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Sunday, 14 February 2016

Football as a Metaphor for Business? You Must be Kidding!

In their brilliant book, The Puritan Gift, Kenneth and William Hopper make the point that the original settlers in America took with them certain truths that became the centerpiece of their life in the New World.

There were four major principles that underpinned their creation of a new society in what became America, one of which was that the needs of the individual would always be subsumed to the needs of the group and the community.

This led to the principles of organisation that again led to the building of the great engines of growth, those companies that led the world in technology and production methods in the 19th century.

I don’t often take much notice of the stuff (rubbish even!) on Facebook but one post this week took my fancy:

It doesn’t matter of they win the league or not.
In the end what matters is that they have proved to the world that football isn’t just about money or a team filled with world-class players.
It’s also abut passion, determination and teamwork

What a wonderful metaphor for business and note how it matches the great principles of the Puritans so long ago.

I am not a particularly avid follower of football.  It suffers too much from the venality of the system and the tribalism of the supports to be enjoyable.

The focus for this piece of epic prose nevertheless is a football team, Leicester City that a year ago was fighting for its place in the Premier League of English football and faced a real threat of relegation.

Only a year later Leicester City are leading the league table and have a margin of four points over their nearest rival.

Pundits on TV and radio have many reasons (in their minds) for this amazing recovery most of which they consider hinge on the technical aspects of the game.

We hear a raft of clich├ęs like “top third of the pitch, plenty of width, attacking the near post” and other similarly mystifying opinions.  Leicester City certainly have two strikers who have scored many of their goals during the season but in general, they don’t have many with international experience and certainly none who could be called world class.

How then have they achieved this remarkable turn around and confounded most of the critics of the game of which there are legion?

It seems to me that the answer is both simple and very difficult to achieve.  It is a matter of teamwork with all the players working for the team and for each other rather than acting as prima donnas.

The previous manager who left the club last year started to develop this team ethos and it has been carried on with great effect by their new leader, Claudio Ranieri, an avuncular and fatherly figure who absolutely refuses to discuss the real possibility of the team finishing the season as League leaders. Certainly he has given the players the chance to express themselves without overpowering them with theory.

His response to questions from the aforesaid pundits is always on the lines of “We work as a team and we won’t know how successful that has been until May”.  He doesn’t even discuss winning marches; rather that they play in the way that has given them these results so far and one that has been manifestly successful.

Whether they don or they do not finish the season in top place is, in a sense, academic.  The fact that they have achieved remarkable results so far is testament to how they all think about the game and more importantly their place in the team.

Once again, this is a great metaphor for business and leadership in general.

Why should people at work not operate ion the same way?  Companies which recognise the value of morale, team working, leadership that assists rather than directs and above all, gives resect to everyone on the team are demonstrably successful.

Ken Saltrese, my good friend and the first Managing Director of Vistage in the UK, used to say:

“No-one is as smart as all of us”

and that, for me says it all.


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