Jul 6

Three Leadership Lessons To Be Learned From Germany’s Football Coach

Heinz Landau
Heinz Landau is a seasoned business leader who has gained valuable working and leadership experience on three different continents.

The German football team has so far (we are at the semi final stage when I am writing this blog) clearly shown the best performance of all countries participating in the FIFA world cup in South Africa. The fast-paced style of attacking football that Germany has displayed in recent weeks can only be compared with the beautiful style they played in the 70-ies when the German team became European champion in 1972 and world champion in 1974.

Nevertheless, it has to be said that the current performance of the German team comes as a surprise not only to millions of spectators, but also to the experts (including myself – if there is one field that I am competent in, then it is football :-)

When analyzing the reasons for Germany’s outstanding performances in South Africa, there is only one person who comes to mind: Joachim (Jogi) Loew, the German football coach. It is the first time that Loew is the German head coach at a world cup. Last time, he was still the assistant coach (so the succession planning of the German Football Association has obviously worked).

There are three leadership lessons to be learned from Jogi Loew:


Germany has one of the youngest teams at the world cup. Being convinced of their talent and their attitude, Jogi Loew has full confidence in the young players that he selected for his team. The young players are grateful for the chance they got. They can feel that Loew believes in them. And in return, they reward him with great performances!

Today, in many companies, hierarchical layers are still a big barrier when it comes to the growth of young and promising talent. People have to mark time in their positions before they can move up and obtain more responsibilities.

I, personally, have a passion for working with young people and for developing them. That’s why I have all year round talented management interns with me. I often give them the chance to work on strategic projects, let them own a challenging project or let them be part of a project team. And I can tell you that I have hardly ever been disappointed with them. When given a chance, they deliver!

One problem that I have observed over the years is that senior leaders are often too far away from young talent in a company. They don’t create opportunities for themselves to have access to young talent.

Another issue is with recruitment. I have always been willing to spend a lot of time to sit in interviews. Why? Because hiring decisions are among the most important ones a leader is taking. After all, the success of the company depends strongly on the quality of its people!

Therefore, sometimes I cannot believe how long it takes for some of my top-rated former management interns to find a job. There seems to be something seriously wrong with companies’ recruitment processes and search for talent. Okay, I know we live in challenging economic times, but there should always be an opportunity for top talent. Therefore, if you are a leader, think whether you really make enough effort to get promising youth on board.

Jogi Loew and his coaching team obviously have done well in spotting and developing young talent.


The German football team has so far surprised everybody at this world cup with its fast-paced, creative and attacking style. This is a welcome change from Germany’s previous style of football which was characterized by strong-willed, defence-minded players with great physical stamina.

One of the reasons for the new style is the diversity that Jogi Loew has brought into his team. There is a good mixture of younger and older players, experienced and inexperienced players. And one key success factor is that we have several players in the team who are not of German ethnic origin. They are players who were born in Turkey, Poland, Ghana etc., but grew up in Germany. They add some cultural spice to the team and some different, fresh, multicultural mindset.

What can we learn from that for business? Add diversity to your company! Have a good mixture of older and younger people in your work force. Give women a chance, also in higher hierarchical positions. Be open-minded to foreigners. And, last but not least, hire people from diverse educational backgrounds.

What can we learn from that for business? Add diversity to your company! Have a good mixture of older and younger people in your workforce. Give women a chance, also in higher hierarchical positions. Be open-minded to foreigners. And, last but not least, hire people from diverse educational backgrounds.

That is something where I have struggled in my previous company. Being a company in the pharmaceutical and chemical business, we used to recruit almost only science graduates for our business units. Mainly people with a degree in pharmaceutical science, chemistry or related science disciplines. Even as managing director, it took me years to make a case for diversity and to convince (against great resistance) my business unit managers to hire occasionally people who don’t have a science background, but rather have a MBA – degree. Consulting firms are very smart in this regard, since they go for broad diversity when recruiting people.


Germany is playing positive football at this year’s world cup. They play fast, attack-minded football rather than slow, defensive-minded football with plenty of sideward passes. Jogi Loew has selected the players with the right attitude. They try to win the game rather than trying to avoid losing it. In short, they go for it! Loew has installed a can do attitude among his players. They believe in themselves, in the team and in winning the world cup.

Loew and his team had to overcome huge setbacks on their way to South Africa. Injury problems prevented five regular members of the squad to be nominated for the world cup, among them Michael Ballack, their captain and Rene Adler, their No. 1 goalkeeper. Nevertheless, Loew and his team fought back. They overcame adversity with resilience. The coaching team and the remaining players carried on and continued to believe in the team and its success.

In business, too many leaders keep on complaining about unfavourable conditions, like e.g. the difficult economic times rather than focusing on installing a sense of positivity and belief in the workforce that, with the right joint efforts, they will be able to bounce back from adversity.

As mentioned in one of my previous blogs, I myself used to tell my employees during times of crisis (a word that I seldomly use): “No matter how good or bad the economy is, in every economy, there are companies that are winning market share and companies that are losing market share. And we will make sure that we will be among the winners!”

Finally, let me also share with you one point where I still struggle with Jogi Loew’s approach and a possible learning transfer to business. It is obvious that he values the team above all. That is also the reason that in Miroslav Klose and Lukas Podolski he nominated two players for his world cup squad who had performancewise an absolutely disappointing season in their respective clubs. Despite the huge criticism of the football fans in Germany  and even more by the experts, Loew held on to the two players and took them along to the world cup. The two paid back the loyalty and confidence that Loew had shown in them and surprised everybody (except Jogi Loew) with fine performances in South Africa. Actually, they are among the best performing players in the team.

Although loyalty is one of my core values, I would probably not have nominated the two players for the world cup. It would have meant a huge conflict with performance orientation which is another one of my core values. I would have struggled to explain to all the other players who worked hard and played well during the normal season during the last twelve months why I am not taking them to the world cup.

Loew argued that Klose and Podolski are two established members of Germany’s national team and that they had always delivered the expected performance whenever they had played for the national team. So, Loew clearly values established national team membership over the performance in the club. However, this is normally supposed to be the criteria for nomination for the national team.

But then, it’s Jogi Loew who is Germany’s coach and not me! And, on top of that, anyone whose approach proves to be succesful, is right. And so again, it’s Jogi Loew!

This entry was posted on Tuesday, July 6th, 2010 at 20:30 and is filed under Human Resources, Leadership, Management. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Responses are currently closed, but you can trackback from your own site.

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Leave a comment

  1. happy suksan says:

    Good analogy, easy to understand ponit after point.
    eventhough I am not a football specialist as you.
    you have of raw materials in your cabinet waiting for you to pick them out and tranform them into the valuable writing.
    Looking forward to reading your story again.
    Thanks for food for thoughts

  2. Heinz Landau Heinz Landau says:

    Dear Suksan,

    Thanks for your kind feedback!

    Best regards, Heinz Landau