Arise, Sir Fabio. Lessons in Leadership from World Cup 2010.


I love Football.  I love my country.  My problem is this.  England have been World Champions just once and never in my life time.  Every World Cup I am convinced this is it.  Is this year different?  Once again Germany stands in the way of the nations joy and it will take an exceptional performance to beat them.  Critical to this will be Fabio Capello. 

To watch him has been a fascinating study of leadership.  He is renowned as a strict disciplinarian who makes it clear what’s expected.  He sets the rules and expects them to be adhered to.  There can be no excuse with Fabio. 

Respect is key to his style.  If a meeting is set for 10am, everyone is there at 9.50am, (does that ever happen in business?).   The rules are the same for everyone, no exceptions are made, no matter how big the star.  Such clarity creates a strong team bond.  No one person is bigger than the team. 

Earlier this week it became clear that not everyone in the camp was happy.  Having created and communicated the clear vision that winning the World Cup was the objective, Fabio has gone about his business with absolute focus, dedication and determination, qualities that are required in abundance for the realisation of a dream.  However, in his relentless commitment to the goal he had forgotten to have fun. 

The players, cooped up and bored with too much time on their hands were beginning to resent the rigidity, the perceived unwillingness to treat them as grown ups, as talented individuals who know what is expected of them.  Familiarities with the workplace? 

This is where Fabio has evidenced his true qualities as a leader.  He listened, he adapted, he acted.

He offered them all the opportunity to air their views.  Not all felt inclined to air them privately (which is important to team unity) but any break from the message of team was swiftly dealt with, in-house.  

He applied basic business management techniques and language.  In a BBC interview he talked of a door that is always open.  He treated them like grown ups and gave them the opportunity to relax, inviting them all for a beer to get things out in the open. 

He showed flexibility with necessary changes to personnel and tactics.  On the touch-line during the game he was a picture of commitment and motivation, entirely animated, passionate, energizing with huge desire to succeed.  

A man known to keep a distance between himself and his players, at the end of the game he celebrated success with them as if he were one of them, acknowledging the contribution of them all (players, substitutes and background staff alike) with a hug, handshake, kiss, whatever he felt was appropriate for that individual. 

He enthused, he laughed, he inspired.  He did what he knew he had to do to get the result he needed to continue along the journey to realise the vision.

All this represented a perfect example of great leadership.  Humility was key.  The willingness to listen, to understand if their may be another way.  The willingness to adapt, to change, to show flexibility.  The belief and commitment hasn’t altered.  The desire has strengthened.  The framework remains, the vision is the same.  

England World Champions?  What I do know is that we have a great leader at the helm with great talent at his disposal.  He changed his behaviour to affect a positive outcome.  Once again the parallels between business and sport are in evidence.  Now bring on the Germans!

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