Photo credit: By Антон Зайцев (soccer.ru)
How To Build A Team With The Courage To Beat Expectations
by Rafael Aldon and Yasanhalari
With every World Cup, it’s easy to dissect what didn’t go well when our team is knocked out, and simply overlook what did go well when they won.
The media stories of this year’s world cup were often about the super-stars that were expected to shine brightest; Messi, Ronaldo, Neymar and how they faltered, rather than the team performances that prevailed to the later stages.
France left Russia as worthy winners, a strong team with strength and depth of experience and heaps of talent. But regardless of who your favourite team is, there is a lot to be learnt from the teams that over-performed to beat expectations with sides bereft of “super-stars”. Probably none more so than England.
England’s only world cup victory was over fifty years ago beating West Germany in 1966 and the last time they made it to the World Cup semi-finals was in 1990 – 28 years ago! They have been disastrously failing ever since.
Yet this year, despite fielding the youngest and least experienced squad of the 32 teams to make the finals, they made it to the last four- and we can learn a lot from some of the techniques their manager, Gareth Southgate used to inspire this outcome.
Talent versus Experience
“Over the past few decades of underachievement, one of the most frustrating things about England has been how so many old-fashioned but relatively trivial issues get built up into massive talking points… only to mean absolutely nothing as the side suffer the same old, same old: a disappointingly early elimination from a tournament as they are ultimately outclassed.” (source: Independent)
One of the major topics whirling around this year’s World Cup build-up was why Southgate refrained from picking more experienced players but instead went for younger players, who ‘can be anything they want to be’. He had the confidence in them to predict they might just cause a shock in the World Cup.
While other’s were building their tactics and formations around their strongest superstar players, Southgate set to find the right players for the formation and tactics that could win.
So, what is the obvious lesson here?
In an age where agility and adaptability rule, it’s important to note that instead of hiring purely based on experience, it’s important to look for ones with the potential and a malleability- that you can train to perform as a team.
Southgate reasoned that the new squad was not burdened by expectation or prior failures. “We’ve had a generation of hugely experienced players who have just finished, really, in the last two to four years,” Southgate said. He used that potential weakness to his advantage.
However, despite the team lacking experience at major tournament’s, he did not. He knew what to expect and how to prepare the team both physically and psychologically. Southgate has had to live with the consequences of missing a penalty in the Semi-Final against Germany at Euro 96 and was determined that his players did not have to suffer similar character assassination by the tabloid press.
Failure is the beginning, not the end
“Sometimes you have to go through difficult times as a team, and failures, to learn and to improve” – Gareth Southgate (source: Guardian)
Gareth Southgate talked about how the current players are no longer “being weighed down by the failures and stigmas of previous England teams.”
If Southgate and his team believed that past catastrophes are binding like a contract, they wouldn’t have revived hope of their fans and their country. They didn’t allow failure to dictate its terms and rules. They defied it and made new ones. England’s dismal record and reputation in the World Cup has changed. They are back in the game and faith is being restored. It’s easy to get sucked into the whirling vortex of failure and possibly stay there. But, it boils down to perception and mindset which are not fixed but changeable. “failure is not falling down but refusing to get up”.
Likewise, in business, the same principle applies and in fact, according to Dr Ricardo Zozimo, lecturer in entrepreneurship at Lancaster University Management School, failure occurs often and plays a significant role in any entrepreneur’s life.
Just take a look at the many great entrepreneurs who bounced back from ‘failure’ to succeed: Sir James Dyson developed 5,126 prototypes that failed before making one that worked- it took him 15 years. JK Rowling’s Harry Potter was turned down by 12 publishers and was picked up by Bloomsbury which eventually sold more than 450 million copies. Thomas Edison could have given up after 3,000 failed attempts to create the long-burning incandescent light bulb. The list is endless.
Malcolm Gladwell in his interview with Wharton management professor Adam M. Grant beautifully put it that we are “misled by the narrowness of our assumptions about what constitutes an advantage in any given situation” (David and Goliath)
To achieve you have to believe!
“We’ve proved to ourselves and our country that is possible. Now we have a new benchmark. Many of these players have come of age on an international stage. I couldn’t be prouder.” – Gareth Southgate (source: Guardian)
It boils down to believing. Gareth believed in his team, the philosophy, and the approach before anything else.
You can’t start something if you don’t believe in it. Belief is powerful- it’s central to the success of creating anything, including businesses. You can romanticise about a business idea, but if you don’t believe in it, there’s no chance of it seeing the light of day. Belief is one of the most important tools especially if you are a founder/owner of the business.
As a business owner, you must believe that your business can and will succeed otherwise you’ll never inspire others to join your mission to make it a reality.
Believing is a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Psychologists have found strong evidence for the impact of our beliefs and expectations on outcomes, particularly when we are convinced that our predictions will manifest, and even when we don’t necessarily consciously know that we hold the expectation. (source: positive psychology studies)
Studies have shown that self-fulfilling prophecies—The Pygmalion effect– a phenomenon which was first discovered in the classroom by Robert Rosenthal and Jacobson, works wonder on performance.
Simply put, the Pygmalion effect is when people perform according to what you believe them to perform which is what Gareth did, and his team performed up to the level that he expected of them.
The Pygmalion effect has been observed in several fields and one of the famous and interesting experiments was done in the army. In this experiment, 105 soldiers were given an assignment in a 15-week course. Before the programme started, the instructors were given a list of trainees.
However, each soldier had either a “high”, “regular” or “unknown” ranking, regardless of their actual ranking.
The study indicated that a soldier’s performance was improved by the expectations of the trainers: those soldiers who were ranked “high” outperformed everyone, while those who were ranked “average” scored the lowest and the group without any rank ended up in the middle. The difference in performance between the best and the worst group was 15 per cent.
This is a testament that our beliefs have the power to change our reality; what we believe can become true.
“The questions around us principally come down to character; the essential ability to withstand events that go against you.” – Independent
There’s no better way to inspire greatness than to lead by example and that’s what Gareth did. Even though the current England team wasn’t rated as highly as previous teams, the firm confidence that Southgate instilled in them was able to move mountains. The team achieved against the odds to surpass a nation’s expectations.
Peter Handal, chief executive of New York City-based Dale Carnegie Training, a leadership-training company says that research shows that what matters most is that “leaders are able to create enthusiasm, empower their people, instil confidence and be inspiring to the people around them.”
When leading by example, they earn respect. When leaders act and work in an ethical way, they model the character they want to see in others and that earns them the respect. According to Handal, those leaders who are seen and thought of as not “walking their talk” typically don’t get very far.
It’s hard not to admire a leader who managed to reverse his team’s fortunes in their favour by turning a position of what appeared to be a disadvantage, lack of experience and youth, into one of advantage.
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