Basking in the unfamiliar glow of a late England goal and the first opening tournament win since 2006, the world’s hardest job is looking surprisingly easy today.
Business leaders have long turned to sporting managers for inspiration, so what can be learned from Gareth Southgate’s early World Cup win? Chris Barnard, senior accountancy manager at Crunch, offers up seven lessons for decision makers.
Take the pressure off to energise the team
By playing down expectations in the months leading up to the World Cup, Southgate managed to alleviate pressure on a national team which is so often weighed down by unrealistically high hopes.
As such, the players would’ve considered a 1-1 draw a worthwhile achievement, let alone the win they ultimately earned. Creating an environment where every member of the team can achieve is just as powerful in business, not to mention a useful way of helping with employee retention.
Celebrate performance over results
Interviewed immediately after the game, the England manager praised his team’s resilience and positive performance: “Even if we had drawn I would have been proud of us”. Celebrating performance over specific results is just as valuable when talking about sales, innovation or new client wins.
Incentivising and rewarding a team’s brilliance and effort rather than reserving celebrations for obvious wins is both motivating and fair, as it removes the element of luck which can see some staff rewarded more than others when a big win goes their way.
Learn from your predecessor’s mistakes
Southgate has abandoned the rigid 4-4-2 which he played, and arguably suffered under, as part of England’s recent history. Instead he embraced a fluidity that suited his inexperienced young team.
Understanding the talent at your disposable and playing to your people’s strengths is a powerful advantage which makes the most of the agile decision-making that’s possible in a small business.
Don’t just play favourites
Unlike many previous England managers, Southgate has resisted the temptation to prioritise famous names, leaving Arsenal’s Jack Wilshere out of the squad and freezing Wayne Rooney out even earlier. He’s not been afraid of playing lesser known players with few caps like Kieran Trippier, who fit well with the shape and skills of the rest of the team.
Likewise, in a small business setting, favouring particular individuals can lose the trust of the rest of the team, not to mention create a potential division.
Keep your nerve
Southgate’s calm faith in his team has shone for weeks and continued to do so on the touchline against Tunisia – despite some nail-bitingly frustrating moments.
In turn, this led to an unusual level of patience on the field, and an absence of stereotypically English long-ball panics, and composure in the box which eventually culminated with Harry Kane’s perfect late header.
Good business can depend on a leader’s confidence and clarity of direction which feeds through to the rest of the team. When your strategy’s right, it’s right.
England would have had good cause to complain about a run of decisions that went against them; a slew of Tunisian fouls went unpunished, including two in-the-box wrestling moves on Harry Kane that should have been penalties.
Yet for the most part, calm reigned and the manager and team alike kept focused on the job in hand. Resisting distractions and winning on your own terms can be equally rewarding in business.
Live and breathe the team
Asked at the end of the match to name outstanding performances, Southgate swerved the question and refused to pick out individual players.
Instead he praised the “collective effort” and took pains to applaud both the early contributions of Raheem Sterling and Dele Alli before they were substituted, as well as the fresh energy brought on by Marcus Rashford and Ruben Loftus-Cheek.
No matter what leaders think behind the scenes, praising and motivating the entire team can cultivate an unshakeable unity. Let’s hope that spirit is back on display against Panama.
Chris Barnard is senior accountancy manager at Crunch
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