Why I focus my attention on the bench…

Thursday March 16th, 2017 2 comments

Back in 1998, French football coach, Aimé Jacquet, explained that the worse moment of his career consisted in explaining to Eric Cantona who had just been nominated player of the year in England (I hope you seize the historical meaning here: English people elected a French as its most valuable player of the year!) and who had always loyally supported him, that he would not be part of the team that would play in the World Cup. The reason was that Jacquet feared the dependency that the team would create around their key player. He preferred a stronger team to a superstar.

In a recent discussion a sports coach told me: “I do not focus so much on the team which will be playing: They are sufficiently prepared for and excited about the coming game . I put my attention to those sitting on the bench (ie. those who are not playing and are hopeful to be called to the game”.

As I was wondering if this could bring any value to us, business leaders and coaches, my friend kept on talking and elaborated on four reasons why coaches should focus on the bench more than on the stars playing:

  • The bench creates the culture, he said. If left to the egocentrism and competitive values of the star-performers, then the culture of our team would rapidly become cut-throat competition, individualism and what you call conditionality. The bench players sit together, they have the mass-power to change the culture. Leave them on their own, unsecure about their future, not knowing what their career ladder is, unclear about why they are not actually playing on the field and they will create a negative, vindictive and inner fighting culture. Support them, help them to create self-confidence, make them proud of their job and of wearing the colour and they will be living models for the junior players, the press and the public of the team culture you try to build.
  • The bench sets the level of the bar for the team. It is not those playing on the field who necessarily set the level of the game, but those who push them to raise the bar. If your attitude of leader is one of unconditional support, generous sharing of best practices and encouragement, he explained, then the bench will set the tone. The bench will encourage the base team to perform one level up.
  • The Support/Challenge coming from the bench is more impactful than anything I can say: The coach doesn’t always know the stories happening in the private lives of players. The coach can’t always feel how players feel. The bench does! Support and challenge coming from the bench peers is usually better understood by the field players. Now, he added, if all you do as a coach is to challenge without supporting, the bench will do the same and my key players will underperform.
  • The way you treat your bench will profoundly impact your star players: The last point the coach made sounded so powerful: The way you treat your “bench people”, those who are temporarily weaker and therefore sitting on the bench, will send a strong signal to the others and deeply impact your team culture. How do you treat those whose who temporarily underperform or are not needed yet? Do you “abandon” and let go those who loyally served the team and are now “too old to rock’n’roll”? Or do you treat those with respect and support them fully?

I assume there is a lot in this for us, leading our teams through the highly competitive landscape of our businesses. Who is our bench? How much attention do we give to the “second layer”? Do we let our star performers suck all our attention? Star performers are fragile, in business like in sports. They need attention and reinforcing, positive feedback. But their energy is usually high, boosted by excitement of their challenges and the self-confidence inspired by their results. Our second layer may need a bit more excitement and self-confidence.

Hay identified that 70% of an organization’s culture comes from the behaviours of its leaders. Our bench is definitely part of our leadership team. When my partners and I work on cultural changes, we seek to focus, like my coach friend, not so much on the star-performers, usually busy with other glorious battles, but on that solid bench.

 And if you totally disagree and continue to believe that your unique point of attention should be your star performers and yourself (since you must be a star as well;) watch out, you may end up like Jose Mourinho, Fabio Capelli or Diego Simeone…


Leadership is an art… Enjoy your artistic journey!

  • “Rethinking Infidelity”: test you inclusion skills, as a leader!

    Friday March 10th, 2017 0 comments

    I am still puzzled as to why TED proposed me to watch the following intervention of a Belgian born, New-York based psychotherapist, Esther Perel… The title of her intervention sounded provocative: “Rethinking infidelity!” I had a few minutes to spare and chose to watch. My doubts and rather neutral attitude gradually faded. I liked the tone of her voice, the…

    Read the full article →

  • A tale of two CEO’s and their unusual relationship to elevators

    Friday February 24th, 2017 4 comments

    The title of this new post may have you thinking of this clip which has been around for a while, but it is totally UNRELATED! But just for the fun… Now, more seriously, the tale relates to two organizations and how their leaders used the elevator in a totally different manner. One could almost say that the relationship of the…

    Read the full article →

  • Three lessons in team dynamics that business could teach sports

    Friday February 17th, 2017 8 comments

    Since the end of 2016, I have had the chance to be invited to support teams or players both in Ice-Hockey and Football. Three months into this part-time activity, I realize that there are at least three things successful Business Leaders can bring to Sport Coaches. It should be of interest to those who seek to create a culture that…

    Read the full article →

  • Leaders take a stand!

    Thursday February 9th, 2017 2 comments

    Difficult moment for businesses in the US… Whereas, traditionally they would publicly try to stay away from taking a stand on political issues, some politicians seem determined to draw them in. It almost seems that Disruption will not solely apply to technology and strategy but also to social and political. And, consequently, in one of the biggest US sports events…

    Read the full article →

  • When democracy depends on our leadership attitude!

    Saturday January 28th, 2017 0 comments

     “Tyranny is the only alternative to strong, performing autonomous institutions. Tyranny substitutes one absolute boss for the pluralism of competing institutions. It substitutes terror for responsibility. It does indeed do away with the institutions, but only by submerging all of them in the one all-embracing bureaucracy of the apparat. It does produce goods and services, though only fitfully, wastefully, at…

    Read the full article →

  • Context Leaders change the rules of the game

    Friday January 20th, 2017 6 comments

    January 1st, whilst everyone home was recovering from their festive night, I came across an interesting clip from Ernesto Sirolli, a strong believer that NGO’s get it wrong because they seek to lead from the front and behave as “Content Leaders” towards those they wish to help. He describes his organization as people who “harness the passion, determination, intelligence, and…

    Read the full article →

  • Let us be the true Heroes of 2017!

    Saturday December 31st, 2016 1 comment

    2016 leaves 2017 and ourselves confronted to many challenges, from Aggressions, Bombardments, Crisis, Desertification, Exclusion, Fighting, Guerrilla, Hunger, Isolationism, Job destruction, Kidnappings, child Labour, Malnutrition, Nationalism, Oligarchies, Pollution, Questioning under torture, Racism, Sexism, Terrorism, Unemployment, Violence, War, Xenophobia, Yellow fever to Zika I remain convinced that Women and Men of Goodwill will manage to transform 2017 into a positive year.…

    Read the full article →

  • Strong Content Leaders get compliance, not commitment!

    Friday December 16th, 2016 2 comments

    I know I have shown Leonhard Bernstein’s clip twice before on this blog but I would like you to put yourself at the place of a highly gifted and professional musician in an Opera or even better a symphonic orchestra led by him or Ricardo Muti, another glorious and highly competent conductor. Then, make the parallel for work. What if…

    Read the full article →

  • Teaching an ice hockey goalie to dance

    Thursday December 8th, 2016 4 comments

    In my youth, I played ice hockey as a goal-tender. My school team and I even ended-up Swiss Champions of the private schools. Every training session saw me lose several kilos in sweat, due to the heavy weight (up to 20 kilos) of equipment, needed to protect us from physical contacts (I still have the scar of a skate hitting…

    Read the full article →

  • VW to slash 30k jobs: are they creating or reacting? By Nick van Heck

    Friday December 2nd, 2016 2 comments

    I consider Nick van Heck as an exceptional human being: in him, one may find both an unorthodox strategist and an unusual coach. He uses and lives Logos (rationale), Ethos (Value Building Behaviours) and Pathos (his emotional side) with a rare balance. He runs the elp Network. I encourage you to follow his company’s blog, different from this one and…

    Read the full article →