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What has the World Cup taught us about leadership? There are managers, and then there are managers.

Maradona: the heart and soul of a team

Maradona: the heart and soul of a team

Diego Maradona’s genius and erratic personality set the ’86 Mexico world cup alight, but who managed the one man team which overcame West Germany 3-2 in the final?

When Spain triumphed in 2010 we sang the praises of Xavi, Iniesta, and Torres, but I bet no-one can recall even one memorable quote from taciturn boss Vicente Del Bosque.

4 years later, however, and the trend seems to have been turned on its head. Louis Van Gaal’s bombastic personality, seemingly compliant players, and stunning tactical changes are more talked about than a team containing world beaters such as Arjen Robben, Robin Van Persie and Wesley Schneider. Argentina born Chile boss Jorge Sampaoli’s touchline antics have stolen the show, despite his team’s outstanding progress to the knockout stages, and narrow defeat on penalties to Brazil.

So have the qualities required to be a top manager changed over the 4 years since 2010, with stony faced disciplinarians such as Fabio Capello out, and charismatic, lead from the front types like “Big Phil” Scolari and France boss Didier Deschamps, in? And how can we apply these same characteristics to our own places of work? Below are 7 recommendations for business leaders and bosses, inspired by the most celebrated managers on the planet right now, operating under the most intense pressure, whilst the rest of the world looks on.

1/ Wear your heart on your sleeve: keeping your head whilst everyone around you is losing theirs is well and truly out. Nobody wants to hear about the cold light of day anymore, and if you cannot show you are the most passionate guy in the organisation, your days may be numbered. Today’s employees live in the here and now, want to win every point, and don’t seem to believe in learning from their mistakes. So go with it, get involved, and make sure you leave everything out there. At least this way if you lose, you lose together, and unless the opposition can match the tidal wave of emotion and effort you will be surfing, losing will not be an option. A psychological masterstroke, if you have the stomach for it.

2/ Don’t dictate, legislate: If you treat your captain and players like children, then children is what you will get! The only way to succeed nowadays is by canvassing opinion, discovering what your charges are really thinking, and not being afraid or going into your shell if you find that what you learn is not to your taste. Live in the real world; you are dealing with people, not systems or robots; your team will be looking for and responding to your human side, not your intellectual one. That is not to say you shouldn’t use your intellect, which is likely 50% of the reason you are leading in the first place, but remember, staff take that for granted, but it is the x-factor that they really want to see.

Del Bosque: too removed form the team?

Del Bosque: too removed form the team?

3/ Court publicity, not popularity: Why is Jose Mourinho always so popular with his players, despite continually winding up the press, establishment, and other teams on so many occasions? Because his staff know he is doing it for them. Ok, so you may not end up on the board of your industry trade association if you keep causing a scene, but you will enjoy hero status amongst your employees. Understand that many people in your organisation will never hit the heights that you have, and if you truly want to act on their behalf, get the best out of them, and help them to get the best out of themselves, your own ambitions must come second. A manager concerned primarily with their own prospects is not a leader, and the distinctions between leader and manager are becoming increasingly blurred.

4/ Visibility: it’s a myth that there is nowhere to hide; the worst managers will always find a convenient rock to crawl under. Worse still is a leader who is so unsure of themselves that they are nowhere to be seen until, no thanks to them, the team wins, when all of a sudden they are everywhere, taking the plaudits and chanting the team song. Remember your blind spots; out of sight is not out of mind, its out-of-your-mind.

5/ Makes sure everyone understands their role: the best teams at the World Cup so far have been teams, not individuals, where everyone knows exactly what is expected of them. Again, take the Dutch: some of their players are relative unknowns on the world stage, an unusual state of affairs for such a historically strong team, but every player knows where to be and what to be thinking in every conceivable situation, because their manager has drilled it into them. The team can play 3 systems not because they are the genius exponents of “total football”, but because the manager has left nothing to chance, preparing them for every eventuality, down to the minutest detail. The same goes for the Colombians and Costa Ricans, but look at Portugal: 1 superstar, 10 headless chickens. Hard work gets results, end of story.

Van Gaal: practise, practise, practise!

Van Gaal: practise, practise, practise!

6/ Communicate in the way that gets the best results: A classic example, the world cup quarter final in 2002 between England and Brazil. Half time. Gareth Southgate, England player’s complaint about boss Sven Goran Eriksson: “we wanted Churchill, we got Iain Duncan Smith”. Eriksson was and is a winner, but he misjudged his audience. What sounded reassuring, clever and tactical to him, was wasted on his players. This is why many great players make poor managers, because they cannot cope with the fact that their staff are not as talented as they are. You have to deal with what’s in front of you, not what you wish was in front of you. If your players are extroverted, shout! If they are introverted, put your arm round their shoulder. Understand what makes them tick, or you will end up wondering why no one is listening.

7/ Do all of the above, but have something up your sleeve: This may contradict what I have said before, but, at the end of day, you are the leader and your responsibilities are subtly different. The crucial point to remember, and one which I hope this article has drummed into you, is that you live and die with the team, because you are just another part of the team. Modern managers must be as passionate, emotional, and openly competitive as their players, because that is how the group can be energised most effectively. Jose Mourinho pioneered the tactic in club football, and the likes of Diego Simeone, Pep Guardiola and even Arsene Wenger followed (have you seen his diving header, at the age of 65, on the Copacabana beach. Anything Van Persie can do…).

But it is also important to remember that when the battle is over, and the players returned to their homes and families, you will be the one, tired and weary, making your way down the corridor and up the stairs to explain the victory or defeat to the powers that be, the owners and directors. If you have matched your players for blood, sweat and tears, you have still only done half of your job. You mustn’t hold yourself back, but you have to believe that, however desperate the situation appears, you will find a second wind, and come up with a plan that will ultimately make the difference. The stakes have never been higher, the glory never more highly prized. But can you find the answers when everybody else is out on their feet?


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