Win Like Mourinho

Mar 22, 2013 1 Min Read

Photo Source: Ronnie MacDonald

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Success in your career is akin to success in sports. When you think of successful careers in football, one name comes to mind – José Mário dos Santos Félix Mourinho. Mourinho has built four high performance teams in the past few years. The moment he takes over the team, they quickly gel, start to perform and win trophies. How does Mourinho do it?

When Mourinho was asked what the secret to his success was, he humbly responded: “I pray a lot. I believe in God. I try to be a good man so He can have a bit of time to give me a hand when I need it.”

Mourinho may pray a lot but so do other coaches. Mourinho is probably the only coach who has a PhD, having earned it from Lisbon’s Technical University. But praying or having a PhD does not explain how he seamlessly succeeds.

Dr. Mourinho, with his trademark Armani suit, is paradoxical. Many hate him. Women seem to love him. His former arch-rivals Sir Alex Ferguson and Arsene Wenger moaned his departure. And in a recent AOS survey, Mourinho topped a poll of celebrities that most office workers would want as their boss. He won the poll convincingly beating Richard Branson, Barack Obama, Oprah Winfrey, Jamie Oliver and others.

So how did Mourinho have such an incredible career?


Leading from the mind’s eye – The power of focus

Mourinho wanted to be a professional football player like his father Felix. But he was so untalented that it ended in embarrassing failure when he was not even allowed on to the field. Mourinho quit football and went to business school. But after just a day, he quit and enrolled in a sports science course, deciding to become the world’s greatest coach instead. And since that day he has kept his mind’s eye focused on being the best coach in the world.

At Porto, Chelsea, Inter Milan and now at Real Madrid, Mourinho’s mind’s eye keeps him focused on winning. Even in defeat, he refuses to take the role of loser. Every team he has managed quickly bounces back from losses because their leader has his mind’s eye fixated on nothing but success. “It’s no fluke that after a defeat, Inter gets straight back on its feet. That’s all thanks to Mourinho”, claims Diego Milito, Inter Milan star.

In fact, winning is so engraved as Mourinho e
xpresses, “I love players who love to win. They not only win in 90 minutes, but every day, every training session, in every moment of their lives”. The entire team’s mind’s eye is focused on winning.

On his first day at work, he sends each player this letter, “From here each practice, each game, each minute of your social life must centre on the aim of being champions. First-teamer will not be a correct word. I need all of you. You need each other. We are a TEAM.” The focus begins on Day 1 and is not lifted till the goal is achieved. Are we similarly focused on winning in our careers?


Cycle of bonding

Mourinho creates bonds with every single player in his team and personally knows each of them. Mourinho is known for his great “rapport” with his players. He knows each player intimately and knows which button to press for each player. Some say Mourinho is avuncular and caring, others that he is an intimidating tyrant. Neither is true — he simply worked out how to use differing training methods for each player. “His training sessions are spectacular,” says Christiano Ronaldo, “they have great intensity but we don’t feel tired because we are extremely motivated.”

Every team Mourinho coaches, bonds like a family. Mourinho adds,

“You must create a positive atmosphere and make everyone feel part of the group. In this club, if you go to the barrier, the man at the door feels part of the group and success. The people who work in the kitchen feel part of this family. And I’m one of them.”

After each game, Mourinho congratulates and hugs each player. Few managers have this kind of close rapport and bond with their players. Do we have similar bonds with our colleagues in the workplace?



Research shows that teams perform best when their leader is a secure base. Mourinho was a coach, friend and secure base to all his players wherever he went. Even with personal issues, he was highly visible and accessible to all players.

The day Mourinho bid farewell to his Chelsea players, there were tears everywhere. He knew them all including their wives and kids and mentioned each one during his 3 hour farewell. He hugged and spoke to each one individually. Most would lay their lives for Mourinho on the pitch as Terry, Lampard, Essien and Drogba demonstrated by playing long spells through pain and injections.

Inter’s Milito adds:

“There is no coach like him when it comes to sticking his neck out and defending everyone, that way reducing the tension within the team when things aren’t going well.”

Mourinho is the players’ secure base. Frank Lampard attests of Mourinho, “I love him as a man and as a manager.”


Loves conflict

All high performance teams are faced with conflict. According to our columnist George Kohlrieser, high performance teams “put the fish on the table”. By putting the “smelly fish” or conflict on the table, there is opportunity for everyone to see these issues and work to their resolution.

Mourinho does similarly by constantly delivering feedback and performance assessments to each player. Some players may not like having the “fish on the table”. Joe Cole, once received some stinging feedback but took it under his chin and started performing.


Communicates to all

When Mourinho went to Italy, he said, “I studied Italian five hours a day for many months to ensure I could communicate with the players, media and fans.” It is said that Mourinho speaks 17 languages. He uses the power of dialogue and language to build common understanding of the clear goals he has set for his team.

A self-confessed fan of Sir Alex Ferguson, Mourinho not only became Sir Alex’s close friend but great rival. Their bond and dialogue enabled two strong-willed men to build a friendship in spite of their rivalry. Mourinho uses dialogue and language to ensure every single player in his team has similar friendships with him and clear understanding of the end goal.


