It is often just like in soccer

I will start this article with a personal outing. Yes, I like watching soccer. But with even more interest I follow the activities behind the scenes and how the various protagonists play their roles. An interesting current example is the public “drama” around Manuel Neuer’s injury and the dismissal of his goalkeeper coach. I think we all agree that apart from quite impressive athletic performances, the whole soccer circus is primarily a giant business. An excellent case study for this was the last World Cup in Qatar. This has already been discussed at length – sometimes meaningless, often pointless. The term “business” in connection with soccer brings me to the point. Soccer and the corporate world have a lot in common.

The coach is the better trainer

Some time ago I had already written an article titled like this. At that time, Hansi Flick had taken over the team of Bayern Munich. After a disastrous start into the season under the old coach, Flick still managed to win the national championship, the national cup and the Champions League with the same team and the same players. The new coach had apparently found the connection to the players and did not only train but really coach them. Within a few weeks, older players revived, younger players developed into leaders, and young talents became regular players. But have the empathetic coaches not always been the most successful? The ones who treat players as individuals and then form a real team out of all those different characters?

The coach is also the better manager

Employees in companies are also individual characters. Good leadership means getting the best out of each employee. You have to set the overall strategy, but also give the team the opportunity to work on further developing and implementing this strategy. In doing so, you should assist everyone on the team individually, listen, ask the right questions, motivate, mediate, and also arbitrate when necessary. Coaching leadership creates engagement, builds relationships, and improves the performance of the entire team. Coaching leaders see themselves as successful when their team is successful. They delegate and empower team members to work on challenging tasks while ensuring that everybody has all the tools needed to succeed. Coaching managers are empathetic, creating an environment in which each individual can develop his or her strengths. Actually, everything just like in soccer

Not always everything fits together

The same Hansi Flick then took over the German national soccer team. Everybody was hoping for the “Bayern Munich effect” during the World Cup in Qatar. The squad didn’t really need to hide from the world’s best, and the coach had already proven that he is able to direct a star ensemble. But, as we all know, things turned out quite differently. But why was that?

  1. The rate of turning clear chances into goals was terribly bad, because the real “scorer” was missing in the team. Niklas Füllkrug had shown exactly these qualities against Spain, but then had to sit on the bench again. The final result is well known.
  2. The defense was extremely unstable. This was certainly caused by constantly changing players and positions before and during the World Cup.
  3. There were too many other issues discussed in public before and during the tournament, which certainly left their mark on the players’ minds.  

What does this mean when applied to the corporate world?

  1. You have many “hot” leads, but you don’t close any deals because the real “closers” are missing within the sales team.
  2. Constant changes in the team are counterproductive, because each employee has to get used to his or her position and learn the ropes. Only then a team is formed in which everyone can blindly rely on each other. In addition, you should never lose sight of the competition and especially never underestimate the small agile competitors.
  3. If internal politics prevail inside the company, failure is not far away.  

You don’t always have the perfect person for every position, but unfortunately there is also often no trust in the newcomers who might be able to fill this position quite well. You might have to operate with a team that only works together sporadically. This means that the employees cannot really familiarize themselves with their positions and there is no real team spirit. Sometimes there are too many things happening in the company that create turmoil and initiate unnecessary discussions, which distract from the actual focus. In principle, everything just like in soccer.

Money alone does not always win

Certainly, the most successful soccer teams in Europe are those with the biggest budget, or rather the richest sponsor. Manchester City and Paris St. Germain are good examples for that. In Germany, surely immediately Hoffenheim or Leipzig come to mind, which would most likely never play in the Bundesliga without the financial support of well-known billionaires. But on the other hand, there’s also Leicester City, who surprised everybody in 2016 when they won the championship in the Premier League. In Germany, I immediately think of Union Berlin and SC Freiburg, whose foundation for success is primarily the combination of a good coach, high team spirit and a loyal fan base. You can’t buy team spirit and real fans with money.

Team spirit and real fans make the difference

Team spirit in a company comes from a good leadership culture and a strong corporate culture. This must be driven and exemplified by the entire management team. Or why else do soccer clubs with professional coaches and excellent players still end up at the bottom of the league? Why do excellent players or employees leave the club or the company despite good positions and high salaries? Or vice versa, why do good players or good employees stay with a club or a company despite tempting offers from the competition? In principle, people don’t like to leave a place where they feel comfortable. And then there are still the fans and the customers. Some soccer teams always sell out their stadiums, while others often play in front of half-empty stands. A company should also aim to turn customers into fans. Some companies have been doing this very successfully for years. Or why do Apple customers gladly pay a few euros or dollars more for an iPhone or a MacBook than for an equivalent product from another manufacturer? It‘s often just like in soccer.

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