Real Madrid Club de Fútbol is not just an average soccer club. It’s probably the most famous club in the world. They are to soccer what the New York Yankees are to baseball or what Muhammad Ali used to be to boxing.
The 31-time Spanish league champion, nine time Champions League/ EC1 winner and three times Intercontinental Cup winner is the team of former superstar players like Alfredo Di Stéfano (today Honorary President) and Zinédine Zidane (now Presidential Advisor) and a ton of others that were among the finest players of their times. And even today, players like Káká and Christiano Ronaldo are some of the best of their generation.
But superstars at Real Madrid are not just to be found on the pitch or in the presidential lounge, but on the sideline, too. Head coach José Mourinho is arguably the best coach in the world. In the last eight year, he won six league titles in three countries and two Champions League titles, one with Porto FC, one with Inter Milan.
While his players usually love his style of working with them, especially fans of opposing teams criticize his arrogance. Want a taste of it? When Mourinho joined Chelsea FC, he stated the following in a press conference: “Please don’t call me arrogant, but I’m European champion and I think I’m a special one”. Most fans did not listen to the first part of the sentence and awarded him the nickname “The Special One”.
In Madrid, he has to deal with a couple of other “special ones”, one of them being General Director Jorge Valdano. When Valdano commented negatively on the head coache’s decision not to field striker Karim Benzema in their draw at Almeria last week, Mourinho got furious and even threatened to leave the club at the end of the season.
A typical case: A club – or a company – is lead by people with great qualities, great knowledge and huge egos. Then it’s the huge egos fighting against each other that prevents their owners from bringing their knowledge and capabilities together in a productive way.
Take the Real Madrid example, where big egos have not just been around since Mourinho came to the Santiago Bernabéu: Despite buying superstar after superstar and being the team with the highest turnover in soccer worldwide, it’s been more than eight years now without winning the European Champions League – simply not acceptable for the “Blancos”.
When huge egos clash, it seems like no matter what kind of decision needs to be taken, that decision only has the second priority, first the big guys have to fight for supremacy. These fights can paralyze. Not only do they prevent from taking the right decisions at the right time, they also bring in an aggression that spills over to the rest of the organization.
There’s two ways how to deal with this problem in your organization:
Either create extremely clear hierarchies so that there is no room for any doubt who’s taking the decisions. Which is basically what Mourinho had at his previous teams. Or define clear responsibilities so that the egos won’t clash, at least not often. That’s what it should be like at Madrid, however when Valdano started to comment on which team to field, he left his area of responsibility and stepped into Mourinho’s.
An example which shows another problem: Big egos want to fight, they don’t accept to be in second place. That’s why there are so many big egos in the top levels of many companies: Because they always go for a fight. And sometimes they win and move up in hierarchy.
Guess what: We’re back to a Human Resources challenge. How to create an organization that does not promote those that try to fight, but those that try to cooperate with others, those that are true team players?
The irony is: It can only be done by fighting with the fighters, by challenging the big egos and not allowing them to impress you with calling themselves special.
That’s a huge one. If you master it, you can truly call yourself a special one, too.