Are employees who revolt against their managers always ‘snakes’?

In his second blog on the theme, ULSB PhD student Rasim Kurdoglu explores the recent sacking of Leicester City’s manager and the suggestion that this was caused by a player revolt.



Is it justifiable to allow employees to revolt against their managers? Can subordinates question the skills of those who run organizations? In order to ponder on this question, let me return to the industry of football for a comparison.


Leicester City Football Club (LCFC) recently sacked their beloved manager Claudio Ranieri half way through a disappointing season. On the evidence of his press conferences and interviews, he seems to be a man who combines great humility and passion. He managed the club in the 2015-2016 season when the team became the champions of the English Premier League. It was an outstanding success for a club like Leicester City. For many, it was the greatest underdog story ever written and Ranieri was one of its architects. No wonder that there are plans to make a film about the little club that won the biggest league in the world.


Despite this success, when the same team underperformed this year and found themselves in a relegation battle, Ranieri was eventually removed from his post in the hope that this would save the club’s season. The glories of the previous year did not seem to matter anymore.


The decision to sack Ranieri has sparked enormous outrage, and a great deal of comment. The club is a big story again, but one aspect of this is particularly interesting for anyone studying management and organization. Pundits and social media are blaming the players for betraying the manager who made them champions. Speculation emerged in tabloids indicating that some senior players had talked to club owners and convinced them to sack Ranieri. As a manager, he might have been loved by fans for his character and for his success, but the players are said to have stabbed him in the back. Those accused of complaining about their manager to the owners are now labelled as ‘snakes’, a metaphor which symbolizes treachery. Social media is suddenly replete with snake pictures as symbolic comments on the news of the sacking.


It is questionable whether the players really revolted against their manager but let us assume that they did. Is that a morally unjustifiable act? Does that make those players ‘snakes’ who engaged in treachery? In any case, wasn’t the owner responsible for the final decision, whatever the players did or said?


Many other current club managers, like Antonio Conte and Jose Mourinho, have commented on the situation, asserting that it is entirely unacceptable to allow players to have such power over their managers. Fans and many pundits are also busy condemning the ‘snakes’. The players of course denied the allegations, and suggested that it was ridiculous to assume that players have enough influence to topple their manager.


Leaving the football pitch and entering the workplace, we can use this example to show us a glimpse of assumptions about what employees can and cannot do. It seems that ideal employees should be docile, have no real voice or competence over decisions that influence them, have no right to question the effectiveness of the management that they are exposed to. Performance evaluation is portrayed as a privilege of managers, not of subordinates. The managed must simply follow the orders of their superiors.


Following this logic further, the ideal employee is a soldier who fights for his or her army and never hesitates to follow the instructions that he or she receives, even though their life might be at stake. If ideal employees think that they are being treated unfairly, they should leave the company instead of complaining, exit rather than exercise voice. If subordinates complain about their managers, they deserve to be taught a lesson as trouble makers.  The deeper assumption here is that power should always be top-down, not bottom-up.


Oddly, organizations like golden era pirates actually recognized more democratic rights than modern corporations or football clubs usually do. We know that pirates used to elect their captains, as well as have a variety of mechanisms for ensuring a safe and profitable ship. Perhaps the reason is that they already recognized what could happen if one sails a ship with full of disgruntled pirates!


I’m not commenting here on whether sacking Ranieri was fair or unfair. Personally I was genuinely sad to see him go. Sometimes good managers lose, but most times, in most organizations, employees lose. It seems to me that managers should fight to win the hearts of their subordinates as much as their subordinates should win the hearts of their managers. There should be more balance here, not a simple rush to portray rebelling employees as treacherous snakes if they comment on the capacities of their managers.

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Martin Parker

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Professor of Culture and Organisation.

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