Perhaps you have recently caught World Cup fever or maybe you’ve been a longtime fan, or perhaps you’ve remained immune to the charm and excitement of “the beautiful game.” No matter what, it is likely that you’ve heard at least something about Uruguay’s star player, Luis Suarez, biting Italian player, Giorgio Chiellini. (For more details, click here.) It’s shocking to watch, and further shocking since it is the third time he has done this in his career. Much has and will be written about this and with good reason. There is an opportunity to learn and not just for those directly involved.
Sports teaches life lessons and this situation demonstrated a few for me, especially as a business owner, manager of people, and staffing industry professional, where helping our clients build a great “team” is what we do every day. Suarez’s bite is an example of the perils of allowing a star player to get away with behavior that wouldn’t be tolerated in most other people. It isn’t a good idea in sports and it isn’t a good idea in business. Excusing bad behavior is a dangerous proposition and can have its consequences. It’s playing out in this situation. Consider:
- It is a distraction and morale killer to the rest of the team. His behavior overshadowed the great play of his team. Instead of focusing on the incredible goal that won the game, his coaches and teammates instead spent time and energy responding to questions. It even called into question the legitimacy of their win and advancement to the Round of 16. It has, or should, dampen the pride of his nation, and cause headaches for FIFA. (Trying to win over new fans? This doesn’t help.)
- In the short run, it hurts the team. He got suspended and couldn’t play any remaining matches, which put his team at a big disadvantage. This is like putting up with an employee who has a bad temper because of his other abilities, only to find out he’s been arrested for a road rage incident over the weekend and now can’t come to work. Whatever his skills are he won’t be using them for your company’s benefit for a while. What good is Uruguay advancing if by his behavior Suarez takes himself out of the game?
- In the long run it hurts the team. The suspension carries over and affects his ability to play for his professional team, the English Premier League’s Liverpool. At first glance, it was good for them to have one of their stars on the World Cup stage, but now? Not only will he miss actual matches but it’s damaging to their reputation. What will the fans of Liverpool think? The sponsors? In a business setting, this is akin to an employee who codes circles around everyone else but ends up saying something that upsets the client and severely or irreparably damages the relationship. What good is a successful product if the client doesn’t like you enough to buy it from you?
I am not naïve enough to think that suddenly sports stars are going to be held accountable regardless of their abilities on the field. Different sports and different teams have different levels of tolerance, and every business owner is free to make their own decisions about how to manage their people. I also understand that in sports a win can mean so much money or fame that there are many who will argue it’s worth it.
But for most of us in the business world, there aren’t as many situations where in a few intense moments, absolutely everything is on the line. Bad behavior over time erodes your team and causes problems. A superstar who is allowed to be habitually late causes resentment in other team members, who in turn either begin to show up late themselves or harbor negative feelings, both of which can easily hurt their own, and thus your company’s performance. When you allow someone to lose their temper, gossip, skip meetings, skirt administrative requirements, or just generally misbehave in ways you don’t put up with in others, you’re also in danger of alienating your other employees to the point that they will consider changing jobs. Unless your superstar can do everyone else’s job too, you’re going to have a problem!
Suarez’s biting incident hurt Uruguay and it remains to be seen how it will affect Liverpool or FIFA. In the meantime, it’s a good idea for the rest of us to look at our own teams and make sure that we’re not coddling a troublemaker at the expense of their hardworking, honorable teammates. Think about the consequences, they matter!
CEO and President
ATR International, Inc.