Mertesacker: I try to be authentic in whatever I do

  • Per Mertesacker heads the Arsenal Academy

  • The Brazil 2014 winner was interviewed on leadership

  • He discusses team-building and getting the best out of players

To cap off their 'Leadership Series', Arsenal's Performance and Research Team invited their very own Per Mertesacker to speak to a world-wide audience on video chat last week.

Mertesacker currently heads the Arsenal Academy following a distinguished career at the North London club. The former defender, now 36, won three FA Cups with the Gunners and captained them for several years. He won 104 caps for Germany and helped them win the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil™.

What kind of leader would you describe yourself as?

I try to be authentic in whatever I do. In every step I took, I tried to never lose myself. If you want to influence your environment, you need to be authentic, you need to be honest with yourself first. Wherever I go, I try to make myself and the people around me better. It's important as a leader to treat everyone the same, which isn't always easy. I want to be the same person in the boot room as in the board room.

What key characteristics have you come across that make a good or ineffective leader?

People who can reflect on themselves and try to find a way to get better is what I love. I am really interested in getting myself better, in being self-aware and reflecting on my own actions. Everyone makes mistakes or decisions they regret. Being a very rookie academy manager, I have learned how important it is to listen.

Less talk, more listening is what I needed to embrace. When you had a successful career on the field, but now need organisational admin skills to be on the top, there is my gap! It's about being around good people who can teach you a lot.

Now that you are leading the academy, what is important to build a successful team?

Today, academies have 100-plus people working there. It's a huge organisation, the amount of people you lead and manage. I want to stand for certain thoughts and beliefs. But doing that just for yourself and now doing it for others is a totally different perspective.

Obviously I use my experience and expertise about the game. But you need to understand how important people around you are to deliver your message, so it trickles down to the players. I am still in the middle of this very interesting process and every day single day I am thinking: How can I build a strong team around me, which stands for exactly what we need to do?

BERLIN, GERMANY - JULY 15:  Per Mertesacker celebrates on stage at the German team victory ceremony July 15, 2014 in Berlin, Germany. Germany won the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil match against Argentina in Rio de Janeiro on July 13.  (Photo by Alex Grimm/Bongarts/Getty Images)

How do you handle different characters, try to get the best out of them?

Getting to know people, understanding them, is crucial in my job. It's not always easy. I was very stubborn in my way for 15 years. I now collaborate with people who have great experience and expertise in different fields. My knowledge is very limited, so I need to find a good collaboration to make the best decisions. A lot of things come down to genuine communication, trying to find the best way of working together and making it about the players.

What would be the key message for future leaders?

I believe that we all influence each other in a certain way. Especially now the world shows us how important values and standards are. I want people to see how consistent and reliable I am. Future leaders need to be authentic and honest, to yourself and others.

What I see a lot in youngsters is the theme of blaming others for what happens in their lives. That's really dangerous. Everyone has dreams, maybe of being highly successful. I want the new generations to ask more questions. My challenge to the new generations is, and I haven't seen enough of that: Youngsters are now coming up into a very welcoming environment. Ask more questions! Ask Petr Cech, why he has been successful for 15 years. How are you doing it?

Leaders, we are all very open now. I was very open about my own struggles in my book. Leaders are vulnerable and always will be. Being open and honest with yourself and not blaming others are some of the themes I would like to touch on.​