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You Don’t Have To Be Exceptional Where You Are, To Progress Your Career

Diego Maradona is arguably going to go down in history, as one of the greatest footballers in time – despite his best attempts at sabotaging his own career. If he was playing in modern day football, he would be commanding the same types of fees, wages and attention as Messi, Ronaldo, Neymar and Mbappe.

As a coach and a manager, however, he has been abject at best, a liability at times, and largely unsuited to the role. A quick look at Wikipedia tells a frankly bizarre and turbulent club career. Never mind his ill-fated stint in charge of the Argentine National team..

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Maradona began his managerial career alongside former Argentinos Juniors midfield teammate Carlos Fren. The pair led Mandiyú of Corrientes in 1994 and Racing Club in 1995, with little success. In May 2011 he became manager of Dubai club Al Wasl FC in the United Arab Emirates. Maradona was sacked on 10 July 2012. In August 2013, Maradona moved on to become mental coach at Argentine club Deportivo Riestra.

Maradona departed this role in 2017 to become the head coach of Fujairah, in the UAE second division, before leaving at the end of the season upon failure to secure promotion at the club. In September 2018 he was appointed manager of Mexican second division side Dorados.[15] He made his debut with Dorados on 17 September 2018 with a 4-1 victory over Cafetaleros de Tapachula.]On 13 June 2019, after Dorados failed to clinch promotion to the Mexican top flight, Maradona’s lawyer announced that he would be stepping down from the role, citing health reasons.

On 5 September 2019, Maradona was unveiled as the new head coach of Gimnasia de La Plata, signing a contract until the end of the season.[6] After two months in charge he left the club on 19 November. However, two days later, Maradona rejoined the club as manager saying that “we finally achieved political unity in the club”.

Jose Mourinho, made a grand total of 94 appearances as a professional footballer. 4 clubs in 7 years, never achieving the same heights as his dad, who even won a cap for Portugal, before accepting he wasn’t going to be good enough to be a footballer – and instead began focusing on coaching.

But Jose didn’t just become a coach. He started out coaching in a junior side, before becoming a scout, and then taking a job as a translator for Bobby Robson. Under the enigmatic Robson, Mourinho began to flourish, becoming a more prominent member of the coaching team, following him from Sporting, to Porto, and then Barcelona.

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I recently sat with a colleague, working out how we could develop them further. They said to me they had been advised to just focus on getting great at the role they had now, and not to think about anything else beyond that. If I think about the two examples we’ve just looked at, how important is it these days to be exceptional at a role before you can move forward?

Career development and progression is becoming more and more in demand, as companies battle for the best available talent. If you want to bring people in today, you have to be able to show a career development plan – not many people find a role and plan to never move from it. And not everyone is utilising the best of their abilities in a role that they may be doing reasonably well at. There is a colleague I have worked with for a year, who is more than capable at the role they are in, but you can see their brain isn’t being tested fully. Ive had conversations with them about looking at different areas, because you can see that boredom will set in eventually, no matter how well they do.

Businesses have a very bad habit of doing the same two things – no matter the industry, and no matter the size of company, you’ll see this happen regularly;

  • Promote top performers to management, assuming that because they are high achievers, they can manage people
  • Hoard talent – bring people in, and fail to push them to look at ways and roles that would be better suited to them

If you are a Jose Mourinho, and you have recognised that your existing role isn’t using the full range of skills, what can you do?

  1. What are your strengths – do a self SWOT analysis, and be honest on your strengths and weaknesses. If you have a habit of being self critical or struggle to be self analytical, ask someone who you can trust to be fair and honest for their views. When you know what your strengths are, you can build a career using them.
  2. What do you enjoy doing the most – I know a colleague who is exceptional at analytics and data, but absolutely hates doing tasks that involve stats and data. But because they are good at it, they consistently get asked to do tasks that involve using their strength. Think about the things that you enjoy the most, the type of activities or parts of your role that you really like doing, and the tasks that you would openly volunteer for because you find them worthwhile
  3. How can you do more of the things you enjoy – can you make changes in your existing role to do more of the things you enjoy? What type of roles would involve doing more of the things that motivate you? Does it have to be a specific role, or is it just more freedom to pick and choose your tasks?
  4. Look at those roles that involve you using your strengths, doing things you like doing the most, and work out what your gaps would be if you went to apply for that role tomorrow. Again, if you are struggling, enlist a friend or colleague that can help you, go spend time with people in those roles, and actively pay attention to how they work.
  5. Build your plan – what do you need to do to start developing in that role? Which actions are most important? How long will they take? What are the milestones you want to see hit, so you know you are on track? A development plan should be owned by you, and as life changes, so should your plan.
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And for those of you fortunate enough to be leading people, take time to help them find their path – and be prepared to admit their journey doesn’t go the same way yours does. They will remember the leaders that allowed them the opportunity to flourish, and be reminded about the impact that you had – so when it comes to their turn to be the unselfish leader, the chances are high that they too will allow their people to find their own way.

Finally, promoting people that have been excellent is in no way a guarantee about their capabilities in a new role – so make sure you promote based on attitude, effort and applicable skills. And for those high achievers, work even harder with them to identify where they want to go, and nurture their skills to help them make that successful next step.

Be the leader you would want for yourself.

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