M.K. Gandhi used to say that “The only authentic religion is the universal fraternity amongst people”. I guess, if he were reincarnated today in South Africa, he may have added: “And these days football is the only thing which seems to connect people from the five continents, from all religions and beliefs for a too short month, every four years…”
One week into the World Cup (I am writing this on my flight to Toulouse on this very early Friday morning) some parallels with leadership come to my mind. I chose to comment on four coaches who I equally dislike: France’s Raymond Domenech for his aggressive stubbornness, Brazil’s Dunga for having betrayed the true spirit of Brazilian football, Switzerland’s Ottmar Hitzfeld for being so bloody stiff and apparently emotionless and Argentina’s Diego Armando Maradona who’s insult to religion and football is a trademark of shame (the infamous “Hand of God”). Mind you he now has his own church and cult in Buenos-Aires…
At the time I am writing, Domenech’s France has proven that it had nothing to do in South Africa (and should have let this honor to the Irish!) after a shameful display of inefficiency against lower seeded Mexico, Brazil definitely lost its status of most admired team by true football lovers after its pathetic display against the lowest seeded team of this Cup, North Korea. On the other side, Switzerland created the biggest shock into the competition so far by defeating ultra favorite Spain 1-0 and Argentina is practically qualified after crushing their 2nd opponent 4-1.
There is something interesting in comparing the styles of Domenech/Dunga on the one side and Hitzfeld/Maradona on the other. They radically diverge on three themes: creating the ideal conditions for their players to excel, dealing with prima donnas and other artists and their level of authenticity.
- Creating conditions for others to do and be their best: The two “D’s” (Domenech and Dunga) seem to have chosen their organizational schemes and tactics far more in function of their own preference and “ideology” (Domenech was a solid defense player not too bothered about constructing meaningful play; His tagline in the 70’s was “Football is war”. Dunga has never been an artist himself and was once stripped from his captainship in the national squad and withdrawn for one match through the pressure of his peers for his offensive and destructive comments as well as attitude on the pitch, creating tension and division.) Their strategies reflect their own mental maps rather than build on the capacities, specificities and needs of their players. There is no surprise to see disoriented and disengaged players on the field. Hitzfeld and Maradona, on the contrary spent a long time to try and understand where their players came from and built a scheme which allows these to do and be their best. Hitzfeld is aware of the relatively limited technical and creative potential of the Swiss team but knows of their cohesion, abnegation and courage. He built a not very spectacular and highly defensive strategy totally fit to his player’s capacities. Maradona after several trials and attempts to understand which structure and strategy would best suit his players seems to have found now the right alchemy.
- Dealing with strong egos: During his tenure, Domenech has been oscillating between an aggressive (insulting, attacking his players through “matamore” declarations to the press) and passive attitude (apparently giving up leadership to some of his “big mouths” in the crucial game against Mexico). Dunga found it easier to leave all the stars at home and embark only loyal and obedient although uncreative and limited players to a few exceptions. Maradona has invited all the best players Argentina can count on (to the exception of Riquelme who chose not to join for a matter of values and principles). But all the other stars are present. For having been an uneasy to coach prima donna himself, Diego Armando probably shows forgiveness when needed and an iron fist on a few non negotiable principles. Anyone who has followed the career of Ottmar Hitzfeld as a player (Basel) and highly praised coach of the Bayern Munchen knows that he is not a “softie”. But Hitzfeld has always shown respect towards his players, preferring to clean the air behind closed door. He chose to take on board some of the “enfants terribles” of the Swiss football whilst making the rules of the game extremely clear to them.
- Authenticity: There is something surrealist in listening to Dunga and Domenech commenting the results and style of their teams, to the point of wondering if they are not on another planet during games. They seem to be in total denial claiming that “all is under control, the team played well, we are progressing” and (like a famous CEO last Summer criticizing the press and consumers for not liking his products) blame the media for their negative coverage… How can such coaches hope to get the respect from their followers and create a truly high performance culture? Lencioni’s five dysfunctions of a team (quoted in an earlier post) suggest that great results are first based on authenticity and transparency. So much for it when one thinks of Dunga or Domenech. They are very predictable and coherent in their ideas and denial of reality but that is a far call from authenticity. Suffices to see the highly secretive trainings during the World Cup to confirm that transparency isn’t their cup (!) of tea… Maradona and Hitzfeld through very different styles (explosive, exuberant, dramatic for one, highly guarded and reserved for the other who prefer to let his affable and press friendly second in command Michel Pont under the spotlight) are authentic leaders. When their teams don’t do well, they will openly admit it and avoid pointing individual failures: there is no “public execution”. They take responsibility and accountability for what happens under their command. This creates trust and respect from the players and is highly visible on the pitch.
Football is an art, not a science and there is always something unfair in commenting after the facts. Most probably Switzerland’s journey in the Cup will end before the finals, a miracle could still save the French, Brazilians might suddenly rebel against their coach (as their wonder team did in 1970) and choose to play as… true Brazilians and Argentina could hugely disappoint us. Others will come and explain why with very good observations.
I find the four-yearly World Cup though a fascinating moment of communion around the globe and thought it interesting to try and draw, hopefully appropriate comparisons between our corporate life and the world’s most played sport.
Finally a quieter week within Switzerland with several Board/Team meetings and the 100th anniversary of the high school which provided me with the chance to meet many of my still actual and hopefully future friends. Have a great week all!