Challenge Ideas

Lobanovskyi, Zelentsov, and the Importance of the Exchange of Ideas to Effective Leadership

As we discussed in a previous article, the idea that ‘Unicorn’ leaders are able to lead effectively without the support of an effective team and strong processes is an illusion. Of course, there are many extremely talented leaders in the sports industry, but their skills are amplified by the practical and intellectual skills of those around them.

The Importance of the Collective

Accepting that the collective of the leadership team should be the primary unit of organizational analysis goes a long way to demythologizing the notion of the Unicorn leader. This acceptance allows organizations to prioritize the recruitment of a whole team of top decision makers, not simply the appointment of a Unicorn.

When building such a team, there are typically three key factors that need to be considered: functional responsibilities, complementarity of skills, and diversity of intellects. If all of these elements can be covered and aligned, then the organization should be in an optimal position from which to pursue its performance objectives.

A clear functional analysis not only satisfies the need to simplify what may be overly complex organizational structures, but it also enables recruitment of the appropriate skill sets to deliver the key functions. In turn, this ensures the complementarity of skills is correctly signed with the functional needs of the organization. Within each of the functional subunits it is also essential to ensure a diversity of intellects so that the challenging of ideas and preconceptions becomes the natural order.

Lobanovskyi, Zelentsov, and the Interchange of Ideas

In 1969, Valeriy Lobanovskyi, a former Soviet Union international and heating engineer, took up his first job in management with the Ukrainian soccer club Dnipro Dnipropetrovsk. Over the next 32 years, most notably during three trophy-laden spells with Dynamo Kyiv, Lobanovskyi would transform approaches to soccer coaching by fusing tactical ideas with concepts from the world of science.

Lobanovskyi may be viewed by some as an example of a Unicorn leader, but his leadership abilities and coaching methods didn’t exist in isolation. In fact, Lobanovskyi is a famous case of a leader who was intent on the constant exchange and challenge of ideas with those around him.

During his time in Dnipropetrovsk between 1969 and 1973, Lobanovskyi came into contact with Anatoly Zelentsov, a dean of the city’s Institute of Physical Science. The pair would strike up a prolific partnership that constantly challenged ideas, dreamed up new innovations, and created a scientific framework for the systematic improvement of physical and tactical performance.

“Ideas are good,” Zelentsov said of his working relationship with Lobanovskyi. “But most important is to realize them in practice. Lobanovskyi is unsurpassed as a master of the realization of ideas, and this is the main thing.”

The continuous interchange of ideas is best achieved in an environment that welcomes a diverse range of intellects. Lobanovskyi and Zelentsov epitomized that approach, continually exchanging and examining new ideas in the quest for competitive advantage. In one of his last interviews, two years after Lobanovskyi had died, Zelentsov explained the dynamic of their working relationship.

“Valeriy Vasilyevich [Lobanovskyi] and I had daily contact, constant working discussions, which allowed us to put theory into practice as effectively as possible.”

If we can follow that model within our own organizations, building a team and a culture that welcomes new ideas and the regular exchange of information, then we will put our leaders in the best possible position to succeed.

Chris Mann is Head of Content at Sportsology

Interested in learning more about the concept of the unicorn leader? Click here to download our research paper, The Dangerous Myth of the Unicorn Leader.

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