Risk Taking in the FIFA 2014 World Cup and Beyond

Something inspiring happened at the FIFA 2014 World Cup—the Netherlands rallied for a rather improbable win against Mexico in the late stages of their match. The Dutch found their motivation in the robust leadership of their coach, Louis van Gaal. Van Gaal’s unwavering confidence (and perhaps a penchant for risk taking) lifted the team to victory. During a ‘cooling break’ Van Gaal replaced his captain Robin Van Persie with Klaas-Jan Huntelaar, simultaneously altering the team’s formation. And while late game changes in team formation are often perceived as a significant risk, this decision ultimately paid off as the Netherlands went on to score two goals in quick succession to win the game. The team fed off his adaptability and poise under pressure—in an article recounting the thrilling match from FIFA.com, Dirk Kuyt declared of Van Gaal, “He’s maybe the best tactically there is in the world… It doesn’t matter who we’re playing, the players know exactly what to do…” The sense of self-assuredness a team gains with a confident leader is palpable and more or less universal. Van Gaal’s risk taking parallels the type of decisions sales managers must make when under periods of intense stress. When sales stagnate, in some cases due to external conditions such as new market regulations, a tried and true sales strategy might not be as effective. During these times, sales managers can choose to stick to their strategy or pivot to explore new outcomes. When leaders prepare their teams for change, it is more widely accepted, even if that means a change in deeply engrained processes or territories among associates. These changes often...