Lessons Are Everywhere: 10 Leadership Lessons From The FIFA World Cup

Leadership Lesson: There are lessons everywhere — visuals and scenarios from which you can draw the deepest meaning and best examples of how to be a leader and bring out the best in yourself and others.

And, just like that, the fever is over, the games have ended, and the new champion is crowned. Powerhouses such as Brazil, Germany, and Argentina were sent home sooner than expected, while many more teams made it much further than the odds posted against them had afforded. The month in which the FIFA World Cup plays out is a great time to see the world faces in the crowd on TV and in the bars and restaurants in our neighborhoods and communities.

We look to the players to provide the performances we admire so much. There’s so much they achieve, give, and leave on the pitch. So many great moves are made and plays executed, but also dreams dashed and hearts broken.

Beyond the blood, sweat, and tears of emotion, though, is the most brilliant part of the game – the tactics and strategy. The players are obviously world-class, but there’s so much more that goes into it in order for a team to reach the final matches deeper in the tournament bracket.

So many pieces come together in the execution of a game plan. And we the fans are lucky enough to have an eagle’s eye view of the field, watching these teams trying to outdo each other with their own set of elaborate, chess-like moves. It’s amazing to sit back, watch, and take in.

And, although most of us will never have that caliber of skill in soccer, there are so many lessons we can take away and apply to our lives, work, and leadership from watching the strategy, tactics, and teamwork unfold in the games.

Here are 10 leadership lessons we can take away from the World Cup.

1. A leader is nothing without the support

Tournament Lesson: Star players exit early

It doesn’t matter how much star power a player such as Ronaldo, Messi, Neymar, or Salah may have, if they don’t have the right players around them to set up the right environment and plays, the peak performance they’re accustomed to in their all-star club rosters is neutralized and suppressed. Just consider this list of top ten players to watch in the tournament, published before the World Cup, and reconcile it with the stage at which most of them actually exited.

Leadership Lesson: It’s never just the leader with the complete technical ability alone who can deliver.

2. Look all around you for support 

Tournament Lesson: Some players might try to go it alone to score

There are instances where players try to do it all themselves, trying to bypass a solid defense, instead of passing it to an open teammate to take a more feasible shot. Some may be deliberate in foregoing that opportunity in the name of their own statistics, while others just weren’t aware of that teammate connection just outside of their peripheral vision.

Leadership Lesson: We need to be able to let others rise up and not be blinded by our own desire for glory and praise or pressure to do it all ourselves.

3. Listen to others 

Tournament Lesson: Teammates talking each other through the field

Similarly, there are also instances where the player just has to listen to someone who is feeding them solid advice, whether it’s a teammate on the field or team staff on the sideline, about upcoming obstacles or opportunities the dribbling player may not see from their vantage point.

Leadership Lesson: We need to take into account what others might see that we may not. We cannot close ourselves off from the input of others.

4. People are always watching 

Tournament Lesson: Video Assistant Referee (VAR) will catch you

Soccer players are notorious for their acting jobs, diving to the pitch in an effort to get their opponents carded for their own team’s advantage. But, with growing technology and picture clarity, it’s not hard to determine who is truly hurt and who is feigning for fouls. (I’m looking at you, Neymar.)

Leadership LessonPeople are always watching much more closely and are much smarter than we give them credit for. Someone is always watching you – the good moves, as well as the bad.

5. Give credit where credit is due 

Tournament Lesson: Thankful for assists

Some players, even before celebrating right after scoring a goal, will turn to, acknowledge, or, sometimes, run to the player who provided the assist.

Leadership Lesson: It’s much more respectable to praise those who help you than forget who it was who made your best possible. It raises your credibility in the eyes of others and likely guarantees they’ll help you again in the future.

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6. Too many indiscretions and you lose credibility 

Tournament Lesson: Too many yellow cards today make you ineffective tomorrow

If you’re neglectful or gratuitous in your fouls, yellow cards can accumulate, causing you to personally miss your team’s next game – or next stage (Extreme example – Senegal yielding advancement to the knockout stage to Japan based on number of yellows).

Leadership Lesson: You never know what the long-lasting effect of your indiscretions today might be, so always bear in mind you’re responsible for everything that happens today, even if you don’t see the repercussions immediately. Lapses in judgement – and character – will catch up with you eventually.

7. Support each other no matter what 

Tournament Lesson: Penalties are heartbreakers

Missing a penalty, whether during regulation time or a deciding shoot-out, can be the worst and most haunting experience in soccer. But they can happen to anyone – and do happen to everyone. Everyone will need support. Everyone will need “forgiveness.” Whether things work out or not, support gets you through.

Leadership Lesson: No one is above the worst happening to them. It’s important that everyone be as supportive as possible to and of each other.

8. Don’t give up until the end 

Tournament Lesson: Don’t stop until the final whistle blows

There were so many goals – and deciding goals, at that – scored in stoppage time in this World Cup. So many teams were counted out, but came back to either tie or finish off their opponents in the closing minutes.

Leadership Lesson: As long as time and deadlines allow, it’s not over until you’ve mentally checked out. Anything can happen at any given moment, as long as you keep pushing forward.

9. Sometimes the people you didn’t expect to make an impact do 

Tournament Lesson: The impact of substitutions

So many pivotal goals were made, when most needed, by substitutes later in the game. Some of those substitutes, because of their impact in those scenarios, were elevated to the starting lineup in subsequent games.

Leadership Lesson: Don’t count anyone out. Give everyone a fresh look and elevate them when they come through.

10. Never come in too cocky

Tournament Lesson: Don’t think the underdog can’t get the best of you

The biggest example was then-reigning champion Germany falling to and being
toppled by Mexico.

Leadership Lesson: You never know what’s going to happen. So many factors can play into why things play out the way they do. But one cannot always easily assume the ending can be safely predicted.

So those are 10 lessons to take away.

You can watch them play out during most types of games; it’s not only limited to the World Cup. But in the World Cup the biggest challenges arise when players are no longer on the rosters of their all-star clubs. That’s what sets the World Cup apart – the true test comes up of how leaders and their teams will pull together to get the win on the world’s greatest sports stage.

Watching the strategy of the matches, the grit of the fight, and the fire in the fans’ passion is a thrilling experience.

As pumped as we may get about the performances in a game, it is a game nonetheless, etched in theory, tactic, and strategy.

All of those components are transferable to leadership, organizations, and, of course, teams.

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