Lessons on Leadership and Life from a Football Match
“Losing a game is heartbreaking. Losing your sense of excellence or worth is a tragedy. ” ~ Joe Paterno
——————Recently I was watching in awe a soccer game. My expectations were satisfied in regards to commitment, sacrifice, fierceness, teamwork spirit and nerve wrecking ending. It was an amazing experience for a fan, for a mental trainer as well as for any novice to soccer expectator. It happened during the final game of the 2012 edition of the famous Carling Cup in the United Kingdom. The teams playing were the powerful, £450m, Liverpool, with his most expensive player valued at a whopping £35m. On the other side, it was standing tall, humble, yet full of confidence, with a "nothing to lose" attitude, Cardiff City. Such team, including seven substitutes, was pieced together for £4 million. The classic rematch version of David Vs. Goliath was right there, with so much to be given to the winner. It was the battle of the poor, disadvantaged Vs. the one of the most famous soccer clubs in the world, playing the final game in pursuit of glory through the 2012 edition of the desired crown. The game was watched live by 90,000 passionate supporters and broadcasted live across the world. It was set to be a valediction for Liverpool.
What I found later on the marvelous word of blogs, opinions and readings about soccer, life, leadership it is a very well crafted article, worth to be shared with you all. It is a series of lessons provided by David Hain, who is an inspired writer, thinker and in this particular case, a fan of Cardiff City. So David needed to write this with not only with his mind but with his heart into it. Please enjoy.
"A result is just a measure – it doesn’t tell you anything about the game. And in the game, there were many lessons for life and for anyone, like me, who studies and promotes leadership. As I trudged 4 miles back to my car and spent the next 4 hours driving home on the same road as most of the 35,000 defeated fans, I had plenty of time to reflect on the day. And what started as a journey into depression ended up as a triumph of inspiration that I thought might be worthy of sharing.
Lesson 1 – When you win, do it with class
The match was lost in the most dramatic, heartbreaking way possible. After full time and extra time finished all square, there was a penalty shoot-out and we lost 3-2. When we missed the critical penalty, in the pandemonium of victory celebrations, 3 of the Liverpool players went straight to our side to commiserate the guy who missed and congratulate the entire Cardiff team on the way they played the game. Classy winners who stayed humble in the hubris of victory, they recognized how fine the line is between winning and losing
Lesson 2 – You can lose, and still win
Every single Cardiff player gave his last drop for the shirt. In the last 10 minutes of extra time, when many of them were going down with cramps, they somehow found the strength and belief to equalize with two minutes to go. They must have been completely dispirited to lose having given so much and been so close. But their manager talked to the world about losing with dignity, giving credit to the winners, and learning lessons to draw from in their next battle. And with these words he re-framed losing into something much more meaningful which resonated with millions across the world who could reflect on their own battles.
Lesson 3 – The team is the most powerful vehicle that we have as human beings
Last year we had a team with a few stars who were capable of great things, but when the chips were down, they put themselves first. This year, under a new manager, we have a team with no acknowledged stars, but whose spirit and willingness to fight for their colleagues means that they regularly exceed the sum of their parts. And very quickly, the fans spotted the difference and became an even more passionate ‘twelfth man’. The ‘one for all’ attitude they can see on the pitch transmits itself far beyond the white lines to inspire greater support for the cause they can see the players so obviously believing in.
Lesson 4 – We all need role models
Our new manager has quickly, by example, fashioned a group in his image through what he demands of and rewards in others. When asked about how he would console the poor guy who missed the critical penalty, he replied that the team was more important than individuals and they would all take care of that. You can see the way he behaves transmitting itself to his players. And you can see examples of his leadership values all over the pitch. This year we have leaders throughout the team – people who take responsibility not just for what they do, but for challenging each other to dig deeper. Resilience is so much easier if you know others will give you all they have, while demanding everything you have got. And a leader has to somehow convey values that are demonstrated especially when he has no immediate control.
Lesson 5 – Moments of small, quiet heroism happen all the time
From the defender who literally put his body on the line in front of a certain goal, to the cramping midfielder who played the last 15 minutes on one leg, there were moments of heroism all over the pitch. Each one seemed to inspire another – acts of courage were contagious and the more one player gave for the team, the more the team as a whole responded. It struck me that I should register these moments more often in other areas of my life and let people know that I have noticed.
Lesson 6 – It won’t take the recession to end to give people back their pride
Wales had 3 big sporting moments that weekend. Our rugby team won an acclaimed prize by beating the national nemesis (England) away from home. Our champion boxer and Britain’s only world champion retained his title. And Cardiff City lost – with pride, courage and dignity. Yet in many ways, theirs was to my mind the most inspirational achievement of all. People where I live were walking slightly taller that morning after the game – somehow they found a common inspiration, even from those who don’t follow the team every week. Glorious failure has ignited a common sense of civic pride, and when the hangovers cleared, productivity wilrose again. How many opportunities do we have to engender that pride (in a smaller and less public way) every day?
Final lesson – Disaster, like triumph, is an opportunity if we chose to see it that way
The regular season has 11 games left, all against teams less endowed than Liverpool. If Cardiff can harness the spirit generated at Wembley, promotion to the Premier League and untold riches can really be ours. If the players believe in what they did, recreate the resilience formula and inspire generate even 80% of Wembley’s support from fans, they can truly achieve the ultimate goal. The manager knows that and has already begun to refocus the team and the Cardiff public on the next game, using glorious failure as inspiration for eventual triumph. Isn’t that just like life?
A legendary Liverpool manager voiced the quote below. I realized yesterday that I’ve always undervalued it. Today, as a leader and being in the business of inspiring leadership in others, it means more than ever."
“Some people think football is a matter of life and death. I assure you, it’s much more serious than that.” ~ Bill Shankly