Spain’s glory in winning the Women’s Football World Cup in Sydney was hijacked by the president of the Royal Spanish Football Federation Luis Rubiales. His behaviour is representative of ‘accountability-less’ environments that create narcissistic leaders who believe they are untouchable and that they can do no wrong.
This was a massive leadership failure on a global level, but it is representative of a systemic issue that we all need to play a role in changing. It might be easy to think “something like that would never happen in my world” but am here to say it does. It happens in our community sports associations, it happens in our religious organizations and it happens in our businesses. If we are going to change this systemic issue, we all need to be open to continuing to work on ourselves, have courageous conversations, and stay alert to the signs.
As a lifelong champion of women in sport and a student of leadership development, I couldn’t help but share my thoughts. I am by no means an expert on this topic, and I know even less about football. I simply have had my own experiences and observations, and I needed to weigh in.
So Luis, you have finally gotten the message that you are no longer the future of football in Spain. I was glad to read the other morning that you have resigned. Going forward, I highly recommend you take into consideration a few of these key professional and organizational development tips in order to grow from this experience.
1. Know your EQ and keep working on it
Luis, your Spanish athletes’ victory will forever be overshadowed by the fact that you have very low emotional intelligence—specifically, you have very low social awareness and an inability to regulate your emotions.
When we are excited or stressed, our brains have a way of going primal. When our amygdalas are triggered, humans are known to ‘amp up (Luis), clam up, or blow up’. It happens to all humans. We can all get triggered. The secret is bringing awareness to how you respond, and learning and practicing ways of regulating yourself. But this takes a level of awareness and a willingness to improve…something I would argue, Luis, you have never been held accountable to know or practice.
Leaders and professionals need to know themselves. They need to know what happens to themselves under pressure – both positive pressure and negative pressure. Are you more inclined to amp up, clam up, or blow up? When you feel this pressure, are you able to also be aware of what is happening in the environment around you, and what is happening to other people?
2. Practice the Above the Line Principle of Conscious Leadership.
Luis, your behaviour in the box next to the Queen of Spain was very embarrassing. Would you really have wanted your mother or daughter to see that gesture?
Always check in on a situation by assessing: Would I want my daughter, wife, sister, or mother to be exposed to this type of behaviour right now? How would they feel if they were in this boardroom or football pitch, etc?
When behaviour falls below the line, everyone bears the leadership responsibility to bring the tone, discussion and behaviour back to ‘above the line’. Above the line is a principle of conscious leadership which gives us a quick framework for assessing when things are positive or negative. If you are socially aware, all of your spidey senses will be ringing to tell you that this is a very uncomfortable situation.
People will often say “I don’t know what’s right or wrong anymore! Society has become too woke!” No, the truth is because of power imbalances, crude behaviour, lower emotional intelligence and racism, poor behaviour has historically gone unchecked – case in point: your thinking that your behaviour was acceptable, Luis.
People have been forced to respond to below-the-line situations with an awkward grin, silence or giggle. My personal favourite response is “That is so inappropriate.” I say it with a big smile on my face to keep things light – but inside I’m cringing. It’s not that society has become too woke, it’s just that there’s a portion of the population who just aren’t willing to tolerate it anymore. More diverse people are claiming stronger positions of power, using their voices and saying enough is enough.
3. Mistakes will happen, it’s how we respond to them that matters.
Luis, you made a massive leadership blunder. Rather than apologizing immediately, you continue to double down and gaslight your victims. I’d fire your PR team if I were you…
Humans will always make mistakes, especially as we navigate new and diverse partnerships. Level 10 leaders own and admit their mistakes. Demonstrating humility and vulnerability sets great leaders apart from average leaders. It also sets high-performing businesses apart from stagnant companies.
Truly this is a career-defining moment for Luis. This isn’t just a small mistake…we are learning that more and more. This is Luis’s “look yourself in the mirror” moment to decide what he is going to learn from this and how he wants to grow.
4. Where there’s smoke, there’s fire – listen to your employees.
Luis, you should have listened to your players before the World Cup and taken action.
Many players came out in the months leading up to the World Cup talking about sexism and the lack of respect and safety in their environment. Twelve of Spain’s top players missed out on playing in the World Cup because of it. The federation didn’t listen…
Organizations should always seek ways to listen beyond employee engagement surveys. Find ways to engage with employees to know exactly what is going on, how they are doing, and what they are seeing. One-on-ones, town halls, and fireside chats are a great start. Consider also purchasing a service such as a Whistle Blower Securities Ethics Hotline. Creating a ‘speak up’ culture keeps employees safe and allows businesses to stay focused on the work that matters most…getting results!
A few years ago I was coaching U16 Field Hockey. One of my players got a yellow card. When she got the card, she laughed and hugged the referee…a man in his 50s. When she came off, I said, “That’s odd to hug a ref after they give you a card.” Her response was, “Oh, we’re friends. We text and go for coffee.” Alarm bells immediately went off in my head and this inappropriate behaviour was immediately dealt with by the governing body. I could have easily shrugged off this little gesture as her just being friendly. But I listened to my gut and it was right. Pay attention, play awake, and call out inappropriate behaviour.
5. Frequently engage in Courageous Conversations
Luis, it’s time for you to start surrounding yourself with people that are different than you are. It’s time to start engaging in conversations to help you learn and grow from this leadership failure. It’s also time for the Spanish Football Federation, FIFA, and many governing sports bodies to lean into the courageous conversations and ask themselves: “How can we be better?”
At Better Your Best we believe firmly that one of the most important practices that can determine if a business is successful is its ability to engage in Courageous Conversations. Not just hard, ethical conversations, but any conversations that make you feel uncomfortable. As Brene Brown says, “Embrace the suck.”
These are the uncomfortable conversations that turn our stomachs and make our palms sweat. These are the conversations that drive innovation, keep businesses safe, and build trust. Courageous conversations ensure we are all heading in the right direction together. To be effective at this we need to be able to have emotional intelligence and not be afraid to surround ourselves with people who think differently than us, that don’t always agree with us.
A social shift is happening. People are standing up against historical inequalities and ‘uncomfortably forced tolerance’. If you are someone who has read this far, you see it and like me, you are doing your work. Collectively I want us to all be better. I want us to be better at understanding our emotional intelligence, calling out below-the-line behaviour, being willing to learn from our mistakes, and listening to one another. I’m calling for a commitment from all humans to be better together through a practice of humility, listening, and a willingness to understand others’ points of view or experiences.
We need more people to approach these issues with open minds and dialogue. People with good intentions can stop worrying about saying the wrong thing or making things worse. People with good intentions will move us towards authenticity and courageous conversations which will help us evolve and ultimately perform better together.
Let’s get more into it! Join us for our next complimentary webinar on EQ
Wednesday, September 20th – 12pm pst:
EQ: Key Considerations for Performing Under Pressure