Alex Ferguson on the Power of Observation

Image source:  mike.thomson75
Image source: mike.thomson75

I read a Harvard Business Review article on Sir Alex Ferguson’s management career last week. He was the manager of Manchester United for 26 years (1986-2013) and he is also the most successful manager in English Football history. His management methods are currently being studied by MBA students at Harvard Business School. The HBR article titled ‘Ferguson’s Formula‘ focuses on Ferguson’s 8 management principles.  I will focus on just one in this post.

Ferguson talked about the role of observation in his management career.”Observation is the final part of my management structure” Ferguson said. “I don’t think many people fully understand the value of observing. I came to see observation as a critical part of my management skills. The ability to see things is key—or, more specifically, the ability to see things you don’t expect to see.” Ferguson delegated training sessions to his assistant coaches so that he could spend time watching and observing his players from the sidelines.

 “We cannot create observers by saying ‘observe,’ but by giving them the power and the means for this observation and these means are procured through education of the senses Maria Montessori.

By delegating the hands-on coaching to his assistants, Ferguson was able to educate his observational senses to pick up those intangibles that allowed him to better evaluate his players and their performances. “As a coach on the (training) field, you don’t see everything,” Ferguson said. “A regular observer, however, can spot changes in training patterns, energy levels, and work rates. The key is to delegate the direct supervision to others and trust them to do their jobs, allowing the manager to truly observe.”

Educating your observational senses will also benefit you in your own career if you are willing to put in the time and discipline to develop them.

4 replies on “Alex Ferguson on the Power of Observation”

Thank you for this! It would be very helpful to dig more into the “observational skills” further. Does anyone other manager employ this skill? How does one build up their observational skills?

Intriguing read on a phenomenal person!


The HBR article doesn’t state how Ferguson developed his observational senses/skills. This might be explained in his new autobiography which came out this week. I plan to get it later in the year and will update this blog post if I uncover any new information in the book.
On other managers, I am not aware of any who delegates his coaching duties for observational purposes but then again Ferguson is very unique in terms of the level of control he had at Manchester United compared to other football managers at their clubs.

Please share your comments on this post

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.