„We need authentic people!“

The one has over a million followers and hardly knows any of them. The other has been a manager in a male world for more than two decades. Karin Danner, manager of the Women’s Soccer Club of FC Bayern Munich and member of the business network 'Frauen verbinden' (Connecting women), and the influencer Sohi Malih on the art of effective leadership.

Karin Danner and Sohi Malih discuss the art of leadership.

MM | Mr. Malih, you have over one million followers on your Instagram account. What makes people decide to follow someone?

Malih | The first thing I would say is: “Be yourself.” People notice right away when someone puts on an act. And creativity and quality are what count for me.

MM | Ms. Danner, who do you follow?

Danner | I follow my gut. I’m the kind of person who runs on emotion. And I am happy to follow really good people. People who are passionate about something and stand up for their story and their convictions. But only if they reach and inspire me, of course—then I’ll march in step.

MM | Do you feel a repsonsibility towards to your followers

Malih | Yes, absolutely. I would not tell them anything that I don’t believe in myself. Above all, when you consider that young people also follow me and read my posts, I really have to be careful about what I write. That definitely calls for responsibility.

Karin Danner, © Robert Brembeck
© Robert Brembeck

Karin Danner, born in 1959, grew up in Rhineland-Palatinate and was 18 when she started playing soccer for FC Bayern. Since 1995, she has been the manager of the club's women's soccer team. Karin Danner is also member of the business network 'Frauen verbinden' (Connecting women).

MM | Do we even need leaders today?

Danner | Sometimes, I think now more than ever. Every team needs one or two leaders that are ahead of the pack. In soccer, which is a team sport, we used to have very good leaders. But now the chiefs have become scarce and we basically only have the Indians. The tendency is for people to put their head in the sand and refuses to take on responsibility. I particularly see this in the young people who are just starting to advance in the team. Maybe it is simply because they live in an oasis of well-being. They have it very good already.

Malih | Many people also lack the necessary courage.

Danner | Exactly. But that is the problem. There is a scarcity of people with the courage to lead the way.

MM | If you had to choose: 11 leaders on the team or none at all?

Danner | I would prefer 11 leaders. There would probably be lots of conflict. But soccer needs friction and tension, an environment in which people get their elbows out. It was the same in my team: Before my opponent could complete a play, I had tackled her her and grabbed the ball.

Sohi Malih, © Robert Brembeck
© Robert Brembeck

Sohi Malih, born in 1988, is Afghan and grew up as the son of a diplomat. On his instagram channel, @sohi.malih, he posts elaborately staged photos of himself and sometimes enters into partnerships with customers.

MM | What characterizes a good leader?

Danner | One hundred percent passion for what he or she does. A leader must show emotions, and weakness along with strength. And when the going gets tough, leaders show strength of character. They roll up their sleeves, take the lead, and inspire the team to give their all. Leaders are winner types. They are the ones that get the title.

Malih | Leaders also think. They develop an idea further. When there are no leaders, it might be that nobody takes responsibility and everyone waits for someone to take action.

MM | How do you beat the competition?

Malih | You need to stay with what you’re good at and not be too concerned about what the competition is doing. We all have a certain nose for certain things. It’s the same in sports: one player is better than another because he looks ahead to the next move. You have to leverage that. For example, I now sense exactly when I need to deliver something new to my followers.

I'd rather have eleven leaders on a team than none. That's where it can really shred and crack. Karin Danner

MM | Ms. Danner, you have become a leader in the soccer business. That was surely not easy.

Danner | I have been affiliated with FC Bayern for decades, starting back when Uli Hoeneß and Karl-Heinz Rummenigge still played. I couldn’t believe it when FC Bayern wanted me to play in 1977. I was 18 and my dream had come true. After my active career, starting in 1995, I led the women’s soccer team as a volunteer at first, because the sport is my passion. Five years later, the team made it into the Bundesliga. I then said: I’m only going to keep going if you pay me.

