Liverpool, leadership & learning

By Marc Zao-Sanders

2 minute read

Photo by Sandro Schuh on Unsplash

Last night Liverpool overturned a 3-0 first-leg result against Barcelona by winning 4-0 at Anfield and 4-3 on aggregate and going through to the Champion’s League (UCL) final on 1st June in Madrid. Few pundits or even Liverpool fans gave the team much hope after the first leg at Camp Nou. Even Jurgen Klopp, the charismatic Liverpool manager, said he thought the task was ‘impossible’. The press this morning are talking about this result as being one of if not the most dramatic, emphatic, stunning comebacks.

For Liverpool fans and football fans around the world, this is an emotional, impactful event in our lives. Though this was very much a team performance (two of Liverpool’s star strikers - Salah and Firminho - were out injured, so everyone had to step up), there is a lot we can, should and do learn from Liverpool’s manager Jurgen Klopp at a time like this. (Just as we could a year ago after Liverpool lost to Real Madrid in last year’s UCL final.)

Here are some things Klopp did in the past 24 hours that I find inspiring:

  • He teed up the game perfectly. It wasn’t defeatist. Nor was there an inane ‘I think we can do it’. Instead, he said: “It should be a football party. We don't drink during the game - no alcohol at least - so we should then celebrate it with football. That's the plan. It's possible and a little bit likely that it will be the last Champions League game for this campaign, so let's celebrate it with our legs, with our lungs, with good decisions, with a sensational atmosphere and all that stuff. Then we will see what's the outcome.” He went on to say that if we lose, let’s “fail beautifully”. What a life-affirming, real way to describe a high-profile, forthcoming football match.
  • He refused to be drawn on some of the detail of certain Barca players before the game. He said why: he didn’t need or want to give them any extra motivation than they already had.
  • When Liverpool score, he pumps his fists (in fact, it’s become a defining characteristic - see this viral tweet) in such a way that fans want to pump theirs, and make more noise, effecting a virtuous circle of success.
  • When he sent on substitute Daniel Sturridge on later on he gave him a huge bear hug. This is an unorthodox management technique. But for a striker who’s barely played this season it may have put an extra spring in the step. It’s also motivating to see a bizarre, exceptional, wholly positive moment like this, as a teammate or a fan.
  • He swore in the post-match interview. Emotion was unbridled, unbridlable and just all came out. He also checked with the interviewer about the watershed first. The guy’s responsible too.

All this spirit, wonder, fascination, awe. Ironically, it made me think about corporate learning and that, in general, this is at the opposite end of the emotional spectrum. Corporate learning is mostly bone dry. But it’s up to you, to us, to the people learning. You can get your learning kicks from more impactful real-world events if you choose to, if you open your mind to the lessons a major sporting or political or comedic events have to offer. Like this one. You just need to notice, see them in a certain light, be affected (read Nick Shackleton Jones). There’s a lot said about learning in the flow of work by Josh Bersin and others before. A natural extension of this idea is to catch the strong currents of the flow of life (of which sport is a perfect example, with its drama, frequency, profile, etc). If you're a learner (and we all are), that means being open to learning from any situation, and without being spoon-fed in a classroom or by course. And if you work in the profession that means open-minded, imaginative curation.

What happens outside of the artificial world of learning can teach us so much more. Look to the world for your inspiration.


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