In watching the African Cup of Nations tournament, there have been some terrific individual efforts, some singular heroic moments, and, of course, some dismal failures. But what strikes me is the consistency of the great Mo Salah, and how his style of play can be applied to being a better business leader.
Mo Salah celebrating at AFCON 2022. Photo: Getty Images
Egypt has just gone on to the semi-finals, beating a tenacious but overmatched Morocco. The Moroccan coach gave his team about a 20% chance of winning, a realistic yet grim prediction, which in itself speaks to (I think) sober leadership in the face of insurmountable odds. They might have gone on to beat Egypt, but they didn't, finally losing 2-1. Apart from it being a quite entertaining match to watch, what impressed me most, and has impressed me throughout the tournament, is the Egyptian star and team captain, Mo Salah. Hailed as one of the best in football today, and one of the best of all time, he is a star. A superstar in fact, who when on the field is able to change the outcome of any game. But he's not a superstar in the sense you might expect; while all eyes are on him, it appears that Mo Salah's two eyes in front, and the ones on the back of his head, and the ones on the ends of his shoes, are all only on the ball and everyone else. He does indeed have tremendous end-to-end efforts, ending either in a goal or a good try, always with a smile on his face like he's really enjoying himself. But what he shows more than anything is how his superstar quality comes first and foremost from being a team player; more than anything he gives his teammates opportunities to score. Even while he himself seems to always be where the ball is going to be, Salah spends most of his time being positional to the benefit of those around him. He doesn't 'hog' the ball, he doesn't try for the most unlikely, dramatic run, no matter how exciting that might be. He is, instead, always quietly there, until, in a flash, he dishes some tremendous, highlight reel pass to a teammate that results in a scoring opportunity or a goal. His dynamic, superstar qualities are all in how he reads the field, gives his teammates opportunities, stretches and exhausts the defence, and lets his whole team shine. He rewards them all with a shaggy hug and a smile when they score. He may be a singular star, but Mo Salah really makes his team a team that plays together as one. Therein lies their strength and his personal superpower. The best leaders in business are, to me, a lot like Mo Salah. They might be the best players on the field any given day, but their stardom comes in how they unify and inspire others, how they uncannily read the field, and how they create opportunities for others to score. True leadership comes through an unselfish adherence to teamwork, passing the ball, leading by example, and all of it with a big competitive smile, relishing the pure joy of taking the field and playing the game beautifully for all to see.