Don't Fall Into the Football Manager's Trap

Published on 2012-11-28

Don't Fall Into the Football Manager's Trap
IN A RECENT HOGAN PERSONALITY ASSESSMENT training I was talking to a woman about a career dilemma she believed that she was facing. She felt that her current job no longer offered her any challenges and she was interested in moving departments. However, she stated that she could not as she did not have any experience in the areas in which vacancies were available.
This perceived ‘catch 22’ situation, whereby the belief that ‘I have not been trained how to do the job and so I cannot do the job’ holds many people back. This is largely because people tend to look at the job title or industry rather than the skill set required. When we examine the specific skills required for a position we then see a great deal of overlap between what at first appears to be totally separate departments or industries.
One of the best Sales Directors who I have met during my time in Beijing actually comes from an engineering background. When he was offered the position as Director of Asia-Pacific Sales by his company, he thought they were playing a joke on him as he had never sold anything in his life. However, his board explained to him that it was his ability to organise and run successful teams that they were interested in. They had plenty of sales staff who could sell, but nobody to lead them effectively. His company resisted the easy option of just promoting from within or poaching a sales director from a competitor. Instead, they carefully examined the strengths which they believed the position required, and then looked company-wide for an employee who fit that criteria. They have since benefited from their decision in the form of vastly increased sales performances.
Contrast the above example with the story of another friend of mine. We worked together as salesmen for a British construction company in the 1990s. He was far and away the best salesman in the company. He could, as we say in English, ‘sell sand to the Arabs and ice to the Eskimos’.
After a couple of years of topping the sales charts month after month and finishing with the best sales figures nationwide two years in a row, he caught the attention of senior management. In the blink of an eye he was promoted to Regional Sales Manager. His appointment was greeted with widespread confidence and the company sat back and waited for the expected monumental leap in sales figures.
The drop in sales after a few months was deemed to be a ‘blip’ and the increase in staff turnover was regarded as his ‘getting rid of the deadwood’. The Board continued to put a positive spin on the warning signs long after it had become apparent even to my friend that things were going wrong. In the end he resigned and saved senior management from having to admit to making a mistake. He then took a sales position in a rival company and almost immediately went back to earning huge wages as their top sales person.
This story goes to show that just because a member of staff is outstanding in their current position, it does not automatically mean that they will excel further up the corporate ladder. My friend was a fantastic salesman but a poor manager. Whilst he could sell, he was unable to help his team to do the same. He lacked the patience with his team when they came to him with sales challenges that, to him, were not issues at all. His ability to build rapport with customers was incredible, but he only managed to alienate his team-members when in a management position.
The world of professional football offers us no end of further examples. The list of former footballing superstars who have retired and then been immediately offered jobs as football managers and failed miserably is endless. The ability to kick a football 50 metres and land it at the feet of a colleague as he sprints towards goal, has no connection with man-management, motivation and building a cohesive team. Curiously, the men who run football clubs tend to be hugely successful businessmen, but if they used the same logic which they apply to their footballing decisions in their business dealings, then they would soon find themselves in trouble.
Maradona is regarded as probably the best footballer the world has ever seen. However, he is yet to last more than a year in a management position. We can add Paul Gascoigne, Ruud Gullit, Bobby Charlton, Roy Keane, Mark Hughes, Lothar Matthaus and Hristo Stoichkov to the list of players who dazzled with their skills on the pitch but crashed dramatically in a manager’s role. It is also worth noting that when looking at three of the world’s biggest names in football management, Sir Alex Ferguson, Arsene Wenger and Jose Mourinho, we see men whose playing careers were less than glorious but who have gone on to glory as coaches.
So, the best salesperson does not necessarily make a good sales department head. A superb engineer should not be automatically moved up to a team leader position. Finally, if you score dozens of goals for your country then, when you retire, you are probably better suited to adding a bit of colour to the live commentary of a match than you are to managing 40 players, all of whom will be just as spoilt and arrogant as you ever were.
It’s not always about the industry experience. It’s not always about the departmental experience. Look at the skill sets needed and go from there. This will enable managers to hire better and show people looking to move their career forward, just how wide their options are.