Great Leaders Win The Heart

Coach Park Hang-seo hugging team member

The Vietnam Under-23 soccer team played their hearts out to reach the Asia Football Confederation cup final against Uzbekistan but suffered a heart breaking final minute goal to concede the match 1-2.

Reaching the finals was the best result ever achieved by the Vietnam team, this time coached by Korean Park Hang-Seo. Despite not winning the final, they were given a heroes’ welcome upon returning to Vietnam and the media covered their story for weeks.

While most supporters & observers will enjoy the story & the celebrations, there are precious leadership lessons that we could all learn & apply from the Vietnam U23 team for it is surely not by mere luck or chance that they had overcome teams arguably physically & technically stronger on their way to the final.

Bear in mind, this U23 team had already historically done well in previous tournaments so there was already some proven talent in this team. This was however, the first time the team had the leadership of Park Hang-Seo.

Technically, Park Hang-Seo is well qualified having coached the South Korean U23 team to a bronze medal in the 2002 Asian Games and coached several seasons at multiple South Korean clubs. But this was his very first international coaching assignment and he delivered excellently.

What perhaps is most remarkable is how this foreigner, with the help of an interpreter since he could not speak the Vietnamese language, won the trust of the Vietnamese team, brought out the best in them individually & corporately to face the challenges on and off the pitch as one body. 

After watching some behind the scenes & locker room videos, what stands out of Park Hang-Seo’s leadership is how he is more than simply a coach but a strong & loving father figure to each of the young Vietnamese men on the team. His body language, tone & words (with the help of the interpreter) shows he genuine cares for each one of the young men.

In a fan made video showing Park with the team in the locker room after the semi-final victory over Qatar, instead of singling out any star players, he greets them one by one with pats on the face, back and a warm hug. Even the players on the bench who did not play a minute were treated the same and sent the same unspoken message: “Thank you so much. You matter to this team and to me.”

Here is perhaps one of the most fundamental yet easily forgotten principles of leadership – to genuinely care for the entire well being of each person on the team. 

By such leadership, great leaders win the heart of their team, and not simply exist to direct their hands (or skills). 

This is an important reminder for those of us who wrestle with developing unity in our teams with great divides like Park.

You may be a parent trying to train your own child and find a vast generational divide on how to reach him/her.

You may be a team leader of a cross cultural team with people from different cultures and struggle to lead some of the members.

You may be a leader leading millennials or a millennial leading someone older and find the generational divide impassable.

You may be a leader who blames your team for not giving their best or finds it difficult to lovingly confront wrong attitudes or actions.

Before any of us who lead expect those following us to give their best, let us ask ourselves:

  • Do I genuinely care for this person and see this person’s well being as my responsibility?
  • Have I given my best to lead this person for his/her good and for the good of the team?
  • Have I shown consistently through my words & actions that I do care for the well being of this person, even when it is inconvenient?
  • Have I communicated the truth in love when I needed to correct or confront with this person?
  • Do I regularly and gratefully thank my team members for their effort?
  • Have I taken the time to know my team member’s personal goals, personal struggles & family members?

These are just a few questions to get us started reflecting how we can return to the fundamental of being a leader who wins the heart of our team. 

For those who have treated our people unkindly, selfishly & pridefully and see how wrong and destructive it is, there is no better time to change than to talk to your team individually and ask for their forgiveness. It might win back their heart because it takes a strong & good leader to admit one’s fault and ask for forgiveness to reconcile.

For those who have been working hard on genuinely caring for the people entrusted to you, keep up the great work and be encouraged that you are practicing the right kind of leadership that will bring out the best in your team and yourself for the long run.

Let us lead our teams to become as one body.

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