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Leading people is like playing football

Posted by Seppo Sairanen on 29.6.2018 8:30
Seppo Sairanen
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This summer all the football enthusiasts and fans – and even those who are not so keen on The Beautiful Game – have been sitting in the front of TV and watching the 2018 FIFA World Cup. And why not to watch the best matches played by the best teams and players? Even a layman can enjoy the excellence of these professionals.

But the speed of the game and changing situations causes that when you see something happening, you do not actually realise, why it happened. Why did a player make that certain decision?

Luckily on the half time there are football commentators to explain you the finesses of the game. Why did the Belgian forward Romelu Lukaku decide to run with the ball more to left, instead of running straight towards the goal? Was it his decision – or was it the defender who made the decision by pushing Lukaku to left to make his shooting range narrower? If so, why did the defender choose that solution, why didn’t he wait Lukaku to make a decision and react only on that?


"The best football players make decisions intuitionally and instantly."

No matter what the commentators on TV say, we can’t really know. And neither do the players. The best football players in the world have trained more than 10 000 hours to become what they are now. This enormous amount of training causes that they make decisions intuitionally and instantly; they do not need to use Daniel Kahneman’s infamous System 2 of the brain to react and act. They do not consciously do logical decisions and calculate the outcomes of their acts.

It is exactly the same when being a leader. As a manager in a corporation, you are every day on the pitch, making business decisions all the time. And most decisions you make are about managing and leading people, especially your own team.


"As a manager in a corporation, you are every day on the pitch."

How to make good decisions as a manager? How to know the best ways to lead your own team? In the beginning of your career you do not have the 10 000 hour experience to intuitively know how to act. You decide to do something and it might be the right thing to do – or not. Too often your team members’ reactions are not what you expected for. Things might go to the wanted direction, but the decision you made can cause a smaller or bigger havoc in your organisation.

When years go by and your human testing bears fruit, you will gain the experience and knowledge needed to know what works and what does not. Finally you do not have to think as much and you make good decisions intuitively. But before that your work life can be… well, quite stressful.

Of course you can get help to speed up the learning process about good leadership. They have invented management and leadership development programs for that. You may have participated in one of those? Nice classroom, a senior consultant with good jokes?

Let’s go back to the world of football and Lukaku’s gameplay. It would sound absurd if they told that the defender got coached for that certain situation in a classroom, wouldn’t it? How the coach came to classroom and said: ”Today’s topic is how to position yourself when a forward, for example Romelu Lukaku, is trying to pass you. We are concentrating in especially how to do it when he is on your left side. Have you read the book ‘How to be a perfect defender’? Let’s talk about it!”

Football is trained and learned in an environment that resembles  a real match day situation. We in Viking Theories think that so should leadership skills.


"Leadership skills should be learned in an environment that resembles the corporate world out there."

This is why we have developed a mobile learning platform – or actually a simulation game. Anyone can train their management and leading skills in an environment that resembles the corporate world out there. You can simulate your real life situations and do your trial and error in a safe place. It mentors you to find an optimal solution in your daily challenges. In short: much less stress, much less hurt feelings, better working environment and better financial results.

Maybe it is not exactly the same experience as a real life situation on football pitch with Lukaku – but pretty close.


Seppo Sairanen is a Partner in Viking Theories. He has a long experience in building up start up companies. He claims he doesn’t have any fun facts to share. 

Topics: leadership, simulation game, lifelong learning, learning technology


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