Dan Naden

Lessons Learned from US Soccer’s Strong Leadership

Leadership is toughest when everyone’s against you.

When times are challenging, and the naysayers get vocal, this is when you are defined as a leader.

Jürgen Klinsmann, named US soccer’s head coach in July 2011, started off his tenure as the ‘head man’ with 4 losses in his first six games.

Just over 18 months ago the US Soccer faithful were calling for his ouster; this must have been especially rough and trying for Klinsmann. He was a splashy hire – the 1st high-profile international superstar player and coach ever to take a chance with the US squad.

The start of 2013 didn’t bring any better news. A lackluster draw against Canada (not exactly soccer royalty) and a key qualifier loss to Honduras has had many scratching their heads.

What will you do when the waters get rough on your 'field'?
What will you do when the waters get rough on your ‘field’?

Everyone doubted Klinsmann at the start of this year, but he didn’t sway from his vision. He pressed on with these strategies, expecting his players to follow. He didn’t dwell on the results, but the process.

There were rumblings of player revolt.

“We don’t get his vision.”

“There are divisions in this locker room.”

Amazingly, however, as the uproar for a change at the top reached a fever pitch, the results and tenor started to change.

  • US 4 Germany 3
  • 2013 Gold Cup Champions
  • US 4 Bosnia 3 (Bosnia was ranked in the Top 15 in the world)
  • Jozy Altidore sets a record for consecutive games with a goal (six games).
  • Landon Donovan steps back onto the pitch for the US National team, bringing leadership, direction and drive.

As we look to next summer’s World Cup, we have to ask: Could this team win the World Cup? Probably not.

Could this team make some noise, scaring some of the world’s finest in the process? Definitely.

More relevant to your world is your journey and growth as a leader. Klinsmann has displayed a worthy blueprint on how you as a manager, boss, product owner can go beyond the status quo.

So what can you the current and/or future leader of your family, organization, team learn from Klinsmann’s journey?

  1. Never stray off course: Showing vulnerability is fine, but if you believe in a course of action, stick with it. You’ll never please everyone all the time, so be confident with your strategic decisions and press forward.
  2. Believe in your team: Like a business team, a soccer team can’t be successful without buy-in from every player on the pitch. Young players, such as Matt Besler and Omar Gonzalez, were given a shot of confidence by being placed on the field against some top flight opponents. Are you giving your ‘team’ a chance to shine when the going’s tough?
  3. Push. Push. Push: Klinsmann’s knows what it takes to take the field with a top flight side: Inter Milan, Bayern Munich, German National Team. Training with those talented and gifted players must have been amazing and devastatingly difficult. Klinsmann has a tendency to never be satisified. He always sees opportunity to field a tighter, more cohesive soccer side, and he pushes his team to get there. A Klinsmann team will sweat like they’ve never sweated before.

It’s scintillating to watch the US’ improvement on the pitch; what’s even more impressive is how Jürgen Klinsmann is leading the team around any obstacle placed in their path. Can you as a leader of your team, product, service, or business embody some of Klinsmann’s boldness and courage to go to new heights? When a competitor threatens your company’s position will you wilt or lean into the challenge, aggressively defending your turf?

Look out world. The Yanks are coming with what might be their best national team in a long time. And look out competition because the new ‘you’ is ready to be an even bigger and better leader.

“Rough Waters Are Truer Tests Of Leadership. In Calm Water Every Ship Has A Good Captain.” — Swedish proverb

Until next time,

Dan Naden

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