There are three words I could almost guarantee will never appear in any sports journalist’s description of Roy Keane, Manchester United’s former captain: ingratiating, timid and shy. As a supporter of this great club, I’ll admit to having had more than a tremble of excitement when I learned that his autobiography had been leaked. Would it be the book of revelations?
But I also wondered what I would learn from reading his book, which has now been published. Here are three career lessons we can take from his latest autobiography.
Learn from your mistakes
An admirable trait that Roy Keane reveals of himself in The Second Half is his ability to reflect on his mistakes and his willingness to learn from them. In this respect, he is generous to the reader and openly discusses his mistakes and the lessons he’s learned, particularly from his time at Sunderland and Ipswich. He reflects ruefully on some of his managerial decisions – for example his decision to sell goal scorer Jordan Rhodes prematurely. He concedes that he should perhaps have given staff their bonuses immediately after a game rather than withholding their bonuses until the end of the season – this, he feels, would have boosted staff morale and helped them financially. He criticises his own team tactics but offers alternative approaches he should have taken. He reflects on the fact that his communication with key stakeholders during his time at Ipswich could have been handled better – again he suggests different approaches he could have taken. He talks about his need to be a bit “looser”, to celebrate victories such as Sunderland’s promotion more and to get over defeats quicker. Impressively, he paints a picture of someone who is not only willing to learn from his mistakes, but also willing to look to other people and learn from them- for example he observes that Real Madrid Coach Carlo Ancelotti manages to be both a coach and " a good guy".
Mistakes that are admitted are usually forgiven, and from my vantage point as a Man Utd supporter, Keane’s candidness and evident willingness to learn from his mistakes have earned him the respect and admiration of many.
Take calculated risks
Keane gives the strong impression that he regrets not moving to Real Madrid in 2005 when he had the chance. He talks about the value of hindsight and the “fear of the unknown” (Source, Daily Mail). There are innumerable studies which show that many of us lean towards a fear the unknown, and because of that, we cling to the status quo. This, sadly, prevents us from moving forward in our careers. In more technical language, we’re “loss averse” – we’re afraid of losing what we know, what we have, for what we don’t know. This prevents us from making changes, even when those changes are very much in our own interests. Keane concedes that a more positive, optimistic approach to the idea of moving to Real Madrid could even have prolonged his playing career.
Plan your career carefully
Keane refers to times in his career when he has been playing a number of different roles, and says this: “Sometimes I don’t know what role I’m supposed to be playing (source, Daily Mail).” Not having a clear direction of travel for your career can lead you to feel frustration, confusion or even, as with Roy Keane during his time as a TV pundit, “a failure”. A career path will give you a roadmap to follow to achieve your goals. It will help you develop the skills you need to make you more appealing to prospective employers. Knowing where you want to get to will help you make more logical job transitions. It’s important to take control of the direction of your career, so you are not left in the predicament of not knowing what your next move should be.
Great leaders leave their mark. To many at Manchester United Roy Keane remains a source of inspiration – a captain who worked tirelessly to keep his team at the top. But like many in the public eye, his mistakes and flaws are in public view. The best way to respond to these mistakes is surely to learn from them so that we don’t make the same mistakes in our own less public worlds.