The Myth of the Myth of Leadership (2): Leadership Lessons from Liverpool versus Borussia Dortmund, Europa Cup 2016.


Part 2: Shit Happens. True Leaders fail properly, recover strongly.


"Failure should be our teacher, not our undertaker.

Failure is delay, not defeat. It is a temporary 

detour, not a dead end. Failure is something we

can avoid only by saying nothing, doing

nothing  and  being nothing."

-Denis Waitley


Thomas Tuchel. Never met him. Heard of him. He became unmissable. When he said, “Shit happens…” after an uncommon failure. It was a Thursday
night. April 14, 2016. At Anfield. The home ground of Liverpool Football
Club.

It was the night after the night, Golden State Warriors ended season with record 73 wins, nudging the 1995-96 Chicago Bulls off the perch. The Bulls, nuclear powered by a certain Michael Jordan held the winningest record for 20 years. On the same night, the late Kobe Bryant scored 60 for his final game, inspiring the Lakers’ win over the Utah Jazz 101-96.


Leardship Lessons


On the same night of Tuchel’s torment, Hillary was slugging it out with Bernie in New York City. Their last debate.

Tuchel was the manager of Borussia Dortmund, or BVB, vying for the German League title. They were at Bayern Munich’s heels.

Munich’s goalkeeper, Manuel Neuer reckoned that BVB was a top five team in world football (soccer for the Americans.) Jurgen Klopp, Tuchel’s predecessor at BVB, and the man who orchestrated the shit 
agreed.

Klopp is still the manager for Liverpool Football Club. Tuchel has since left to helm Paris Saint Germaine. The team is leading the French Ligue 1. Klopp seems to be a sensible guy. Apt at hiding the ego. Anyway, it was sweet shit. Sweet, sweet shit. For both sides of the divide. This is not meant as a smart ass remark. It was good for the chest beating Reds. It was even better for the down trodden Yellow and Black. No shit… oops, sorry.

Liverpool were battling BVB for a place in the semi-finals of the UEFA Europa League. These games are decided over two legs, home and away.  Liverpool
came home from Germany with a 1-1 draw.  An away goal was useful but 1-1 is a leaves no margin for error in their home match at Anfield. The comfort
was the familiar home ground and the pressure cooker energy of home fans.

Many football elites had said, Anfield is the toughest place to play. The Reds’ high octave loyalty seemed intimidating.
Leadership

If BVB had been confident, it was deserving. BVB needed to score one and ‘park the bus.’ And, BVB was one of the five top teams in the world. They had players to die for. Like Hummel, Reus, Aubameyang and Mkhitaryan.

Tuchel was not a Mourinho. He did not want to win’ parking the bus.’ “I don’t care too much about the result in the first leg. I don’t think it will be decisive,” said the Dortmund boss in a pre-match interview. He continued, “We are here to attack, we are here to score goals, to take risks and to enjoy the game. We are not here to feel our boundaries. We are here to feel our potential.
We are clear we will have to play our best and we feel ready for it. We don’t want to score one, we want to score two or even more. I am proud to be the coach in this situation.”  Street fighter words from a cultured leader. Lucidly sharing the vision. A 
leadership position expressed clearly.

Key leadership traits shone through from this short statement of intent, a shared vision (WE are here to attack…score two or even more goals),empowerment (WE are here to feel our potential…play our best…ready for it) accountability (I don’t care too much about the result of the first leg…) and team spirit, pride of association (I am proud to be the coach in this situation.) This was not from a speech writer. This did not feel canned. This was from the ‘leadership heart.’

You know Warren Bennis, a giant in the leadership circuit, said in 1985 that it is a myth that leaders must be born as. Leaders can be made, he asserted. Yes and no. If it is a position, many skills of a leader can be developed. Communications. Strategic Planning process. Business analysis. Organizational development. Every act of leadership can be made. But not the leadership heart.

