# 339: Soccer Language and Leadership

Roberts, Wess (1987). Leadership Secrets of Attila the Hun, 25.

Story behind the Passage

Today in a conversation, I suddenly noticed that 80% of our analogies revolved around soccer. We compared business characters to famous players, we talked about certain moves in a way that you describe a player’s typical position in the game. And altogether we used a lingo that you would rather use on the field than in a formal setting. I liked this because I liked playing soccer as a teenager and recently I am thinking a lot about playing again. All this confirmed my general affinity towards sports and leadership as my favorite topics. I have been struggling a lot in order to integrate this highly ambitious and competitive part of me. Now, it seems, I am making much progress. The very fact that I am picking up a leadership book today shows me that my old interests are breaking through again — but I am a lot more advanced by now. I am not saying that I am Attila the Hun or that I ever want to Attila because he counts as one of the most cruel and feared leaders in history. When considering, however, that much of what we know about him is based on myths, that might make him look a bit less scary after all…

My Learnings

“It is the responsibility of all Huns to choose and follow only those chieftains who demonstrate a desire to lead.” This is such a remarkable sentence because it perfectly shows both elements of leadership — one is about leading and the other one about being led. And the way it is presented here makes clear that bad leaders are, to some extent, even to a large one, also the result of people choosing to follow non-leaders. Especially in universities, traditionally, you find many people who do not have any “lust to lead.” But they still have to do it at a certain point. I am not blaming them. I am just saying that this has consequences. Not only do you naturally feel that they do not want to lead. They even express their distaste of leadership.

“Too often, the leadership of many nations falls to princes who lack the ambition, courage and capabilities to reign as leaders. Such disinterest, cowardice and incompetence is manifested in various actions that discourage and bewilder subordinates, thus strengthening the enemy.”

Everyone with a boss like this will immediately notice how true this is. And the war background, which the story of Attila draws on, makes it even clearer than the context of sports of how devastating the consequences can be. You lose the battle with a leader who is not a leader. What is remarkable, however, is that the passages talk not only about the will to lead, they mention “desire.” That is something that is not just a rational decision, it is an inner drive, an unconscious urge, that might even be given to you by birth. Wherever it comes from, the fact that the people need to choose the leader who has this desire makes it clear that this desire somehow needs to be visible, even detectable.

Even though this characterization might paint an antiquated warrior-like image of a leader, the last sentences show that the “lust for leadership” goes along with servitude and sincere benevolence. I think, all of this together can only be noticed and felt by others if it is authentic. And that was also what we ended up talking about today. Just like the different player types in soccer have their natural predispositions, you cannot easily change a non-leader into a leader, just like you cannot change a left-footed player or midfielder into a right-footed one or a goalie. What is essential for everything to work well is the mutual knowledge of the ones being led and the one leading. And both need to be aware that all they have to do is live out their full natural potential.

Why do simple truths take so long to fall into place if you can know it all by watching soccer?

Reflection Questions

1) Do you sometimes use analogies from the world of sports — in which context?

2) Did you ever make a mistake when choosing a “leader,” e.g., your boss or some other person you depended on?

3) Do you share the view that leadership is a desire that goes along with benevolence? Why/not?