What are your ‘odds-of-success’? Reflecting on the role of adaptive leadership in Leicester City’s (2015/16) Premier League Title win

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

43 Downloads (Pure)


This article utilizes the concept of adaptive leadership to explore how Leicester City, a small, provincial football club, defied odds of 5000-1 to became only the sixth winners of the English Premier League. It examines two research questions:
1. can adaptive leadership be used to explain how the club developed the conditions for the team’s success? and;
2. what practical lessons can be learned from this?

Design/ methodology/ approach
This case study utilizes secondary material, published from 2011-2019, including interviews with players and staff, recordings of press conferences, club announcements, match programmes, books, magazine and newspaper articles, television reports, and social media coverage.

Adaptive leadership provides a mechanism for understanding the organizational change necessary for Leicester City’s title victory. Three core elements of adaptive leadership are identified:
1. the ‘change leader’s’ deliberate decision to engage others across the organization in a process of ‘intelligent reflection’, to identify the required approach to address an identified organizational objective;
2. an organization-wide focus on building leadership capacity, to promote continuous improvement through personal and organizational learning;
3. a long term commitment by the most senior organizational leader to elements of the change process, thereby ensuring new ways of working became normalized over the longer term.

Originality/ value
While theoretically well-developed, the practice of adaptive leadership remains under-researched (Yukl and Mahsud 2010). Leicester City’s Premier League victory illustrates several key aspects of adaptive leadership in action, in a way that many people can easily relate to. The efficacious and team learning aspects of Leicester City’s success story are important for organizational development scholars and practitioners alike. In summary, the key findings and lessons within this article can be metaphorically transferred to other team-based learning organization, i.e. including and beyond the world of sport!

Adaptive leadership; football; organizational change
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)(In-Press)
Number of pages5
JournalDevelopment and Learning in Organizations: An International Journal
Early online date22 Feb 2020
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 22 Feb 2020

Bibliographical note

Copyright © and Moral Rights are retained by the author(s) and/ or other copyright owners. A copy can be downloaded for personal non-commercial research or study, without prior permission or charge. This item cannot be reproduced or quoted extensively from without first obtaining permission in writing from the copyright holder(s). The content must not be changed in any way or sold commercially in any format or medium without the formal permission of the copyright holders.


  • Adaptive leadership
  • Football
  • Organizational change and learning

Fingerprint Dive into the research topics of 'What are your ‘odds-of-success’? Reflecting on the role of adaptive leadership in Leicester City’s (2015/16) Premier League Title win'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this