A pro speech writer delivers a tool for stirring a following. Given by an excellently made leader, followers carry out the plan of the leader. Delivered by a natural leader, followers carry out as leaders of the plan. The sense of ownership for specific parts the plan is different from if everyone feel they own the plan with specific roles and responsibilities.
It is a myth that leaders can be made, fully. Good enough depends on who is judging.  We are mistaking managers for leaders and leaders for managers. Managers can be trained. They dictate execution to plan. Doing things right.

Leaders should have business management skills. They are different. Imbued in them, from development by the environment and their experiences, are traits that cannot be planted by an external force in a short period of time. They have to be, as the neuro scientists say, wired in. You can train a person in using ‘humble words’ and in acting humbly. It will take an equal amount of time as his age to make him humble. Take integrity. You can train a person to act according to norm and conventions, when people are watching. It is doing the right things, when no one is watching that defines the leader.

Let’s get back to our VIP seats. The football game between Liverpool and BVB.

Leadership Lessons from Shit Happens


“We want to score two or even more.” That was precisely what BVB did. They hit Liverpool with two within 9 minutes. Tuchel clearly had a good plan. He knew the potential of his attackers. And, the flimsiness of the Liverpool defense. They did attack Liverpool ferociously. After the ninth minute goal, Liverpool, the bleeding Reds, were left for dead. It would be a monumental task to overturn such a deficit with a team like Dortmund.

Leadership Lessons


As a manager, Tuchel would have done a S.W.O.T. (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threat) type analysis or a ‘premortem.’ He would have defined the strategy, assigned the roles and responsibilities.
For BVB players to deliver that first half result, it would take more than understanding. If BVB then, was a top 5 team in the world Liverpool had to be at least on par. Their players were well polished professionals too. 

At the PC playing the FIFA game is different. In the arena, you will face well drilled opponents who make split second decisions to turn you, left or right. You must own the plan. You lead yourself. You must also lead your opponent. To fall for your plan. Split second. Skills trained. Spirit developed. Leadership is skills powered by the spirit.

What’s next?

It seemed that at half time Klopp summoned the spirits. He reminded his players of Istanbul.  The 2005 Champions League final. Liverpool trailed AC Milan 0-3 at half time, pipped them to the cup. The victorious Liverpool were not the same players then. Klopp was strengthening their pride of association with the iconic club. He was empowering. “You are as good as the winners of 2005. You can do it. I trust you.”  That was inspiring. A game changer.

Klopp also reached out to the human spirit. He urged
his players to write a triumphant story for their
grandchildren.

You can’t read this from a piece of paper. It would be mockery. If it had been prepared at all, the message had to be delivered from the leadership heart. It had to move the most dispirited. 

For that Liverpool team, after the thrashing, to deliver a creditable performance would be a positive for Klopp’s leadership style. For them to do what they did required self-leadership of the player.

True. For a team to do well, leadership should not be exclusive to the person at the top of the pyramid. Everybody leads at their level of the turf. Yet it is critical that there must be an overall leader, influencing, gelling every effort. Looking at the full spectrum. Making tough decisions. Balancing cost to performance.

Lower levels are leaders. Of their responsibility and lookout for colleagues. They must deliver for the team to deliver. However, there must be a lighthouse for everybody and a full span course controller. Otherwise, it could be chaotic. 

Yes, leadership is not exclusive at the top. Everyone is a leader, just the angle of the span is different. For the millennial, in a team, it is hard to envisage a “you lead, I follow” mentality.

So what happened next?


Tuchel had a plan to kill off Liverpool quickly. It was worked in the first half. The only thingy his team was overwhelmed with, “How do you deal with a resurrection?” How do you face whom you left for dead?

Apparently, Tuchel’s initial reaction was, “there are no words to describe this.” In the second half, within 30 minutes, Liverpool drew level at 3-3.
This was how it played out.

Liverpool’s Divock Origi scored at 48th. BVB’s Reus regained the margin at 57th. The midfield wizard, Phillipe Coutinho, narrowed the gap with a goal at the 66th minute. Then, defender Sakho, who had not scored in almost two years, turned one in with his head. This was the 78th minute. 3-3!

