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Erik ten Hag: Effective Leadership In Transforming Organisational Culture

The story of Erik ten Hag's leadership at Ajax and Manchester United is a powerful reminder of the impact that effective leadership can have on an organisation's culture.

Photo credit: MARCA


As a leader, I am constantly inspired by the achievements of other successful leaders in various fields. One such leader who has certainly caught my attention is Erik ten Hag, the former manager of Ajax who is now leading Manchester United to great success. His story of transforming Ajax from an underperforming team to one of the best in Europe is a testament to the power of effective leadership in transforming an organisation's culture.

What Ten Hag did at Ajax

When Ten Hag took over Ajax in 2017, the team was struggling both on and off the field. The team had failed to qualify for the Champions League for two consecutive years, and there was a general sense of apathy among the players and fans. However, Ten Hag quickly set about implementing a new culture and way of doing things that would turn the team's fortunes around.

Change #1: Create a new team philosophy based on high-intensity pressing and possession-based football

One of the first things that Ten Hag did was to create a new team philosophy based on high-intensity pressing and possession-based football. He also put a strong emphasis on youth development, giving young players the chance to play and grow in the first team. This approach not only transformed the way the team played, but also created a new sense of excitement and energy around the club.

Change #2: Build strong relationships with his players

Another key aspect of Ten Hag's leadership was his ability to build strong relationships with his players. He was known for being a great communicator, both on and off the field. He would often spend time talking to individual players and understanding their motivations and goals, which helped him to build trust and respect among the team.

Success at Ajax

The above changes paid off quickly, with Ajax winning the Dutch league title in Ten Hag's first full season in charge. The team also made it to the semi-finals of the Champions League, where they narrowly lost to Tottenham Hotspur. This success continued in the following season, with Ajax winning another league title and reaching the knockout stages of the Champions League once again.

Ten Hag at Manchester United

Now, Ten Hag has brought his leadership skills to Manchester United, and the early signs are very promising. The team has shown a renewed sense of energy and purpose, and has been playing some of the best football in Europe this season. There is a new sense of optimism around the club, with fans and players alike believing that they can compete for major trophies once again.

Change #1: Clear vision and communication

One of the first things Erik ten Hag did upon joining Manchester United was to articulate a clear vision for the team. He emphasised the importance of playing attacking football and set high standards for the players. He communicated this vision clearly to the players, staff and fans. This clarity of vision and communication has been crucial in galvanising the team and getting everyone to buy into his approach.

Change #2: Building a winning culture

Erik ten Hag recognised that Manchester United needed a change in culture to get back to winning ways. He created an environment of high performance, where everyone was expected to give their best and push themselves to improve. He also emphasised the importance of teamwork and a winning mentality, which has been evident in the team's performances on the pitch.

Change #3: Developing young talent

Erik ten Hag has a reputation for developing young talent, and this has been evident at Manchester United. He has given opportunities to young players to shine and make an impact on the team. He has also provided a clear pathway for young players to progress from the academy to the first team, which has created a sense of excitement and optimism among the fans.

Change #4: Tactical flexibility

Erik ten Hag is known for his tactical flexibility, and this has been evident in his approach at Manchester United. He has experimented with different formations and playing styles to get the best out of his players. He has also shown the ability to adapt to different opponents and game situations, which has been crucial in the team's success.

Change #5: Building a strong team culture

Finally, Erik ten Hag has worked hard to build a strong team culture at Manchester United. He has emphasised the importance of respect, discipline, and professionalism, which has created a positive atmosphere in the dressing room. He has also fostered a sense of unity and camaraderie among the players, which has been evident in the team's performances on the pitch.

Key takeaways

So what can we learn from Ten Hag's leadership at Ajax and Manchester United?

Takeaway #1

It's clear that a strong and clear vision can be a powerful tool for transforming an organisation's culture. By setting out a new philosophy and way of doing things, Ten Hag was able to create a new sense of identity and purpose for the team.

Takeaway #2

Building strong relationships with employees is essential for effective leadership. By taking the time to understand each player and what motivates them, Ten Hag was able to build a strong and cohesive team that was capable of achieving great things.

Takeaway #3

It's important to be adaptable and willing to make changes when necessary. Ten Hag was not afraid to make bold decisions, such as giving young players a chance to shine, and this helped to keep the team fresh and innovative.


In conclusion, the story of Erik ten Hag's leadership at Ajax and Manchester United demonstrates the importance of effective leadership in transforming an organisation's culture.

Ten Hag's leadership style and approach have resulted in significant positive changes in both organisations. By setting out a clear vision, building strong relationships with employees, and being adaptable, leaders can reinvent their organisations and achieve great things. Effective leaders like Ten Hag can create a positive work environment that motivates employees, fosters innovation and creativity, and ultimately leads to success for the organisation.


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