The Klopp Effect. Lessons in Leadership

We all have people admire because they have great leadership skills.

For me I don't have to go any further than Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp. Despite being born a scouser and a red at the same time, I don't think I am biased!

I believe that leaders (and budding leaders) can learn a lot from Jurgen’s example.

This is a post I have been meaning to write for some time but the recent UEFA Champions League win has stirred the writing juices to make it happen.

There are many traits I believe a great leader has but I have limited it to these 10.

1.    Team player

2.    Humility

3.    Empathy

4.    Respect

5.    Growth mindset

6.    Authenticity

7.   Trust

8.    Relationships

9.    Motivation

10. Support

I believe that Jurgen Klopp demonstrates these in spades. I could trawl through all the match reviews, the press and the videos since Jurgen joined Liverpool in October 2015 to illustrate this - but I won’t bore you with that. 

Rather just a few snippets for leadership aspirations.

1.     Team player

For Jurgen, it is all about team. Assistant manager Pepijn Lijnders said in an interview with Dutch paper De Volksrant:

“Jurgen creates a family. We always say: 30 per cent tactic, 70 per cent teambuilding.”

A great example of putting the team first was Jurgen’s response when Liverpool captain Jordan Henderson asked Jurgen to lift the UEFA Champions trophy with him.

“I asked him to lift the trophy with us but he said that was my job”, Henderson said.

Other words from Jordan following the Champions League win summed up how the players see Jurgen.

"I've said this before, this isn't possible without the manager. What he's created at this football club - the team, the atmosphere, the players, everything at this football club he's created is unbelievable and this is impossible without him.

We all love him of course. He's got a special relationship with the players. If you ask the players that he's worked with previous they'll say the same. He's a special manager.

It's not only the players he's brought in to make the squad stronger; the players that were already here he's made better. There's such a togetherness in the group. He's created a special dressing room.

All the praise, everything, goes to the manager."

Jurgen 1 copy.jpg

Photo credit: Jose Breton- Pics Action /

2.     Humility

When Klopp joined Liverpool (9/10/2015) there was great fanfare and expectation of the extremely successful manager of Mainz and Borussia Dortmund. Klopp had already established his credibility as a great manager.

Yet on his first day he said:

“When I left Dortmund, I said it's not important what people think when you come in but what they think when you leave.”

He knew as a leader that it wasn't what he had done in the past that would leave a legacy but what he was to do from that day forward.

3.     Empathy

Many people are now calling empathy the number one leadership skill needed. Without empathy you cannot build a team and you will not inspire people to follow you.

The ex-manager of Manchester United, Jose Mourinho, when asked about Klopp’s success said it was due to the “fantastic empathy Klopp created with this group of players”.

On empathy Klopp said:

“But my confidence is big enough that I can really let people grow next to me, that’s no problem. I need experts around me. It’s also really important that you have empathy, that you try and understand the people around you and give them real support.”

4.     Respect

Jurgen earns the respect of his team because he leads by example. He doesn't expect them to do anything that he wouldn't be prepared to do himself. 

In a 2019 interview, Klopp was asked about his leadership style.

“I try everything to be as successful as possible. I live 100 per cent for the boys, with the boys, what we do for the club. I think that’s leadership in the first case. 

As a leader you cannot be the last who comes in and the first who goes out; you don’t always have to be the first coming in or the last going out, but you have to be an example.”

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Editorial credit: Christian Bertrand /

5.     Growth mindset

Great leaders create a no-blame culture. They allow people to fail and celebrate failure as an opportunity for learning and development. If people are not failing then they are not trying enough.

In 2015, when Klopp experienced his first defeat at Liverpool he said:

“It is not a problem to lose a game, it is football, it happens all the time but we have to learn the right things.

If we learn the right things tonight it is very important and then it will be good we lost.

At this moment I don’t know the reason for why it will be good but we have to learn the right things.”

He has also said:

“Players make the right decisions when they have confidence, when they don’t have it, then they feel ‘next pass needs to be the goal’ or ‘now we are under pressure and need to force it’. 

No! You stick to what you’re doing, try, try and try again. Each missed chance is not a failure, it is information - use it and go again.”

6.     Authenticity

Great leaders are authentic and their true selves. They don't pretend to always have all the answers.

