The Impossible Leadership Challenge?

Gianfranco Zola Jan 2013 Photo Courtesy: Conductor51

Gianfranco Zola Jan 2013
Photo Courtesy: Conductor51

Last Saturday I took my son to see Watford play Yeovil in the Football Championship League. Watford were 10th in the table while Yeovil were bottom. Watford comprehensively out-played Yeovil but lost 3-0. Combined with three home defeats in a row, this inevitably raises questions about  leadership for the manager, Gianfranco Zola.

In football, managers have a very fragile tenure; much more so than CEOs of public corporations. Their effectiveness is visible week-to-week, rather than the quarterly or half-yearly scrutiny of CEOs, and they generate more emotional responses in their customers – the fans.

The leadership issues behind most football manager sackings mirror failings found in the corporate world. Examples include:

Football Corporate
Falling out with the owner Mismanaging the politics
Losing touch with players Not knowing what’s going on
Introducing tactics players are ill-equipped to implement Imposing strategy without taking account of the context
Buying high profile players that never perform Ego-driven acquisitions that destroy overall value
Dressing room discontent with inappropriate management Shop floor unrest leading to strikes and whistleblowing
Poor choice of tactics, players and substitutes Wrong choice of competitive advantage

In the case of Watford, most pundits agree that it is none of these. Zola is blessed with a very talented bunch of players and has established an exciting mode of one-touch play that creates many scoring chances, and which can also be exhilarating to watch. Zola’s analysis of the problem is that the poor run has left players with a blip in self-confidence.

Having watched several matches, I can agree with Zola’s analysis. I can also see the parallels with corporate leadership – the dispirited telemarketing team nervous of making calls, downtrodden software developers reluctant to innovate, project team members frightened to challenge, and so on.

But as a leader, this creates a real problem:

How do you build self-confidence in a team, group or department?

Other problems are much easier to tackle, but lack of  confidence is much more difficult. We can probably all remember what happens when the seeds of self-doubt start to sprout in ourselves. Zola’s answer was “we must work harder”, but I’m not sure he’s right.

All suggestions gratefully received!

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