OK, I admit I’m not a football fan. Rugby is more my game but along with millions of others I watched the EURO final. I’ve been pondering ever since on the nature of teamwork and leadership that was demonstrated that evening – and over the last months of the tournament.
Discussing this with others, what’s made this team different to all other England teams in the last 30 years? Well first I think it’s because there’s no ego involved, as there has been in the past. There’s a level of equality – and I’m not talking about hierarchy or ethnicity here (although that’s important too) – I’m thinking in terms of appreciation of each other’s skills and capabilities. There’s a commonly agreed commitment to doing the best for the team, to supporting another when they’ve made a mistake or deemed to have ‘failed’ in some way, a bolstering of their inner selves so they can come back renewed and refreshed, to bring their best selves to the next step.
And the team has been encouraged to look beyond their own industry, to show their best selves to their communities and bring energy to the things that are important to them, that fit with their values. This holistic approach reinforces both the individual and team’s development. And it’s a work in constant progress.
The leadership challenge
What of the leadership then? What does it take for a leader to bring this approach to their team? Well first it’s about values. About believing that everyone has the ability to do well and the desire to help others along the way – the Positive Philosophical Choice that Nancy Kline talks about in Time to Think. It is a belief that the diversity of experience, the diversity of thought that can be generated by showing true attention drives trust. It is about demonstrating a fundamental belief in equality that means you are appreciated, encouraged and thus become committed to those who show the same respect and attention. It is understanding that everyone is shaped by their experiences and what limits them are the negative assumptions that are made. It is about helping them to replace those limiting assumptions with powerful, positive statements that can help them achieve. It is about showing them that we learn from our mistakes and it’s that learning that makes us stronger in the longer term.
What is worth winning?
And so the team didn’t in the end, win the cup. But is that the only thing worth winning? I don’t believe so. Along the way they’ve won something far more important than a piece of silver. They’ve won the country’s respect, demonstrating and actively vocalising what good leadership and good teamwork is truly about. And by default, they’ve shone a light on what bad leadership is evidenced in our country today.
My hope is that a tournament that has generated such passion and fury will have ramifications far beyond football. That it will, however insidiously, shape a greater narrative in our organisations about leadership, about generosity, equality and lead to active, obvious changes at all levels in our society.
Laura Murphy blogs about things that interest her. They might not interest you but read them anyway. It might even change your mind.