Thoughts on Leadership: Lessons from the World Cup

By Gino Blefari

This week my travels found me starting Monday at home, conducting my typical WIG calls before flying to Orange County. On Tuesday, I participated in the early morning Berkshire Hathaway Energy call followed by the HSF Affiliates Leadership Summit. On Wednesday, the team finished the Leadership Summit, which was followed by the HSF Affiliates holiday luncheon. Today and tomorrow, I’ll host four succession calls from my home office in Northern California, puppy June by my side.

Lately, it seems like everyone has been captivated by the excitement of the World Cup, which began late November and will culminate on December 18. It’s been a whirlwind few weeks in Qatar as countries battle it out for a win. Here are a few lessons inspired by the World Cup:

Leadership does not always come from the top.

Though Japan is out of the FIFA World Cup 2022 (the team lost 3-1 on penalties by Croatia in the round of 16), they leave a leadership legacy behind … and nothing else. Social media feeds flooded with images of Japanese fans cleaning the stadium after the match, along with photos of Japan’s neat and tidy locker room that was organized to perfection. When asked about the urge to keep things tidy, Japanese flight attendant Tomomi Kishikawa said it is about respect, telling The New York Times: “We don’t need to push anyone to be clean. But if we start, maybe we can be a good example of respect.” In fact, soon after Japanese fans cleaning the stadium went viral, fans from Morocco, Saudi Arabia and other countries followed the trend. While many stories focus on the “leaders” of the World Cup – FIFA executives, team captains and the like – this story proves that leadership can come from anywhere; it just takes initiative to step up even in the smaller moments, like the cleaning of a stadium post-match, to create change that’s repeatable, consistent, and inspiring.

Lead by example.

Croatia is another team that produced a motivational World Cup leadership story in 2022, despite their 3-0 defeat by Argentina in the semi-finals this week. For our lesson, we turn to 37-year-old Croatian footballer Luka Modric, who played his heart out and is widely considered one of the greatest midfielders of his generation. Despite the team’s loss in the semi-finals, he scored goals when it counted, played fierce defense when his team needed him, and became a role model not only for his current team members but also for future players. He said: “For me, the team is always most important.”

Enjoy the journey.

File this lesson under “not taking yourself too seriously.” Let’s go back to the 1998 World Cup held in France when Jamaica made its first-ever World Cup appearance. Jamaica (the team was known as “the Reggae Boyz)” played Argentina, and Argentina’s Gabriel Batistuta wound up scoring his second World Cup hat trick against the Jamaicans to win 5-0 (Batistuta is one of only four players with multiple World Cup hat tricks). With such a stunning loss, you’d expect Jamaican fans to be dejected. Instead, the Jamaican fans in the stadium appeared to be having a party. For them, it wasn’t about winning or losing that game but celebrating the hard work their team put in to be on this World Cup stage in the first place. There’s a lesson we can learn from those fans – relish the process for what it is and celebrate your journey. As the story goes, the Reggae Boyz were set on leaving France with a World Cup win and went on to play a final match with also-eliminated Japan, which they did win 2-1. It was the lone World Cup win in Jamaica’s history, yet it continues to inspire Jamaican soccer fans and players to this day.

So, what’s the message? The World Cup puts an emphasis on greatness, on feeling the pressure of a worldwide spotlight and performing at your very best. Argentinian superstar Lionel Messi, who recently confirmed this will be his last World Cup appearance and is set to play in the final against France, said: “You have to show up in the World Cup. And in the World Cup, anything can happen.” It’s a lesson for business, for life and for any endeavor we take on – show up, do your best and know that when you do, the possibilities are endless.

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