By the time you read this, the final may have been played – but whatever those results, as a football lightweight, I was surprised to find myself gripped watching England play so well against Germany and Ukraine.
This was a team bringing out the best in each other with an extraordinary, level-headed confidence and maturity that I don’t associate with football. In a world awash with division and brash individualism, it was inspiring to see their youth and diversity, combined with their considered, understated trust in each other. This team arouse a national pride and human optimism that is more profound than any jingoistic nationalism.
In a sport not known for modest, thoughtful, caring and inclusive management, Gareth Southgate bravely demonstrates that you don’t have to be a headline-grabbing bully to get the best from people. “We’re a team, with our diversity and our youth, that represents modern England. […] Of course, first and foremost, I’ll be judged on the football results. But we have a chance to affect other things that are even bigger,” he said in 2018. He offers a refreshing contrast to some leaders; we could learn from his patient and confident decision-making, supportive relationships, and appreciation of the strength that comes from diversity.
I always wanted to manage my own teams like Southgate does, but lacked the temperament; I was too lazy or impatient to employ the listening skills his style requires. In my latter years, I mellowed enough to acknowledge my limitations, and learnt to listen, and to apologise (sometimes). The best I can claim is that I recognised my weakness in time, and handed over to a team with greater patience, organisation and consideration, who have been able to turn my aspirations for Riverford into a living reality.
Since becoming employee owned in 2018, Riverford and its co-owners have been through – and are still on – a similar learning journey, asking difficult questions about our culture. I can see now that skills, technical knowledge and hard work, however important, will never deliver enjoyable and sustainable success without good listening, inclusivity, and an appreciation of each other with all our wonderful human diversity.
For me, Southgate’s management is indeed about more than football. He and his team represent the diverse and inclusive, caring, considerate and confident Britain I want to live in. They give me hope.