Paul Butler | What a Team!

Paul Butler: Going the Extra Mile

Apparently about a billion people will watch the soccer World Cup final on Sunday, Dec. 18. All this talk about soccer teams got me thinking about work teams. Just like you I’m sure, I’ve worked on superb teams and some that lost their game early on, and in doing so the team members chose to change teams and move to other workplaces.  

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 past 17 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 that in the majority of cases, the root of the issue is poor leadership. As an analogy — it’s as if leadership is the root of the tree and the performance of the team is simply 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 tell me, ‘Alf, soccer is not a matter of life and death.’ I always respond by telling them, ‘I agree — it’s much more important than that!’” If only more workplace leaders had at least 10% of the passion and intentionality 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 also, just like Alf, he has a humble manner about him. I have never heard Nate shout at his team. He works hard and, unsurprisingly, his team also works very hard. He is very respectful toward each member of team and his team members are respectful to each other.  

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 see any 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 three to five 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, the final whistle may soon blow 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 businesses we must endeavor to be the best coaches we can be. Remember, the quality of the fruit (i.e., your team’s results) is directly related to the healthiness of your leadership. As employees or entrepreneurs, we invest so much time at work, why not choose to make the best contribution you can?  

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

Paul Butler is a Santa Clarita resident and a client partner with Newleaf Training and Development of Valencia ( For questions or comments, email Butler at [email protected]. 

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