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Leadership lessons from Germany’s Qatar disaster

Among the many fascinating leadership lessons from Amazon’s “All or Nothing” documentary about Germany’s Qatar football disaster, here’s one that stood out for me:

For Germany’s coaches, it was US and THEM, not WE.
“Us” the coaches and “them” the players, not “we” the team.

The coaches expected them to deliver.
As opposed to being in this together.

When the coaches expect the players to deliver, it delegates the responsibility the wrong way. It frees the coach from the responsibility and puts that burden on the player. Basically, the message is this: “I’ve told you what you need to do. If you fail, it’s on you.”

A leader who lights the path would turn this upside down. They would trust the players to deliver. They would believe in the players to deliver. Because they would figure out a path and light it in a way that the players would see it, believe in it and trust in the path (and themselves), too.

No need to expect anything.

But Germany’s players didn’t trust in the path (or themselves). Head coach Hansi Flick’s words made it sound like he didn’t trust in the journey and in the team’s ability to deliver. And so, the players couldn’t find that trust, either.

Flick used pressure (“We expect X from you”) as a substitute for trust. But that can’t work when the players don’t even trust in themselves.

Worse, when it’s US and THEM, i.e. when the TEAM is missing, then you can’t compensate lack of trust with will power (despite the obvious individual strengths of the players). For will power to surface you’d need a reason – such as belonging to something bigger than yourself. As there was no team, there was nothing bigger. Who would they stretch themselves for? The coaches? But why?

The documentary is a rare glimpse into how professional top-level leadership actually performs (or doesn’t). You’d make a mistake to assume that 1) this example would be the rare exception and 2) businesses would be any different.

Which is not to say that there aren’t businesses that are different or that there aren’t leaders who truly light the path. But it’s certainly not the default.

“Leadership skill” is still largely expected to just somehow come to leaders “naturally”. You’re either born with it or not. Training, coaching and professional advisory around communication is still the exception to the norm – and even when it’s done it’s sometimes just to check the box.

And yet, communication can make or brake leadership – even if you’re highly skilled in other areas.

If you’ve watched the documentary, what was your biggest takeaway?

PS: It was heartbreaking to see the outsized role that PowerPoint played in the team meetings. PowerPoint is no substitute for empathy and trust and the way it’s being used in these meetings is a bitter example of that.

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