Loris Karius and the team response

A lot has been written about how the Liverpool football team responded (or didn’t) to goalkeeper Loris Karius at the end of the Champions League final on Saturday after two errors that he made resulted in Real Madrid scoring two goals.

More interesting for me was what happened after his first mistake just after the hour mark. On the one hand the team response from a task point of view was everything the coach could have wanted. Instead of letting their heads go down the Liverpool team attacked and scored an equalising goal within minutes. However their response from a relationship perspective with their goalkeeper may have sowed the seeds for the second error later on which finished their chances of winning the match.

My only data is what I saw on the TV so we have to be careful with the interpretation but there appeared to be minimal interaction between goalkeeper and team mates after his first mistake. In this situation the coach is not in a position to put an arm round the player, offer some appropriate words and help him refocus. He needs his team mates to take a lead in doing this in the moment.

This need for a timely response is as true in business or battle as it is in sport – it is the close colleagues who need to act. Without that intervention what can happen is that we dwell on the mistake we have made and start thinking unhelpful thoughts and experiencing crippling emotions when what we actually need to do is focus on now and carrying out with excellence the skills that we have practiced repeatedly.

The debrief will be fascinating and I would love to be a fly on the wall hearing from all of the players about what happened in those moments and why. 

The take out for all of us is that when a team mate makes a big mistake (and we all will) then the team needs to help the individual regain their focus as quickly as possible. Just trying to rectify the mistake alone isn’t enough.

Medicating to survive - a failure of leadership

Ex-Liverpool and Denmark defender Daniel Agger has admitted that taking copious quantities of painkillers and anti-inflammatories to get him through matches significantly shortened his playing career. The only surprise in this is that it wasn't a surprise. In sport, education and business medicating your way to survive has become increasingly prevalent.

At the 2010 Bonn marathon over 60% of amateur runners who were surveyed admitting to using pain killing or anti inflammatory pills to help them race.

Some researchers suggest that up to 30% of college students take stimulants such as Adderall to help them cram and get through exams.

A 2012 survey for Drinkaware found that 44% of adults said they were more likely to drink after a stressful day at a work. A large class of something cold when you get home seems to be a pretty common remedy for stressful work environments.

The common feature in all three situations are cultures that not only permit, but encourage, this sort of self medication as a coping mechanism. That is a catastrophic failure of leadership because leaders shape the culture in which we operate. It is a failure by football club managers, directors, agents and senior players. It is a failure by college principals and professors. It is a failure by business owners and managers.

Change the culture. The remedy is an appropriate (manageable but challenging) workload balanced with sufficient, high quality, recovery. The upside? More engaged and productive people, less human train wrecks.

It isn't complicated but it does require bravery, effort and persistence.