Stefan Stern: Over the moon

How would you like it if you had to get on with your job with a TV camera permanently locked on to your every move and reaction? Not much fun, I expect. Lip-readers might get a bit upset. And there would be no way you could get away with a bit of furtive nose-picking.

Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

So before slagging off the England football manger Steve McLaren, again, it is worth bearing in mind the sort of pressure he is working under. During England matches he is literally being filmed every second. If things go well, fine. When they don’t - well, we can all watch and enjoy his ultra visible discomfort.

On Saturday night in Tel Aviv McLaren benefited from a footballing miracle of Biblical proportions. David beat Goliath - well, Goliatsov. (I am referring to Israel’s 2-1 victory over Russia, for those of you who don’t follow these things.) This unexpected win gives England a great chance of qualifying, after all, for the final stages of the 2008 European football championships, something that looked highly unlikely only a few days ago. Draw with Croatia on Wednesday night and we are through.

The management lessons here? First, don’t discount how important luck can be in any team’s (or business’s) success. Had a Russian attempt on goal in the last minute of the match not hit the post but gone in, Israel would probably have lost and England would now be out (and Steve McLaren would be looking for a new job). As it was, the plucky Israelis went straight back up the pitch and scored.

Success, in sport or business, is relative. It depends on how other people perform. It is not all down to you. You can plan and prepare, but a lot of results are simply out of your hands.

Secondly, we clearly over-emphasise the importance of individual managers as far as the success of a team or business unit is concerned. People do the work, not managers. That camera that stays fixed on the managerial dug-out creates a highly misleading impression. McLaren can wince and scream and shout and laugh as much as he likes. His players play the game, win, lose or draw. If he was good enough to play an active part in the match he would be out there on the pitch with them.

So, all you managers out there: don’t take all the credit for your successes. But don’t beat yourself up over failures that were beyond your control either. And don’t forget that the really important people you work with are your “goal-scorers”, your “battling midfielders”, and “canny defenders”. Get out of their way and let them play, to the best of their ability.

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