It’s All about Leadership!


Soccer thrills us. We feel the dynamics and the emotional relativeness with the team. Even people who are not interested in general in soccer matches are interested in soccer these days. They start showing the affiliation to their country’s team exhibited by traditionally-linked fellow countrymen. It’s time to defend our nation, to feel pride when it wins and feel sorrow and shame when it loses. Soccer is strengthening the ties between people. Isn’t this the relativeness we want to create during change management processes? What does soccer do better than we do during our transformational processes?


Soccer is global. Soccer is business. Soccer is in constant change. At every World Cup, experts discuss the change in the strategy of the various matches. We might come to the conclusion that the best-in-class coaches are the masters of these constant change processes. Their required skill profiles are comparable with executive managers (their salaries are sometimes significantly higher as well). Having been a good player on the field does not mean that you will become a good coach. Without any doubt, it is clear that every coach needs to have a solid understanding of the business (soccer). But, additionally, he needs to have skills as an intermediator and communicator. The stars on his team are strong individuals who need to be treated differently than the other players. Erich Rutemüller explains in an interview in the magazine “OrganisationsEntwicklung” [Organizational Development] (03/17) that coaches need to develop a certain “I competence” so that they can appraise their own significant value based upon their own personality in order to be able to present themselves to the outside. These roles of a coach can only be developed as the result of a learning process and their own experience.


Reading this interview, I was thinking about the skill profile of a change agent. The best change agents I have ever seen are people with an extraordinary emotional competence. Without any doubt, we all need to understand the business we are transforming into a new future stage. But just knowing the business needs is not enough. It is also not enough just to take part in several change management training sessions. What we really need is the experience from transformational processes. The more we know from inside (the change processes), the better we can define the strategy of the match and lead the people during the change process. In looking to the literature, two general themes seem to be evident: A focus on “self issues” (leaders’ emotional competence and emotional management, particularly as it relates to stress management) and “social issues” (mirrored emotional contagion and workplace outcomes)–both are competences which we can observe on the sidelines of the soccer matches. Coaches show their ability to identify and understand the players’ situation and successfully manage their emotions from the outside line. They know that they have to use the power of emotion to build trust and motivation in order to achieve better efficiency during their match. All neuroscience-validated techniques such as mindfulness, labeling, reappraisal, etc. Emotional regulation becomes an interesting field in today’s management training–thus we are obviously closer to soccer in business than we ever thought?


On many change management projects, we have had the experience of managing different and sometimes difficult personalities. These days, we can also see how difficult it is for some teams to integrate these exceptional talents. Whether we have a soccer team or a team of experts in a business environment, it’s all about working with people. We have to understand the reward system of the people (just criticizing does not bring us forward). From NeuroLeadership, we know that we should aim to increase the reward from certainty and autonomy. The perception of certainty can be increased even during deeply uncertain times. When a team has a deficit and knows that it has to win if it wants to remain in the competition, it’s the coach’s role to restore the certainty to the team members they need to stay focused. During organizational restructuring processes, it’s the role of the change agent to ensure, for example, proper information management in order to increase a sense of certainty.


Therefore, let’s keep our eyes open these days and try to learn from the coaches during the World Cup. Even though their business is different, the challenges are similar. Even if you have the best players on the field, this is no guarantee of winning. (Provided that you have good enough players on the field), then the team that is able to manage its social interactions will win the match!