This weekend preparing this bjohan-cruijff-hollande-1974logpost, I ran into a brilliant quote from Johan Cruijff. At a conference a few years ago for the Dutch local government, he told a great story about a talented blind golfer, Ronald Boef he played golf with.  Despite his handicap, Ronald Boef played his best golf in difficult mental circumstances like playing balls over a big pond or consistent putting. The conclusion of Johan Cruijff: "Ronald doesn’t “see" the problems, he is only focussing on the next target. He thinks from a positive mindset".   I couldn’t agree more.  In my opinion, this is one of the fundamentals behind eXtreme Manufacturing (XM) and the reason why the Dutch team didn’t made it through the WorldCup finals.

Like many consultants, topsport is an inspiring source for me.  Almost every day I show or tell stories from great sport coaches like Marc Lammers or Johan Cruijjff.   Like every major sports event, also this WorldCup in Brasil contained some interesting lessons for me I wanted to share with you.

The Big Question: You can have the best individual team members but still not be able to perform.  Why?

Brazil v Netherlands: 3rd Place Playoff - 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil

Top Team Ingredient #1: Mindset

The defeat of Spain against the Netherlands, the glorious win of Germany over Brazil showed having fun, faith and determination pay off and a lack of these ingredients will bring you in a lot of trouble.   Until the penalty series of the semi-finals, the right side of this recipe also worked for the Dutch squad. Now, penalty series are for no one a fun exercise, which only leaves faith and determination.   Unlike the previous penalty series against Costa Rica, the Dutch team had no faith in their keeper as a penalty-killer which directly effected the teams determination. They became more hesitant and aware of what could happen when missing a penalty.  Yes, Ronald Boef probably would have taken the penalties better than the Dutch team did against Argentina.. 😉

Top Team Ingredient #2: Leadership

Like Johan Cruijjf stated in the same video, the leader on the pitch should be 100% concentrated on every detail and also (in my words) be the natural leader of the team, coaching them in keeping the spirit up and giving them enough room “to grow".  Despite his great qualities as a football-player, as a captain Robin van Persie was obviously not the natural leader of the team. Arjan Robben was. The natural leadership of Arjan Robben in combination with his determination was an important reason why The Netherlands were able to regain their motivation and pull off a highly respected 3rd place in this WorldCup.

In my opinion, a high performing team should always have a natural leader.  The options:

  1. A formal leader with natural leadership qualities is the perfect combination.
  2. A formal leader without natural leadership qualities but able to delegate this to another team member is also okay.
  3. A formal leader without natural leadership qualities and ignoring don’t having this competence, is bad news for the team, the team’s environment but above all, for the formal leader himself.

For the new coach van the Dutch team, Guus Hiddink, it will be a challenge convincing Robin van Persie to step back as the 1st captain after nominating Arjan Robben.  Robin van Persie should keep one thing in mind here:  no one is doubting his qualities as a top world class striker.  As a natural leader however, he is not that world class.  Trying to be one is effecting his performance as a world class striker and that would in the end be a disappointment for his supporters but above all, for Robin van Persie himself.

What does this imply for Leadership within organizations?

Leadership, especially natural leadership, is crucial for having highly motivated and productive teams.  The team stays motivated and focussed on their goal.

How ever, a lot of employees are still instrumentally “nominated” to become a coach or manager without having any leadership skills.  In my opinion, natural leadership is something you can’t gain by nomination or just by learning it.  You can improve it, but there should be some basis of natural leadership.  Ignoring this can be even counter-productive: conflicts will arise, the spirit and productivity will go down.