I happened to be in Beijing earlier this week, and of course everyone was talking about the 7-1 (World Cup semifinal between Brazil and Germany). Since Chancellor Angela Merkel was also visiting Beijing this week, the running joke was that the 7-1 score was Merkel's birthday present to her hosts, honoring the founding of China's Communist Party (7/1/1921).
While in my heart I empathized with the feelings of the people from Brazil, a country I love and whose soccer I admire, I also felt joy in seeing the fruits of the Klinsmann/Loew revolution in German soccer. Ten years ago those co-coaches began a transformation of leadership on and off the field, and a transformation of the ugly (results-oriented) style of German soccer to a philosophy inspired by the Dutchtotal football and its more recent incarnation as tiki taka in Spain. Brought to Germany by Klinsmann and Loew, as well as by coaches like Pep Guardiola, who after winning everything with Barcelona now works with two thirds of the German team at Bayern Munich (and who is another major hidden parent of the historic 7-1 win this week).
Back in 2010 the German team tried to copy tiki taka from Spain and Barcelona. They played inspiring soccer, only to lose to Spain in the semi-finals. In 2014 the German team evolves tiki taka by blending it with some of the virtues of earlier German teams, such as mobilizing collective energy and will.
The soccer they play today is a complete departure from the soccer German teams played prior to 2010 or 2006. The team has no real boss, no real superstar; they enjoy a style of distributed and fluid leadership. The team also has no clear starting eleven. They keep changing their lineup and their positions, with two of their best players even missing the entire tournament (Reus and Gundogan).
So what is driving the success of the German team? It's a philosophy that requires all players to operate from a shared awareness of the evolving whole. Everyone is required to be aware of what's happening everywhere on the field--the changing positions, the emerging spaces among their own team members and their opponents, to keep the ball moving. It's that shared awareness of the evolving whole that allows them to pass the ball faster than the opposing team at times can comprehend, or react to. It was the chief reason the Brazil defense collapsed and conceded four goals in six minutes of the semifinal this week.
Responding to that style of soccer cannot be fixed by firing the coach or replacing players. It requires starting at a deeper level: in the quality of our thinking, or our sensing, of our awareness of the whole. Making the transformation--shifting the way we operate from an awareness of the parts to an awareness of the dynamic whole--is the quintessential transformation challenge that we face in all sectors of society today: finance, food, health, education, sustainable business practices, you name it. Over the past several years I have worked in transformation initiatives in all these sectors. And the most important leadership challenge is always the same: the challenge is to change how people think and work together across institutional boundaries from a silo or ego-system awareness to a systemic or eco-system awareness.
The best soccer teams in the world have gone through this transformation over the past decade or so. But for the rest of society, that journey is still ahead of us. Not only in Brazil. Also in China, in the US, in Europe, in Africa.
As for Sunday, may the better team on that day win. Even if the German team should lose, I am still happy about the path Die Mannschaft is on. I only wish we could all help the Brazilian's team spirit to rise from the ashes and return to the brilliance of its many golden years. The selecao will rise again, no doubt! In the meantime, let's enjoy the finale.