One winning lesson that leaders can learn from Argentina’s defeat | columns | Hindustan Times
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One winning lesson that leaders can learn from Argentina’s defeat

Every four years I get out of my sports slumber and wake up to the excitement of the World Cup. There is an invisible and somewhat absurd thrill I get out of watching countries that we studied about only in our geography class take up leadership positions on the field.

columns Updated: Jul 04, 2010 21:01 IST
Gautam Chikermane

Every four years I get out of my sports slumber and wake up to the excitement of the World Cup. There is an invisible and somewhat absurd thrill I get out of watching countries that we studied about only in our geography class take up leadership positions on the field. The exotic Uruguay-Paraguay, the European troika Slovakia-Slovenia-Serbia, the smaller African brigade Algeria-Cameroon-Cote de’Ivoire-Ghana…where do they stand in terms of trade, diplomacy, tourism? Or in terms of symbols G8, G20, G33?

Brazil is better known and there is an irrational love we have for this South American nation. Could it be an intuitive BRIC grouping that we in school were able to resonate with before our (India and Brazil) economic growth rates, or our moustaches, made their presence felt? When Brazil got bashed out of World Cup on Friday by The Netherlands (2:1), Argentina became our favourite. But it was only when the German team crushed it — the most closely-watched match in our family — I found a much-touted leadership lesson come to life: teamwork.

Nothing showed us the importance of a good team more than the humiliating 0:4 (Germany seems to like the number 4) dismissal of Argentina. Running on hype, coached by former star Diego Maradona and dribbled by current shirt number 10 and superstar Lionel Messi, it was way past half-time that it realised the importance of teamwork. The stars concentrated on stellar individual performances — curiously, that’s what we expected of them. But they couldn’t make their way through an impermeable German defence — as strong and resolute as the country’s exports and economic conservatism. Germany moved like one organisation — one body with one mind.

How could any star fight that organisation? As Argentina gets dissected and blame flies from one moving goalpost to another, Maradona’s leadership that fought off player selection or his obstinacy will be the first to fall. In the smug leadership signal he provided, we expected entertainment — anytime Messi got the ball we looked forward to poetic dribbling, not winning. The focus of the German team, on the other hand, was clear: to win — and no star came in the way. It moved like an efficient machine towards a singular goal, all parts offering their bit to that goal.

A day before Brazil’s defeat, a CEO with a fantastic track record, who has taken on a new assignment, gave me his leadership mantra over lemon tea in my office. He told me the three secrets of how he defines leadership. One, to connect with all stakeholders. Two, to get all stakeholders to connect with one another. And three, take that connection and connect it to the company’s goal.

If you look at the football field as a proxy for a marketplace of constantly-shifting consumer preferences, unpredictably-disruptive innovations and invisibly-dangerous global threats, there are tricks and secrets that leaders of corporations and countries can take away once they’re done cheering or mourning their favourite teams. Of all these, there is one that underlines the complexities of our world today and strikes at the heart of today’s leadership — the ability to turn an organisation of disparate experts (stars, if you please) into a living, working team. But in an economy that’s looking at growing by 10 per cent and more, that’s easier said.

I don’t know whether Germany will go on to win this World Cup. But among all the teams on the field, including the current hot favourite Spain, I think it is very well placed. What’s your team like — Argentina or Germany?