Ten leadership lessons to take away from the World Cup 2018

The World Cup is in a league of its own, providing a four-yearly opportunity for people to go slightly crazy, all in the name of football. But crucially, business leaders can also take away management pointers from the tournament

Ten leadership lessons to take away from the World Cup 2018

The World Cup brings people together, creating camaraderie under the country’s flag whilst firing up emotions that very few non-footballing events could possibly re-create. The players have their country’s expectations on their shoulders with spectators serving as both avid supporters and hardened critics, ensuring passions run high. But the World Cup shouldn’t just be watched, enjoyed and critiqued in isolation from everyday life. It can teach us all valuable lessons about leadership, in particular how to best lead teams to success.

As a keen football supporter, ex-Fulham FC people director and now managing director of O.C. Tanner Europe, the workplace culture specialist, here are my ten leadership lessons from the World Cup, which include a particular focus on England’s recent match against Tunisia. 

(1) Support and help to communicate the strategy

It’s down to the leaders to make sure that the overall strategy is effectively rolled-out and communicated, otherwise you’ll have people all over the place. The best leaders will clearly explain how everyone fits into the bigger picture by saying the right things and exhibiting the right behaviours, as demonstrated during England’s match against Tunisia. According to England manager, Gareth Southgate: “We had leaders on the field who kept delivering the right messages.”

(2) Encourage a culture of positivity and playing by the rules

If foul play and apportioning blame become acceptable, this will create a toxic, under-performing culture. Some would say Tunisia displayed unsporting tactics at times, from grabbing hold of England players to vociferous penalty appeals that were quickly waved away by the Colombian referee. England, on the other hand, remained positive and rarely exhibited negative behaviours. The results of course, speak for themselves.

(3) Nurture collaboration and camaraderie for maximum results

The best leaders champion team work rather than glorifying individuals. This enhances engagement and improves motivation, creating that all-important camaraderie which is key to a successful team. This year’s England team is proud of its togetherness, which apparently is great off the pitch and is effectively seen in action on the pitch.

(4) Permit a culture of risk-taking

The very best entrepreneurs and sporting heroes are never run of the mill but are creative, innovative and, above all, risk-takers. Leaders who allow a certain amount of risk-taking are those that eventually reap the rewards even if there are failures along the way. Gareth Southgate has urged his players to take risks and is willing to excuse the odd mistake en route. If more UK leaders thought this way, UK industry would be far more pioneering.

(5) Champion pride in the team

A football team that’s proud to wear its country’s shirt and bought into everything it stands for, will work at its optimum. The same applies to employees. If they are proud of where they work, the company’s history, values and goals, they will perform their best work and always try to go that extra mile.

(6) Cheer the passes and tackles as well as celebrating the goals

It would be a very flat World Cup if the spectators only ever cheered the goals or the end results. So why do so many leaders behave similarly by leaving their appraisals to the end of year review? In fact, great leaders appreciate their teams on a daily basis, recognising the small things that are done well and not just the big results. By encouraging a culture of recognition, leaders can enjoy high engagement levels, low churn and improved productivity.

(7) Encourage appreciation from peer-to-peer, not just top-down

It’s important not to leave appreciation and recognition just to the leaders, as colleague-to-colleague recognition is just as important. So, encourage a culture of appreciation across the company – from side-to-side and bottom-up as well as top-down recognition. Every goal-scoring celebration amongst the players is proof of how important peer-to-peer appreciation is to boosting morale and maintaining camaraderie.

(8) Honour your team and don’t take credit away from them

If a leader demonstrates that they’re proud and respectful of their team members, this will encourage them to want to perform even better. It’s therefore surprising how many leaders are quick to find fault with their teams and take credit for their work, thereby fostering resentment and bitterness which ultimately leads to poor performance. Panama’s coach was too quick to find fault with his team when prior to their match with Belgium he said “Panama isn’t a team that will score a lot of goals. We arrive at the World Cup with problems scoring the goals.” The result? Panama lost 0-3 to Belgium having not scored a single goal. Was this simply an accurate assessment by the coach or did the lack of confidence in the team lead to a self-fulfilling prophecy? On the other hand, following England’s match, Southgate said “Even at 1-1 I was really proud of the performance”. The bottom line is – always show pride and respect.

(9) Give your team a voice

The worst leaders are those that are the boss and give orders. The best leaders allow their teams to have an opinion and to influence change. Southgate admits that his approach as manager is all about giving his team ownership of the squad: “They know they can have an input, they have a good opinion on things and they are able to suggest solutions that they may think are better than those we propose.” The result is a team that respects its leader.

(10) Make your team’s wellbeing a priority

If people’s health and wellbeing are not viewed as  important, this will impact their whole physical and mental performance. England player Dele Alli was taken off during Monday’s match with Tunisia after experiencing discomfort in his quad muscle. The team will continue to monitor his progress. Why do so many business leaders fail to monitor the health of their people in the same way? With lost working days in 2016/17 costing UK employers £2.9bn, it’s not an issue that can be ignored.

As we stay glued to our television screens for the remainder of the World Cup, it’s perhaps a good time to consider why the winning teams enjoy such triumph. So often, a winning result is not simply ‘luck’ or the bringing together of some high-paid and highly-skilled players, but is the consequence of great leaders who inspire, encourage and nurture their teams to success.

Robert Ordever
Robert Ordever

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