Last week’s post on “Leadership as a process” has generated a lot of discussions via direct e.mails (it must be thanks to the football clip…)
I thought useful to summarize and report conversations held with two CEO’s whose challenges were around:
- Is “leadership as a process” another way to encourage conformism and obedience?
- What do I do when my potential successor is very bright but maybe a bit too much of an individual star?
Edson Arantes Nascimento (Pelé) and the Brazilian wonderteam of 1970 you see playing here below are still considered, forty years after their last World Cup, as the best football player and team of all times. For the pleasure, I encourage you to watch this short clip (summary of the final of the Mexico 1970 World Cup) and see the blend of personal skills but also of generosity and altruism of Pelé (who scored one goal and was pivotal into two of the three others).
But Pelé, however extraordinarily talented he was, will be remembered for long not just because of his individual prowess but far more because he was a generous and altruistic player. The difference between him and other very remarkable footballers is that he was unconditionally putting his talent at the service of the team: the cause of the Brazilian or Santos teams was more important than the man to him!
When discussing, a while ago with a CEO about his successor, we rapidly realized that his discomfort, coming from his intuition, was that the man potentially called to replace him someday “was in it for himself”. His own interest was first, way before the collective success. The successor was more on an egocentric journey than on an altruistic and generous “Serve to Lead” one, as his the motto of UK’s famous Sandhurst military school. So, choose your leaders not just for their talent but for the way they make their team flourish by forgetting their ego and serving the company’s Purpose.
Going now to point No1, “Is leadership as a process a way to encourage conformism and obedience?”, I would refer back to the Brazilian national team and the very delicate tightrope its coaches are trying to walk. Looking at the four-yearly World Cups, it seems that the CBF (Brazil’s Football Association) is constantly swinging between two poles: either a “let go coach” who will interfere the least possible with the natural skills of the players and let them express themselves freely. “To systematize is to sterilize” used to say Nils Middelboe, a Danish merchant who played as an amateur for Chelsea in… 1913. Then, the seleção goes overboard, players are reported to be partying a bit too often, too hard before important games and disappear before the end. So for the next Cup, the CBF chooses a solid dictator who will keep the team under control and make them play against nature in a style as inspiring and joyful to watch than the “Manschaft” is for non-Germans…
Maybe the point missed here by the CBF and many coaches is that they should encourage the Brazilian artists to show the wonderful magic of their talent. We should create the conditions for the many small Pelés to blossom. But, in the same way, the coaches should be very clear and careful at ensuring that the players do not place their ego first instead of the common good. Leadership as a process is an encouragement to create and shine, in an altruistic manner and not in a value destroying, narcissistic way.
Joe Sheridan is an exceptional “business-actor” (and a real movie actor too by the way) and I sometimes have the privilege to work with him in business conferences. He summarizes well what differentiates a great play from another: “A real actor is in it for the public and not to satisfy his ego!” The same goes for us as leaders!!!
Two weeks marathon between São-Paulo, Porto-Alegre, Belo-Horizonte and Zürich… Have a great week all
 Quoted by Rob Hugues in “Recipe for success: Let talent blossom” in International Herald Tribune April 28th 2010
 Nickname given to the extraordinarily resilient and competitive but not necessarily artistic and fascinating German national team