The World Cup is over, the career lessons are here to stay.

As promised, here’s part 2 of the career archetypes we found watching the FIFA Men’s World Cup. In part 1, we focused on the archetypes the national teams helped us identify. Where you a Germany, a England or a Mexico?

In this edition, we will look at some of the personalities we met throughout the tournament and extract some career lessons from their participation. So, without further ado here are the five career lessons we learned watching the World Cup:

Be a cry baby, at your peril by Neymar

You can be a high performer, even an overachiever, but that is not enough to secure your place among the stars. Your reputation is also built on your behaviour and how you react to failure is key. Sure, if something doesn’t go the way you planned go ahead and throw a tantrum. Even roll in the grass for a bit, just don’t be surprised when the world looks elsewhere for a leader.
See: How Neymar’s diving stole the world cup

Dress the part, be the part by Gareth Southgate

The England coach did not only prove that you can take a young inexperienced squad and make them winners, you can also build a personal brand with consistency and class. The waistcoat was a masterstroke. Even John Cleese called him the ultimate example of a gentleman! So, take the time to think about your personal style and how it goes or clashes with your personal brand. See: Football, not rugby, is now the gentleman’s game

Props show your power by Vladimir Putin

In Moscow when it rains it pours and Vlad made sure he was the first one with an umbrella. While his peers (Macron and Grabar-Kitarovic) got soaked, Putin managed to show them up by simply managing to stay dry. So make sure your team likes you enough to keep you dry. See: Vladimir Putin gets umbrella as he hands out World Cup medals… while world leaders next to him get soaked

Go the extra mile, at the right moment by Yuri Cortez

Yuri who? You probably don’t know his name but if you watched the Croatia-England semi-final you saw him get run over by a celebratory Croatian team after the Mario Mandžukić’s goal. At a time when he could understandably have shielded his body and camera, the experienced photojournalist got to work. The lesson: rise to the challenge at the right time and you will make your mark.
See: Photographer proves a good shot after getting squashed by Croatia players

Act like a leader, become a leader by Didier Deschamps

Didier’s transformation from the ‘water-carrier’ as Eric Cantona called him to the leader of the world champions is an inspiration to all aspiring career people. He was an excellent player, a defender with leadership qualities who knew how to support the team stars. Fast forward twenty years and you can see a textbook example of how to move from being part of a high-performing team (France 1998) to leading a high-performing team (2018). His success story is full of talent and grit and an inspiration to all career people.
See: Why was Didier Deschamps nicknamed ‘The Water-carrier’ and when did he win the World Cup as France captain?

What are your takeaways from the month-long football world cup? These lessons combine fun and learning so they are very much archetypical in nature. However, if you object to any of our characterizations we welcome your feedback and even the chance for some rhetorical footie – here or on Twitter where @CarmenSpinoza11 is always up for a challenging match.

What happens when the lemonade turns to brine?

All of us who have been to business school know the classic case of the lemonade stand. But what happens when your lemonade sours – or becomes brine?

My friend Josie Bartlet had a dilemma recently and her challenge raised some critical issues about being a strategic adviser. It’s a dilemma we all sometimes face as strategic advisers. Stick or twist? Imagine this….

Put yourself in Josie’s shoes….

Imagine you are a senior adviser to your leader. You have clear divisional responsibilities. Your team supports you to deliver on a clear agenda. You think you know what is right.

Last week, you attended an away day at your boss’s country house. She gets paid the big bucks and so recently bought a Tudor villa in South East England. It’s full of draughts but that’s by-the-by. Your company faces a serious strategic dilemma for which there are no good answers.

Activist investors – such as ‘Go Mergers’ Capital – want a new plan, but getting top team alignment around the plan is proving difficult. Hence the top team retreat.

After a long, fraught, day, you finally come to an agreement on the future direction of your organization. Despite lots of opposition. Some leaders were happy with your strategic alliances, others want a more stand-alone strategy. But finally, the team agreed on an compromise approach. Everyone has nodded their heads in acquiescence. Or did they?

Your (Josie’s) challenge is this:

You are part of a management team and a key adviser to the leader, but you disagree fundamentally with the outcome of the team away day.

What would Josie do? What would you do? Which of these three is the ‘right’ answer?

