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Building on strength; The Maradona Principle

In 1986 Diego Maradona almost single handedly won the Football World Cup for Argentina. England fans won't thank me for the pun since in the quarter final against the sworn enemy, he scored twice to beat them 2-1. Most people from outside Argentina remember that one of those goals was scored with his hand - the infamous "hand of God" goal. But the second goal was pure brilliance. He picked up the ball 5 metres inside the Argentinian half before dribbling past no fewer than 6 Englishmen including the goalkeeper to virtually walk the ball into the net. Sublime. Brilliant. Devastating.

I've used video of that goal to demonstrate a point to coaches and business managers when discussing developing their people. I ask them to watch it a couple of times. The first time, I ask them to observe what they see and to describe it. It's not surprising that everyone (even those who don't care for sport) is impressed with the skill and the glory of that goal. When we watch it the second time, I ask the participants to observe 2 things specifically; how many England players he goes past and how many times he touches the ball. He goes past 6 and touches the ball 12 times. We then ask the question; "How many times did he touch the ball with his right foot?" Answer: none. None? Surely the best goal the world has ever seen in a World Cup, been scored by a man running half the length of the pitch on his own, past 6 of the best defenders in the world would have used both feet? Nope. In fact, Maradona hardly ever used his right foot. One of the best players of all time - one footed. So would he have been better if he'd developed all his skills? Maybe - but it's hard to argue that the goal he scored that day could've been improved upon. And he had a career on the field that is likewise difficult to criticise.

So what? Maybe it tells us that sometimes the best way to improve our performance is to focus on the things that come naturally to us. Build on strength and minimise the weakness. You can bet that Maradona was kicking a ball with his left foot at a tender age. You can also imagine that a number of coaches probably concentrated on his lack of skill with his right foot. The parallels with business and personal development are obvious. Businesses often find themselves in strife by diverging from their core strengths, by either trying to diversify or to develop into something they're not. And the same goes for performers who try to develop a skill that has, for many years been lacking. The one that always turns up in the 360 degree feedback, the end of year review and the coaching moments. As coaches, if we're not careful we pick up on that skill and pay too much attention it - often leading to very little improvement or worse, diminished performance as a result of the corresponding drop in confidence. We've all got natural strengths and areas that are always going to be problem for us in any role - but the next time you're thinking about which one to develop, give a little thought to The Goal of the Century.