Paul Warne: Leading with emotional intelligence
Written by Simon Austin — February 19, 2019
ON the face of it, Rotherham United aren’t one of the success stories of the season.
After all, the Millers are in the Championship drop zone after winning just one in 17. Delve a bit deeper though, and you see a newly-promoted side with a wage bill 90% less than some of their rivals who are still fighting for survival.
At the helm is Paul Warne, who has made emotional intelligence key to his leadership style. This is starkly at odds with some of the toxic masculinity we've seen in football in the past and the 45-year-old told TGG more about his philosophy:
1. Transition to management
Paul Warne: I was a fitness coach when I finished playing. I’d always treated the lads with the utmost respect, been honest with them and trained them hard and given them a lot of my time, so when I became manager I think I had a bit of respect. Still, the first few times I stood in front of them I was thinking, ‘are they sitting there wondering what this guy's on about?’ It wasn’t an easy transition, that’s for sure.
When I first took over as caretaker (in November 2016) I didn’t want to be called 'gaffer' because I had no intention of taking the job full time. Then I went back to being the fitness coach and they said, ‘what shall we call you?’ ‘Just call me Warney’. I’d played under John Sheridan at Oldham and we called him ‘Shez’, which was fine. Then in the summer when I took the job on full time, the staff around me said, ‘you’re going to have to be called gaffer - it’s a respect thing in football’.
With the lads who’d been at the club for years, like Woody (Richard Wood) and Joe Mattock, I had to say, ‘look, if you call me pal or Warney, you’re gonna get fined a tenner’. To be fair, I only got about 30 quid, which I ended up buying them coffees with. I didn’t pay off the mortgage, that’s for sure.
When I took over permanently (in April 2017), we didn’t have a lot of staff and were in a really bad position. It was really challenging, it was dark times for me. I found it really hard if I’m honest, I really did.
2. Liking the person as well as the player
I’m obsessed with the human being, so I have to like the person as well as the player. If we’re looking at a signing, it’s not enough for our recruitment guy to show me footage and say, ‘he can do this, he can do that’. I have to meet them.
They say that when you meet someone for the first time you make a judgement on them in about 10 seconds. If a player walks into a meeting with a bottle of pop or on his phone there’s a good chance I’ll walk straight past. I’ll find out about his family and his route through football - and I have to work out whether I like him and if the lads will like him as well. For anyone to be successful at our club it has to work in the dressing room, it’s essential.
Our team ethic, with our staff and players, is really close, so anyone coming in will have to fit that. For anyone we bring to the club we have to do as much due diligence as we can, because we’re not crazy with our spend, that’s for sure.
3. Everyone is an individual
Every player is different. Some can take criticism, some can’t. Some can take feedback in a group environment, some need it individually. Some learn by being shown, some by being told. Me and my assistant (Richard Barker) are both qualified teachers, so we try and cope with all the learning outcomes. Sometimes we get the lads to take the meetings, because it’s a more reinforced way of learning.
People forget that a lot of them, especially at our club, are young men, so they’re growing not only as footballers but also as human beings. It’s important we look after both. At our club we’re pretty holistic and try and support them. Sometimes, if you’ve lost 2-0 at home and the crowd aren’t happy, it isn’t easy for a young player to train and pick himself up.
Football management is definitely full of paranoia. I think I have less of that though, because I ask the players to be honest and say it to my face, the same way I’ll say it to them.
The message is, ‘We will treat you with the utmost respect as a staff and expect you to treat us the same way’. That’s the way I always wanted it as a player. We always tell the lads who’s in the team, we always tell them why they’ve been dropped. We always try and keep the message consistent. We always try and go through the same processes, win lose or draw.
4. Life outside football
I didn’t turn professional until I was 23, so I don’t really regard myself as a football person. All the emotional experiences I had before football helped me. A lot of lads here have been footballers since they were 16, at Academies, and it’s all they’ve known.
We talk about different things in life - it could be Martin Luther King or the NFL. Last week I showed them a YouTube video I’d seen about Shaq O’Neill’s relationship with Kobe Bryant (below), which was really interesting, and we discussed that. We try and engage them in as many things as we can, because they're still growing and learning.
A bit of emotional intelligence and being able to be self critical are qualities I want in the group. I’m happy to put myself out in front of the lads and encourage them to do that too. At the start of the season we talked about who inspired us and there were some sad stories.
I told them about my dad. He’s housebound now and can’t come to games any more. He’s on oxygen 24 hours a day and my mum has to do a lot for him, which is hard. When we played Norwich, that was a big deal for me, because all my family are Norwich fans.
Dad couldn’t come though, because there’s not enough oxygen he can carry to the games, so that was sad for me. I remember my assistant saying ‘just enjoy today’ and after half an hour he said ‘are you enjoying it?’ I was pretty emotional. I remember clapping our fans at the end and walking off saying, ‘I hope my dad is proud’.
Now I’m a dad myself I think about how much he’s helped me. When I played, he came to all my games, followed me everywhere, home and away. He was a massive influence and a massive support and I’ll always be grateful for that.
I always want complete honesty from the lads, all of the time. If they’ve got something to say, they can say it and know there won’t be any retribution or bad feelings. They always come in my office and tell me what they think. I always text them after games and tell them what I thought of their performances and we have a really open forum.
I've always been true to myself; I won’t do things for effect, I don’t act.
If I'm in a bad mood, the lads know about it. I played for people who would put on a front, but you can’t be consistent with it and the lads don’t know where they stand. I have faults but the lads can never say they don’t know where they stand with me. There are no grey areas.
If they let me down I’m not one of those who changes character, I just do and say what I think is right at the time. It’s easier to be yourself seven days a week than it is to put on a front.
6. Switching off
I spoke to one manager who said, ‘look, you’re gonna have to try and flick back onto normal life when the game is over,’ but it’s tough. January was horrendous, because my phone was continually going off and I put a lot of work into recruitment.
Matchdays are beyond intense. My missus reckons I’m on the 5:2 diet. On matchday I hardly eat a bean, I can’t, and on Sundays I just drink coffee and watch the game back. If you lose, you often feel like you need to work harder, but that can be counter-productive. You need rest.
I always try and work it so that Wednesdays up until 3 o clock I don’t do any work. I’ll try and convince my missus to come to the cinema with me, even though she doesn’t want to! Sometimes I’ll going to ice hockey, which is a breath of fresh air, but even then there’s a good chance someone will recognise me and say ‘how’s it going, Paul?’ I’ll always speak to anyone and am very lucky to be in the position I’m in, but there are times when I wish I could put on a false tache and sunglasses and fade away.
The work-life balance is tricky for a lot of us, I know. There are people in much harder jobs than mine who must have it worse.
I do try and watch my son train at least once a week and read to my daughter, but sometimes you’re a bit vacant, because your mind is on something else. That’s an awful thing to say but I’m being honest.
I said to my missus last week, ‘I wish I had a football button on the back of my head that you could just switch off’, but you can’t. That’s where exercise is so important. I run a lot and that’s my main source of escapism.