Why toxic managers succeed in corporations, but not in sports.

As a Brazilian football-loving stereotype and now working as a manager, I would like to propose an analogy between the most popular sport in the world and our day-to-day business management.

In football quite often when a team is not achieving the results the blame goes to the Manager. Nobody ever calls for replacing the entire team. Sure, there are positions to be upgraded but you won’t see the entire squad being replaced. It would be complete nonsense.

That’s because we have seen more than often the impact of good and bad management.

We’ve seen a team that was trailing towards relegation suddenly rising up to get to the top of the table with a new manager. We’ve seen bad managers crushing extraordinary talented players.

We’ve seen terribly limited teams beating up a group of stars because one was a team and the other was a group of players.

And while the discourse after a win always comes as “we won as a group” it is very rare to see a football manager singling out players to blame for bad results. In fact, the few times I have seen this happen it always backfired.

Why? Because when you have 50k people in a stadium, plus millions at home watching on the T.V., listening on the radio (yeah this is still a thing in South America), analysts watching every move it just becomes hard to manipulate the truth.

I dare to say a football manager is one of the most scrutinized management positions there is. And that’s a good thing.

See, throughout my career, I’ve had average, great and terrible managers. The “good” ones would always put our team first. As long as we were right, of course. But even when we were not, a good manager would acknowledge they should have been the one leading, guiding, and giving our team the proper assets and information for a project to be successful.

Bad managers, on the other hand, when facing a challenge will always throw their team under the bus as long as 1. the client is satisfied with an “action” and; 2. their job/position is protected.

I see this as a natural reaction from mid-management, facing the position they have put themselves in. I’ll explain.

Mid management has very little leverage if they can’t be an aggregator. It’s a position always dependent on both sides -upper or lower- to get things accomplished. Most of the time these professionals were once hopeful people, trying hard to thrive and move up.

But somewhere along with their carers, they were given the chance to lead. And they stop learning, they stop playing, they stop getting their hands dirty. They stop understanding the ins and outs to get a project done. The details, the specifics. It’s all about a timeline and deliverables. But those are very subjective things.

I can deliver a design system in one day. Is it going to matter when the entire next year the design team would be scrambling to figure out how it works? Well, that’s when you hit the deadline but did more harm than good to your client and partner.

Now back to the football analogy.

There’s a lot we should learn from working like there are 50.000 people watching you.

Because football, much like a fast-paced project is about quick decisions. And these mistakes might lose a game, but won’t be the reason to lose a season. If the season is lost is not because of one or two individual mistakes. It’s because either the team is not qualified enough or the manager was not able to build a team.

Maybe we do have the right pieces, we just haven’t taken the best of our teams. Maybe we should be at the frontline when things are not doing well instead of blaming the weakest pieces, who heavily rely on a captain to give them instructions.

If we win we win together. If we lose we should not blame our team, but instead, reflect on what we have done wrong and how can we better ourselves.

Management is all about human-to-human relationships. If we forget about that and focus on the numbers we might win in the short term, but we will lose the team confidence and the client’s relationship.



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Thiago Motta França

Thiago Motta França

Human Behavior Critic, User Experience Designer