5 Leadership Learnings From Didier Deschamps

My favorite moment after France won the World Cup was watching the team hoist their impeccably-dressed coach Didier Deschamps up in the air while squirting him relentlessly in the face with their squeeze-water bottles. 

If that’s not leadership love, I don’t know what is. 

As a career and leadership coach, I kept my eye focused on Didier Deschamps (and Giroud and Griezmann, but for other reasons) during the entire World Cup. 

I binged on press conferences and opinion pieces, trying to piece the puzzle together of how he gets his team to perform so well while making it all look so damn easy.  I’ve became fascinated by his leadership. His calm. His serenity. His determination. His focus. His humility. 

So in honor of Deschamps, I've Developed this guide to the five 5 leadership traits that make him stand out for managers who want to raise their game: 


Five Champion Leadership Traits

1. Trust

When Deschamps announced the 23 players he was taking to Russia, there were some big names missing. Notably PSG player Adrien Rabiot who everyone (especially Rabiot) expected would make the list. Rumors swirled around why. Was it his partying habit? His lackluster performance at the previous games? His diva attitude? What did him it? Who knows for sure. But it wasn’t the first time that Deschamps sidestepped a popular player. Karim Benzema, one of France’s best attackers, also got snubbed. A few years ago Benzema was accused of blackmailing a teammate over a leaked sex-tape. What’s the common link between the two? In my opinion? It's trust.Trust has got to be one of Didier Deschamps fundamental values and it guides many of the choses he makes as a coach/leader. Trust that his players will get on with others. Trust that they'll put the collective above themselves.

Pro Leadership Tip: If you want your team to trust you, you've got to trust them. It's a two-way street.  In the recruiting process selecting people celebrated for their humanity, generosity, collaboration and grit is fundamental. That means that you may have to reject a few rock stars.  
Pro Leadership Action: Is there anyone on your team right now who you wouldn’t let babysit your kids? If so, ask yourself why. What does that say about you? What does that say about them?

2. Collectivity

While there are some big personalities on Deschamps' team (Pogba, Griezmann, Mathuidi), they know if they want to kiss the coupe, they've got to work as a group. Team unity. It’s everything.  Didier Deschamps learned that from his mentor and former coach, Aimé Jacquemart. “They both learned that a team, a group, is not a simple assemblage of talents, to preserve it you sometimes need to deprive yourself of certain individual qualities, the importance being to create a global balance,” wrote Bixente Lizarazu in L’Equipe while speaking about Jacquet and Deschamps's leadership styles. This balance is clear on the field, in the press interviews on the snapchat videos: this team is more than a group. It’s a family. Kudos to Deschamps for creating that unity, that maturity and sense of sacrifice with half of his players barely out of their teens. 

Pro Leadership Tip: The whole is greater that the sum of its parts. If your team isn’t working together, it’s not going very far. What you celebrate most is what your team will strive for most. If you celebrate individual contribution, that’s what you’ll get. If you celebrate collaboration, humility, and service, that’s what you’ll get. 

Pro Leadership Action: What training, rewards or programs do you have in place that celebrate team collaboration and unity over individual success? What can you strengthen or build?

3. Experience

Deschamps was the captain of the World Cup champion French team in 1998. There’s no doubt that he used his personal experience from that incredible journey to shape his team today. Tapping into the past. Reframing present goals using past personal stories and anecdotes can be a huge asset for any leader. The French team had the advantage of working with a coach who walked in their shoes twenty years later. Deschamps was able to motivate them by sharing their points of views and teaching them how to access the focus, calm and confidence to help them stay on target. 

Pro Leadership Tip: Your team will love whatever experience you can share with them that connects with their challenges today. Whether or not you lived through the exact same scenario, you have stories from your past that parallels theirs. 

Pro Leadership Action: What stories or experiences can you share with your team today that shows that you are as human, vulnerable and resourceful as they are?

4. Humility

No two challengers, or challenges, are the same. There are always nuances to each new situation. Having a playbook is great, but trusting it to work in every context is foolish. One of the keys to Deschamps's success was humility. The humility to trust that you don’t have all of the answers. The humility to question your own beliefs. The humility to search for better answers. The humility to turn to others for guidance at the right time. Deschamps had a team of analysts and strategists who painstakingly reviewed the performances of his upcoming rivals and he adapted his playbook each time to match his new opponent. That is humility-lead agile leadership at its best. 

Pro Leadership Tip: Don’t trust your playbook to always play nice. You’ve got to stay humble and curious and adapt your strategy all of the time to suit the context. Focus on the big picture but think of each step along the way as a separate match that warrants its own research and development. 

Pro Leadership Question: Imagine eating a big humble pie right now. What aspects of your most important strategy could benefit from a fresh set of eyes?

5. Play

The day before the final match the press marveled over how much fun the French team was having during practice, playing around like puppies in a pack. Deschamps was able to create an environment where the team could let loose, have fun, enjoy themselves, without giving up an ounce of their determination. “We get along so well. We laugh all of the time, all of the time we’ve spent together has been fabulous. It’s a one in a lifetime experience, with an exceptional group,” shared Samuel Umtiti to reporters the day before the final. 

Pro Leadership Tip: No matter what your business, play is the key to learning and growth. And I’m not just talking about babyfoot tables in your open space. It’s got to go deeper than that. Developing practices, like team building workshops, design thinking, etc, to get your team to connect with their child’s mind and each other is essential for learning, connectivity and growth.

Pro Leadership Question: How are the people on your team encouraged to connect, play and and collaborate? How are you as a leader showing them constructives ways to play?

Ok, I hoped you enjoyed this leadership round-up. I'd love to hear from you below with any comments or questions. And if you want to take the conversation further, click below to find out more about my individual and group coaching services. I'd be thrilled to work with you to get your team to champion of the world status!