Michael Depner
Nov 26, 2018 · 5 min read

Many people have asked me what my background picture (seen above) on LinkedIn represents. And every time I hear this, I feel a little sad. Yes, it is not Bayern Munich, and I know that one cannot expect the same degree of prominence for the soccer club of Mainz 05 — but it is also a decent, German, first-league soccer club.

And, here is the emotional touch — Mainz is my home town. I even played for this club when I was a kid. Of course, I do admit that I was not good enough and they sort of kicked me out.

If some people do know about Mainz 05, they usually do so for one reason: the former coach Jürgen Klopp, a.k.a.” Kloppo” — who brought the club into the first league in 2004, and later started a much more prominent career as coach for Borussia Dortmund, and now Liverpool.

A remarkable career

Being a player for Mainz 05, Kloppo took over as coach for the last rounds of a season in the second league, sensationally rescued the team from relegation to the third league, ascended to the first league a few years later, won with (a formerly weak) Dortmund team at the German championship twice, and went both with Dortmund and Liverpool to the Champions Leagues finals.

How did he do it?

In essence, he is an exceptional leader, following only three main, very simple principles. And I believe, if we follow these principles, we could all become exceptional leaders, too.

  1. Make each one of your people better every day” — Jurgen Muller

Many players give Jürgen Klopp the credit for developing them to another level. Let’s take this learning and translate it into our business. Is it your daily focus to make each of your people better? Or is it difficult to find time to reflect upon your people in the daily sequence of priorities and escalations? Do you rely on the hope that they will find their way on their own?

People development is not an easy job. For sure, it does not mean sending them to a training once a year or fulfilling some quota on training days they should have, per person per year. It means putting yourself into the shoes of each one of your people and understanding where the actual need is, and how this need can be supported.

Again, some best practices from Jürgen Klopp can help here: His recipe is not to focus too much on improving on players’ weaknesses, but rather work on their strengths. Of course, you need to do damage control and round off a player at his deficiencies.

For example, a decent player must be able to shoot right and left. But a far stronger leverage is when you focus your attention on their strengths. This is where the natural energy and talent of your employee is, and this is where you both achieve the maximum progress. As you tap into the genius of everybody, do keep in mind that it is different from person to person.

This model of engagement works best in open and deep conversations with each of your employees, and this will take a good part of your time. It is quite an investment, but it pays off. You should start with an honest analysis of each one of your employees. Have they become better, say, in the past 6 months, or least in the last year?

2. “If you bottle my motivation and sell it, you risk going to jail” — Jürgen Klopp

It is legendary how motivated Jürgen Klopp’s teams are. A natural precondition is your own motivation, clearly. But beyond this, it also needs a conscious effort to motivate your people, every day. Again, this is not something that happens on its own. Over a certain period in Mainz, before each game Jürgen Klopp had his team watching the legendary rugby team “All Blacks” performing the “Haka”, the terrifying war dance of the Maori. With this dance, the “All Blacks” turn into a state of total dedication once they put on their black shirts. He wanted the same dedication once his people would put on the Mainz red shirts. So, what is the advice here — watch the All Blacks? No.

The advice is rather: Be authentic and find YOUR own creative ways to infect your people with your motivation. The exact measures will depend on your personality and hence differ from person to person, and this is fine. What is important is that you can clearly tell whether your team is motivated, by standard engagement surveys or just by watching them.

3. “For the 2:1 victory with Mainz in 2010, the coach had given us a very precise game plan” — Lewis Holtby, after winning against Bayern Munich

All teams under Jürgen Klopp follow a similar style and approach, based on super rapid counter attacks. Very much different, for example, from Pep Guardiola’s ball possession style. While a good coach is flexible enough to build in variations with respect to the corresponding opponent, it is extremely important that every player feels part of a greater plan, of a plan that makes the team win, and in which each player believes. This plan also must tell each player his specific role in it, whether he is an attacker or a goalkeeper. For this to work, you would naturally have to think through what the plan would be. This should not happen in isolation with your own thoughts.

Jürgen Klopp is known to have various “sparring partners” to brainstorm his plans back and forth, and he also takes opinions of his players into account. But he makes the final decision. What follows next is intensive communication — to the team, to the individuals. This is one the of examples where you cannot overcommunicate. It is important that the players fully identify themselves with the plan and all details.

This is, in fact, a precondition for points 1 and 2 to work, because: 1) you can make a player only better along the plan, and 2) it will be impossible to achieve full motivation without that plan.

Coming back to business: Do you have such a game plan (often called strategy) for your team? Does each and every team member know his or her role and contribution towards winning as a team?

Let me summarize in a very crisp manner what we can learn from Jürgen Klopp when it comes to business and our teams:

You are a great people leader, if you do a very honest self-assessment (easier said than done) and can verify the following, based on data and observations:

1) Almost each of your employees gets significantly better over a year

2) Almost each of your employees is fully motivated

3) Almost each of your employees understands the game plan and his or her individual contribution to that

If this is not the case, and you are still aspiring to be great leader — it is time to change something.

SAP Innovation Spotlight

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Michael Depner

Written by

Michael is Vice President in SAP Globalization Services, with twenty-five years of professional and global experience, heading a highly global team.

SAP Innovation Spotlight

Brand journalists cover tech and IT trends like Digital Transformation, Future of Work, Purpose, Customer Experience, and more. VISIT OUR ARCHIVES HERE: https://medium.com/sap-innovation-spotlight/archive.

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