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What Leaders can learn from Football

With the European Football Championship coming to a close on Sunday, I was again and again reminded of what we can learn in leadership by watching football games.

STATE IS EVERYTHING
If we define state as our physiology, what we are focused on, what meaning we are giving to things and what we are saying to ourselves,  you come to the conclusion pretty quickly that state is fundamental to success. It comes down to the equations: A great state = A great game, A bad state = A bad game.
You can read the state of a team when they show them during the playing of the national anthems. Can you feel passion? The absolute desire to win and the commitment to pull through? – no matter what. And yes, it starts with believing that you can win even if the odds are against you. Clearly the German team did not think anymore they could win after England scored their second goal.

Another area where state is fundamental is when it comes to a penalty shootout. The epic 1:1 fight with ultimate pressure on the shooter, less so on the goal keeper. Often enough you can see the fear in the shooter’s face.

IT IS A TEAM SPORT
Switzerland has proven that to the extreme by turning a 3:1 lead by France into finally a win after penalties. Even more drama in the game against Spain where Switzerland started with an own goal and had to play for over 45 minutes with 10 against 11. They still made it to the penalty shootout which this time did not work in their favor unfortunately. In both games the other team had by far more talented players but the Swiss made it up by an incredible team spirit. Last but not least Portugal needed to realize that you were „finding Ronaldo“ was no longer a viable strategy to win.

IT IS NOT OVER UNTIL IT’S OVER
We saw the French victory dance after taking a 3:1 lead against Switzerland. They clearly thought it was over. And as a fan of Bayern Munich, the 1999 loss against Manchester United in the Champions League Final is still a trauma reminding us how a 1:0 lead can be turned into a 2:1 loss within the last 2 minutes of a game.

CHAMPIONS HAVE GREAT LEADERS
There is leadership on the field as well as alongside the field which is crucial to success. And yes, there can absolutely be more than one leader as long as they understand how to support each other and when to get out of the way in order to not block one another.

Great leaders also demonstrate flexibility. Almost like in a chess game it is about predicting the next move and being proactive as well as reactive. Bringing in new players just a couple of minutes before the end is a high risk gamble.

YOU HAVE GOT TO HAVE A SYSTEM AND A STRATEGY THAT WORKS FOR THE PLAYERS
The formation is key and it can change during the game, but there got to be a system. The Germans seemed to have selected a system and tried to have the team practice how to cope with it. That lead to players in positions that they did not like to play in. Another approach would be to look at the capabilities of the different players and find a system which lets them perform at their best.

DOMINANCE IS NOT GUARANTEED VICTORY
In the game against Italy, Spain was the dominant team. And while the simple rule „if you have the ball, the other team cannot score“ still holds true, the Italians got various opportunities for counter attacks and used one to make it a draw.

THE WINNER TAKES IT ALL
In football or in sales, what counts is who in the end wins the game. There are no extra points for winning beautifully or losing gracefully.

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