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José Mourinho’s Rules for Life

While I didn’t do a great job during my (very) short-lived career as a goalkeeper for my school’s soccer team, I still admire the “beautiful game.” Interestingly over the past few years, I’ve been more curious to explore the lives of the coaches, their track records, philosophy, methodologies than the team or its player’s statistics.

For me, the coaches are the ultimate leaders. A good coach can make or break teams, regardless of the talent and skillsets onboard. I’ve been a fan of Sir Alex Ferguson for ages now, but there’s one person who comes a close second — Jose Mourinho.

Mourinho’s name is synonymous to winning. Having followed him since his stint with Chelsea in 2004, I can confidently say that he’s been the key factor behind the team’s phenomenal success. After Chelsea, he went to coach Inter Milan, Real Madrid, Chelsea (again), Manchester United, and now Tottenham.

One can argue that the teams above were already doing great when Mourinho joined. And while true to some extent, I would say that coaching a team that’s already doing well is far complicated that a team that isn’t. But that’s an argument for some other time; this post is part of my Rules of Life series, which are notes from the Netflix documentary, The Playbook.

And we go with Mourinho’s rules of life:

1. If you are prepared for the worst, you are ready. I don’t think we can afford to be not prepared for the worst. While that might sound like “negative thinking,” believe me, the idea is to “prepare” for the worst, not to expect it. Preparation allows you to think through the worst-case scenarios and be ready with alternatives if need be. Doing so puts you way ahead of your competition who’s either expecting the worst or god forbid, have no freaking clue what might hit them tomorrow.

If you’re running a business, for example, know that there will be highs and lows in any given year. You’d be a fool to expect things to stay positive all through the year. The key is to prepare for the “lows” and make arrangements, so you’re ready to face it and not lose your mind.

2. Rules are meant to be broken. I’m a “rules” person and firmly believe everyone’s got to have a few. Understand that these aren’t the same as values, which don’t change but evolve or mature over time. Rules are explicit regulations that are put in place for an activity, practice, or an outcome. And since results are variable, stressful times calls for the rules to either change or be broken.

You can’t effectively lead if you’re bound by the rules that don’t make sense to your unique situation. The risk of complying with the rules, only to fail doesn’t make any sense. One can back off or quit, but that’s not how leadership works. The solution? Break the rules when you have to, especially for a cause that’s bigger than you.

3. The train doesn’t stop twice. I’ve missed my flights on four occasions and a train twice. So, I can tell from the first-hand experience that planning and preparation are the keys to your success as a leader. You can’t hope, pray, and rely on your luck to get moving from where you are to where you want to be. You’ve got to plan. Often, ahead of your competition and critics.

This is where preparing for the worst comes in handy. You’ll do everything in your power to ensure that you’re not scrambling at the very last minute. Because you know the opportunity knocking at the door may well be the last one! But you’re prepared — for the best and the worst.

4. You don’t win big things with nice guys. This rule is close to my heart because I’ve lost way too many opportunities by being the “nice” guy. And it wasn’t until my manager asked me to “stay within my lane,” a decade back, I realised that there’s absolutely no incentive to be nice to everyone.

Now, I don’t mean that I switched from nice to rude, of course not! But I did go from being superior to being transparent, direct, and speaking the truth, no matter how bad it sounds to the other person. That shift has been game-changing to my life — both personally and professionally.

I’ve also come to believe that leadership isn’t about playing “nice” but playing to your beliefs and values as a leader.

5. I don’t coach football players. I coach football teams. Coaching a team is an art. And it’s much more complicated than coaching an individual. While the professional coaching world has done a business out of the group and team coaching arrangements, what they don’t realise is that coaching a team is always mission-oriented. Meaning you’re focused on the big picture and helping the team arrive at that without getting lost in the details.

That doesn’t mean you ignore the laggards within the team. You bring them together for the ride while working with them to resolve their challenges. But you don’t go all the way to teach them the basics, like kicking a ball! That’s expected of them, and if they still can’t do that, they need to be replaced with someone who does. Else, the whole team suffers.

There you have it! Mourinho’s rules for life. I hope you found it valuable. For more insights, check out the documentary on Netflix. It’s fascinating!