Option A

Although you don’t agree, you have a collective responsibility as a member of the top team. You are not convinced it is the best outcome – but for the same of commercial interest and corporate harmony – you decide to toe the line. When it comes to strategic alliances with overseas partners, you think you could get a better agreement but decide to play for time. Besides your end of year bonus will be good.

Option B

The money may be good but you decide that your reputation would be best served by leaving. You have lots of allies in the market – headhunters have tipped you for a more senior role – so now is the time to go. You’ve been loyal for long enough but this is the final straw – when the CEO makes a decision you fundamentally disagree with you know that you can’t swallow your pride any longer. It is time to make a play for a new job and resign with panache.

Option C

The money is still good. But this time you feel uncomfortable taking it now that the new strategic direction has been announced. You’ve made your career on working to the IABC Global Standard – Ethics, Consistency… etc – and now the collective decision requires you to go against everything you stand for. You want to please the CEO (who is powerful but thin-skinned), but on the other hand that means being false to yourself.

You have 10 minutes to decide. Your time starts now….

Although the dilemma is not often put in such stark terms, we are often faced with the challenge of what to do when we don’t like a corporate decision. Or are forced to argue on behalf of something we don’t agree with.

Lemons - Creative Commons image with thanks to Liz West
Lemons – (CC BY) – Liz West

As a strategic adviser, the challenge is to which battles we want to fight.

  • Which battles are worth winning?
  • When can we win?
  • When can we tactically lose?

And when do we want to make a stand for what we believe in, and metaphorically die in a ditch if necessary.

To return to Josie. As it happens she is one of my friends, so I can tell you that she would never choose the politically expedient option B. Option B is a good way of getting a short-term win and a long-term loss.

Option A is acceptable – she has a strong corporate responsibility and loyalty. We’ve probably all made a choice like this in our career.

I know I have.

But the really brave choice is, in my opinion, C.

The bravery, though, is not in choosing option C, but in avoiding the temptation of dressing it up as option B. In some walks of life there are a lot of “B” players who choose the “B” option but pretend it is choice C. This happens so often that when there is really a “C” resignation, some people are often cynical and think it is really a “B”. This is more common in some sectors than others.

What would you choose? Feel free to comment below.

What Wimbledon teaches us about being a strategic adviser.


When you are a strategic adviser to a senior leader, often the biggest challenge is knowing what type of behaviour is expected in a given situation. Get it right and you can really make an impact. Get it wrong and you can set back your career. To help navigate these complexities, in celebration of the Wimbledon Tennis Championship, here is a guide to the different types of advice senior leaders expect from their counsellors, and how to recognise each situation.

Wimbledon has a simple format: people battle it out for victory until there is only one left at the top of the tree. This person is usually called Federer or Williams. But there are plenty of supporting cast members – strategic advisers if you will – along the way who all contribute to making the tourney a success.

Here are 4 things leaders ask for and how you can react.

1. “Help me/us win in the marketplace.”

Your leader wants to win. Therefore you are Severin Luthi or Ivan Ljubicic – Federer’s coaches. Who? Exactly. Few outside the profession have heard of them. Yet, their skills as advisers have helped achieve what few realised was possible.

In tennis, ‘winning’ is easily defined. In the corporate world, you need explore what this means in practice, translate it into SMART goals, and develop a project plan to get things there. You’ll get buy-in from the leader and work to align the whole team around the agreed goals.

No doubt there are times when the coach has to communicate a tough message; or make Roger do something he doesn’t want. But if you have agreed the overall goal, and the steps required to get there, it is easier to deliver strategic advice.

2. “Make me/us look good.”

When you get a request like this, you need to channel Greg Cantin. He’s the Head Groundsman at Wimbledon. Again: an invisible hero.

There is so much more to this request than meets the eye. In effect, your leader is asking you to apply all of your experience. No one will notice if it goes right, but if suddenly – if something goes wrong – some weeds, a divot, a crack in the surface – you will get the blame. Your stakeholders expect perfection every time. Therefore, your challenge is two-fold.

First, you need to find a way to manage expectations. For example: everyone knows that the quality of the grass will deteriorate during the Championship. As an adviser, your role is to have the conversation about the likely outcomes and help have a discussion about the trade-offs involved: how much wear is acceptable?

