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World Cup Wisdom For Business Leaders

World Cup Wisdom For Business Leaders

This is your obligatory “Leadership Lesson Learned From Watching the World Cup” blog post – it seems like everyone is writing one, so I might as well, too!

As you probably know, the USA lost to Belgium yesterday. They’re out of the tournament. It was an exciting game. Goalkeeper Tim Howard turned in the performance of a lifetime: 16 saves against a very determined Belgian team. Despite Howard’s best efforts, the Belgians got out to a 2-0 lead in the first of the two 15-minute extra time periods. The situation looked bleak, but then Julian Green made an amazing goal and suddenly it was 2-1 with 13 minutes remaining – there was hope!

Among World Cup viewers nationwide, gathered in community parks and neighborhood bars – at this moment, the mood changed. The naturally optimistic became more so; those inclined to despair pulled back from the brink. The American team was all-in, giving it everything they had, but time ran out before they were able to score again, despite many excruciating close calls.

Today, the media’s abuzz with stories about the game’s drama. There’s another narrative going on, too: how did soccer suddenly become so popular? How did a game that few people in U.S cared about morph into must-see TV for a nation?

Here’s where the leadership lessons come in.

There’s nothing sudden about soccer’s popularity: the soccer community in America has been laboring steadily for generations to spread the love of the game. Certainly, the game’s at a high point right now – but that high point only came after years and years of planning and hard work. Entrepreneurial success happens the same way. An “overnight success” can take decades to happen. Being aware of this, and communicating it clearly to our team members is an essential part of managing expectations – a central component of sustainable growth.

Another thing we need to think about when we’re talking about the World Cup’s newly acquired “mainstream” status is that the mainstream has changed. The New York Times points toward the impact of a larger Hispanic population and the aging of the Millennials – many of whom grew up playing soccer – as key factors.

What we need to understand as business leaders is that our own “mainstream” – the group of customers we count on for our bread and butter, the typical buyer we talk about in customer profiles – is also continually changing. The categories may remain the same, but the individuals are changing. Push past the pigeonholes regularly, so you can understand who you’re trying to reach.

The last reason I think the World Cup has become such a phenomenon is this simple: when everyone is doing something, we feel that we should, too. The key to being popular is to be popular. Once you have a certain critical mass of people interested in what you’re doing, it will draw in additional people who want to see what all the buzz is about.

Looking at those World Cup crowds, you know that while some of them were there for the soccer, a considerable portion were there for the crowds. Gathering with friends – even those you just, just met – and celebrating is fun. The experience trumps the substance for this portion of the crowd: the sense of community, of belonging to a larger “Team USA” was cited repeatedly during National Public Radio’s coverage by new World Cup aficionados.

How does this apply to your business?

Is the experience you’re providing compelling enough to draw in the attention of anyone beyond your established customers? It’s a crowded sports entertainment marketplace out there: soccer is competing with football, basketball, baseball, horse racing, NASCAR and more for audience share. The industry you’re in may be just as competitive. It’s well worth thinking about what you can do to stand out in the crowd.

Many of you reading this are great business leaders and thinkers. I’d love to hear what leadership lessons you took away from the World Cup – you can share in the comments below, or if you’d like to post a link to a piece you’ve already written, that’d be great too!

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