Paul Tisdale…. Play to your Strengths

Paul Tisdale…. Play to your Strengths

Written by Tracey Duke, Photography by Olly Woodburn

As part of a new series of interviews for 2018, we’re continuing our quest to bring you the wisest of words from our most successful leaders. We’ve sourced a set of eleven powerful questions that are designed to delve deep, get to the core and evoke the rawest of responses. 

We kick 2018 off with an interview with Exeter City Football Manager; Paul Tisdale. One of the most experienced and respected managers in the game, Paul talks openly and honestly about making relationships a priority, about his approach to failure and about playing to your strengths. 


Whether with time, money or energy, what is the best investment you’ve made during the course of your career?

Definitely relationships! We’re all at the mercy of the people we meet in life and we’re either fortunate or unfortunate about the people we choose to spend our time with. Having the ability to commit to the relationship, not necessarily to get anything back, but to commit to a friendship with those who actually add value to your life, make you happy, teach you things or just give you good advice, is one of life’s best investments. 

The one thing I never regret, is meeting nice people. You can regret a decision you make as a manager or you can regret a part of your career path, but I’ve never regretted meeting good people. 

Which book has had the most impact on your career? 

I tend to lose concentration when I read, so I spend a lot of time with people in business or leadership roles, in conversation and debate, rather than reading. The only book that I have read and taken something from, was The Numbers Game by Chris Andersen and David Sally, about four years ago. It focused on the numbers behind the numbers; the layer of statistics that make the difference. I was very interested in that kind of thing for a long time and I took the book as clarification of what I do. So yes, it is a book that I’d recommend to people. I did also end up meeting the two chaps who wrote it.

Paul Tisdale in a woollen hat.

Do you have any unusual or absurd habits that you’re happy to share?

I’ve often been called an oddity and I have a number of traits which are seen as unusual in the football business. One of those traits is how I choose to dress for a match day. I see match day as a business day for the club and so I dress as such; it’s not unusual to see me wearing a cravat or a pork pie hat. 

It’s the not the normal manager attire, but I want the players to step up to ‘battle’ with confidence and style. 

If you could have a gigantic advertising board with a message to thousands of people, what would your message be and why?

In my business, the physical element is so important to performance and results but, in my experience, I have no doubt that ‘the mind leads the body, so coach the mind before you coach the body’.

How has a failure or an apparent failure set you up for later success?

As a football manager/coach, I live in a world that focuses on the bigger picture, but you’re also in a world where every match matters; you can’t take your eye off the ball for a second.

Whilst you can’t win every game, you’re constantly developing. It’s important to remember that losing doesn’t always mean you’ve failed; very often losing a game might be a catalyst for something else. You can go on coaching courses, you can learn about how to coach and manage, but actually learning from your mistakes and having the capacity to understand that they are mistakes, not failures, is vital.  

 Having a successful football team over a season is not necessarily about doing everything right; more about doing as few things wrong as possible. It’s not about anything glamorous or stunning, it’s not about finding a clever tactic. Whilst those things help every now and then, it’s about lots and lots of small things, done well over a period of time. 

Paul Tisdale being interviewed by Tracey Duke.

What belief, habit or behavior has most improved your life? 

Cross country running on Woodbury common. I see it as a form of meditation that allows me to get away from things. We’ve actually now got a cross-country club at work with about 10 or 15 people running either once or twice a week.  

It’s great exercise, but it’s also a great way of connecting when we’re more relaxed. We actually connect more and have better discussions on the mini bus up to the common than we do in meetings.  

For me, running is especially great when I’m feeling stressed. There’s a big difference in how well I run on a Friday compared to on a Tuesday; that’s purely down to stress. Without a doubt, making running a habit has improved my life drastically.  

If you had told me ten years ago, that I’d be cross country running, I’d have told you not to be so ridiculous; it would never happen. But it’s been fantastic for me and allows me to escape the stress, feel good and clear my mind. 

You have to find a way of being happy & energised; exercise and surround yourself with happy, positive, focused people who want the same. 

What advice would you give to a young person about to enter the real world?

I’d tell them to play to their strengths.  Don’t cheat yourself by thinking you can do everything. Don’t plan a career path too early and don’t be too clever. Understand what your strengths are and, whatever it is you’re doing, do it to the best of your ability; the progress will come. Don’t try to find a clever path, just give 100% to what you’re doing and enjoy it. If you’re committed and totally in, people will be drawn to you and you’ll get to where you want to be a lot faster than if you over plan it or over think it. Just commit and enjoy your life.

In the last five years, what have you become better at saying no to?

Ironically, I’m trying to say yes more.

I’ve spent too long being over analytical and considered. I’m naturally very pessimistic but I’ll go through all the negatives so that I get to a place of positivity. Then, when I present to the players or my colleagues, I’m able to present the upside & spin the positives, because I’ve done the work and eliminated the negatives.

Paul Tisdale sits looking serious.

Processed with VSCO with a5 preset

When you feel overwhelmed or have temporarily lost your focus, what do you do to get it back? 

It’s all about body language. You can’t be downbeat if your body language is up.

Don’t forget though that the toughest days are the best days, because it’s then that you have a purpose; especially in football where it’s like a rollercoaster. When everything is fine, it’s easy. But when you’ve had some bad times, some bad results, people can begin to lose faith.

Even if you’re overwhelmed, so long as you have clarity and you know what you want, you’ve got a chance. If you’re waiting for certainty to hit you, before you decide what to do, you’re beat. You have to get clarity and you have to accept that you might also get some things wrong. It’s when things are tough you have to remind yourself that they are the best days to get out of bed in the morning.

Keep up to date with Exeter City Football Club, visit

About The Author

Leave a reply

News Categories

Recent Videos