Will the Tractor Boys steam ahead with Roy Keane in the Driver’s seat?

Story by Ken Scully

When Ipswich Town reached second place in the Coca Cola championship recently, it was felt that the Tractor Boys could steam ahead and gain promotion to the Premiership. With Roy Keane in charge you wouldn’t doubt it. Or would you?

As a player, Roy Keane is synonymous with the great Manchester United teams of the 1990s and early 2000s. He played with United for 12 years and was club captain for eight. For the record, he won seven English league titles and four FA Cups with them. He was also part of their 1999 Treble winning team that conquered England and Europe.

Cult status

Any football fan will tell you that Keane was an inspirational leader for United on the pitch. To this day, he retains cult status with United’s fans. So what was is it about Keane that made him such an effective and inspirational leader on the pitch? Can it be assumed that such a leadership style will work for him as club manager of Ipswich Town?

Many remember Keane as a tough, uncompromising player. He was driven to win. Even referees felt his wrath – all in the cause of winning. He seemed detached in his dealings with the media. But I’m not sure that he fits the charismatic style associated with a Clinton or a Kennedy. [Or even a Mourinho? Ed]

Is Keane charismatic?

Riggio (2010) identified elements of personal charisma including emotional control and social sensitivity. Does Keane possess such qualities? Based on the above, it could be argued that Keane is not charismatic. However, further analysis suggests that he is. Weber (1947) identified heroic devotion as an element of charismatic leadership. Of relevance to Keane the player, is the concept that heroes should fight and be successful in bringing “benefits” to followers. Could Keane pass this test? Of course he could. His playing career is littered with heroic endeavours and success. Therefore it is not surprising his team mates put their absolute trust in him and regarded him as their leader. In analysing Keane as a leader with Manchester United, we must not forget that he was a player on the pitch and part of a team.

Sir Alex Ferguson was (and still is) the undoubted team manager and leader of the club, on match-day Keane was the leader on the pitch. Ferguson and Keane are similar in many respects, single-mindedness being one of their similarities. It could be argued that Ferguson encouraged Keane to be single-minded in the confines of the pitch. Maybe we should identify Keane’s leadership style as a player as being charismatic within a broader fraemwork of Distributed leadership.

Now he is a manager

As a club manager, his leadership responsibilities are now broader than that those of a playing club captain. He is expected to lead outside the confines of a football pitch and to lead various consituencies of stakeholders, not just footballers. Ipswich Town, a provincial English club, is no Manchester United, a leading global sporting brand.

Does Keane have previous club management experience? He does. He was manager of Sunderland but walked out on them in controversial circumstances. It has been suggested that charisma can be associated with obsession which eventually proves dysfunctional. There have been claims that players lived in fear of Keane when manager of Sunderland. (As a player at United we certainly saw him verbally attack team mates over poor work ethic for example.) Fear may be just about tolerated by followers in the confines of a match, but not something that is equally acceptable to those wider audiences.

Another possibility is to consider what has been called adaptive capacity i.e. the ability to change one’s style and approach to fit the culture, context, or condition of an organisation. If Keane adapts his style, my view is that his success as a leader could be enduring.

Tractor Boys to ‘Steam Ahead’

So can the Tractor Boys steam ahead with Keane leading them? Of course they can, but don’t be surprised if the wheels fall off, with the blame falling on the Tractor driver.


The post was developed by invitation from an assignment written by Ken Scully [October 2010] for the Global MBA programme at Manchester Business School .


One Response to Will the Tractor Boys steam ahead with Roy Keane in the Driver’s seat?

  1. Web Design CA…

    Will the Tractor Boys steam ahead with Roy Keane in the Driver’s seat? « Leaders We Deserve…

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