied Sport Psychology, 28, 469-482.

Korek, S., Felfe, J., & Zaepernick-Rothe, U. (2010). Transformational leadership and commitment: a multilevel analysis of group-level influences and mediating processes. European Journal of Work and Organizational Psychology, 19, 364-387.

Price, M. S., & Weiss, M. R. (2012). Relationships among coach leadership, peer leadership, and adolescent athletes’ psychosocial and team outcomes, a test of transformational leadership theory. Journal of Applied Sport Psychology, 25(2), 265-279.

Smith, M. J., Arthur, C. A., Hardy, J., Callow, N., & Williams, D. (2013). Transformational leadership and task cohesion in sport: the mediating role of intrateam communication. Psychology of Sport and Exercise, 14, 249-257.

*Photo Credit: https://www.thestatesman.com/*

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