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Leadership Lessons From Football

Professional football is a reliable source of analogies and examples for business coaches and leaders.

At the top level, like any other business, each football club has a business plan. All business plans are different but generally provide a roadmap for the future, covering their whole operation.

Each section of the club (marketing, hospitality, football, community and administration etc.), will then have their own strategic plan to show how their part of the business plan will be delivered. Typically the football element of the strategic plan will include playing performance objectives (win/draw/points gained). 'If not measured, how can we show improvement?'

That strategic plan is principally concerned with how to achieve on-field objectives. The objective may be to secure a more lucrative league position compared with last season. It could be an aim to win a qualifying place for next season’s European cup competitions or a play-off position to gain possible promotion into a higher league. Playing squad restructure. For some, modest 'survival’ in the present league is a serious objective. Each objective will be coupled to a 'how' strategy.

Under the radar for obvious reasons, every game will also dictate specific tactics to unpick opponents and satisfy the playing objectives. This is the nitty-gritty element supporters and fans get revved up about. 

Just like a business locked into a significant account bid, the football manager and coaching staff will expect their players to be consistently at their best to grind out those acute margins for success. They will know a great deal about the opposition playing style and importantly the strengths and limitations of each player. Their scouts will be sure of that.

By selecting their own playing system and team shape, they choose the personnel capable of delivering the objective to win points..

All very simple until someone cocks up and gives the ball away to gift an opponent a goal or gets sent off. Similarly, in the business world, it only takes one error, and the competitors get in for free.

Contingency planning makes sense in such circumstance.

The top football teams are 'switched-on' to contingency planning and prepare ahead of time for all eventualities including the potential loss of a player due to indiscipline. They practice their plan-B on the training ground. After all, 47 players were sent off during the past Premier League season alone. It never surprises those with a plan.

Defending with ten is one thing but trying to beat ten players instead of eleven is difficult too, unless you have prepared for it. How to cope with such an enforced change is the dilemma. Many say at times 'it is harder to beat ten players than eleven.'

In business, any enforced change in account dynamic, budget adjustment, key personnel change, hostile competitive bid or over-zealous misinterpretation of client brief can stop success in its tracks.

Why then bother to set objectives if all this stuff can get in the way of carefully crafted plans?

Why not just go with the flow and wing it?

Having no objective ('how much and by when’), risks attracting radical negative energy and self doubt. We all need aims to orient us and ensure our subconscious stays locked on to purpose. Life without an objective is a withering thought.

Without objectives, today will turn out like yesterday; next week will be the same as last week and this year a repeat of last year. In other words no growth and no positive change. In today's world even standing still equates to going backwards.

Any outcome will do when your subconscious gravitates back to your dominant picture of how things have always been. You are in a rut. To climb out, you must change your mental picture.

If you can’t see your future, as you want it, you become limited to following the will and agenda of someone else.

The main reason you set objectives in the first place is to supersede your current reality and if you are dissatisfied with your current reality, why don’t you change it for the better?

Finally set your objectives through, not up to your target to avoid resting on your laurels as you approach success. Keep going and reset through the next and the next. It is life changing.


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