How would you deal with him, if Higuita were part of your team?

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Didier Marlier

November 24, 2023

From Disruption to Engagement

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Image courtesy of Pixabay. A.I. generated portrait of Albert Einstein

René Higuita will forever remain a legend of football (soccer), like Bobby Charlton, Maradona, Messi, Pelé, Lev Yashin and several others. In the 90’s, Higuita was the goalkeeper of the best Colombian team in History. René was nicknamed “the crazy” (el Loco) for his amazing prowess and for the incredible risks he used to take on the pitch. Netflix is about to release a documentary dedicated to this unique player, completely out of the ordinary.

 

Researching key moments of his legendary career, I asked myself: What would I do, were Higuita a part of my business or sports team?

Several obvious questions came to my mind:

  • Is he endangering the survival of the organisation? Taking the freedom Higuita used to take with the rules (dribbling other players, whereas he was the defender of last recourse, which, for example, cost Colombia an early exit of the 1990 World Cup in 1/8 finals against the Cameroon of another forever star, Roger Milla. Higuita senseless risk taking saw Milla steal the ball and score 2-1 in the extra time, eliminating Colombia). In business, we might have our geniuses, breaking the rules and procedures, in order to let their creativity, entrepreneurship and innovation skills, express themselves freely. But those rules, as long as they don’t become the purpose and are there to enable the system to function well and safely, have a raison d’être. What do you do with those who knowingly break them, putting the company, its customers, society and its people at risk? Now, most of the time, Higuita’s audacity was met with success (Higuita scored more than… 40 times, as a goalkeeper, in his career), saving the team when everything seemed lost…

 

  • Is his behaviour the consequence of an egocentric personality? Is your star acting out of selfishness and childish egocentrism or is there a Purpose in them behaving the way they do? Genius (in sports and business) doesn’t hide well behind mediocrity and doesn’t flourish in an ordinary setting. Players like Socrates, Messi or Megan Rapinoe (the best US female player in History) seem to be moved by an ideal, a purpose larger than their ego. When coaching “ a rebel” in business or football, egocentrism vc ideal is something I look for. Higuita is a simple man and I’ll let you make your own judgement on whether or not he was acting for egocentric reasons.

 

  • Does his behaviour create a bad example for the rest of the organisation? Since, following Hay and Gallup studies, 70% of any organisation’s culture comes from the behaviours of its leaders, the impact of such “deviant behaviour” on the team’s culture, is something I carefully observe. But, far from encouraging other players to neglect the coach’s instructions, Higuita’s incredible style and risk taking seemed to create a deep sense of collective responsibility amongst his team mates. It seemed as if, they knew that, “creating conditions for René to do and be his best” required every single one of them to be ready to jump in support and cover his risk-taking rather than stay neutral and watch him fail.

 

  • Does he threaten the team’s Psychological Safety? That is the first criteria I consider in my practice. We all have in mind examples of team stars, sent on the bench, or off the squad, as their prima donna behaviours threatened their colleagues and the much needed Psychological Safety. I have seen this in Professional sports as well as in Business teams. But Higuita’s permanent smile, humour, humility and self-deprecating style, didn’t harm collective Psychological Safety, on the contrary.

When a sports or business star’s behaviours negatively impacts one of these four criteria, my coaching takes place in a way to let them understand the potentially dangerous impact of their behaviour and reflect on how to create the right conditions  for them to flourish and give the organisation their best. Letting them go, on the bench or outside the organisation remains, nevertheless, an option.

My question to you all now, whether you are a business leader or sports coach is what do you do with an Higuita who doesn’t (or hardly) contravene to any of the four points mentioned? I must admit that such people are a dilemma for me. Thank you for your advice.

Here below, some more of Higuita prowess. Enjoy these incredible moments.

 

Leadership is an art, enjoy getting it right and learn from your mistakes!

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