Team self-awareness

Mourinho is a man who knows his strengths and limitations. He once said, “If Roman Abramovich helped me out in training we would be bottom of the league and if I had to work in his world of big business, we would be bankrupt!”. Mourinho understands what he is good at and what each member of his team is capable of. He works within the strengths of his team and gets the best of each individual.

Rui Faria, Mourinho’s trusted assistant added, “Every other top coach says they work hard and they prepare better than anyone else, but they can’t make what Mourinho does. Everything he does is better. He works harder than anyone else. He knows everything about every player and every game.” Mourinho knows every single player’s strengths and weaknesses. He knows how to leverage their strengths fully as a team and minimise their weaknesses. And every single player knows each other’s strengths and this team self-awareness is the difference between Mourinho and other top coaches.


Creating high energy leaders

“Players don’t win you trophies, teams win trophies, squads win trophies,” rants Mourinho daily. But Mourinho does much more than build teams. He builds leaders in each team he manages. At Chelsea more than half his first team became captains of their national team.

Leadership is needed in every part of your team. You cannot be a giant surrounded by midgets. When Jose arrived at Chelsea there were no stars – he fashioned them. John Terry and Frank Lampard were good players he turned into world class. Drogba, Essien and Cech were unknown players moulded into leaders. Building leaders is critical to your career success. The more leaders you help develop, the faster your career grows. He emphasises, “You must create good leadership with the players, which is an accepted leadership, not leadership by power or status.”

If we look back at our careers, most will admit that the period you developed the most was when a manager pushed you to your limit. Mourinho, more than anyone else, believes in pushing a person to their limits, enabling his team to constantly move out of their comfort zone and into a courage zone.


Final thoughts

Mourinho accelerated his career by being an authentic leader. He worked hard, was self-aware and had thorough forensic preparation for each match and a unique relationship with his players. You can do likewise. What are you doing to build your career?


The half-time coach

In March 2007, Chelsea was being outclassed in the first half of a Champions League game losing 1-0. A few minutes before half-time, Mourinho angrily stormed out. Chelsea came out of the dressing room a completely new team, winning the game. This happened numerous times throughout Mourinho’s career. Why does his half-time talk always work? He does not yell, he does not scream but he negotiates and influences his players to change.

“I asked the players to enjoy the situation,” Mourinho said of one of his half-time talks, “we had 45 minutes to change things, and I asked them ‘are you scared of it or are you going to enjoy it?’ Psychologically, I just made the players think a little bit.”

According to sports psychologist Andy Barton, “Mourinho will always look to turn a negative into a positive. If a team is 3-0 down at half time and the manager starts screaming about all the mistakes made, it doesn’t help. Instead he’ll focus on things they are doing right, and then tell them how they can turn the game around.” Mourinho is very specific about what is required to win and influences his players to build a mental image of what is needed.

Mourinho spends a significant amount of time preparing each player differently for games. He influences and persuades big stars to train and conform to his team patterns. He treats them all as equals. According to ex-player Arjan Robben, “He is a bit special in his approach to every game. Every player is very well prepared. They know their job. He is also very good at dealing with big-name players. He gets their respect. And it is mutual.”

“Man-management is about adjusting your style to suit the player,” says Tottenham’s Harry Redknapp. Mourinho prepares better than anyone else in the world.

Do you prepare yourself for your career and its challenges? Are you constantly learning new ways to influence your career to success? If you want your career to be as successful as Mourinho, make efforts to prepare for success.



Mourinho himself displayed great personal self-awareness when he quit football to focus on coaching. As a young boy, he gave up playing football as he was “useless” at it and resolved to be the “world’s best coach”.

This “quitting” is termed the Hedgehog Principle by Collins. It is simply about being very clear on what drives you and what you can be genuinely great at, and then relentlessly focus on that. How many of us persist with things we know deep down, are not going to lead us to success? How many organisations persist on doing things the same way? Insanity is doing the same thing but expecting different results. Once, Mourinho was termed insane for making all 3 substitutions in the first half of a game he was losing. Mourinho was just addressing the brutal reality of a situation.

Mourinho learnt quickly that there is no relationship whatsoever between functional expertise and managerial ability. Mourinho was useless as a football player but outstanding as a coach. A lesson to be learnt from this is that if you are outstanding as a salesman, you may not make a great manager and likewise. Do you really know your strengths and weaknesses? To have a great career, you need to know what you love, and do what you love. Do you understand where your passions lie and what your strengths are? Leverage them!


Roshan Thiran is CEO of Leaderonomics and is excited to see the changes in the HR function. To connect with him, follow him on LinkedIn or Twitter @lepaker.

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Tags: Be A Leader, Self-Agency


Roshan is the Founder and “Kuli” of the Leaderonomics Group of companies. He believes that everyone can be a leader and "make a dent in the universe," in their own special ways. He is featured on TV, radio and numerous publications sharing the Science of Building Leaders and on leadership development. Follow him at


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