H is for Victory: Why human connections make the difference

Jul 2nd, 2019

 “Treat people like they make a difference. And they will.”

Jim Goodwill


As the FIFA Women’s World Cup reaches its Final, on the 7th July, football has provided spectacular performances over the past few months. Manchester City went into the history books by winning the domestic treble; Liverpool and Tottenham pulled off historic comebacks to reach the Champions League final – with Liverpool taking the prize.

These successes have been attributed to shared management qualities of Guardiola, Klopp, Pochettino and Neville. They are optimistic and courageous, focus on building a team rather than relying on star individuals, allow space to fail, and, above all, instil belief. This human connection makes the difference between good and great performance.

As a former fitness coach and marathon runner, the crossover between sports and business performance is one of continual fascination to me. Jürgen Klopp’s comment: “To be successful, you need results in a row. You can’t win, lose, win, lose,” is equally applicable to business today, where success depends on sustaining results in an unpredictable climate. When leaders connect with their people, believe in them and expect far more from them than people often believe themselves capable – this is the magic ingredient that creates a different output.

Are you as a leader connecting with your people at this human level?  Does it come naturally to you or is it something you wish to develop? Here are six strategies to consider:

  1. Cultivate optimism

Great leaders today are optimistic. “They are simply less afraid,” according to Fortune magazine which has recently published its 2019 ‘50 World’s Greatest Leaders’ list. For Fortune, these leaders are ‘hardy’ – they believe change is normal, believe they can influence even world events and see challenges as opportunities for personal growth. In his 2017 research on the Impact of Optimism on Leadership Effectiveness, Dr Shyamalendu Niyogi, concludes there is a strong relationship between optimism and effectiveness. Whilst pessimism may generate some results in the short-term (think of leaders who ‘create a crisis’ to drive action), optimism creates long-term return. This is because optimism develops trust, gives strength during uncertainty, creates a cooperative climate in the organising, and increases self-efficacy in individuals, all of which impact individual and organisational performance.

  1. Create self-belief

As a leader you need to critique but you are also there to inspire. Earlier in my career, as a newly-appointed director in a company, I immediately noticed a young woman with great talent, and I could see how much she cared about her job. Her manager, a fellow director, did her annual appraisal, and the young woman came to me afterwards, saying she did not think she could do the job. Her manager’s critique of her performance had shattered her confidence. I shared with her my observation of her talent and passion and asked her: ‘are you going to allow one person’s perspective to derail your career, or are you going to ‘show courage and show them what you can do?’

I believe confidence is a state of mind, not a quality. Performance soars when we are confident. It is our responsibility as managers to instil confidence in our team members as well as provide challenge and feedback. Do your people know what you consider to be their biggest strengths and what they should leverage? When giving constructive feedback it is often helpful to point out that if they had leveraged their key strengths more the result might have been different. This not only makes failure easier to acknowledge but gives people clarity on what they can do differently next time.

  1. Have courage

This year, Fortune selected its 50 World’s Greatest Leaders based on them demonstrating the emotional quality of courage. The list includes Lloyds CEO, Antonio Horta-Osório who showed courage when he described in public the toll taken on his mental health of restoring Lloyd’s Banks fortunes. This was particularly significant as it has challenged a stigma in a sector known for driving people very hard. This example reminds me of a client, a Financial Director who asked me to coach one of his team. During our first meeting together, the FD revealed how pressure in a role earlier in his career had led to a breakdown, and how he did not want any member of his team to be under the same level of pressure. This incredible openness and human vulnerability, was a catalyst in creating between him and his team member a highly productive working relationship based on a deep level of trust and respect.

  1. Be constant yet adapt your style

Great leaders show consistency, yet adapt their styles to the situation and the individual person they are dealing with. Pep Guardiola has been able to adapt his style and tactics for the different clubs he has managed, whilst maintaining his passion for the team players, and his palpable desire for them to succeed.

Mauricio Pochettino adapts his style to each individual player, but says the constant is that each player knows Mauricio is there for them. In a business environment, a partnership I work with knows what matters to each person in the organisation, and supports them during personal as well as professional challenges. This has generated exceptional loyalty that is a cornerstone for the company’s success and explains their high retention rates.

Mauricio likens how he adapts his style with his players to how he parents his sons, each of which has a very different personality and requires a different approach. A senior executive I worked with had a very directive management style and we worked together on shaping a more emotionally intelligent, empowering approach with his teams – listen, show curiosity and enquire.  He not only applied this to his teams, but transferred the skill when relating to his son which has transformed their relationship.

  1. Show progress

People are motivated when they see progress. Vision and long-term goals are important but leaders can underestimate the need for people to see regular progress. Progress reinforces optimism and belief, even perceived setbacks can be viewed as learning opportunities. In your business, no doubt everyone has an appraisal but do they all have a regular progress review?  Often it is only the key people, such as the sales team. Make sure every member of the team including support staff has the opportunity to review progress on a regular one-to-one and team basis. Do people feel like a small cog in a big wheel or do they know how they are contributing to the progress of the organisation?

  1. Build accountability

Great leaders align their teams around a shared definition of accountability, since accountability requires a proactive commitment.  In a meeting with an emerging leader recently, I was impressed with his key message to his team of “I have your back, if you make a mistake tell me. If you don’t I am not able to support you.” He was demonstrating the values that would make the team a success.

At a strategy off-site recently, we were working on shared values and what those values meant practically for each individual – it provoked an emotional response when we reviewed whether the behaviour of team members mirrored those values. Values are often words in an induction manual. Have an open discussion with your team about the core team values and how much they are demonstrated day-to-day. Where are you strong, what do you need to address that could impact the success of the team?

  1. Practise what you preach

Leaders in business invariably often have no one above them. Do you hold yourself accountable in the same way you demand of your teams? You may believe you operate and act in line with the values but do you put yourself up for a level of critique? We expect our teams to present their plans to us, for us to critique them, challenge and make the plan robust. Yet at times I see executive teams who each prepare their individual sector plan which is approved by the CEO, yet never opened up to the input of peers. Silos are created and tensions can arise if team members believe others are not aligned in terms of direction or effort.

Mauricio Pochettino has said, “Belief is the most important thing in football. Not quality, running, or being strong but belief, faith, and fight.” In our VUCA world where traditional business is being turned on its head every day, cultivating ‘Belief, Faith and Fight’ in our teams will be a critical strategy for success.


If you are a CEO or leader who wants to be at the top of their game, our bespoke executive and team programmes are designed to challenge and provoke creative thought for growth and competitive edge. To begin a conversation, please contact Oona at


Sign up to our Leadership Insights & Articles here.


Related Articles

Agile Leadership – Be the Change you Seek

The Competitive Advantage of Exquisite Service

Agile Leadership – What Clients Want