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  • Luuk Jacobs
    Luuk Jacobs

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    Career management – lessons to be learned from the World Cup

    Another World Cup has kicked off and will keep many glued to TV screens for the coming few weeks. The games will be filled with energy, excitement, passion and possibly drama on the pitch, as well as in front of the screen.

     

    While we spend all this time watching the games, what are the management lessons to be learned from the games?

     

    The role of manager for the top nations has become that of facilitator

    The role of star manager is out of step with the times. The manager of today is someone who can keep the camp in harmony and instil a world class playing style that mirrors what players are comfortable with at more local club level.

     

    Most club players have a packed annual agenda of national, international championships and Cup games leaving little time to prepare for the World Cup tournaments. This means there is a lot more skill and experience needed to bring together a group of disparate (and often fatigued) players into a world class winning team.

     

    Styles have changed to suit this. The German team have reached five consecutive semi-finals at major tournaments playing technical, passing football. But in many respects that has been less a result of a manager stamping his identity on a team and more about him responding to a generation of talented footballers that emerged following the country’s youth development revolution at the turn of the century. England and others have taken note and ditched star managers on huge salaries for investments in coaching, pitches and classrooms.

     

    Take stakeholder management seriously

    Thinking that the World Cup is all about the games, the supporters and the players would be under estimating who else has skin in the game. There are the national football associations, sponsors, host cities and their citizens, non-governmental organisations and probably many others.  This has implications when it comes to bad behaviour and hostility.

     

    Prior to and during the England-Russia match in Marseille, a well-organised group of Russian hooligans attacked English supporters. Their self-proclaimed goal was to capture the status of “hooligan culture capital” away from England. The initial response from Russian authorities ranged from passive mockery at the expense of English fans to blaming the tournament organisers for failing to ensure security.  Amid initial accusation that this behaviour was encouraged by the Russian authorities, the Kremlin took significant steps to clamp down on Russian hooligan organisations and the Russian football authorities have attempted to present a more favourable image of their local fans to the world.  Equally England has taken its own measures and seized the passports of known trouble makers.

     

    Having the biggest star on your team doesn’t mean you’ll win

    The days are of the star player are numbered. Many a country in the past and today have had the biggest football star in their team (Messi, Ronaldo, Cruyff, to mention only a few) but  have not brought back the big prize for their country.

     

    Contrary, a team like Germany in 2014 won the World Cup because the coach placed the burden, the expectations, and most importantly their confidence, on the whole team. There were definitely stars in the team but not just the one star around whom the team was built. The strength came from the collective of players and the fact that when one struggled another player would step up (by the way without mentioning it or taking public credit for it). Stars will only be at their best if you they are surrounded by a cultivated team mentality that leverages everyone’s strengths.

     

    Leaders need to be willing and able to make the big decisions

    As no doubt this World Cup will teach us you had better choose someone as leader who’s willing to make the big decisions. Whether it’s deciding to keep the fan favourite on the bench, place a young talent in your starting team, or change the team formation from a defensive to an attacking set up half-way through the tournament, it’s these decisions that win games and championships.

     

    You need a leader who has the confidence to make them and realise that a leader who will make big decisions is not the same as a leader who will make the right decisions. Without taking risk is part of the game as long as it is not a rash one;  constantly assesses the situation, making the quick calculations, and act.

     

    Sometimes a huge decision may backfire, but not making them would make it a losing game. That’s what leaders need to do and the it’s the same in the business world.

     

    Overcoming adversity with an abiding passion

    For some teams, morale is devastated after a defeat but for others, it is just part of the sport and something to learn from. This was not the case for the Spanish Squad in 2010. They started with a loss against Switzerland in the first game, but they were able to build up strength and win the championship. Germany, the incumbent World Champion, lost its first game but they are known for their  strong morale, collegiate atmosphere and a profound passion for how they wanted to get things done.

     

    Disappointing results are common in business, but you can only overcome them if you have the passion for what you do because often it is passion that drives an entrepreneur’s vision. Apple CEO Steve Jobs commented on the high number of internet start-ups during the 1990s in the following terms:

     

    Quote

     

    If they don’t really want to build a company, they won’t luck into it. That’s because it’s so hard that if you don’t have a passion, you’ll give up […] there are many moments that are filled with despair and agony, when you have to fire people and cancel things and deal with very difficult situations. That’s when you find out who you are and what your values are.

     

    Meanwhile the World Cup is nearly finalising the first round and some of the above lessons have been brought in practise already and have secured a team a place in the next round where the knock out stage will proof that these lessons are even more valuable, something all of us have equally experienced in our jobs or in interview processes.

     

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