x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

Football coaches demonstrate the art of leadership

One of the toughest parts of every World Cup coach’s job is converting highly talented individual players into team players. This is what leaders have to do every day – take individually talented employees and turn them into a successful collaboration machine.

Standing on the sidelines of a football pitch with the world watching you perform – and your team of the best players you could pull together – must be tough for any coach. It sounds a lot like corporate leadership – getting a group of talented individuals to work together while others are pressuring you (and them) to perform.

Being a leadership junkie, I am always watching how people lead and, naturally, I couldn’t help but observe a number of leadership lessons while taking in the Fifa World Cup. Here are a few tips that we can take from the sidelines to the boardroom.

Luiz Felipe Scolari, the Brazilian football manager, didn’t hesitate when he saw one of his players lying on the ground. When a weeping Neymar buried his face into his hands, the coach calmly walked over, picked him up and embraced him.

Was he a coach or a dad? “Big Phil”, as his players call him, is like a father to them. Scolari knew he had to be there for him in the same way the coach has been there for everyone else in the young Brazilian team.

In this region, this is what we call patriarchal leadership – the leader being a father-like figure for his team.

No matter what anyone says, the US team’s failure to defeat Belgium falls on Jurgen Klinsmann’s (Team USA’s manager) shoulders.

Forgotten are the 105 minutes that preceded the rousing comeback attempt in the final 15 minutes on the back of the youngest player on the team, a never-say-die moment. It was in those first 105 minutes where Belgium laced 38 shots at goalkeeper Tim Howard, getting 27 on goal, along with 19 corner kicks. Despite everything that occurred in those final 15 minutes, Belgium was never in danger of losing to the US.

Klinsmann decided to play a different line-up for the fourth consecutive match, benching the most reliable central midfielder on his roster in favour of a mistake-prone defender playing out of position. While it’s important to adapt your strategy and approach based upon market conditions, when it doesn’t fare well it’s only logical that the leader receives blame, such was the case against Belgium.

The US game plan was flawed from the outset and Klinsmann was not only incapable of fixing the problems, he exacerbated them at pivotal moments in the match. It wasn’t bad luck, it wasn’t lack of effort, it wasn’t even fatigue that cost the US a spot in the quarter-finals – it was the leader.

The social media sensation, Miguel Herrera – Mexico’s manager – in just seven months has turned Mexico around from a team low on confidence and lacking ideas. Mexicans saw a team that outplayed the Netherlands for large parts of the round of 16 game, drew against the host nation and defeated Croatia and Cameroon.

One of the toughest parts of every World Cup coach’s job is converting highly talented individual players into team players. This is what leaders have to do every day – take individually talented employees and turn them into a successful collaboration machine.

The job description for the Mexico manager has now changed. The upcoming task contains a whole different list of requirements. It’s no longer a case of rallying the troops, qualifying past New Zealand and putting a team together as quickly as possible to show heart and attempt to reach the quarter-final. It is now choosing and developing the most talented players of the younger generations, picking the right experienced heads to guide them along, showing patience, building a team and maintaining the intensity for four long years.

There is a constant need to adapt your leadership focus given the growth of your team. This will be the challenge for Mexico’s manager – building a team for the future; finding tomorrow’s talent and developing them today.

Just as Klinsmann said: “Every coach I worked with had an influence on what I am doing today. And I had some phenomenal coaches.” We can learn about leadership everywhere we look, even from the sidelines.

Tommy Weir is a leadership adviser and author of 10 Tips for Leading in the Middle East and other leadership writings. Follow him on Twitter: @tommyweir

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