Jurgen openly acknowledges that he doesn't always have all the answers.

“That’s what leadership is: have strong people around you with a better knowledge in different departments than yourself, don’t act like you know everything, be ready to admit, ‘I have no clue in the moment, give me a couple of minutes and then I will have a clue probably.”

It has been highly quoted that Jurgen refers to himself as “the normal one”. He has no illusions of grandeur.

Use of the phrase “the normal one” to describe Jurgen became so popular that Liverpool FC applied to trademark the phrase that Jurgen used on his first day at Liverpool.

He is also prepared to admit when he has made a mistake. When Liverpool played Arsenal in August 2016 he did just that. Reporting for ESPN, Glenn Price summed up the incident and Klopp’s admission.[1]

“Jurgen Klopp accepted responsibility for almost letting his side's "deserved" 4-3 win over Arsenal slip away at the Emirates Stadium.

Klopp's men took a 4-1 lead in the second half, and the Liverpool manager celebrated Sadio Mane's fourth goal by giving the debutant a piggyback -- but Arsenal pulled two goals back to set up a tense finish.

Speaking to Sky Sports after the game, the German admitted he had got carried away after the three points looked to have been all but secured.

‘OK, the Premier League has started -- nothing is sure until the final whistle,’ Klopp said: ‘I have a big, big part in the excitement of the last half an hour because it is not allowed to celebrate a fourth goal when there's still 35 minutes to go.

‘I knew in the moment, but it was too late -- I had Sadio on my back and in this moment we switched off the machine for a second. It was so intense, it was so wrong, it was the first game.’”

7.     Trust

A key to great leadership is to trust the team. In a Western Union video “The World According to Jurgen Klopp”, Jurgen says:

“I have a lot more information than I give to the players, not because I want to keep that, just because they have to play a football game, and football is a game and you have to play it with freedom.”

Jurgen trusts the team to do the right thing. He doesn't dictate the play.

8. Relationships

Great teams are built on great relationships and leaders help build these relationships. On relationships Klopp said:

“All that we do in life – how I understand it – is about relationships. Otherwise, if you only want to be responsible for the things you do and not anyone else, then live in a forest alone or on a mountain alone.

When you enter a room, you have a little bit of responsibility for the mood in the room.

As a football team, we have to work really closely together. Each of our players knows the name of each person who works at Melwood[2].

It’s not for me to create an atmosphere in a room - each person in our team is responsible for that. It’s worked out well. We all win for each other; we do it for (kitchen staff) Carol (Farrell) and Caroline (Guest), because we know how important it is for them. 

That makes it more valuable, more worthy. If you have a bigger group to do it for, it feels better for yourself.”

9. Motivation

Great leaders motivate their team to achieve great things.

The motivational talk that Jurgen gave the Liverpool players before the match against Barcelona where Liverpool went into the leg 3 goals down has become legendary. This is what he said:

“Believe - put it in your mind that you can do it

Boys, belief. One, two goals. Even if we don't score in the first 15 or 20 minutes. Believe in the 65, 66, 67 minutes that we can score. With Anfield behind, trust me guys, we can do it. We did it once, the Dortmund game, and we can do it tonight. Just show some f***ing balls.”

Liverpool won the second leg 4-0 to get to the Champions League final. That was motivation to win.

Jurgen 2 copy.jpg

Photo credit: Jose Breton- Pics Action /

10. Support

Every player, every employee, needs to know that their manager has their back. Whatever else is being said, the leader supports the team and every individual within it.

When asked how he makes his voice heard over the noise from fans, media and the like that can often be loud and unforgiving he says:

“This is very important. What we need to create is where they understand completely that the only criticism they need to take is mine - not because I’m the only one that knows anything, but because I’m the one they have to pay attention to.

I’m the one giving them the direction together with our backroom and support team. So it makes no sense to trust what people who are not involved in the process think.”

“There needs to be one plan, one voice, one belief. It will not always be perfect, because we are not perfect, but it is our way.”

Game score

These are 10 leadership traits that I believe we should all strive to attain and maintain. I should have made it 11 and added in humor just so I could say “let’s talk about six baby!


[2]Melwood is Liverpool Football Club’s training ground

Karen FerrisComment