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3 leadership lessons from FIFA World Cup Brazil 2014 – What Zambian ICT companies cannot afford to ignore!

Arguably the greatest sporting event on the planet with over a billion viewers and the most lucrative sponsorship deals, FIFA World Cup Brazil 2014 has taken ICT to next level. With some 32.1 million tweets at a rate of 618,725 tweets per minute, the World Cup final between Germany and Argentina set a world record in tweets, communication and connectivity.

Success does not come by mistake or chance, it is a well orchestrated, prepared for outcome culminating from hard behind the scenes work. Here is glimpse at some of 3 of these fundamentals, which you may choose to ignore at your own peril;

Team building: The words of German coach Joachim Low beautifully capture a fundamental leadership lesson and I quote “We’ve been together as a squad now for 55 days, but we started this project 10 years ago, beginning with Jurgen Klinsmann”. Every team at the World cup would have been together for 50 plus days in preparation, but how many started their preparation 10 years ago, and which coach or leader will give credit to his predecessor in the pinnacle moment of his career? The symptoms of success were sown and tested in South Africa in 2010. They came to fruition in Brazil in 2014.

The MNO’s in Zambia are some 15 years old. From the humble origins of Celtel to Zain and now Airtel, from CellZ to MTN, from Zamtel to LapGreen to Zamtel. There has been little time to settle down to do any form of meaningful team building, let alone planning to get a world class quality of service. A view from the terraces would say the least amount of ownership changes you have, the better the team, the better quality of service, the better the performance. Given that it is a “young” and dynamic industry where brand changes are the order of the day, the challenge is how to manage these changes in the best interests of the team. Each brand change is accompanied by a culture change, which is the single biggest shock any team can get. It becomes even more traumatic when culture is accompanied by frequent management changes every other day. Scoring goals in this arena will be much more difficult than Maracana in Rio de Janeiro. Maybe they just need extra time to get that winning goal and spark off the celebrations of world class service.

Team vs. Collection of individuals: Soft spoken German captain Philipp Lahm quips, “Whether we have the best individual players or whatever does not matter: you have to have the best team”. There is a fundamental difference between team and collection of individuals. Brazil is a collection of very talented individuals but were decimated by Germans and humbled by a team of Dutchmen. Had Brazil been a team they would have had a mental fall back position which would allow them to regroup and salvage a bad situation. Such was the depth of the German team that they could field last minute changes, make substitutions that improved the on-field performance. The Dutch were able to play all 23 players during the tournament. The Germans and the Dutch had defenders scoring goals at will. Arguably there was no “superstar” they were all “superstars” and believed it. The whole was greater than the individual, as Henry Ford puts it:

Getting “superstars” to work as a team is a big challenge in the ICT sector. This is especially true where there are huge specialist skills gaps. The subject specialists need to be managed the same way a football team is. Look at a German free kick and the number of players standing over the ball. That is team work at working! As long as you fail to mix the ingredients correctly you will always get a poor tasting dish. The same people in your company can give you a better a result if blended together correctly. This calls for exemplary leadership. Not master-and-slave management styles but hand-in-glove team work. It’s about walking the talk, its about being accessible, approachable, standing up to be counted. It’s about speaking and acting freely with accountability and responsibility. If you have these simple ingredients in your business then the goals will keep coming. 7 goals to 1 is just the tip of the iceberg and the margin of victory will be greater.

Coaching: “Go out there and show the world you are better than Messi” the words of Joachim Low to winning goal scorer 22 year old Mario Goetze. There is no way that Goetze can even be compared to the great Lionel Messi. For a player who had a challenging pre-World Cup season in the Bundesliga, Mario Goetze wrote himself into football history. He believed and he delivered one of the most classic goals of the tournament. Great chest control on the run followed up with a left foot volley into the net sending Romero the wrong way! How great was that!

Making your team members larger than life itself can and does get you extraordinary results. Getting ordinary people to do extra ordinary things is itself a winning leadership characteristic. When was the last time your boss made you feel like Mario Goetze? When was the last time you were given those inspirational words of wisdom that made you overcome even the greatest odds? When this becomes common place in your business then the floods gates will open, goals galore! The ICT Sector has a significant amount of people “new” to the industry from all different backgrounds. The need for coaching the newcomers and hand-holding them is paramount. Newcomers if introduced at the right time can be an asset to your team. Look at the German substitutions in the final, they brought results! The Argentine substitutions in my opinion were too little too late to make any meaningful change to the tempo of the play. Bringing in newcomers for the sake of newcomers does not yield a result. Look at Brazil, change the team from a 7 – 1 whipping to a 3 – 0 thrashing side. The net result is the same, a humiliation that there may be new FIFA rules and no runners up play off in the next World Cup! Do you feel your organization is making German tactical moves or Brazilian pain killing decisions? Ask your CEO.

Now that the arenas have emptied and the fans make their way back home, let us take time to ponder on some of these brief glimpses in the ever changing kaleidoscope of the beautiful game of football. There is no difference being a national team football coach and a leader in the ICT sector. Do it right and your customers will love you. Slip up and you get booed for the next 4 years till the opportunity to redeem yourself presents itself, if you qualify!

So for now, let’s play hardball!

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