Failure, Passion, and the Risk of Leading

The World Cup kicked off in Russia last week and I’ve enjoyed having the games on every day and watching them with my kids. I love the clash of footballing styles, the support of the fans, and the passion of the players representing their countries. Even though I grew up playing soccer, I didn’t really ‘get it’ until 2006 when we lived in Paris and Zidane led France to the Final. Then again in 2010, we lived in Spain when Catalan midfielder Andres Iniesta scored in the 116th minute of the final, ensuring the cup for the Spanish side. The goal sparked a party in the city that lasted more than a week and cemented the cultural significance of winning the World Cup into my head forever.

The World Cup is a chance to the see the world’s best teams and players in a high-pressure, unpredictable, and high-stakes context. And is the perfect opportunity to draw out some maybe ‘not-so-obvious’ sports analogies!

Lionel Messi Misses Penalty Against Iceland

It’s an amazing time to watch soccer/football. There are two players who are both being talked about as the greatest player of all time. Ronaldo and Messi carry more expectation than most any other superstars in the world.

Being one of the best players in the world, much less your team, creates the expectation that you will be the player to create the highlight, be the difference, and score the goal. In Portugal’s game earlier in the tournament Ronaldo scored a hat-trick against Spain. Messi most likely knew that the world was watching to see how he would respond. When he stepped up to take the PK against Iceland, we all expected him to put it in the back of the net. But his shot was saved by the Iceland goalkeeper and the score ended in a 1-1 draw.

Sometimes the actions we take and decisions we make as leaders go well. And sometimes they don’t. Leadership is being willing to step up and make the decision (take the shot) when the consequences are high and the outcome is unpredictable. Many may say they would make the decision (or could make a better decision) but the truth is that most of us would rather let someone else make the hard decisions when there’s a lot on the line. In our culture today more than ever, most people don’t want to make a mistake or take the risk of making an unpopular decision. This is why leaders are hard to come by and even people who have titles of leadership rarely lead.

Mexico Defeats Germany

Unlike Landon Donovan, I’m not one of the Americans who has adopted our rivals as the team to support in the World Cup, but that doesn’t mean they don’t deserve serious praise for defeating the #1 ranked German team. They played with passion, power, and discipline. To be honest, I think they should have won by 2 or 3 goals.

Leaders have to carry a passion and intensity that sets the example for everyone else. I heard Gary Vaynerchuk say that no owner will ever get their employees to care as much about the business as they do. Similarly, it’s rare to find a team member who will be more passionate about success than their boss. The passion from the Mexican fans and training staff was remarkable, but it starts with the players on the field. Their country’s passion literally shook the earth…When they scored their goal to take the lead over Germany, the celebration registered seismic activity in Mexico City.

But passion alone didn’t carry ‘El Tri’ passed a very talented German team. It was also their ability to maintain passion paired with discipline. Each player executed their strategy with focus and passion. Leaders must be the ones to carry the torch of engagement and passion, but it must be focused and purposeful.

Neymar Gets Fouled A Record Number of Times By the Swiss Team

There isn’t a more polarizing player than Neymar in today’s game (maybe Luis Suarez). However, if you can observe his talent objectively, he’s the most talented and dynamic player on the field in most games. He has no fear in taking on 2, 3, or 4 defenders. His confidence, success, and boldness often infuriate opponents. He’s so much faster, better, and craftier than most defenders that they often result to fouling him, which seems to be the only strategy the Swiss team had. They seemed to foul him almost every time he got the ball setting a record for the most fouls on a single player in the past 20 years at a World Cup.

When people’s strengths land them in leadership roles, they don’t only get a new title. They are putting themselves under the microscope of scrutiny and potentially the crosshairs of criticism and frustration. There will always be people who want to cut leaders down out of jealousy, insecurity, or fear. Especially when they are leading people to places they don’t want to go. For example, a Sales Team could be upset when their commission structure is changed for the sake of the company. Or if a leader has to move team members into new roles as the company changes and grows. It could even be argued that if a leader isn’t being undermined at some level by those whom they lead, then they aren’t leading and the company is stagnant.

There are countless lessons we can learn about life and business in soccer. I’m a huge soccer fan and see connections everywhere…so it’s not much of a stretch to find ways to apply what I see in games to our real lives. There may be more posts like this coming over the next few weeks!

We’re only one week into the World Cup and I’m already loving it. I can’t wait to see who wins and how their country celebrates! Maybe one day we’ll experience it in the US!


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