But leadership is also something that comes from within. Sometimes it shines through in a way which intensely draws the viewer to them due to their natural magnetism. Such is the case for Hereford Football Club Manager, Josh Gowling, who demonstrates gravitas as well as an enviable marriage of both natural and acquired leadership skills. Gowling became manager at Hereford FC at the beginning of 2020, mere months before the football season came to a crashing halt due to the COVID-19 pandemic. He recently spoke candidly to us about life as a manager, leading during global health crisis and what he thinks about schemes to encourage more Black players into positions of leadership within football.
Josh Gowling’s football career began at the tender age of 13 at West Brom. Now, just over two decades later, with a psychology degree and Governance Practitioner qualification under his belt he is putting the skills he learned both on and off the pitch to good use. Gowling acknowledges that many would have gone down the route of gaining coaching badges but the Hereford FC Manager said that he thought “it was more important to understand how people think and help people… just to kind of have a broad understanding of how to deal with people.” Which is also why he is currently taking time to complete his counselling qualifications.
Empathy and understanding are important qualities in a good relationship. The transition into leadership can be hard for players and the same is true across organisations regardless of the sector. It can sometimes feel like a betrayal or that the person going into management has left the others behind. This wasn’t the case for Josh who stated that the transition into the role of Manager was great and “the lads have made it easier” jumping into what he refers to as his dream job.
Challenges of leadership
When asked about the challenges Gowling has experienced, like many leaders, the inability to switch off was mentioned.
“As a player, you kind of just come train then go home. You don’t think about much, obviously, you think about the gaming of analysis stuff. You’d only think about it, and then all of a sudden, you go on to the other side of it. There’s stakeholders, and obviously, you’ve got to deal with the welfare of the players, and then you’ve got to get training, right. So there’s that, there’s a lot of kind of components to it.” Thankfully over the years Josh has been able to build up a network of people he can rely on for support and mentorship, including a mentor in Torquay.
Where success and high performance is concerned, both personally and for the Football Club, Josh believes in efficiency and time management. He is a strong believer in the need to have clear goals and targets; making the players involved in the process, creating a mutual buy-in. Gowling mentioned employing “three keys for success.” When they go into a game they identify the three things that will impact winning the most, enabling the team to stay focussed. They remove anything that doesn’t fit into those three things from the equation, eliminating it completely from the environment with the aim to create better habits.
One of the principles we work towards in Leadership Trust is the idea that you manage and lead in all directions, so as well as the ‘traditional’ downward management, it’s equally important to feel comfortable managing laterally and upwards. Being able to give feedback, request actions or ask for help is essential leadership skills. When asked about what Josh appreciates from his players, their ability to manage upwards and share their feedback was one key factor. He commented that “when you’ve got a core of established older players, they give you better feedback in the right way. And and I think that’s the biggest thing for us just to understand that you know, what you’re doing is right or wrong helps, which helps with the buy in of course, and also with training.”
BLM and the Rooney Rule
Earlier this year, around the start of the Black Lives Matter protests in June, Josh was interviewed by Sky News. He is one of only a handful of Black Football managers. When asked how it made him feel he stated “I’m going to be successful, regardless of the colour of my skin. I’m proud of who I am. My mom’s white, and dad’s black, you know, I’m mixed race, you know, get the best of both worlds, I suppose. But I’m not bothered, I really believe I’m going to be successful in spite of my skin colour now.” Going on to add that the stats on the amount of Black football managers is worrying and his feelings of scepticism around the Rooney Rule. The Rooney Rule was adopted by the English Football League (EFL) in 2018. It originated in America’s National Football League in 2003. The EFL’s Rooney Rule policy would require teams to interview at least one Black, Asian or Minority Ethnic (BAME) candidate for managerial positions.
Gowling explained, “I don’t want to go for a job interview just for ticking box size. I want to go for job interview, because I’m the best candidate for the job. But if it means that more people will get interviews, for more people to take them [BAME candidates] serious and understand that we’re all the same, then you know, all power to it.”
Something that has always been spoken about in Equality and Diversity circles is the role unconscious bias plays in the lack of diversity in organisations once you reach a certain level within them. Gowling agreed that this is evident in football, referring to the lack of diversity in senior roles even though there are many Black coaches who are qualified to apply. That people are more likely to hire or understand those who look like them which further perpetuates the problem. For Gowling one of the ways to end this is to increase contact between those in senior roles and BAME communities.
How do fix Leadership?
“So I think it’s about people from football clubs, meeting people of different cultures to understand that we’re all the same. And I think when they do that, naturally, it will just happen organically, and they’ll start employing, you know, Asian, black, women. I think contact’s, probably the biggest thing for me.
I think it’s just diligence and hard work, I think, and planning and preparation. And I think the biggest thing for me was goal setting so I think a lot of people set goals, long term goals, but then they don’t set the little goals in between to get there and the steps to get there. And I think that’s really helped me develop, you know, I’ve looked at I want to be a manager. So what does that look like? The end goal is obviously getting a job. But before that, what does that look like? So for me, it was my psychology or counselling, and then my coaching badges and then getting coaching experience along the way. So I think that and you’re gonna get a lot of no’s, you’re gonna get a lot knockbacks but I think when you have that clear vision of where you want to go. You’ll just keep pushing through and keep persevering and just be positive really and just keep going.”
Leadership Trust has been providing leaders with the tools they need to excel for over 45 years. In Autumn 2020, we pledged to have more Black delegates on our programmes. For more information on our pledge, take a look at our post, “Where Are The Black Leaders in the ?” here.