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Man hitting World Cup 2014 football

5 leadership lessons from the World Cup



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We’re barely a week into the 2014 FIFA World Cup and already it’s been headline after headline of surprise wins, shock losses and unforgettable goals.

It’s been exciting, but it’s also given me something to think about. You see, with sports it’s never really one thing that creates a winning team. The winning and the glory is what is focused on, but it’s the coaches meetings, countless hours of training, injuries, near-defeat and physical punishment which leads to us jumping on our couches with glee in front of the TV at 4am.

The same can be said for business. Business success is what is focused on, but it’s the daily grind of running a business and its people which determines the outcome of your company goals.  

With that in mind, here are five business lessons we can take away from the first weekend of the World Cup:

1. It’s okay to stuff it up

Even though Brazil won the opening game against Croatia 3-1, their win was slightly over shadowed by Brazilian defender Marcelo’s own goal 10 minutes into the game, which also happened to be the first goal of the entire World Cup. Oops.

However, the Brazilians quickly regained their composure and went on to score three more goals, reminding us that while mistakes happen (sometimes on a global scale), it’s best to recover quickly and focus on the main task at hand.

2. Age is just a number

The average age of a World Cup player in a winning squad is 26 years old, so at 35, Italy’s Andrea Pirlo is slightly more mature than his peers.

But he didn’t let that stop him from dominating their first match against England. Pirlo made 108 passes – with 103 of those being accurate passes – and completed 117 touches, making him the only World Cup player to have made and completed that many passes and touches.

It may be easy to sideline older employees for fear that they can’t keep up, but Pirlo is proof having someone on the team with experience and who understands the game is a valuable team member. The ability to adapt under very stressful circumstances is a winning strategy.

3. Experience goes a long way

The Italy-England game also proves fresh talent may not always be the best bet. England chose to put a younger team on the field this year (midfielder Raheem Sterling is only 19 years old) while Italy stuck with tried and tested players.

Younger employees may bring a new lease of life to a tournament that’s been around since 1930, but a balance of young and old can be the secret to an all-rounded team.

Your more youthful staff may have bright ideas and fresh perspective, but those who have been around the block may know the best way to achieve your business goals.

4. Success isn’t forever

The Spain-Netherlands match was a replicate of the finals in 2010, making for an epic showdown, but defending champions Spain faced a tough match, losing 5-1 despite a 58% possession rate.

Just before half time, striker Robin van Persie executed a memorable header, securing the Netherland’s lead in the game. Spain also displayed its favoured quick-passing style throughout the game, with midfielder Xavi telling reporters prior to the match that the team would “win or die” by this approach.

“We’ve had this philosophy now for a number of years and I think it would be a mistake to change it,” he said.

Unfortunately for Xavi and his team, it was a mistake to hold on, reminding us that every team hits a stage where it might be best to let go of legacy practices.

5. Go big or go home

Van Persie’s diving header in the 44th minute is already touted to be the best goal of the game this year.

He saw an opportunity and went for it, temporarily putting aside any hesitation or fear despite probably knowing he was going to land face first into the ground.

While it might not be a good idea to run head first into every risky situation, knowing when to do so, and empowering your team to be able to do the same can mean the difference between winning and losing.

With four more weeks to go, it’s still up in the air which two teams will make it to the final game on July 14, and what other leadership lessons we’ll match to glean from the event.

Meanwhile, don’t forget to read up on how you can prepare your office for World Cup fever this year.

Image: Shutterstock

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Sabrina Zolkifi
Deputy editor
Human Resources Magazine Singapore

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