It’s fair to say I am probably a little obsessed by football and there is no greater stage than the Premier League in my opinion. As a Liverpool fan, I have experienced my share of the highs and lows of being a football fan and this season’s Premier League in particular has brought through much in the way of theatre to the beautiful game. With Leicester currently sitting pretty at the top of the league and Chelsea floundering after sacking arguably the best Manager in the world, we have been spoilt with the sheer unpredictability of it all.

Leicester’s success and Chelsea’s failure highlight quite an interesting point about leadership which applies across both the business world as much as it does the footballing universe. In both circles, it can be agreed that success is primarily driven by the performance of your team. You can have a master tactician such as Mourinho at the helm but if you (allegedly) lose the support of your team and de-motivation presides, all the strategising and tactics in the world will not alter your results.

Conversely, Leicester have in charge a Manager who, it can be argued, hasn’t proven himself to be a world-beater, having won a single trophy in his career to date. He is, however, a very likeable character whose infectious personality seems to be bringing out the most unlikely of results and performances from his team.

What is particularly striking is the emergence of two players in the Leicester camp, Vardy and Mahrez, who are breaking records and achieving beyond all expectations this season whilst proven world-class talent such as Costa and Fabregas have been virtually AWOL in every game!

This brings me to the crux of this post. Vardy and Mahrez were both plucked from obscurity whilst playing in lower leagues for relatively little money. What is abundantly clear is that they have both grabbed the opportunity afforded to them with both hands, putting in tireless performances and being openly vocal in their gratitude to be playing for Leicester. It seems that motivation is a given for players who have been provided a platform they never imagined they would have, so they are bound to give 100% to the cause in order to succeed. Playing in the Premier League clearly means a lot to them both.

If we look back at some of the great players who have graced the Premier League, it is clear that motivation and seizing the opportunity to showcase their talents on the biggest stage were key ingredients to their success, not just natural ability. Thierry Henry’s career was floundering as a winger with Juventus before Wenger and Arsenal transformed him. Cantona was a bit-part player at Leeds before Alex Ferguson had the faith to make him the heartbeat of his Manchester United team. Being given a unique opportunity to shine with the full support of a new boss when you have the talent is psychologically a very powerful motivational tool and you would expect it brings out an extra percentile of effort, greater loyalty and a sense of determination to re-pay the faith. There will be many such cases not only in football but in the business world where talent is spotted in a perhaps more obscure place, truly sponsored and supported, then nurtured into greatness.

The questions I leave you with are these. Are businesses and headhunters generally guilty of looking to always recruit an absolutely proven quantity when they have a key position to hire or are they considering the chance that there is an Henry or Cantona waiting to seize the moment? Are we as leaders and headhunters looking and thinking broadly enough around motivation as a key driver for success? Do we live in a risk-averse environment whereby we are missing more left-field talent who are less obvious choices but have the capability to make a more powerful impact into a team or company? An interesting thought I hope and perhaps there are many organisations and leaders who can look amongst their key people and say they have talent with the relative CVs of a Costa or a Fabregas but who lack the desire and hunger of a Vardy and Mahrez, resulting in overall under-performance.

One solution is for organisations to actively seek “curve-ball” candidates during the selection process so that a shortlist of, say, six candidates does not comprise identikit options but rather at least one who has the ability but whose current CV would not immediately reflect their true potential. How many corporates in recent times have unearthed and hired star performers from SMEs as successfully as Premier League clubs have from lower leagues? Maybe it’s time to think more broadly about talent in the business world. Like Leicester, we may just surprise ourselves with the results…..

Bronzegate is an executive search firm dedicated to finance & strategy leadership from Director to Board -level appointments, working across coporates and SMEs. For more information, please visit www.bronzegate.co.uk

Contact: adamakbar@bronzegate.co.uk