Opinion: leadership lessons we can all take from football

Reda Raad, chief executive of the communications powerhouse TBWA\RAAD, says Liverpool, Spurs show how important it is to never give up on a dream
Opinion: leadership lessons we can all take from football
Reda Raad, chief executive of TBWA\RAAD.
By Reda Raad
Thu 09 May 2019 02:45 PM

First there was Liverpool. Then there was Tottenham. Two teams that have shown on successive nights that determination and self-belief can overcome the greatest odds.

Isn’t football a wonderful game. On nights like these it provides the kind of remarkable entertainment that no other sport can, justifying its sometimes possessive hold over the imagination. Liverpool were 3-0 down after the first leg against Barcelona. Tottenham were 2-0 down at half-time against Ajax and trailing 3-0 on aggregate. The rest, of course, is history, with Tottenham left-back Danny Rose saying Liverpool’s miraculous 4-0 victory inspired his own team’s unbelievable comeback. The sublime feeding off the sublime.

For me, there are significant lessons to be learnt from these two games. Firstly, that it is foolish to underestimate the power of the underdog. Barcelona in particular would have gone into their second leg against Liverpool with confidence, knowing that to overcome such a deficit would require a near miraculous turn of events.

Before the game had even started Jose Mourinho, the former Chelsea and Manchester United manager, had already written Liverpool off, as had the majority of others. As we subsequently saw, the dismissal of an opponent’s ability to surprise is a dangerous mentality to adopt. Especially in England, where a strong love of the underdog trumps conspicuous success.

The first point feeds into the second. Complacency. The worst thing any team or organisation can do is take things for granted. Barcelona went into Tuesday’s game knowing they had an almost unassailable advantage, and by the time Ajax were 3-0 up in their second leg against Tottenham, they were probably thinking the same thing. In effect they had settled into their comfort zones, letting their guards slip and, in Barcelona’s case, taking additional delight in the knowledge that Liverpool was without its two biggest stars – Mo Salah and Roberto Firmino.

Lionel Messi’s superb double in the first leg against Liverpool, and the world’s constant adoration of his skills, would have only added to the club’s sense of invincibility, and hence its complacency.

Then there’s the goal scorers Divock Origi and Georginio Wijnaldum, two Liverpool players who would probably not have been playing if it weren’t for the absence of Salah and Firmino. In fact, it’s a miracle Origi is still a Liverpool player at all after his run of bad luck.

Yet he has consistently delivered on the big occasions, despite being on the fringes of Liverpool’s first-team squad. As such, it’s easy to argue that sometimes those with the most to prove can be an organisation’s greatest asset.

Trusting them to deliver requires courage, of course, especially if they have failed in the past, but failure (as I have always said) is one of the greatest paths to success. Therefore giving those quieter, lesser known characters within your company a chance could mean the difference between accepting the fate that has been allotted you and disrupting your own destiny.

So, ask yourself, who within your organisation has the most to prove, do you have the required strength in depth, and are you willing to take chances? Because your answers to these will indicate your company’s ability to embrace the biggest lesson of them all. To stay hungry. To never give up.

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