Tech chiefs demand pragmatism while retail CEOs go for enthusiasm and City finance bosses value a vision
As 2023 gets underway the World Cup in Qatar is fast becoming last year’s news.
However, for Chris Watt, Managing Partner at ECI Partners, it would be wise for City chiefs to sit back and reflect on the tournament, as there are some lessons to be learnt.
Leadership, vision and strategy being the keywords during this exclusive sitdown with City A.M.
So, let’s dive straight in, what is it that boardroom CEOs should learn from the Qatar World Cup?
The FIFA World Cup is by far the most prestigious football competition on the planet and with only
eight countries having ever claimed the trophy, the stakes are high for the managers who have the
weight of entire nations’ expectations resting on their shoulders.
“The ability to lead under pressure is a rare skill, and this was a great opportunity for boardroom CEOs to look at those football managers’ leadership skills.”
Successful managers at the World Cup inspired self-belief in their team, motivating players around a
common goal and making the team greater than its individual parts. While there have been many
teams that underperformed despite having decidedly world-class individuals in the team, it is
the teams that have worked as one unit that have achieved great things. These teams also have managers who foster a culture of open communication and understand how to capitalise on the benefits of bringing together different people with different skillsets.
Are there common characteristics between effective business leadership teams and winning
World Cup teams?
Inspirational leadership is crucial in motivating a team. Football managers focus on the end goal and
create a common purpose for their teams to buy into and it’s this vision that unites and inspires the
team. Boardroom CEOs and their leadership teams similarly must articulate their vision for the
business to bring their employees on the journey with them. Having a clear plan and being well-prepared for all eventualities is also crucial.
“Football managers need to curate effective training programmes, understand the opposition and know who is doing what.”
In business, the same applies, for example, when preparing for an important business pitch or
event – everyone needs to know what their role is and need to be prepared to fulfil it. While having a plan is important, a vital leadership trait on and off the field is adaptability. A football manager’s ability to react to changing circumstances is critical, whether it’s deciding to use a new starting line up or formation or changing tactics at half-time. For leadership teams, the same rules apply.
In your experience, how have these characteristics evolved over the years?
Being inspirational, loyal and a problem solver have always been vital to the success of a leadership
team, but the turbulence of 2022 and uncertainty ahead means being adaptable has never been
more important. While in 2021, CEOs thought being realistic and logical were the most important characteristics to be successful in the top job, there’s been a clear shift in the sentiment from CEOs for the need for inspiration and adaptability. This represents the need for leaders to react to unexpected situations
and inspire employees to keep them motivated and resilient.
Do these characteristics of successful leadership teams differ between industries?
While great leadership skills are important no matter the sector, every industry will have its own
opportunities and challenges. As a result, leadership teams in different sectors will have different
characteristics they need to be successful. Whereas pragmatism is in the top three traits that tech CEOs say they value, retail CEOs feel that independence and enthusiasm are the most important characteristics of a successful leadership team.
Tech CEOs value pragmatism, retail CEOs go for enthusiasm and finance chiefs want vision
“Financial services CEOs want their teams to be vision-led.”
So, as well as being aware of what is needed for their industry, CEOs who are recruiting into their senior teams also must be cognisant of trying to find a balance of characteristics across the different management team members.
What is the best way for CEOs to engage with their team? Do you see any similarities between football
managers and boardroom CEOs?
The likes of Gareth Southgate and Didier Deschamps have achieved the level of success they have
through their ability to communicate. Having open communication between all members of the
team and breaking down silos means they can really work as a team.
Communication starts well before players even get onto the field so that everyone understands the goals and strategy from the start. This same rings true for successful business leadership teams, with 24 per cent of CEOs believing that open and honest communication is the most important factor driving good engagement from their teams.
“It is difficult, if not impossible, for a team or a company to work towards a common goal if they are not all singing from the same hymn sheet.”
Equally, development goals are vital for football players who are always looking to better
themselves. It keeps them motivated and at their best, so managers need to make sure they’re
always helping their players recognise priority areas of improvement. Business leadership is also
about engaging with employees to help them reach their potential, with 23 per cent of CEOs naming
effective feedback and development goals as a top way to drive engagement. Giving clear feedback
and measurable targets is vital to not only keep your workforce motivated, but also to get the best
out of them in the long term.