Paul Butler: Work lessons taken from the ‘beautiful game’

Paul Butler, Newleaf Training and Development. Submitted photo

Apparently, about 1 billion people watched the soccer World Cup final this past weekend.

I must admit I’d kind of lost interest after the country of my birth, England, lost in the semifinal, but nonetheless — it was a great game.

I personally think the first two goals that France scored shouldn’t have occurred — the first came from a direct free kick from an incident I don’t believe was a foul. France’s second goal came from a penalty kick, (or as the locals say, “PK”) from a supposed “hand-ball” which I don’t think was an infringement of play.

There we have it — we all have opinions as whether the referee was correct and we all have opinions whether the “best” team won.

This set me thinking about teamwork in today’s workplace. My observation has been that most teams don’t work. I would regard most teams as mediocre at best. At the root of sub-optimal teams, is always ineffective leadership. I see a parallel with parenting — when we have dysfunctional, disrespectful and disobedient children, we have to look at the parenting.

Likewise, when I see poor teamwork we have to look at the quality of the leadership.

There have been so many times over the last 12 years when we, at Newleaf Training and Development have been contacted by leaders who ask if we do “teambuilding” or whether we can “inject some energy into the team,” or most recently we were asked to “rally the troops.” Our findings have proven the majority of the time, the root of the issue is poor leadership and by helping fix that the team tends to flourish. As an analogy — it’s as if leadership is the root of the tree and the performance of the team, is like the quality of the fruit when the root is healthy.

Coming back to soccer — there’s an indisputable correlation between the results of the team and the quality of the coach’s leadership. I am reminded of the late great England soccer coach Sir Alf Ramsey who guided England to win the world cup in 1966. When asked by a reporter about the intensity of his leadership. He responded by saying, “A lot of people say to me — “Alf, soccer is not a matter of life and death.” I tell them, “I agree” — it’s much more important than that!” If only, more leaders had at least 10 percent of the verve that the late Sir Alf Ramsey had.

The closest I’ve seen a leader come to the “Alfie Standard” (as I call it) is within a leader called Nate. I won’t give his last name or call out the name of his employer but in my opinion, he is perhaps one of the best team leaders we’ve had the honor of partnering with as a training and development company.

Nate has the intensity of Alf Ramsey but like Alf, in a humble manner. I have never heard Nate shout at his team. He works hard and unsurprisingly, his team also works very hard. He is very respectful towards each member of team.

Even when he has to make tough decisions (such as laying someone off, or moving duties around) I have witnessed the way he does what he needs to do — honorably.

Nate doesn’t have favorites — I’m sure he prefers socializing with some team members more than others but you wouldn’t seen any such micro-inequities with Nate. Just like a good soccer coach, Nate is laser-focused on the team’s performance.

He knows the lead measures — those 3 to 5, key performance indicators most likely to predict his team will “win”. Nate celebrates success but he doesn’t hog the limelight. I have personally observed his team “win” big time but you’ll not see Nate front and center. Where you will find Nate is on the sideline, applauding his team for a job well done.

So, it may be the final whistle on the soccer world cup competition at least for another four years but in the meantime, if we’re leaders of teams or owners of business we can endeavor to be the best coaches we can be.

Remember, the quality of the fruit (your team’s results) is directly related the healthiness of the root of your leadership.

As employees or entrepreneurs we invest so much time at work, why not choose to make the bets contribution you can?

Our work is not just a matter of life and death — its much more important than that!

Paul Butler is a Santa Clarita resident and a client partner with Newleaf Training and Development of Valencia ( The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The Signal. For questions or comments, email Butler at paul.butler@

Related To This Story

Latest NEWS