Globalisation : Lessons in Global Leadership : From the Soccer Field

Trevor O'Hara is the founder and Principal of Renarc.

Prior to founding Renarc, Trevor spent over 20 yeas living and working internationally. Most of this time was spent as a senior executive in global-facing roles such as MCI, Nortel Networks, and Schlumberger Sema. Fluent in 4 languages, he was educated in Dublin, Oxford, Paris and Berlin.

Check out his website www.renarc.com or contact him by e-mail t.ohara@renarc.com.


Business leaders tasked with building international teams as part of their global expansion program should learn how it’s done on the soccer field. Where once national squads considered only domestic talent, many teams are increasingly becoming multinational. Even the captains are foreign. Here is an “outsider’s” view on soccer and international leadership.

Zudig the Grand Master, is preparing his students for a year’s internship on planet Earth to learn about our ways. Today’s lesson is about international leadership. Xandi, a bright but rebellious leadership student challenges Zudig. Eavesdropping on the conversation, we hear….

Xandi: Hmmm. So how do they celebrate winning ?

Zudig: Oh, that half of the amphitheatre with the same colors as the man who’s just put the leather globoid into the net, jump up and down, take off their top, jump on their heads, and wave arms about, make thrusting movements and then sit back down.

Xandi: What, just like those players in red and white have done ?

Zudig: That’s right Xandi. They’re from Zod.

Xandi: So why do they do that Zudig ?

Zudig: Because the leader of the Zod team has successfully inspired them to score a win over Deng, the players in blue.

Xandi: Ah ! I see. So the captain of the Zod team is that man over there, sitting down, not even playing – he’s the inspiration of it all ?

Zudig:That’s right.

Xandi: But he’s not even from Zod – he has a Deng name ! Why he is inspiring his players to play against the Dengs ?

Zudig: Because that crowd over there with their faces painted the same color as the team from Zod have chosen him, and the players are happy to be led by such a leader.

Xandi: But the players are not even from Zod. Some are from Zupit, two are from Engis, three are from Bidu and the rest are from Midon !

Zudig: Yep. He has chosen his international team well, all experienced players who know the tactics of the other side. For that, he has rewarded them well, has inspired them to achieve great things, and knows they will deliver great results.

Xandi: OK, so let me get this. This crowd from Zod, who has just spend a whole day traveling to Midon, which is not even the home of the Dengs, have their faces painted, are jumping up and down, taking off their tops, jumping on their head, waving their arms about, making thrusting movements, are happy ? And they’re happy because the team in red and white, who represent Zod, but are not from Zod but from Deng, Zupit, Engis, Bidu and Midon have kicked a leather globoid into a fishing net, have scored a win over the Dengs, - and all this is inspired by that man sitting down over there, who is not from Zod either, but from Deng, but is elected by the crowds with painted faces from Zod to represent them, because he is the man who can provide inspirational leadership to the men from Deng, Zupit, Engis, Bidu and Midon, who are very happy to play for Zod and score a win over Deng, because they have a great inspirational leader, and have been well motivated and rewarded ?

Zudig: Uuuuuh ! Yep, that’s right. It’s called international leadership – building the right teams to achieve international success.

Xandi: That must be some leadership. Look. He’s even inspired them to kiss that metal cup. Don’t they normally drink from cups ?

Zudig: You’re right. But that’s called sweet smell of success. Any more questions Xandi ?

Xandi: Er, yes. In yesterday’s lesson about commerce, you talked to us about how earthlings sell their products and services to each other. You told us that those companies that succeeded were those that achieved an international mindset, right ?

Zudig: Yes, so what’s the point Xandi ?

Xandi: Well, I don’t understand. If they achieve this level of success when kicking leather globoids around the pitch, and that’s how the onlookers cheer them on, then why are leaders and shareholders not more open to building international teams ? Surely, brand to the company is just as important as the national flags that are waved by spectators ?

Zudig: That’s right.

Xandi: And surely, the teams that work to build that brand will best come from the markets they are selling into right ? And surely, business leaders would by definition be leaders from other countries, experienced in managing international teams ? So, why doesn’t it happen more often ? Better awareness of international markets equals better international performance ?  I rest my case !


© Copyright Trevor O'Hara, 2002

blog comments powered by Disqus