Bernhard Heusler, the former president of FC Basel, talks about success in football and in leadership positions.
Bernhard Heusler was the successful president of FC Basel for years. Today he advises companies and tours the country as an author and speaker. Heusler talks about what lessons he learned from his time at the football club and what he advises managers in crisis situations in “Eco Talk”.
Advisor and former president of FC Basel
Open the people box. Close the people box
The doctor of law and business lawyer took over operational management at FC Basel in 2009 and became president of the football club in 2012. Under his leadership, FC Basel won a total of eight championship titles and took part in the Champions League three times. Heusler resigned in 2017. Since then he has worked as a business consultant and tours Switzerland as a speaker.
SRF News: Did you fulfill a childhood dream at FCB?
Bernhard Heusler: Well, as a boy I imagined a leadership role on the pitch, as a player. But it was very exciting for me to realize again and again in leadership responsibility: You have a different role. You are not here as an idol, a role model or a star, but as an enabler, as someone in the background. You are the one who is supposed to organize that the theater works.
It also has a lot to do with whether you are completely authentic in what you do.
There is perhaps no other area where it is so clear to you that everything you do as a manager depends on how the team performs – whether on the pitch or on the construction site. This is very obvious in sports.
Does a boss have to put himself in front of his employees in difficult times?
Yes absolutely. This also has a lot to do with whether you are completely authentic in what you do. Then you are also convinced that they need you when things don’t go well. But if you have a mandate or a power function that you exercise in your own interest, then you are more likely to hide when things are going badly. For me, this is a reflection of whether you are really authentic in your leadership role.
The more authentic you are in what you do, the more vulnerable you are.
Many bosses are surrounded by people who tell them they are the greatest. These people often become thin-skinned when criticized. How did you cope with criticism?
I think sport is a good lesson because you learn to take harsh criticism every weekend. You can’t imagine how much criticism you’ll get in eight years, including personal attacks. You have to develop thick skin. At the same time: the more authentic you are in what you do, the more vulnerable you are. If you do something with a lot of conviction, you also feel strongly attacked. Even if the fans were criticized, I felt personally attacked. If you have more distance, it bounces off more.
They don’t like the statement “Never change a winning team”. Their motto is “Change in good times”. Do you have to start making changes with success?
Yes, sport is a good example here too because we are in direct competition. Every season starts from scratch. I have often experienced it after a championship celebration: everything was done right! Does not change anything! This is a very dangerous phase. It is precisely at this moment that you have to question what you should change. And I know full well that you won’t make any friends if you change in this phase. At the same time, you have to have the courage to do it.
Is a series of successes sometimes difficult to endure because you don’t feel happy anymore?
I always thought it sounded so terrible: “Winned to death” or “Success eats its children”. But all the sayings also have their truth. You can actually get into a phase in which you realize that the successes come regularly, but the joy doesn’t increase or even decreases. If we are honest: the vision of a sports club is not to maximize success. The vision is to make people happy.
The interview was conducted by Reto Lipp.