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Ricardo Leiva, Faculty of Economics and Business Administration, University of Navarra, Spain

Soccer lessons for the business

Fri, 15 Apr 2011 10:39:27 +0000 Published in Las Provincias de Valencia, Diario Sur and Hoy

According to Jim Collins, great business leaders, those who lead companies that excel over a long period of time, possess two essential characteristics: modesty and determination. They are leaders who generate enduring greatness through "a paradoxical combination of humility staff and professional will." Their motivation is gigantic, but they control their ego. They are ambitious, but gentle and even shy. The formula described by Collins has worked very well for Spanish soccer, according to programs of study published by professors at IESE at the University of Navarra.

The Spanish national soccer team won the World Cup because, among other things, it knew how to put collective pride before individual ego, according to Professor Pascual Berrone, who recently published the paper 'Lessons for Business from the World Cup'. "Football is by its very nature a game that requires work teamwork," Berrone wrote, "yet it is not uncommon to see exaggerated egos and inflated self-esteem. It is true that big stars can be crucial in some situations, certainly, but that can have serious consequences at other times."

According to Berrone, some teams, such as Portugal's, depend too much on players like Cristiano Ronaldo, and forget that the final result is based more on partnership and collective effort than on personal contributions. Spain, on the other hand, has come to understand that team spirit is above individual contributions and that, as important as some players may seem, none of them is indispensable. "Companies, as collective entities, should remember that work as a team and group pride are essential for success, and are above isolated virtuosos," concludes Berrone.

A similar lesson can be gleaned from case study published by Pablo Cardona, Professor of Leadership at IESE. Cardona investigated the management of talent at La Masía, the school for young talents at Futbol Club Barcelona. In his opinion, "La Masía successfully managed to make sporting performance and training staff an inseparable binomial in the lives of its residents. A merit that was the result of a constant work , often in the shadows and silent".

At the Masia, not only are the young players' sports skills enhanced. They are also required to be good people, responsible in their programs of study, healthy lifestyle habits and enjoy the lifestyle they have chosen. There, laziness and mediocrity are not tolerated, so everyone must get good grades at high school. The director, Carlos Folguera, explained the meaning of his integral training : "We are not trainers. We are teachers, pedagogues, psychologists. Our challenge is to make the training staff and the discipline sports compatible in the lives of these young people. We tutor their training, follow their evolution at school, give them advice on how to face their future and watch over their safety and self-esteem".

Success at La Masia requires a confluence of three conditions: the clinical eye of the talent scouts to capture the necessary skills, the ability of the coaches to enhance those qualities, and the personality and mental fortitude of the youngsters to successfully navigate the competitions.

Strength and skill are secondary. The player is required to be intelligent, fast, technical and with character. Guardiola did not stand out as a child, as he was slow and weak, but he played with great intelligence, compensating for his disadvantages. The current team captain, Carles Puyol, has also been able to overcome his weaknesses. According to Albert Benaiges, coordinator , when Puyol arrived at La Masia "he did not stand out as a brilliant player, but his interest in succeeding and his ability to work opened the doors to success for him. We not only look at physical and technical abilities, we also have to take into account the character and spirit of work of the boy, aspects that are part of his personality".

Thanks to this sporting, intellectual and moral training , according to Cardona, La Masía became the best factory of footballers on the planet. Messi, Xavi, Iniesta, Bojan... and Guardiola, among many others, have emerged from there. In all of them it is possible to recognize the same trademark: humility and unwavering determination.