Tuesday, 26 Jan 2021

5 Career lessons middle managers can learn from Soccer

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One of the biggest mistakes middle managers do is treating their middle management years with the same mentality they used to have when they started their professional career.

During those years, you should treat your professional life the same way a world class brain surgeon deals with his moves during a major surgery, simply because you are approaching the top the pyramid, and there no enough seats for everyone.

In such regard, Football (or soccer in American terms) has some interesting insights which middle managers can learn from. Given how stressful our day to day life is, it’s easier to remember the insights from your sports, when compared to training sessions. With no further delay, those lessons are:

Feelings are not usually mutual

Raúl González Blanco is probably the best Spanish footballer ever. For many years Raul was the top scorer in Real Madrid, and the European Champions league. He spent the vast majority of his career with Real Madrid (between 1994 and 2010), during which he won 3 European Cup, 2 Intercontinental Cup, 1 European Super Cup, 6 La Liga, 4 Spanish Super Cup. Raul is described on Real Madrid website as the “The eternal captain who represented Madrid’s values on the pitch”, and that’s the least to be said given that he scored 323 goal with Real Madrid. Aside from his “numerical results” he was a true leader who energized everyone around him, a world class sports figure who played with his heart before his legs, which made him an icon for all football lovers across the universe.

Yet, the feelings were not mutual, in 2010 when Real Madrid hired Jose Mourinho – who is not in favor of keeping Raul for a reason or another – Raul was simply sacked. In spite the fact that he was 33 years old, in a shape that allowed him to play competitively for 2 more years at least (which he proved quite well, when he moved to German Club Schalke 04, he scored 0.5 goals / match, which is a good ratio)

So what happened?

Raul was treated as any other business resource, the company hires a new CEO who wants new members, the board accepts his requests, regardless how important some members are, and believe it or not , it happens.

Business Lesson: the chances that you work and grow in the same company the same way Jack Welsh did, is not as big as you think. Once your growth curve starts to be stagnant, change becomes a must. In our example here, if Raul moved out of Real Madrid 2 or 3 years earlier, he would have easily got a bigger financial deal in one of the top clubs (Manchester United was highly interested in him at that time). Sometimes we get too passionate, even if the feeling is not mutual.

If you can’t defend, it doesn’t matter how much you score

After winning the world cup in 2002, Brazil suffered from the above problem, they were capable to score many goals, but they also accepted many goals, for some years this was not a problem because the net result was favorable, however once the scoring machine was not as exceptional as it used to be, the team lost the podium position.

Business Lesson: Always invest in your existing customers, partners and clients. Winning a new contract or acquiring a new client is a glorious moment, however as the market matures, the value of the existing is usually higher than the new customers. Some sales and marketing managers gets too excited with the euphoria of adding new customers whilst assuming that the existing customers are there for life. Such approach leads to a short term success and a longer term failure which will directly hinder their career growth. The same logic applies on your team members, if you can’t retain talents, you will rebel candidates.

A glorious moment doesn’t define your career

Mohamed Nagy Gedo, an Egyptian footballer who is probably the best substitute in the history of the African Cup of Nations. A player who never started from the beginning of any match, yet was capable to score each time he enters the pitch. In addition, he scored some awesome goals in a killer timings, one of which was the goal that granted the championship to Egypt in final against Ghana in 2010. In addition, he finished the tournament as the top scorer can anyone dream of a better opportunity to “start” an outstanding career?

Post to this tournament he played in the leading team in the Egyptian league and in Hull City in the Premier League without leaving any remarkable print in both. Making this moment the only glorious moment in his career.

Business Lesson: A glorious moment is not the chicken that lays golden eggs, it’s just a fortunate starting point. The fact that you were the leader of the team who delivered a successful product, or you had the chance to turnaround the company’s performance in a fiscal year doesn’t mean that you have secured a corner office in the coming fiscal. It just means you are starting the race from the pole position

Big players play well, without the ball

How many times you saw the ball crossing everyone in the field and then all of a sudden the head of Cristiano Ronaldo appears, and simply, it’s a goal. It’s amazing how the legendary Paolo Maldini made attackers feel that the football field is as big as a tennis court, at the age of 40, the guy was fully capable to be stop any striker, regardless to the speed gap between them. It’s the art of playing without the football.

Those players and many others, whenever they don’t have the ball, they know where and when they should be, even if they don’t get the ball, they are still effective, they are keeping a defender/s or an attacker out of the play by their moves. In simple, if they don’t have the ball, they are not out of the game, on the contrary, they are even being effective more than those who have it.

Business Lesson: if you are not part of the big project that doesn’t mean that should be useless or doing your business as usual, on the contrary, you should be keeping an eye, knowing how can you contribute to the company’s interest from where you are, nothing is more impressive to top management other than those middle managers who are always ready with the golden answer whenever they are asked, or in other terms, they know where to be and what to do when the ball is in their legs.

A bad season won’t kill your career, a wrong move will.

It’s really hard to remember, if not impossible, a career of a big footballer without a relatively bad season. That’s the norm. They are great because even when they are not in their best, they are not their worst, however no one can be at his best for an entire career.

What actually can kill a career is a wrong move. Wesley Sneijder is typical example for this rule, the Dutch footballer was one of the top midfielders in the world when he was playing to Real Madrid and Internazionale. His move to the Turkish team “Galatasaray” officially put his name out of the list of top players in history.

Business Lesson: Given the financial and social pressures, some middle managers are tempted to do moves for a bigger package, for being near to home, or any other “valid reasons”. However they must consciously know that if this move is not contributing to their career, it’s probably demolishing their chances to decently move to the top managerial level in the world class companies.

It’s true that usually life is not rosy and in many situations people are forced to step into “the only available option”, yet they should work as hard as they can to promptly correct this move, to return back to the high way, otherwise, they will stay in the service road for good.

A driver in the F1 races can’t blink for a second, he doesn’t have this luxury, and neither do you. Work with passion, but don’t live the misery of the “one sided relationship”. Guarding what you have is the foundation for acquiring what you want. Always remember that a glorious moment won’t give you the touch of Midas, it’s just a shortcut for more success. When you are not called for the big project, you should not be sitting back and enjoying the routine, on the contrary, you should be alerted and ready to score once you have a small window of opportunity. Extra cash, convenience, running away from some unfair practices are legitimate reasons to move from your current company, however if the move doesn’t add to your career, all of those reasons becomes a justification for a career derail.



Hussein Sayed

Hussein has a long track of success in leading commercial units in major ICT Players. He has worked on ground in different emerging markets in Africa, Middle East, and South East Asia. He is an expert in Telecom and ICT and have made a set of contributions on how better education can help emerging countries in reaching sustainable development.

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