– a truly personal story –
I once had a soccer coach named Jürgen – not Klopp, but still good. And I still remember those first few minutes of the game after the referee blew the whistle: In some games, it actually only took 1-2 minutes before Jürgen shouted loudly and almost angrily onto the soccer field: “B-O-D-Y–T-E-N-S-I-O-N!!!”. We all knew it and sometimes this early wake-up call by itself was enough to positively influence the course of the game in our favor. What had happened? And what was it about this “body tension”?
Well – it was all about attitude and drive, about the will to succeed, which is clearly visible (or not) in the body language of some crucial players after just a few minutes of a game, – Jürgen called it “body tension”.
And indeed, after many, many years, when I now mostly follow the sporting events in team sports from the spectator perspective, I can see after just a few minutes which team is on the pitch with the right attitude and who is determined to win the game. Do you know this? (Sporting) experience shows that the phenomenon of “lack of body tension” is not a differentiating feature that distinguishes unsuccessful teams from successful ones.
All teams are equally affected by this. It is precisely the successful teams that are spoiled by success that – at least in sports – concede a surprising defeat as the league leader in the next game to the team at the bottom of the table. Otto Rehagel – a well-known German soccer coaching legend – once said: “The truth lies on the field!”
And it is the same in the everyday business of change processes – here, too, the truth lies in the pitch, and here, too, the will to change can be seen in the “body tension” of the players on the playing field of strategic change projects.
Just recently, I had the privilege of facilitating a workshop with executives at a client’s site. The managing directors of a market leader were very concerned that supposedly smaller competitors were increasingly capturing market shares. A workshop was convened with all key executives and the managing directors. Cognitively, there was a great deal of agreement that the company’s own competitiveness was in danger, despite recent extremely successful business years: “Compared to the competition, we are 20-30% too expensive, too cumbersome, too slow in implementing innovative solutions, too little customer-oriented, heavily preoccupied with ourselves, and too focused on the few existing customers who today account for over 80% of our business.”
Changes had to be made and were quickly found: Accelerate innovation projects, win back a handful of customers through aggressive pricing, and add a few “quick wins” on top. This is the short version of the agreed workshop results – the game tactics for the coming weeks and months were discussed and clearly agreed in the workshop, similar to a team meeting shortly before kick-off of the upcoming league game.
Then it was onto the pitch!
A few weeks later – almost halfway through the implementation of the agreed short-term measures – we met again – for a follow-up workshop in the half-time break: together we looked at the implementation status of the agreed measures. We were sobered to discover that day-to-day business and the usual suspects had returned: “Operational issues” had struck again – important customer appointments here, worsening problems with productivity at production site x there, and anyway: CORONA!
For the singsong of the wordy excuses about why the game was lost in the first half, everyone including the executives had full comprehension!
That’s when I remembered Jürgen, his wake-up call after a few minutes of play and the B-O-D-Y—T-E-N-S-I-O-N! I then shared this story with the managing directors afterwards and we were in agreement: As a coach of a (management) team, it is not enough to lament about the missed chances during the half-time break. As a truly leader, you have to be on the spot and observe the game from the sidelines and, if necessary, intervene appropriately in the game:
The truth lies in the pitch, even in day-to-day leadership!
And only then you have the chance to perceive the body tension with your own eyes in the first few minutes. I don’t want to say that managers and executives should “yell” from the outside onto the field as Jürgen used to do. But appropriate feedback and the addressing/expressing of clear expectations are part of the 1×1 of good leadership practice – Jürgen even replaced me once as a player back then – because of permanently absent body tension!
By the way: How is the body tension in your (management) team?