WHO’S YOUR SECRET WEAPON? Why executive coaching can only take you so far

whos your secret weapon

Pep Guardiola is THE hot leadership property in sport right now. He has arguably overtaken his arch enemy Jose Mourinho through successful tenures at European giants Barcelona and Bayern Munich, and is soon to head to the Premiership to bring his brand of management and tactical genius to Manchester City. With him Guardiola brings a brand of high performance and a trusted group of staff that he implicitly trusts, and whilst it is not uncommon for the ‘backroom’ to move with a manager, there is one man, Manuel Estiarte by his side as a trusted advisor and perhaps mentor who offers a different angle worth looking at.

Manuel Estiarte is not an ex-footballer, but was an exceptional athlete known as the ‘Maradona of the water polo world’. But possibly more importantly, his talent allowed him to experience 6 Olympics and their associated campaigns, enabling Estiarte to gain insight into a variety of high performance cultures. When questioned on the value of Estiartes, Guardiola says with honesty that  “When I’m going through a difficult phase, maybe even struggling with self-doubt he is there for me. He is the best in his field, an unerring instinct for what is happening and I value his loyalty, expertise and honesty.”

What’s most interesting though is that Estiartes prefers to keep a low profile. He understands the need to reconcile personal ambitions with the needs of the collective.* In his excellent book “Give and Take” by Adam Grant**, he uses an example of a little known member of the Simpsons script writing team called George Meyer. You’ll see his name in the credits, but if you were asked to give the names behind the success of the hit comedy you’d struggle for his. Being a writer is a competitive field, and yet Meyer’s fellow writers have said that “we need people like George because he’s not afraid to say, ‘No, this isn’t good enough. We can be better than this.’ It seems George’s talent is more to do with elevating the craft and the team rather than enhancing his own profile, just like Estiarte??

A Secret Weapon is an advantage. It is comfortable with existing in the shadows playing a supportive role to a spearhead or leader. In the case of Estiartes it is also someone who can offer an objective viewpoint and pragmatic advice, and offers insight into other worlds where innovation and advantage can be found. Most importantly his long association with Guardiola means he understands him and knows how to filter information with complete trust to the best effect.

I came across something similar when I first worked at Somerset CCC part of my role was to look at player development & performance pathways. English cricket and the county game is supported by the ECB who provide funding to the counties. This funding is primarily intended to aid the development of players who will go on to the England player pathway. The implementation of training and support services such as Sports Science is audited to make sure everything is being done to the right standards but what I also noticed was that the staff were following the same pathway; developing their skills and knowledge in line with the ECB requirements. It became the Holy Grail. Let me be clear, the ECB are leading the field in this development structure and it is impressive stuff. But I had a problem with this. My job was to play a part in Somerset CCC obtaining sustained success, but if we’re just looking at what the ECB dictate then surely we’re just doing the same as the other counties? So where do you get your advantage? How do you get the edge over your competitors?

For many years now people have been saying that I need to work in the corporate environment. And for years I’ve sat scratching my head, looking at the motivational speaker circuit or the leadership, strategy and management services offered by the ‘big 4’. I don’t understand it.

High performance is defined as ‘sustained performance above the norm’. All I see in the marketplace is individuals and companies offering ‘blanket’ or ‘one size fits all’ training programmes. There are ‘six rules for this’, ‘8 reasons for that’ and a saturation of articles from experts looking to publicise their ‘thing’. But does this really work for leaders? People at the top of their game, looking for insight & a trusted ear, don’t need a checklist they need an Estiarte!


* Exerts taken from “Pep Confidential” by Marti Perarnau, published by Back Page Press

** “Give and Take” by Adam Grant, published by Weidenfeld & Nicolson


©2022 Jon Pitts


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