It was visible that Dortmund players were shaken Liverpool’s fight back. They lost their composure. Facing of the risen dead.
Instant Insight

The final goal was telling. Even when striker Sturridge was fumbling, the BVB defender could not regain the ball. Instead, the defense, uncharacteristically left a gap for Liverpool skipper, James Milner to dash in for the Sturridge pass.
Milner’s cross connected with defender Lovren’s head for a rare goal. One that destined Dejan Lovren to fame with Liverpool players and fans for generations. 

One that killed Dortmund’s Europa cup dream.
Tuchel and his team knew how to recover. And they came back stronger. Six days after the Anfield catastrophe, BVB went on to beat Hertha Berlin and Hamburg. Both with a 3-0 margin.

This was true leadership. Every leader wants to win with the team every time. Not every leader can win every time. Especially in sports. With a winner, there must be a loser. The dilemma of the true leader is infecting the team with the ‘virus.’ The leadership virus. Moderate the loss. Learn the lessons. Get up and get going. For the bigger vision. A single failure is not fatal. Let’s go again. The results after Liverpool showed that Tuchel found a way to empower his team to win again. No team can win feeling powerless.

Huge, small, minute. You definitely have experienced failures. Or setbacks, if you will. It is unreal, expecting happiness despite difficult circumstances. But, even if you are experiencing a setback, you have the power to choose. The power is present whether you are hungry, sick or mint. This is super power that leaders are ever mindful of. You need not recognize failure as the undertaker. Look at failure as our teacher instead. Leaders teach what they know. Leaders learn what they don’t know. Then they teach. To build leaders and stronger leaders in themselves. A key benefit to teaching is raising your power to influence. A high value leader is not about forcing nor driving, but influencing. A certain charisma would help. A leader who is uncharismatic would have a harder time influencing and sustaining the esprit de corp.

One of the keys to a life of joy and happiness is not to expect that you will not experience unhappiness. Always on happiness is unreal. In fact, a famous psychologist Tal Ben-Shahar thinks that it’s psychopathic to expect happiness every moment. One of the distinctions which separate people who lead (lead as in self leadership) a happy life and those who cannot, is not if they bounce back from a setback, it is when they bounce back. Leadership is moderating a failure, extracting the lessons and building excitement for the next challenge.

Like Tuchel, you and the best leaders of the world must realize that shit happens. Tuchel and BVB have proven that you can lead back stronger, even after a major fail. You can almost smell the scent of strong leadership at BVB, regaining success after a blistering setback in a matter of days. What are the leadership lessons you can learn from a failure to bounce back BVB speed?

Acknowledge the failure. To recover from failures, you have to acknowledge the failing. Failure is not fatal, denial is. To avail to any kind of recuperative therapy, you have to admit the addiction, whether it is drugs or alcohol. However, it is critical that you label it correctly. It is just an event or an experience. It’s already happened. It has passed. It’s over. Don’t let your brain tell you otherwise. The chatterbox that harms you most with good intention is your brain. Drs. Jeffrey Schwartz and Rebecca Gladding, in their book, ‘You are not your brain,’ teach you how to beat deceptive self- messaging in four steps. Leaders know not to play the zero sum game.

Do not give it more clout than it really has. It’s important to keep calm. Like Tuchel. The Mirror wrote, “Plenty of managers would have been furious in the post-match interview, but Tuchel remained calm despite their shocking result.” Tuchel was not plenty of managers. Tuchel led by example. If he had gone haywire, it would have sown fear and uncertainty. The true worth of a leader is exposed during time of crisis. He is a symbol of steadfastness, gloriously leading the team through the storm. You can have a team of leaders at all levels, you need a leader of leaders at the top.

Keeping calm allows you to see what it really is. An event. A result which is below expectation. Deal with it. Case closed. Move on to the next challenge. After victory at Hertha Berlin, Marcus Reus of BVB confirmed that the loss to Liverpool was news read, when he said, “I don’t think Liverpool was in our heads, really.” The Liverpool loss had been dealt with. Three days after Hertha Berlin, Hamburg was on the receiving end of a 3-0 victory. BVB rebounded. 
Liverpool was just another event in another week.
Tuchel and the players at BVB empowered themselves from the loss at Anfield by accepting the result. Leaders are able to separate the performance from the person. The performance was below expectation, they were not. BVB would not have won so soon if the manager and players had not believed in themselves.

