Inspired by the beautiful game, Mayvin Associate Sue Belgrave celebrates the understated courage and compassion of leaders who are open, honest and real.
There have been many, many times when I have stood in front of groups talking about change and have said “we need to focus on what is working and, as we do that, we will find energy for the challenges ahead”. I see now something that is working: a display of real leadership that makes a real difference.
I am truly disappointed that football is not coming home to England, but I am even more disappointed that we may not be hearing quite as much from manager Gareth Southgate as we need to hear. Something unexpected has happened: Southgate is someone who has found a leadership voice that is appreciative, open, honest, generous, understated, reflective and real. A voice which reaches for something beyond the every day and – now the unexpected part – people have really listened, responded and wanted more.
Instead of being shut down and dismissed, the space for that voice has opened up wider and wider every day. The space was always there but not easy to find: the entrance obscured by other noisier voices, more self-serving than this one. Now it has opened up, we need to keep it open, because it is in that space that we can perhaps find the possibility of new ways of being together, better.
This all began (it’s important to understand how these things happen), not so much with words but with actions. In the moment when England had just laid to rest the demon of the penalty shoot out (truly a moment for national celebration), Gareth Southgate found the time to comfort the Colombian player Mateus Uribe who had missed the goal.
Southgate found the right actions at the semi-final too: encouraging the whole England team to stay on the pitch, to applaud the supporters, offering a hand to those who had collapsed, encouraging them too to stand together in a moment which said: we did our best for you all and thank you for your support. His leadership responded to the real, in-the-moment needs of the people on the pitch: for the good of the team, and for the individuals involved.
Here is a man who seems to have found a way to be himself, whose actions are aligned with his words, who has found a way to act against the dominant culture and in doing so to begin to change it.
That makes for compelling leadership. Against a cacophony of belligerence, egotism, and aggressive posturing, a new voice has been heard this week and, if the sales of waistcoats are anything to go by, people want more of it.
At almost the same time in another part of the world another football-linked story was unfolding; the extraordinary rescue of the Wild Boars and their coach. What did we hear of that story?Messages of love and generosity flowing between the boys and their families. Utter professionalism and determination as those who could best do the desperately difficult job, just got on with what they had to do. The discretion and sensitivity of all involved as the first boys were brought to the surface. Understated, committed team work inspired by human courage and compassion that, like Southgate’s leadership, responds to the real, unique situation as it emerges.
On the news I heard the voice of one of the British divers involved saying very simply:
“we are not heroes, everyone pulled together. We take it one step at a time and hopefully, as we’ve managed to in this case, we come up with the results”.
Football is known as ‘the beautiful game’. Given what has been associated with it this time, it seems as though that might indeed be true.