What Can Argentina’s World Cup Loss Teach Us about Leadership?

I watched a bit of the FIFA Men’s World Cup and I did watch most of the final yesterday.  I wasn’t aligned with anyone team but traditionally cheer for the underdog so I would not have been sad if Argentina won.  What I thought about as I watched the pained faces of the players and fans and coaches having to stand by and watch the gold medal and trophy be awarded to someone else was that they were blind to the reality of the situation.  Don’t get me wrong, losing sucks, I don’t know if it ever gets easy, and those men sure didn’t look like it was easy.  But, and this is a big but, people still adore them and in the world of football they are the second best team in the world.  Our Canadian Men’s team didn’t even make it to the tournament.  So the Argentinian’s are by far some of the best in the world.  But it didn’t matter last night because they weren’t THE BEST. 
In their moments of grief they were unable to focus on the good part.  The fact that the fans in the stands cried with them, cheered for Messi as he got MVP of the tournament and cheered all of them as they got the silver medals.  That around the world people were with them, to the end.  I felt for them, I could feel the weight in my heart as I watched their broken hearts flood the pitch. 
And then I started to think about my own life and when I lose, how I focus on the bad and not the hidden or maybe not so hidden good part.  Although I am putting in effort to change that very thing, it often still gets me in the moment.  Its perspective, it’s the ‘make lemon out of lemonade’. 
One of the Commentators said that Messi’s legacy is not having won a World Cup.  John Herdman, our National Women’s team coach (and personal favourite of mine) said he disagreed.  Instead he said, ‘his legacy was showing the youth of the world how to live a life of football’.  I wanted to clap.  If Messi’s entire career is boiled down to not winning the World Cup then we have, collectively, missed something.  It is his example of the sport, and as exemplified yesterday, his sportsmanship that is his legacy.  He did not look happy, but if he had then we would judge him saying it didn’t mean anything to him.  He had an honest and strong demeanour, he faced what I can only assume a painful climb onto the ceremonies platform to collect second place.  Ick, who wants to be second.   
Messi didn’t give up, the Argentinian’s didn’t give up.  You have to play to the end.  It’s brutal to watch teams or people who don’t, it’s brutal to see the loss of hope.  And people in general don’t like it, we like a close game – a tight match of great teams facing off for the coveted prize.  We love the competition. 
As a leader you have to have the same kind of fever, the same level of commitment.  If you give up, why won’t your team?  If Messi had quit playing, stopped trying – it would have affected the entire momentum of his team.  It’s tough to play when you think you have been beat.  But don’t forget the Canadian Women’s Olympic Hockey team who scored the tying and winning goal with about three minutes of play left.  If they had given up they would have lost.  Instead they got one of the best hockey moments I’ve ever seen.  And I loved yelling at my TV and hopping up and down as I watched the unimaginable unfold.  Never say never. 
As a leader you need to experience loss, it expands your capacity to show empathy. And having empathy is a very important trait of a good leader.  In fact, experience, loss and challenge are almost definitely in the fabric of all great leaders.  Your ability to withstand the weight of loss will show your team that it’s not about losing, it’s how you played the game.  And if you’re lucky, it’s about how you will play next time.

Bravo Germany – earned, played, won. 
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