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One of the biggest differences between Brits and American’s is confidence.
Actually, let me rephrase that. It’s American’s ability to overtly express their confidence without any sense of irony.
I remember the first time I worked in the US and being shocked when I heard someone say, “I’m really good at my job”.
Now the fact is, they were … but that still didn’t change the fact I found it alien to hear someone talk in those terms.
Part of that is, as I said, I’m British.
Those sort of statements are just not said.
Not just because we are brought up to believe you prove it rather than say it, but to ‘big yourself up’ is seen as a sign of ego, not confidence.
That said, years later, I found myself making a similar statement about my abilities as a planner to a client.
On one hand I was surprised to hear myself say it … on the other, I felt a sense of liberation that I had never had before.
It might be wrong to say it, but it felt good.
It was like I was drawing a line in the sand.
Letting the other party know I won’t tolerate any bullshit so be careful how they go ahead.
And it worked.
You’d think with that, I’d of said it again, but I haven’t.
Part of this is because there’s been few times where it was even called for, but the other part is that I still feel it’s a massive statement of ego.
And then I watched this.
Yes, it’s Brian Clough making his now infamous interview after being fired by Leeds United after just 44 days in management.
It was this event that led him to becoming manager of Nottingham Forest where he went on to change the history of the club – and my childhood – forever, but that’s not the point of this post, the point is what he says between 18 minutes 50 seconds and 19 minutes 50 seconds.
It may be worth going back to watch those 60 seconds.
For me, the bit that is the most powerful is when he say’s to Don Revie – the incredibly successful manager he replaced at Leeds – “I wanted to do that and I wanted to do it better than you”.
OK, so it’s not exactly the same as saying “I’m really good at my job” because lets face it, he’s not talking about his abilities but his hopes, but still … to say this on television having just been fired from his job is a massive statement of self belief.
But what I love the most is that he said he wanted to win ‘better’ rather than ‘more’.
That for him success, wasn’t purely about quantity, but quality.
In essence, he’s saying his standards are even higher than the person before him … the person who won so much with pretty much the same team.
That’s ballsy in itself, but to say it to the face of the previous manager is potentially suicidal.
Now the fact he had achieved incredible success prior to Leeds with Derby County meant he couldn’t simply be labelled an egomaniac … and the fact he then went on to achieve even greater success with my beloved Nottingham Forest meant he proved to be someone truly special in Football Management … but as this sort of behaviour is very ‘un-British’ – especially back in the 1970’s – I wonder if his approach acted as some sort of self-inspiration.
That the fear of public ridicule drove him further rather than held him back?
That being outspoken was his insurance policy of giving it his best shot.
On face value this is quite an American way to behave but I think there’s a difference.
You see in America, I feel the focus is not just about the end result of your ambitions but acting ambitious.
It’s almost as if being humble means you’re seen as lacking the drive to succeed so people don’t believe in you.
Of course that’s not really true, but it just comes across that way. At least to me.
But in the UK, it’s different.
If you say something, you’re judged by it.
It’s why we are deeply skeptical of people who talk a big game but haven’t yet achieved stuff. We tend to view those people as loud-mouthed wankers rather than people we can believe in … and yet Clough was adored.
Sure, some regarded him as a walking egomaniac, but generally he was loved by the British public.
Again, part of that was because he had won stuff, so he could back up his claims … the other was that he tended to talk in terms of ‘hopes’ rather than ‘ambitions’ which meant it was more about what he’d like to happen rather than stating what will happen [a subtle, but important difference] and finally it was because he was slightly eccentric [See below *] so he could defuse situations as quickly as he could ignite them.
But, in my opinion, the secret to his success is that his outspokenness wasn’t to impress or shock others, but to push himself to succeed.
By knowing the skepticism the British have for big talkers, he knew that once his words left his gob, he was going to be judged and that gave him the fire he needed to push harder and go further.
Not just to win, but to win right … which in my opinion was to ‘succeed in a way that earned his team the respect from the opposition and their fans’.
In a World where winning is judged by speed, I love that he – and years later, the technical director of the Belgium football team – saw the value in craft.
There’s a lot we can learn from Clough, of which expressing your hopes – especially if you’re British – is one of them.
* When Brian Clough bought Trevor Francis – the first 1 million pound footballer in England – he turned up to the press conference holding his badminton racquet, claiming he had just come from a game.
It’s said the reason he did this was that he didn’t want his new signing to feel extra pressure to live up to his price tag by the press so he ensured their focus would be drawn towards the eccentricity of his actions.
If you like that story, then you have to watch the documentary ‘I Believe In Miracles’.
It chronicles Forest’s amazing rise from second division averageness to Kings of Europe and – arguably – the World, between the years of 1977 and 1981.
For me, it was a trip down memory lane, for you, it might just be a very entertaining 90 minutes.
To tempt you, here’s the trailer:
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