Two Lessons for Managers from DC United Head Coach Ben Olsen
DC-based writer, photographer, and mechanic Pablo Maurer recently asked DC United head coach Ben Olsen if he felt vindicated because the team finished the 2018 season in remarkable fashion and with some exciting new players after years of “grind it out” results with a less-than-marquee roster. Olsen’s reply offers an important lesson for managers outside of soccer.
“This isn’t about me and my vindication…I’m going to keep doing what I can do to help this team succeed. If that’s sit back and grind out a 1-0 result, or that’s size up our team on this day that we can after a team and plan a very attractive way – my job is to first and foremost win games.”
Your job as a manager is to help your organization succeed. Your job is not to make yourself look good, to prove your approach or singular vision is superior, or to do things you think others think look impressive. Your job is to ensure the organization gets the best results possible. That means figuring out the best use of your resources to advance your goal.
Maurer also asked about the impact of Wayne Rooney on DC United. Rooney, of course, is the English legend who joined DC United in July and was instrumental to the team’s success.
“I have a lot of dialogue with him and I’m always asking for feedback, like I do with a lot of players. What we’re doing, how we can improve – I think that’s an important part of this job.”
The best managers ask for input and always look for ways to improve. I was lucky enough to work with Steve Hadley at the US Institute of Peace. One day Hadley and a member of my team happened to share an elevator after an event at the Institute, and Hadley asked for her input. He wasn’t making idle conversation or being polite. He asked because he wanted to know how to improve. Hadley’s habit of asking for feedback has several results: first, it ensures everyone around him pays attention because they might be asked for their input and that input needs to be good; second, it helps ensure people are eager to work with, and do their best work for, him because he genuinely cares about the input of staff; and of course it helps him and the organization do better.
Some managers are reluctant to seek input. They might not want to appear weak or admit they don’t know everything. The organization suffers as a result. The best managers are always learning and always finding ways to improve the organization’s chances of success.
More lessons from Ben Olsen are in the foreword he wrote for Soccer Thinking for Management Success: Lessons for organizations from the world’s game and appear throughout the book. Soccer Thinking also features insights from more than two dozen others including a World Cup winning goalkeeper turned consultant and an Arsenal prospect turned entrepreneur, to a former Ambassador turned rec-league player and a committed pickup player who runs a management consulting firm, and many more.