As a soccer enthusiast, I find myself dealing with withdrawal symptoms after the end of the exciting World Cup in Russia in June. The whole contest, and especially the final game, had many notable examples of good leadership. I distilled these examples into five lessons:
Lesson I: It is not about you! One player does not make a team.
Every team with a big name super star like Lionel Messi, Christiano Ronaldo, Neymar, and Mohamed Salah was out early in the contest. Success in soccer results from the cohesion of talent. In other words, it takes a TEAM to win and not the super efforts of one person. It takes offense and defense to win the game. Everyone on the team has to be great – not just one or two players. You need a great goal keeper, a strong defense and a tenacious offense. Every role is crucial. In medicine, as in soccer, we need high-performing teams instead of just superstars. Having a superstar doesn’t mean you have a high-performing team.
Lesson II: Lose gracefully
The Croatian team and their prime minister showed great leadership in congratulating the French team on their win. The prime minister stayed under the rain and was enthusiastic toward both the French and Croatian teams. While in Croatia, they were partying and celebrating in the streets even after losing!
Lesson III: Lead from behind – the coach matters
We tend to focus our attention on the players and the team and we forget that the capacity of the team is only limited by the capacity and leadership of the coach. The coaches behind the scenes are just as necessary for success.
The French team won in part because its coach focused on culture, accountability, strategy, defining expectations of performance, and creating an environment that helped his players be successful.
Same goes in our business game. As a leader, the capacity of your team is limited by your capacity as a leader. That’s why having intentionally thought-out leadership development and coaching programs at every level of your organization is a must.
Lesson IV: Never give up
You trained all year just for this crucial moment. This is the time for resilience, for turning stress and failure into positive energy; time to stay level-headed, to keep team members calm and hopeful that they can STILL win. In times of crisis, believing you have the best team with the highest level of trust is the only way to victory. It’s not time for doubting your team. The Croatians kept playing up until the last minute in more than one game – even the final game after the French scored four goals.
Lesson V: Focus on fundamentals
Win one goal at a time: As fans, we forget how hard these athletes work to get to the World Cup. We are amazed by their speed, fitness and agility, but we forget that the only way these great athletes can complete eye-catching tricks is because of their deep commitment to the fundamentals. In soccer, it is dribbling, passing, communicating, ball control and alignment.
“I start early and I stay late, day after day, year after year. It took me 17 years and 114 days to become an overnight success.” – LIONEL MESSI
These fundamentals were beautifully manifested in the best goal of the World Cup scored by Nacer Chadli of Belgium during the “Round of 16” against Japan. It was this goal, and a mind-blowing team effort, that allowed this team to continue its run. Players and leaders know that winning big is about execution of the fundamentals one pass at a time.
Let us celebrate the great win from last World Cup by reflecting on and applying these five leadership lessons in our daily lives. Ready, Set, Lead!