Leadership Matters
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By Phil Wilson, CHRP, SHRP

Like many of you, I spent much of July engrossed in the 2014 World Cup in Brazil. It was a fantastic few weeks of brilliant soccer and it was a pleasure to see the world’s best compete using styles of play and strategies unique to each nation.

But while I was awed by the athleticism on display, I often found myself watching games through the prism of a human resources practitioner – especially Germany’s 1-0 win over Argentina in the final. HR? Soccer? Let me explain.

The German powerhouse that humiliated Brazil 7-1 and triumphed over Argentina and Lionel Messi was the product of a 10-year national effort – led by the national soccer association (the Deutscher Fussball Bund) – to remold its talent development system. After dismal showings at both the 2000 and 2004 European Cup, and no international tournament wins since 1996, the nation invested $1 billion in youth soccer development programs, including elite academies at all Bundesliga clubs, and more than 300 regional programs run by the national association. Promising children are identified and begin training with these programs as early as age four. The result has been a football factory churning out homegrown talent that’s quickly restoring the nation’s soccer glories. Besides the World Cup win, this year Germany sent numerous teams to both the European Champions League and Europa competitions – most of whom made it far into the knockout rounds. I believe Soccer Canada should take heed of Germany’s approach as our current system is struggling to develop world-class talent and teams that can compete on the world stage. The last time Canada played in the World Cup was 1986.

In all aspects of running a business or managing programs, whether it be in the public or private sector domains, my experience is that major achievements are a result of significant teamwork in realizing a vision or mission. Rare is it that an individual effort from a star or the most talented player in the world like Lionel Messi will win the day. Creating a balanced team with a few stars and a great supporting cast who all put in the effort to meet the ultimate goal will spell success. I coached soccer at all levels in Ontario when my boys were growing up and I can tell you that it was natural for coaching staff to look to the stars, but I learned that a critical balance must be attained so that the focus on the stars is not at the cost of teamwork. In Germany’s case, although they had a few stars, the rest of the team was balanced, skilled and everyone knew their roles, which was pivotal in Germanys’ success

Germany’s coaches created an environment where their players could excel. They created a vision and goals that aligned and focused the team on attaining the ultimate goal of winning the World Cup. The coaches understood the skills and capabilities of all their players and could insert them as appropriate into the lineup so that they could excel and score in critical situations. With Germany and Argentina deadlocked at zero as the World Cup final ground its way to the extra time midpoint, German coach Joachim Loew sent substitute Mario Götze on to the pitch, telling him, “Show the world you are as good, if not better, than Messi and can decide the World Cup.” Having lost his place as a starter earlier in the tournament, Götze was replacing leading scorer Miroslav Klose, but Loew was confident: “I always had a good feeling about Götze,” he told the Guardian’s Dominic Fifield.

Ultimately, it was a leadership decision – one that took into account the talent management by adding the right person in the right skilled position at the right time – that decided the winner of the World Cup. Hats off to Germany and the many management and human resources strategies that were utilized for success.

Phil Wilson, CHRP, SHRP is chair of the Human Resources Professionals Association (HRPA)

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