A lesson from Spain’s National Soccer Team: Don’t Let Emotions Drive Your Decisions

by Joe Sesso on August 30, 2018

Leading up to this Summer’s World Cup, Spain was one of the favorites to win it all. They had won their country’s first World Cup in 2010 and then followed up with a European title in 2012. Coming into this year’s World Cup, they were one of the hottest teams in the world, having been unbeaten in their previous 20 international games under one of the most talented coaches in the world, Julen Lopetegui. But on the day before the World Cup opening ceremony, they suddenly fired him. It came as no surprise when they were bounced out of the tournament in the first round of the knockout stage. So why would one of the best programs in the world fire one of the best coaches in the world on the eve of the biggest tournament of the world? The answer may surprise you. But it is a great lesson in self-control for managers. 

Spanish national soccer coach Julen Lopetegui was fired one day before the 2018 World Cup

Julen Lopetegui was hired by Spain to resurrect a program that had had disappointing finishes in the 2014 World Cup and 2016 Euros. He quickly turned the program around by utilizing a mixture of core players from the glory years and young Spanish talent from the top leagues in Europe. The results were stunning. Undefeated in 20 games, winners of their European qualifying group, and one of the favorites to win the 2018 World Cup in Russia.

Two days before the World Cup was to begin, Real Madrid, the Spanish league soccer powerhouse, announced that they had hired Lopetegui to be their next head coach. His tenure would begin after the World Cup because he wanted to finish his obligation to the Spanish national team on a winning note and didn’t want to let them down. No problem, right? Wrong. The next day, and only one day before the World Cup was to begin, Spain fired Lopetegui as coach. Their reason? Officially they said the reason was that they were blindsided by Lopetegui, being made aware of the deal only five minutes before the news became public. Since Lopetegui hadn’t informed them of the situation earlier and given them “proper notice,” they had no choice. The actual reason came down to pride and anger.

They were angry that the coach left them in the dark until the announcement became official, but they were also worried about how Spanish fans and players who supported Real Madrid’s bitter rival, Barcelona, would feel. They thought that having Real Madrid’s new coach manage a team that had many Barcelona players and fans would cause dissension not only on the team but within the country. They also wanted to save face and not be embarrassed by being kept “in the dark” by the coach. They let pride get in the way of clear judgment and it cost them dearly with an early exit from the World Cup. Now they have to wait four years to get another opportunity. Did Spain make the right call? Absolutely not. They could have handled it much better. Firing their coach was extreme, and it affected the players, who begged the administration to keep their coach, but to no avail. This shook their confidence and caused unnecessary distractions, all which could have been avoided if the situation had been managed better.

As managers we cannot let our emotions cloud our judgment. An employee might say the wrong thing or give less than two weeks’ notice when resigning. As upset as you might be, you cannot let your emotions get the better of you. Your employees will take notice, and it will have an effect on their confidence and psyche. So what can you do when an unexpected announcement or incident happens with one of your employees? The next time this happens at your office try the following:

  1. Don’t jump to conclusions. Take all of the information in and digest it before saying anything.
  2. Take a step back and breathe. You might want to respond a certain way, but always think about the collateral damage that you may cause responding to the employee.
  3. If you’re unclear as to why the employee said what they said, pull them aside and find out in private. Chances are it probably wasn’t meant with malice. It may have been that they employee didn’t best know how to say it or that they were scared to give earlier notice. Having this conversation should uncover the “why,” which will make everyone feel better. 
  4. Coach the employee on business etiquette and how they could have handled the situation better. It might not help your company today, but they will remember it the next time they are in the same situation, and they won’t forget who coached them on how to better say something.
  5. Use it as a positive. Rather than firing Lopetegui, Spain could have spoken with him in private and voiced their displeasure, but then could have put on a united front to focus on the big picture, which was to win the World Cup. If Spain had won the tournament, I’m sure all would have been forgiven and forgotten.
  6. Educate the team: Talk to them about business etiquette and how to be professional with their actions. Many times they don’t know what to do because no one tells them. This can be a great opportunity to talk to the team about how to be more professional in their jobs and everyday lives, and how their actions can affect others. 

Spain made a huge mistake in dismissing their coach the day before the World Cup. Unfortunately for them, they have to think about it everyday for the next four years. Luckily for you as managers, you won’t have to wait that long to get your next chance. Remember to keep your emotions in check. It will not only make you a better leader, but also a better person.

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