Having Lionel Messi, the best player in the world in a team may bring dilemmas of leadership or at least dilemmas of ego. But not with Sabella as the coach. As a non-playing leader he encouraged others including Messi to share leadership responsibilities. The story suggests something beyond the sporting arena
Lionel Messi was not born as a leader. But “he was something special,’ recalls Vecchio, Messi’s second coach at Club Atlético Newell’s Old Boys, an Argentine sports club based in Rosario, Santa Fe.
Sabella’s distributed leadership approach
Sabella is not the typical football coach. He is a conservative, analytical and detail-oriented individual. He fines young football players for breaking rules. Troublesome stars are dropped, including veterans he believes may not fit his strategy. Sabella transformed leadership dilemmas into a team strength, based on what is known as a distributed leadership scheme.
Messi and Mascherano
As part of a team, Messi needed emotional support and for that he would give back reciprocal support to the team with the promise of scoring a goal anytime. But still, the teams also needed an emotional leader. For that, Sabella summoned Mascherano. Both, Messi and Mascherano, can be taken as charismatic leaders, but with different approaches.
Attributional and emotional aspects of leadership
According to Jayakody (2008) a leader may be assessed for attributional factors or emotional ones:
Leader extraordinariness, the attributional approach – refers to the follower’s belief that the leader is beyond any ordinary person in many, if not all aspects of human attributions.
The emotional approach refers to the follower’s belief that the leader is an ideal representation of whom the follower expects the leader to be. Mascherano was even called “the captain without the [arm]band”
How this distributed leadership worked in the field
In the FIFA World Cup 2014 Semi-final against The Netherlands in Sao Paulo, it was goalless after extra time. The game went to penalties. If Argentina wins, it will be a place in the final for the first time in 24 years.
Mascherano was captured on camera speaking to goalkeeper Romero. ‘Today you’ll make yourself a hero’,he said. And the stopper did. Mascherano;s words inspired Romero in saving two penalties, as his side ran out 42 winners.
Messi lead from a different perspective in the same situation. He was the first to kick the penalty that ended in a goal.
Learning about distributed leadership should be part of any managing career in order to participate in teamwork. The Argentinean football team highlights developing a strategy to enhance each participant’s capability to commit to the team’s goals.
Their success of the field has changed my way of thinking about distributed leadership, influencing me to deal with dilemmas and going beyond the ‘normal’ assumptions (e.g. of the ‘one leader of a team) not only in my work life, but also in my personal life.
Jayakody, J. A. S. K. (2008) ‘Charisma as a cognitive affective phenomenon: a follower-centric approach’,. Management Decision, 46, 832-845.
Carolina is a Senior Purchasing Manager at an international consumer goods FMCG, completing a global part time MBA