Heart of a Lion: Leadership Lessons from England’s Epic World Cup Run

By Timothy Kist posted 07-17-2018 16:43


I am not a true soccer fan, I am a sometimes fan that is in awe of the physical condition and skill of the players and the structure and tactics of the game itself. I also truly enjoy the British announcers that know how to use the entire English language to describe a match, and not just calling every second play “awesome” like most North American announcers do.

I have watched parts of matches from the current World Cup because TSN replays them in the evening. I have a fondness for England and Germany because I watch the odd Premier League game and used to watch Bundesliga on Sunday nights on PBS after Monty Python.

With Germany not making it out of the group stage I have been intrigued by England’s march to the semis. Lots of unfortunate history for the Three Lions in international play and they exorcised some of those demons.

The revamped 2018 squad begins with a new coach. Gareth Southgate played for England and infamously missed a penalty kick to lose to Germany in the semis of the 1996 Euro Cup.

He then selected a young and relatively inexperienced international team with a lot of athletic ability and a high skill level.

He brought a different approach to practice and games by being composed and preaching a sense of calm. He brought fun into the practices with different drills to get players actively engaged. One of his most famous was the use of a rubber chicken that was tossed and kicked around at the start of practice to get the players loose and warmed up without being too much and possibly causing a muscle strain. Clever!

In the games, England seemed to push the ball forward much more than in the past couple of decades. If a real fan is reading and I am wrong with my assessment, my apologies. That is not the point. England were playing an exciting style.

Coach Southgate respected, encouraged, and corrected his players while expecting that they give the team everything they had. Every time.

He wanted to win for his customers – the English football fans. He deflected the great plays and associated praise to his players. He wasn’t playing the game, but he was leading the team.

He simplified things and looked for consistency in certain set pieces to take some of the potential mental pressure away from his players. This was most evident in the penalty kicks against Columbia. After each Columbia shot, he had his keeper, Jordan Pickford, walk the ball to his teammate that was lining up for the next shot so there was no delay or mind games by the opponents. And he and Pickford studied all the Columbian players and they had a very successful save scheme that appeared to rattle the opponents. England won a penalty shootout for the first time in international play. Composure and knowing the opposition.

Let’s take these points and apply to your business:

  • What is your leadership style? Are you composed, thoughtful and respectful? Do you think about the business and put your employees into the best position possible to serve your internal and external customers to succeed?
  • Do you understand your customers and set high standards for service and satisfaction? Do you provide training and ongoing support so your employees can always be at their best? How do you know how well you are doing? What are your measurements and KPIs?
  • Do you have fun and create a sense of belonging for your team and drive to a culture of service to internal and external customers? Would your staff really go through a wall for you and the company or would they pack it in because the culture is not really as customer-focused and as valued as you think?
  • Are you truly grateful for your customers and do you tell them? Do you seek to learn more about them so you can become even more valuable to them? Are you a real trusted advisor?
  • Do you think deeply about how to improve and where adjustments and small improvements can make a measurable difference in the long-term?
  • Are you constantly on the hunt for great talent? Please don’t settle and please do not skimp when bringing great people on board.

I am pretty sure that you have missed a penalty kick at some point in your career. You are human and mistakes have been made on your rise to the top.

Have you overcome those misses? Do you have the courage to make tough decisions with the end goal of making everyone better and truly driving towards customer greatness?  Not once or once in a while. All the time.

Do you truly have the heart of a lion to set the standard? Your customers and team know the answer.
About the Author

Tim Kist is a Certified Management Consultant (CMC), whose certification was obtained through a combination of experience, examination and continuous professional development. With over 20 years of senior industry management, combined with nearly 8 years in management consulting with national firms, Tim brings together extensive experience, objectivity, and front line leadership. As a national athlete and current university football coach, Tim lives and understands the evaluation, preparation and game planning required for successful high level individual and team performance. He has successfully brought this coaching approach to his work teams throughout his leadership career. Read More

A version of this post was first published here.