Second, you need ensure that your team’s performance and contribution is recognised. Your team won’t automatically get the credit – expect maybe an ironic cheer when they take the covers off after rain. So your job is the ensure they feel connected to the wider mission so they say: “I’m not just mixing the compost, I’m helping create a successful Championship.”

3. “We need delighted customers.”

At Wimbledon, the answer is simple: strawberries, exciting tennis, and perhaps a plucky local hero who over-achieves. Only some is predictable. You need to be ready for the ambiguity and the unexpected.

The challenge is to be ready to take advantage of the situation as it arises. If our ‘plucky local hero’ surprisingly makes it to Round 4 and her match is originally scheduled for Court 22: ignore the plan or formal process / rules and move her game to Centre Court to keep customers happy. Sounds obvious.

But to do this successfully, you need trust with your leaders, and the willingness to take responsibility, knowing you will make some stakeholders unhappy. Remember: if you promote ‘plucky local hero’ match to Court 1, you will need have a hard conversation with ‘aging veteran, used to be good but a bit past his best and well-known for his temper’ about why his match is suddenly on Court 22 with an equal number of spectators. Being a strategic adviser is about making these trade-offs and having the hard conversation.

4. “Is that your professional advice?”

Now you get to play Umpire. Perhaps you work in Investor Relations or Public Affairs where there are strict rules on what you say or do. Your job is to know the rules inside out and make sure that others are following them.

At Wimbledon, the Umpires sit on high chairs. They have a different perspective. Sometimes as a strategic adviser you need to do this – take a step back from the hurly-burly of the day-to-day and go and sit in the high chair and see what things look like from there.

As ever, there are some challenges.

First is the “Dr. No” problem. If you always retreat quickly to the law or the rules, then you risk being seen as a blocker. The ‘rules’ are your ultimate backstop but if you use them as a first resort, then you will be seen as inflexible, unhelpful, and unreasonable. If you can, use other influencing approaches first.

Second is the “John McEnroe” problem. How do you deal with a leader with a temper who shouts “you cannot be serious” whenever you make a decision they don’t like? These leaders might think they are above the rules. Perhaps their track record makes them think they can get away with it. In tennis, the Umpire can impose fines. This is harder to do in real life so your role as an adviser is to be calm and help your leader back down – without losing face – from their impossible position. This requires high level influencing skills which is probably a topic for another column.

There are plenty of other corporate challenge and requests. Indeed, if you have other corporate challenges that you would like explained through Wimbledon archetypes, please get in touch or leave a comment and we will do our best to reply.

Meanwhile, if you want to play “Wimbledon” with your team – and help your Federer or Williams through to success, click here to find out how you find out what it takes to lift the trophy.

From football goals to career goals: lessons from the World Cup

When we developed Corporate Snakes and Career Ladders, one of our key premises was that people learn best when they have fun. So we invented the game starring Carmen Spinoza and all her colleagues as archetypes of senior business leaders. It’s been two years and have now run simulations helping professionals explore key issues in journey as strategic advisers.

But what if you took things from the other perspective and started with a game and then translated it back into business?

We give you the World Cup Strategic Adviser archetypes, part 1. Part 1 because this is written half-way through the World Cup. Part 2 will come near the end when we know which country makes it to the top of the football ladder, avoiding the snakes along the way.

The teams in the World Cup all embody a different corporate archetype. The question is: which team are you most like in your career?

Germany. You have already ‘won’ the World Cup Strategic Adviser game. In fact you are at the top of your career and are the incumbent. Maybe you have stopped being hungry. Maybe a long track record of success makes you feel that victory is routine. But it turns out that others are hungrier for your position and the ‘corporate snakes’ are after you. Your complacency is your downfall. Others want your job more and if you snooze you lose.

Mexico. You are a solid all-round corporate player who – when you are at your best – can best any champion (Germany). You have been routinely underestimated, so when you prepare and shine, you amaze the audience. You have flair, you have talent, you have loads of supporters. And then, you stumble. When you lose your focus, you can make basic mistakes and fall apart more quickly than a hastily constructed IKEA bookshelf (Sweden). Sometimes you are lucky, and you find unlikely allies (Korea).

