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Leadership at the Heart of World Cup Loss

By Neil Suchman

Neil SuchmanThe 7 to 1 debacle of the Brazilian team versus Germany during the semifinals of the World Cup was a definite wake up call for Brazilian football and for the nation as a whole. Here, football is much more than a sport. It is considered a national patrimony. Contrary to popular belief prior to the World Cup, the most popular sporting event in the world proved that Brazil´s major problems lie within the football field. For Brazil, the World Cup was a resounding success outside of the stadiums, with no major logistical problems to accommodate the 700,000 plus tourists, no major violent outbreaks, and the Brazilian people in general receiving foreigners with open arms and with their usual warmth and receptivity.

World Cup BrazilAs Managing Director of the DDI Brazilian operation (I am not native to Brazil) I had the privilege to experience the World Cup up close and personal, and I am now attuned to the repercussions post World Cup of the dismal performance of the Brazilian national team. A fascinating national debate is currently taking place regarding what went wrong and what needs to happen in the future to reascend to football supremacy.

As leadership practitioners, we all know that we can learn from positive as well as negative models. The way that the CBF (the Portuguese acronym for the Brazilian Football Federation) is handling the crisis is a case in point of what not to do to improve performance:

  • Denial – not admitting that a structural problem exists.
  • Arrogance – having the mindset that since you have been the undeniable leader in the past (the only country with five World Cup trophies) you do not need major changes.
  • Lack of innovation – not accepting or incorporating new and different methods to improve performance.
  • Blind to best practices – incapable of looking outwards to learn from others.
  • No long term plan – quick and immediate fixes with little regard to future consequences.

The list goes on. It is very unfortunate, but it is true…the future of Brazilian football does not look bright. And even though it sounds cliché, in this case it really is ALL about leadership or rather the lack of it. If Brazil aspires to have a successful comeback in future World Cups, it is useless to point the finger at the 23 football players. Change must start at the very top.

In order to avoid the same dismal outcome, leaders of Brazilian organizations and multinational companies operating in Brazil should keep a close eye on how the CBF mis-manages this complex situation. This is actually a prime opportunity to publicly observe leadership derailers, the personal traits that inhibit a leader´s ability to succeed, in action. These are the type of senior leadership attributes that if not managed correctly can become endemic throughout the entire organization.

There is no doubt that Brazil has an amazing amount of current, talented players and a very robust source of future potentials (a country with roughly 13 million male adolescents). Therefore the solution is seemingly simple—align talented individuals into a team effort and towards one common goal. But, as we all know, leadership is NEVER simple.

Neil Suchman is managing director, DDI Brazil.

Posted: 31 Jul, 2014,
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