I've just returned from speaking about Informal Coalitions to a group of London-based management consultants. The event was held at Chelsea's Stamford Bridge stadium. When I arrived, I was directed to the Zola Suite, nestled in the upper reaches of the West Stand. The walls were decked out with pictures of Gianfranco Zola in action. One sequence showed the past-master turning West Ham United's Julian Dicks 'inside out', before scoring another of his spectacular goals. Zola had vision. And providing vision is an important element of the change-leadership agenda set out in Informal Coalitions.
As a Derby County supporter I had the dubious privilege of seeing Zola take the Rams apart some six years ago at Pride Park, as Chelsea ran out 4-0 winners in a painfully one-sided match in the English Premiership. Chelsea manager Claudio Ranieri substituted Zola with 10 minutes of the match remaining. He left the pitch to a standing ovation from the Derby crowd. Zola was magnificent. He had vision:
- Zola had perspective - he could read the game as well as anyone - and better than most.
Leaders similarly need to be able to 'read the game', and help their staff to make sense of emerging issues and events.
- Zola went about his task - as always - with a sense of purpose. He understood the contribution that was required of him on the pitch; and, in having his talents spontaneously acknowledged in the way that they were that day at Derby, his broader purpose of remaining true to the spirit of "the beautiful game" was further strengthened. As another example of his determination to stay true to his own ideals, he turned down a lucrative deal to remain at 'the Bridge' when his contract with Chelsea expired in 2003. Zola had given his word to an Italian Serie B club that he would return home to play for them. As Chelsea commented at the time, "Being the man he is, he felt that having given his word to his home island club he would have to leave us and join them."
Leaders also need both to ensure that their staff understand their required contribution to the organization's success; and to strive to express the organization's purpose and goals in ways that allow staff to remain true to their own ideals and aspirations.
- Zola was a master of process. He was dedicated to his craft, eminently capable of dealing with the demands placed on him by the nature of his role and to handle the less than sympathetic treatment that was regularly meted out to him by opposing defenders. He was a consummate professional.
In an analogous way, leaders also need to create the conditions in which their staff can become masters of their own processes - increasingly able to self-manage the demands placed on them by their colleagues, customers and emerging events.
- Zola could see and exploit possibilities. His footballing vision was most evident here, as he continually sought out creative ways of opening up the opponent's defence, to create goal-scoring opportunities for himself and for others.
Leaders in organizations - at all levels - need to encourage, assist and enable their staff to identify and exploit the possibilities for performance improvement and goal achievement that exist within their own areas of the business.
- Zola maximized his own and others' potential. He worked constantly to improve his own skills and knowledge of the game, and to make full use of the talents of his team mates in his role as 'playmaker'.
Unlocking the talents of staff and channelling them for business benefit through everyday interaction is a central aspect of providing vision from an informal coalitions perspective.
- To complete this pen-picture of Zola as someone who provided vision as part of his everyday engagement with his work, he also had passion. He cared passionately about his football, using to the maximum possible effect the energy and 'buzz' that this commitment to excellence brought.
Leaders also need to stimulate passion-filled work environments. That is, high-energy workplaces in which staff are genuinely and spontaneously engaged in their work. Workplaces in which they care about their work because it has meaning for them.
Zola had vision. He demonstrated this day-in-day-out through his everyday actions. Leaders similarly need to provide vision - day-in-day-out - through their everyday conversations and interactions with their staff.