Be accountable. Tuchel and BVB dealt with the loss resolutely. A congratulations tweet was sent to Liverpool FC. They accepted accountability. Not a wriggly word about the refereeing, home advantage, rowdiness or the weather. Owning up is about leadership and integrity. Rather, Tuchel’s view was, they have lost like champions. As the leader of leaders, Tuchel found a unique take on the event to empower his team.

At the Reds, Liverpool players took accountability for their poor showing in the first half by turning the table on BVB. Klopp proved as leader of leaders, rallying the upturn despite the difficult circumstance. He demonstrated empathy, a quality to be developed than learn or made, when he was able to press the hot button for his team. “Do it for the grandchildren,” he coaxed.

Drs. Robert Brooks and Sam Goldstein, in “The Power of Resilience” on dealing effectively with mistakes:
“Resilient people tend to view mistakes as experiences for learning and growth. This does not mean they are overjoyed with mistakes, but rather they are not easily discouraged, instead looking for opportunities that might be a by-product of setbacks.” 

Leadership Lessons


Leaders are resilient people. Tuchel, in his pre-match tee up talked about attacking and taking risks. In the loss, he found opportunity for learning empowerment. “It’s the small details that count, the cross-field passes, the passes into the gaps,” Tuchel noted. He continued, “We were missing the confidence and the presence to calm the game down after they pulled back to 3-2 and to perform against our opponent. At certain point they (Liverpool) were completely driven by emotion.” 

Can leaders be made? Some parts of them. The true leadership heart or spirit can be developed through time.  A long time. Environment and the experiences play a part. You would have to pick a child, like they do in Tibet and develop him or her over time. Are leaders exclusive at the top of the hierarchy? It depends on the span and impact. Rightly, everyone should lead in their own sphere of influence and area of responsibility. However, every team needs a leader of leaders. If everybody is a leader, on equal responsibility and authority, then, nobody is a leader.
The myths about leadership. It depends on who you model as a leader. What type of leadership are we looking at? Leadership by appointment? Leadership as a job? Elected leaders? Embraced leaders? If Buddha is a leader, was he trained in leadership? How about Jesus? Is Trump a leader to emulate? After all, he leads the most advanced nation in the world in many fields? Is Xi a model leader. He is head of the most populous nation. Are Ardern and Tsai great modern leaders? They have proven most effective with the pandemic.

Who is an effective modern day leader? In a post on the Hindustani Times, “Coronavirus is a stress test many world leaders are failing,” the author writes;
“In the age-old debate over whether leaders matter in deciding history, the answer from the first few months of 2020 is a resounding “yes they do,” says Francois Heisbourg, a former official in the French foreign and defense ministries who now advises the International Institute of Strategic Studies in London.
He makes a comparison between leadership styles and outcomes;
“The contrast between Johnson’s early counter-virus efforts and those of Germany, led by trained chemist and Chancellor Angela Merkel, is stark. The virus was discovered in both countries at the end of January, but by early March – a time when Johnson was still making a show of shaking hands in crowds - Germany was declaring a protective equipment emergency and was developing tests for mass production. The number of Covid-19 deaths per million inhabitants is now four times as high in the U.K. as in Germany.”
Surely, he will not ignore Trump, “Not so Trump. Across the Atlantic, the crisis supercharged the president’s tendency to dismiss science, politicize the most technical of issues and institutions, and eschew international cooperation. He also muddied any consistent federal role or messaging by imposing himself in some areas while disclaiming responsibility in others, and by diverting attention to other issues with as many as 126 tweets in a day.” The US is leading the world in the number of infections and the number of deaths. It sounds like Trump is proud of the number. He wears the numbers as a ‘badge of honor.’
Leaders. Leadership. What are the myths? It depends on who is talking. Who you are talking about? At the end of it, we will still come back to the first question, “What is Leadership?” We all know some answers. The practice may be different. It’s like comparing magicians. If you do not know anything about magic, everything is…well, magical. If you know magic, then you’ll start looking at the styles.

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