MM | Back then, did you have the feeling that you had finally become a leader?

Danner | I have always been a fighter—I have seven siblings and had to learn how to look out for my own interests. I became a street soccer player. When I went to Munich at 18, I was a country bumpkin from the Rhineland-Palatinate. That also had an effect on me: leaving a village with a population of 1,500 to go to the big city and develop women’s soccer. You have to have a strong character to lead the way. Now, I can say that the struggle has really paid off.

Karin Danner and Sohi Malih, © Robert Brembeck
© Robert Brembeck

Karin Danner and Sohi Malih have learned how important it is to give up competencies in order to concentrate on more important things.

MM | Does leading always have something to do with struggle?

Malih | Yes, absolutely. Fighting is part of it. In my case, it certainly was part of my biography. I was not born in Germany. I’m an Afghan and my father was a diplomat. We lived in India, Pakistan, Russia, and many other countries. It wasn’t always easy and I had a constant struggle. But you get something from that, more than someone who has never had such problems.

Danner | Motivation is lacking today. When I see players who are sitting on the bench, I ask: “What, you’re happy with that?! I would have gone crazy earlier!” The young generation has become complacent, and is afraid of doing something wrong.

MM | Can you also subordinate yourself?

Malih | NOf course, I don’t always know everything better. Sometimes, you have to be able to take a back seat.

Danner | I also learned to do that (laughs). When I look back at my 40 years with FC Bayern Munich, I see that I’ve had to take a back seat many times. After all, women’s soccer was a male domain in the 1970s—it was brutal. Back then, it was harder for me to subordinate myself than it is today because I constantly had to fight for women’s soccer. Now, it is established and we no longer have to promote ourselves. Female athletes are finally being appreciated. Ironically, today, when things are actually going well, I find it easier to back down. But I don’t really have to, because we have a standing now.

Ignore negatives sometimes

MM | Do women lead differently?

Danner | IYes, I personally think so. I’m not objective when it comes to this issue, but I think that women can be very diplomatic. And that in some situations, they not only lead differently; they lead better.

MM | What do you do differently in comparison to your counterpart of many years, Uli Hoeneß?

Danner | Actually, not much at all. I am definitely a heart person. And in my eyes, Uli is, too. And he is impulsive—I can be impulsive, too. Uli lives for his passions and they are soccer and Bayern Munich. And that also applies to me. So I don’t need to do anything different from him. On the contrary, he has always been a good role model for me.

Malih | What could you teach me about leadership?

Danner | In a male domain, you have to lead the pack with visible pride. My team and I have changed a lot over the decades. We now have 130 players in my club. You could surely learn something there.

If there is no leader, it can happen that nobody thinks and everyone waits for something to happen. Sohi Malih

MM | And how did you deal with opposition?

Danner | I wanted to throw in the towel many times. But I kept fighting and survived every time someone wanted to thwart me. If I had quit back then, Bayern wouldn’t have come as far in women’s soccer as it has today. They can go even farther without me. That is my wish for them, and I would love it if it came true. But we would definitely have not come as far.

MM | Mr. Malih, when did you decide to become an influencer?

Malih | That evolved gradually. I studied computer linguistics and started posting photos when I was in college. At the beginning, we took a photo every day. My brother is a photographer and takes all the photos. That sounds easy, but just try to do it: a high-quality photo every day and then maintain the communication. The most difficult thing is finding the locations for the photos. Sometimes, we can drive around for three hours, searching for the right motif.

I'm most likely to follow my belly. Karin Danner

MM | And what happened next?

Malih | I got more and more feedback, and I was asked for example for tips for the perfect autumn look. After two years, social media had become a full-time job and I was earning a living with it. Now, I am establishing my own agency. My two employees and I produce photos and videos for the campaigns of major brands. Because traveling around as an influencer gets boring after a while.

MM | How do you react to haters?

Malih | I don’t respond to haters. That is a waste of time.

Danner | I agree. There are energy vampires out there and you just have to avoid them.

