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Admittedly, I am a huge soccer fan.  I guess that is to be expected having spent the first 10 years of my life growing up in Germany as a pseudo-military brat.  And this morning as I was reflecs-l225ting on the USA’s victory over Jamaica last night in the Gold Cup, it occurred to me there were a few leadership lessons to be gleaned.

1 – Building the bench

2 – Understanding your role

3 – Perseverance & Redemption

Building the Bench – Three of the 4 semi-finalists (USA, Mexico, Jamaica) had something in common … they fielded younger players throughout the tournament with a lens towards the future. Not taking anything away from the competition that is the Gold Cup, but realistically this tournament doesn’t have the same limelight or prestige as other tournaments. So this actually was a good testing ground for the younger players to prove themselves.

When it comes to the highest priority, most strategic initiatives we deal with organizationally, you want your best players in the game.   But succession planning is also a part of every leader’s responsibility, and giving the younger players the opportunity to prove themselves when the stakes are not as high is equally important.

Provide the opportunities for up and coming Product Management leaders to assume full responsibility for a task.  They will learn along the way, and just like in this most recent Gold Cup … some will sink (poor performance diminishing future prospects), some will swim (solid performance increasing their future prospects).  But without the opportunity to shine, how would the coach know?

Understanding your Role – once you’ve been in the limelight, how willing are you to let it go?  Change is a natural part of the career trajectory … sometimes you are the doer where you are the expert in a particular role and expected to perform.  Sometimes you are the captain/leader responsible less for doing and more for corralling and motivating the team towards greater goals.  Sometimes you are called upon to come in and temporarily support the team when it is most needed.

It’s important to have the proper self-awareness to understand what is needed in each particular situation … and more importantly to accept the role you need to play in the situation (vs. the role you may want to play).

As Clint Dempsey continues in the twilight of his career, he exemplified this perspective with his role in this Gold Cup.  Going back to the Good Product Manager/Bad Product Manager post, its the difference between being in pursuit of what is right/best for the team, organization or business (“we” mentality) vs. being in pursuit of what’s best for themselves (“I” mentality).

Perseverance & Redemption – The definition of perseverance is being steadfastness in doing something despite difficulty or delay in achieving success.  Translation, things don’t always go the way you plan.  From another post about storms, I made this point:

One of the life lessons I learned a long time ago was the premise that you are either in the middle of a storm, just coming out of a storm, or about to go into one. It’s not meant to be a doom and gloom view of the world, just reflective of reality. Think about it … whether you call them storms, or use the terminology like problems, challenges, and issues … life is full of them. Depending on the approach you take in dealing them, the outcomes can be very different. It is no different in the workplace, and especially in our roles as Product Management Leaders. How often do things go according to plan? Sometimes it feels like the biggest part of our jobs is firefighting, contingency planning, re-baselining, etc.

There were several stories of “redemption” from this Gold Cup … situations where players could have just given up and the outcome would have been very different.  Some stories have played out over several years/tournaments … some played out in the context of this particular game.

Regardless, the underlying message points to a lack of control of the external circumstances in our lives, but a choice in how we respond to them.  When things go wrong (and they will), focus on two things:

  1. What can I learn from this?
  2. How can I prevent this from happening again?