VENTURES AFRICA – The most important stakeholder in any business are the customers and in football the fans, but fans do not win games, managers do and when the team loses, they bear the brunt, most of the time ALONE. It is therefore important to have the right character to ensure a balance in your relationship as a manager with the management of the team, fans and the players. It’s a tough job, but when done right and tactics gotten straight, voila! the team enjoys success and everyone is happy.
Football is now more than just a game, it’s now an industry worth over $1 trillion. If you can therefore manage a football team well, you stand a great chance of managing a multi-million dollar business right.
There are therefore a thousand and one business lessons executives can learn from football managers, and in Africa, we consider five of those lessons that can be learnt from one of Africa’s most successful coaches in recent times, Stephen Keshi.
When Keshi took over the Super Eagles in 2011, the team he inherited had seemingly come to the end of their time with the national team. Perhaps more worrying than the prospect of losing a number of internationals to early retirement was the fact that there was very little talent coming through. Yet, Stephen Keshi took the road less traveled and set about assembling a team that comprised of local league and little known players. With his team in place, Keshi ensured that everyone made up for an obvious lack of stellar quality with commitment.
Simply put, he squeezed out every drop of the ability and barely 18 months after first taking the job, he delivered a first AFCON title in 19 years. Like Keshi, many entrepreneurs and business persons are faced with some deficiencies in their teams. While there can be no substitute for competence, the Keshi example has proven that getting the most out of a team can deliver exemplary results. One person might not be good enough but when complimented by others, the team can not only prevail but can accomplish.
Play to your strengths.
A consistent rhetoric when describing Keshi’s team was that they were ‘difficult to beat’. Keshi never tried to imitate Spain’s tiki-taka or Dutch Total Football. He played to his strengths and as a consequence, he won-and lost- on his own terms. Playing to your strengths will always be a better alternative as opposed to being the second best of an imitation. Attempting to be another company or start-up means unconsciously playing a game of catch-up. Instead, building a business on the pillars of the strength of your team is the best way to go.
Manage difficult relationships.
Keshi’s love-hate relationship with his employers, the Nigerian Football Federation is public knowledge. Almost every step of the way, the NFF second guessed Keshi and questioned his decisions- sometimes openly. The truth is that the NFF will probably behave the same way with any other boss but Keshi deserves immense credit for managing what was, without question, a hardly conducive work environment. In business, people skills are key and excellent relationships within and outside companies and businesses go a long way in ensuring critical success. Managing them well can yield many great results and managing those relationships is a skill that must be perfected over the years.
Optimize positions of strength.
After winning the AFCON in February 2013, Keshi announced his resignation from the post. He was later reinstated but only after being convinced and given much needed reassurances by none other than the President of Nigeria. Keshi probably did not want to resign but his calculated risk ensured that his hand was stronger and his political capital at an all time high. Calculated risks such as this are part and parcel of business but executing them poorly or at the wrong time can see fingers burned. To strengthen your hand in a deal, maximize the moment when you’re in a position of power. Do it right and you will be even stronger.
Somehow, Stephen Keshi has perfected the method of under-promising but over delivering. Starting with the 2013 AFCON when he took a team of 23, sixteen of whom were debutants to the tournament only to return with the title. And then months later with a debut Nigeria performance at the CHAN tourney when he took a team of local based Eagles all the way to the semi-finals of a tournament they had tried and failed to qualify for the event in all previous occasions. And then to the World Cup in South Africa when he became the first African manager to lead a team to the Round of 16. All these achievements pale when compared to more illustrious names in football but, in terms of Nigerian football, Keshi is a resounding success mainly because he managed expectations excellently. For people in leading business positions, under-promising and over-delivering is a win-win because more often than not, the sole way to achieve this is to get a focused team working with a uniform goal in mind, undeterred by the weight of expectations from the public.