Tuesday, 27 August 2013

Everything I learned about leadership I learned from Johan Cruyff

We’ve spent the last two weeks on holiday, offering much needed time to reflect and think, and also the opportunity to catch up on reading. Every summer, I try to take in at least one book on pastoral practice, to make me think about my priorities, and this year was no exception. I wasn’t disappointed by David Hansen’s Art of Pastoring, challenging and full of wisdom, but the most thought-provoking reading on leadership came from an unexpected source.

Graham Hunter’s Barca tells the modern history of Barcelona Football Club, culminating in the recent reign of Pep Guardiola’s wonderful side who won 11 trophies in the four seasons from 2008 to 2012.

The story of Barcelona’s recent success is the ultimate demonstration of the importance of corporate culture. To find the roots of Guardiola’s success, you need to go back to 1988 when the club persuaded one of its greatest players, Johan Cruyff, to return as manager. Barca won four La Liga titles and one European Cup with Cruyff at the helm, but those headlines can’t begin to do justice to the legacy he left behind. A more important contribution was his overhaul of the club’s famous youth development system, the cantera (literally ‘quarry’) based at La Masia.

When Cruyff arrived at Barcelona, each age-group at La Masia played a different style of football, depending on the coach. Cruyff, however, insisted on a wholly different approach, with the same tactics taught to players at each stage of their development. Even at the age of 12 or 13, players at La Masia now play seven-aside football with a 3-2-1 formation that closely matches that of the senior side (two overlapping full backs either side of a ‘pivot’ in defence, and Xavi and Iniesta type midfielders behind one forward).

So next time you watch Barcelona’s irresistible football, and a beautifully fashioned goal, try to appreciate that it wasn’t conceived a week ago on the training pitch. It’s been years in the making, it’s not a way of playing a game but rather a philosophy. Barcelona Football Club doesn’t train its players, it moulds them.

And all of this has got me thinking again about the role of a pastor. Is it just to get results next Sunday, or rather to shape the culture of a church, to establish norms and practices which will still be forming disciples many years later?

Short term thinking produces results of sorts, but all too often it’s something shallow, lacking deep enough roots to sustain longer-term fruitfulness.

There’s a final insight offered by Hunter which seems especially relevant to this issue of leadership and culture. He writes about the constant queue of coaches from clubs around the world who want to come and visit Barcelona, to see how they operate. But he points out that ‘… unless the club from which the person is sent is ready for a total overhaul of its scouting, development and training structure, as well as its basic football philosophy, then picking up ‘bits and pieces’ of the Barca credo is a waste of time.’

Purpose Driven Football Club?  

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