The Real Madrid Way: How Values Created the Most Successful Sports Team on the Planet by Steven G. Mandis (Dallas: BenBella Books, 2016. 344 pp)

Steven G. Mandis is an adjunct professor at Columbia Business School and chairman and senior partner of Kalamata Capital. He earned his AB from the University of Chicago and his MA, MPhil, and PhD from Columbia University.

Thinking about My Life’s Work

A life’s work. The phrase means less than it used to mean. For most people. A life’s work will be a series of stops, likely at companies with high variance of deliverables. The daily tasks of the worker may be the same but the overarching goals or the building of something bigger than one’s self whittle away. Most people work for that pay check; they don’t think much further than that.

But a life’s work is an important way of considering how someone can find meaning in her work. What are the narrative threads underlying the tasks we execute every day? Much like a story holds a structural backbone to give it meaning, our work ought to be the same.

And to date, I believe my “life’s work” continues to orbit around creating meaning in our work. Stated in a more organizational sense, I am passionate about how the culture of an organization links to the overall effectiveness of said organization.

The Value of Real Madrid

As such, The Real Madrid Way by Steven G. Mandis intrigues me. In the book, Mandis attempts to explain how a clear, consistent, and core culture of this famous soccer club over the course of a century has created the dominant force in world football.

Ultimately, Mandis uses research from McKinsey to make this case:

“Management consulting firm McKinsey & Company has highlighted the importance and value of culture. The firm, through a survey of hundreds of companies in North American, Europe, and Asia, found 66.7 percent of business leaders felt culture provided their greatest source of competitive advantage. In addition, McKinsey & Company found that companies with effective organizational culture outperformed peers significantly. In fact, those companies with high-performing cultures delivered significant performance improvement, 300 percent higher annual returns to shareholders than companies with undefined cultures” (34).

In other words, the organization with the clearest identity about who it is and in what it believes will be the organization that achieves the highest performance. Mandis makes the case that Real Madrid exemplifies this philosophy.

“At the center of the Real Madrid way for success are the values of their community and resulting culture. Real Madrid management believes the culture has translated into continued success on the field thus creating profitable and sustainable enterprise that people can identify with and turn to, embracing it as a meaningful and steadfast cornerstone of their own personal value and identity” (3).

No Moneyball

And yet, the book falls short. While I agree with its underlying premise, The Real Madrid Way reads as a history lesson interspersed with business insight. This is not a book for those looking for an engaging read. While the topic could carry intrigue—consider how Michael Lewis wrote Moneyball, The Real Madrid Way is unable to hold a similar narrative weight and thus the reader’s attention. For me, The Real Madrid Way is a useful resource to consider how values apply to a sporting organization, but it lacks in the literary merit required to extend beyond a specific subset of business-oriented thinkers.

As a reader that considers observations of culture a key ingredient to business success, unfortunately, I found The Real Madrid Way lacking.

Verdict: 2.5 out of 5

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