I think I’ve previously mentioned my wife’s uncanny ability to weigh people up in an instant.
She reckons she could save the legal system a lot of time and money by passing swift judgements on defendants without all those unnecessary formalities like facts and evidence.
(I think her technique may be based on the closeness of the eyes. The Giggs Principle, I believe it’s called.)
However, she’s confessed that even she finds Paul Lambert well-nigh impenetrable.
It’s hardly surprising, as he gives so little away in interviews. As Barney Ronay of the Guardian put it last August, “words gush out of Lambert like a bunged-up tap”.
Post-match comments rarely go beyond praising the players for doing ‘really fine’ and reminding everyone of where we were two seasons ago. At the Man Utd game, I made a rare purchase of a match programme to see what he had to say in his notes – but again, there was nothing of note.
Of course, we know very well after two and a half years that this public reticence conceals intelligence, astuteness, boldness and determination. In Lambert we trust to such an extent that while his team selections sometimes raise eyebrows before kick-off, they never raise objections in the stands.
(I also like to think that when opposing managers see his team-sheet and discover it’s not what they expected, they stare into the distance like Colonel Hall hearing that Sergeant Bilko has volunteered for something and mutter, “What’s he up to?…)
Indeed, Lambert’s reticence can itself be seen as a sign of his intelligence. He knows it’s not the main part of his job and not what he’ll ultimately be judged on. He doubtless also realises that outspokenness can cause unhelpful distractions. So, he plays a straight bat, gets his obligations out of the way and gets back to his real work.
Very occasionally though, he does let things slip out which offer clues to his personality. His comments after the Swansea game were a case in point. There was a suggestion of a dry wit in his remark: “I am only looking at Europe in terms of going on holiday”. And more revealingly, he spoke about the fear of defeat:
“The fear drives you on, once you lose that then it can come back and bite you so until someone tells me it’s over, only then will I believe it.”
A fear of failure has been the driving force behind many successful people. The advertising luminary David Ogilvy once wrote:
“The copywriter lives with fear… I have never sat down to write an advertisement without thinking: This time I’m going to fail.”
I may not have enjoyed Ogilvy’s success in advertising, but I’ve certainly shared his fear. And while that fear has its uses – it keeps you hungry and guards you against complacency and arrogance – it does have its downside.
Over time, it can exhaust and eat away at you. It can make you a difficult person to be around and to work with. Which makes Lambert’s revelation a bit worrying.
However… later in the aforementioned match programme, there was an interview with Simeon Jackson in which he stated:
“The way we’ve just gone into it fearlessly… It’s a brilliant thing to be part of and something you relish playing in. The gaffer has been going in fearlessly in games…”
Now, it may be a different type of fear (or the lack of it) that Jackson is referring to here: fear of the opposition rather than the fear of failure. But the manner in which the players have performed this season, with enthusiasm and enjoyment rather than anxiety and desperation, suggests that Lambert’s fear has not transmitted itself to them.
It sounds like yet another example of his management genius. But how might he have done it?
In my experience, there are two ways to prevent fear from showing and spreading to others: keeping your distance and choosing upbeat colleagues.
In the three and a half years that I’ve been working from home, I’ve found that I’m much easier to work with than when I was in an office. It’s much easier to fake amiability and reasonableness in an email. And if I psyche myself up, I can be all sweetness and light in a short phone conversation.
(Our eight-year old daughter does an impression of me taking a work call. It goes something like: “Yes, I can change that. No, I don’t mind rewriting it completely and taking out all the jokes. And when do you need that for? First thing in the morning? That’s fine. No problem at all. OK, bye! (Hangs up.) Stupid idiot…”)
I wonder whether Lambert is one of those managers who stays away from the players most of the week, then has a big impact on match days. I’m sure I’ve read that his mentor Martin O’Neill operates in that way, as did Brian Clough before him.
As for choosing upbeat colleagues, I usually work in partnership with an art director who is motivated by enthusiasm rather than fear. He plays Tigger to my Eeyore, if you like. (Those were actually our nicknames at one agency.)
If anyone knows how their partnership works, I’d be very interested to hear whether Ian Culverhouse performs the same sort of role alongside Lambert.
Perhaps I’m over-analysing an off-the-cuff remark here. But when someone gives so little away about himself, you can’t help but scrutinise the snippets at your disposal – especially when you’d love to know the secret of his extraordinary success.