Malih | Yes, exactly. They only make you feel worse. As I always say: “People who surround themselves with negativity also attract negativity.” That is why I ignore such comments.

Karin Danner and Sohi Malih, © Robert Brembeck
© Robert Brembeck

Soccer manager Karin Danner and Sohi Malih agree: Leadership is always about fighting.

MM | Ms. Danner, do you sometimes consciously distance yourself as well?

Danner | That depends. Privately, I allow a few dear people to get very close. But in my professional soccer world, I sometimes have to keep my distance. I can’t please everybody.

MM | How much do you have to reveal in order to be authentic?

Malih | I have to reveal a lot. Followers are people like you and me. They notice right away when someone is putting on an act. And then that’s that. That is why I would never promote something that isn’t right for me. I don’t promote alcohol, for example, because I almost never drink it. I don’t like it; it just doesn’t taste good to me. Being authentic also means giving my honest opinion. Even when I don’t like a product.

Continue to grow and pass on

MM | Where do you draw the line? Your little girl even has her own Instagram account.

Malih | My wife and I would never show everything about her. Of course, there are things and situations that we would never share. Nothing personal and in general, nothing from home. We only show cute things, funny things. When she is wearing a sweet outfit, outdoors with a small dog, or was taking her first steps. My daughter has 60,000 followers and is with a modeling agency—she is totally in. Of course, we constantly ask ourselves if the situation is still OK. But we can rein her in at any time. There isn’t a comparable account in Germany, but I think it will come.

Danner | Social media have also become extremely important for us. Our women’s soccer section has three million Facebook followers. But I think that is too many for me. I’m happy when nobody bothers me.

MM | Could you also do without likes, Mr. Malih?

Malih | I don’t need any likes at all.

Danner | Really?

Malih | Yes, really. I don’t understand why everyone is so obsessed with likes. People who only look at likes or numbers have stopped paying attention to quality and are no longer creative. They lead you to neglecting your work. And I don’t want to do that.

I have a lot to give away to be authentic. If you fool followers, they notice it immediately. Sohi Malih

MM | What would you risk a shitstorm for?

Malih | That is a good question. But I don’t think I would let things get to that point. However, I don’t read all the messages I receive. Nobody has time for that. I don’t take it all so seriously. People are always on the lookout for mistakes. And on the Internet today, everyone is a journalist. Everybody can write about other people and criticize them in the hope that the world will read what they have written.

MM | Leading also means delegating. Do you like to delegate?

Danner | Yes, now I do. That used to be one of my big weaknesses. I was a lone warrior for decades, but when that is the case, you risk becoming a recluse at some point. And before I explained something to someone, I just did it myself. The results speak for themselves. I mean, 40 years of women’s soccer at FC Bayern is something you have to fight to get. But I have achieved plenty now and my team is great. I enjoy delegating now. That has been a positive development over the past 10 years.

Malih | Really, it took that long? I found out that I like to delegate after around four years. When you are self-employed, it is always difficult to delegate. You always think you can do it better than anyone else. The problem is that a company can only grow if you share. I’m not a one-man show.

MM | What are your goals?

Malih | Of course, we want the agency that we are in the process of establishing to become bigger so we can delegate tasks.

Danner | For me, it’s time to put my life’s work into other hands. Especially now, because women’s soccer is gaining in international importance. More and more traditional clubs are putting women’s teams together. They’re mushrooming: Chelsea, FC Barcelona, Real Madrid, Manchester United—they are all investing a lot in women’s soccer right now. What these new teams do not have, in contrast to FC Bayern, is a history. It’s no longer just about us. Just like the men, we fly to the training camp in Doha—to do more for women there as well.

MM | And what is your vision for your retirement?

Danner | My dream is to sit in the gallery of the sold-out Allianz Arena and cheer for our players.

By Katarina Baric and Stefan Tillmann. The article was first published in our Messe München Magazine 02/2019.