Iceland. Maybe you suddenly find yourself at the top table on the back of some unlikely successes in previous jobs (tournaments). You are popular and endearing. People like you. On occasion you can hold your own (Argentina). But let’s be honest: the step up to the C-suite is more of a challenge that you realised.  Your big success in your previous job (England, European Championship) got you this one but unfortunately you are a small fish in a big pond and it shows. Turns out the Peter Principle applies to football as well.

England. Cruise to victory when the challenge is easy. You can score a big win in a simple situation (Panama) and then your fans get carried away thinking you are going to win it all. When faced with a tough test (Belgium) you make the strategic choice to sacrifice a short-term gain in order to improve your chances later by resting your best players. This is the business equivalent of keeping your best skills for the key opportunities. Of course only time will tell if this is successful or not so watch out for part 2 of the blog.

Japan. Perhaps unexpectedly you find yourself in a leadership role – a candidate for the next promotion. Some luck has helped you on your way (Colombia). You know what you need to do in your career: you have calculated your chances of progression and plot a course which will get you what you need, even if it isn’t popular (Poland). You play by the letter of the law, rather than its spirit. Will this help in the long term? Again stay tuned for part 2.

Russia. You have an opportunity. A time to shine. A chance to show the world what you can do. And, boy, do you take it. You raise your game to the right level just when you need to; and prove everybody wrong. Sure, a bit of luck came your way (Saudi Arabia, Egypt) but you had the pride and motivation to take advantage of the opportunity. Sterner tests will come (Spain) but so far you can say ‘job well done’. Give yourself a pat on the back and know that you have already done more than what people expected of you.

That concludes part 1 of our World Cup Strategic Adviser Review. Stay tuned for part 2 at the end of the tournament. We’ll probably review some different teams, or maybe our assessment will change as they move up the career ladder (win a game) or get fired (knocked-out).

In the meantime, we welcome debate and comment: which team do you think you are most like? @CarmenSpinoza11 is going to be watching the knockout phase so look out for her commentary.

Was #IABC18 a Sunday crossword puzzle?

Six months ago, IABC invited Stephen Welch and Casilda Malagón to take me to Montreal and run the Strategic Adviser Forum at IABC18. We were all delighted for the opportunity, after all I was created for an IABC conference. Immediately we got our heads thinking: what could we add to Corporate Snakes and Career Ladders to make it more fun, more useful, more helpful to the audience?

Over 50 senior communicators from around the world were giving up their Sunday to spend a morning with us and we couldn’t disappoint.

The premise behind Corporate Snakes and Career Ladders – that corporate training has to be fun to engage the brain – has been proved right again and again. Yet, providing experiential learning through an enjoyable experience is a bit like the Sunday crossword puzzle. It takes little bit of method, a little bit of art, and some luck. The good ones are liminal. They take you just to the edge of your comfort zone, sometimes a little over and then bring you back. That’s the space we wanted our strategic advisers to navigate.

On the day, my new group of advisers applied themselves to find the answers to real-life dilemmas and they tried out a couple of practical tools to understand personality archetypes, influencing styles and advising typology. Without realising it, they were taking in complex concepts of psychology, HR and communication.
After just one session, ten teams representing cities from Astana to Johannesburg, walked away with:

  • The standard version of Corporate Snakes and Career Ladders, with me – Carmen Spinoza (@CarmenSpinoza11) – at the helm.
  • A diagnostic on the four types of strategic advisor
  • A self-diagnostic on influencing styles
  • A guide to the eight personality archetypes one can find at work.

They had fun and dared to put the “work” back into “workshop”. They discussed, debated, self-reflected and took away cool tips from each other, making us learn a few things along the way.

Casilda and Stephen love facilitating intense and diverse groups like these, it energises them and confirms that continuous improvement requires passion, and hard work, but no one ever said it had to be boring.

At the end of the session, participants submitted the three words that described the session. I held my breath, we had a new system and had gone through a lot of material. When the screen showed the results, my heart skipped a beat. Success: they had learned and enjoyed. The combination we live for.

If you want to know more about me, subscribe to my blog and I’ll let you know where I will go next subscribe:

Or follow me on Twitter @CarmenSpinoza11