It’s no great surprise to hear Sarina Wiegman has been offered a contract extension after coaching the England women’s football team to Euro 2022 victory. It may be the first major tournament victory by an English national football team in 56 years, but it’s not Wiegman’s. Five years ago she won the Euros with the Netherlands (and almost won the World Cup two years later). Simply put, she’s a winner.
Interviews given by the England players give a glimpse into what makes Sarina’s side so special, and what we — in business, sport and our personal lives — can learn from the Wiegman Way. Ultimately, it comes down to the interlinking concepts of Communication and Trust.
This is common sense, and shouldn’t come as a surprise, but does show that if you get the fundamentals right, magic can happen.
When you’re bringing together 23 elite sportspeople — all playing for different clubs, with different personalities, and different ambitions — and moulding them into a unified team, communication is vital.
It appears this process of clear communication started early on, as Wiegman said “We agreed on a couple of things about behaviour and they weren’t just words, we lived it.” Note the word “We”. This isn’t Wiegman laying down the law and saying “I told them how to behave and they did it”. It’s a collaborative, open approach. A conversation, not a command. Naturally, there are roles and hierarchies, but explaining this from the outset results in a shared culture designed with and for the people within it.
Wiegman’s use of a fixed starting eleven and substitutes who can make an impact has been a talking point. If her tactics had been poorly explained to the team, then it would be easy for players to become competitive with each other, or disappointed they’ve not been given the role they expected.
Using the forwards as an example, Ellen White is one of the most experienced players in the team. She is a key player at Manchester City and has over 100 caps for the national team. Alessia Russo, ten years White’s junior, is a rising star at Manchester United. And Nikita Parris is a Champions League winner who has been playing at the top level since she was a teenager. Without clear communication, they might view each other as rivals, which can lead to disharmony within the team.
Instead, White knows her role is to use her ability and experience to establish control of the game early on, and wear out the opposition goalkeeper and defence. This sets the stage for Russo to come on and kill the game off with fresh legs and audaciously creative goals such as the back-heeled nutmeg against Sweden.
While White and Russo get most of the attention, Parris also played an important role. Coming on as an injury-time substitute in the knock-out stages, Parris only played a few minutes of the tournament. But those were crucial minutes in which it was important to have a cool head on the pitch. Rather than winning the game, her role was helping to ensure England didn’t lose.
Each players’ role will have been devised by Wiegman and her coaching team, based on a thorough understanding of the skills of each player and how they fit together. They will have then been explained clearly to each player. Even those who didn’t play a single minute on the pitch will have known the importance of their roles as emergency substitutes or how they can help on the training ground.
This is supported by Keira Walsh, who has said “Everybody knows where they stand so there’s no guessing games behind closed doors and I think that does take the pressure off. The mentality now is just all about doing the best for the team and the team winning, rather than individuals. I think you can see that in the way we play.”
That clarity gives each player freedom to perform at their best. Chloe Kelly has said how she has the freedom to have fun and express herself. No doubt this freedom comes with at least a few constraints and expectations, otherwise chaos and confusion could reign. But by defining the boundaries, Wiegman has given the players the freedom to do what they do best within those boundaries.
This display of trust from the manager (“I trust you to do your job”) will breed trust from the players towards the manager (“I trust you to get the best out of me”) and towards each other (“I trust that you’ll have my back”).
How does this relate to business and entrepreneurship?
There are three key points to observe:
1. Know your personality and skill-set, and that of your partners and colleagues. Are you the creative idea generator like Ella Toone, the cool headed leader like Leah Williamson, or the reassuring problem stopper like Mary Earps? What are you good at, and what do you need support with?
2. Communicate clearly. If you want someone to do something for you, they need to know exactly what it is you want them to do! Positivity can go a long way here, especially if you’re dealing with a high-pressured situation, but don’t shy away from honesty.
3. Create an environment of trust and freedom. A 2011 Gallup poll revealed the most engaged employees are those who have clearly defined roles and are then given the freedom to get on with their work in the way they consider best. There is a lot of room on the scale from complete autonomy to overbearing micromanagement, and the sweet-spot for each employee may be in a different place, but if you find it the whole team will perform perfectly.
As said at the start of this article, these concepts are common sense. Putting them into practice, however, can be tricky when dealing with all the pressures of working life. This is where the benefit of a coach, mentor, a second set of eyes, or a listening ear can come in handy, and where VLM can be part of your winning team. Here are your two action points to reach the top of your game:
Firstly: Book an Entrepreneurial Mindset Profile® (EMP) session with our team to better know how you can leverage your skills and attributes towards success.
Secondly: Join the VLM Escape Velocity Program, or sign up to a practical workshop, coaching, or mentoring package. We will give you the tools to thrive!
If you would like a discussion around any of the above, send me a message. I’d love to speak with you about the great victories we can achieve together.
Vicki Main GAICD – Founder & Company Director, VLM Training & Coaching Specialists