Leadership Lessons From A Summer Of Sport

With the hugely inspiring Invictus Games behind us and a mighty summer of sport ahead of us; Euro 2016, Wimbledon and the 2016 Olympics in Rio, many savvy business managers will be looking for leadership lessons in what happens out there on the sporting field.

From the planning and delegation stage right through the ‘season’ to the end goal, a great manager understands that there are tremendous parallels between running an elite sports team and running an elite business team.



Commonalities between sports managers and workplace managers

1. Both need a detailed, yet highly flexible plan. Every great coach understands the goal and has a clear vision and plan of how to get there. However, they also need to be able to adapt it rapidly- in sport this could be due due to injury; in business it might be a key resignation or a budget blowout.

2. Champion managers understand how to get the most out of their team. A great team coach not only understands where the potential lies and which team members are good at what, but they also appreciate that different people learn, improve and even view achievement differently. For example- who are your ‘stars’, and who are your supporter-type personalities? Who hasn’t found their niche quite yet? And more importantly- how can each person in your team be developed? Who in your team learns from studying, who from watching others, and who learns by doing? Understanding each team member’s individual strengths, learning techniques and personality style will create a winning formula.

3. Managers cannot afford to lose focus. In sport, a coach who loses focus mid-season will often see a run of losses follow soon after. Maintaining focus can be tough in sport as in business, so it’s imperative that managers retain their focus and bring their team along with them.



4. Managers need to know how to celebrate. A coach that doesn’t allow their team to celebrate a small win along the way will often squash the enthusiasm of their team. Celebrate well, and celebrate often- but always remember to tie the win in with the ultimate goal (the grand final, as it were).

5. Great managers treat their team-members well, by giving them everything they need to succeed and feel valued. In elite sport that might be luxury accommodations during away games, in the workplace it might be a great office space, the best equipment and incentive schemes.

6. The best managers understand how to give developmental feedback effectively. And the best ‘players’ jump on that advice as an opportunity to learn. In sports, the true greats were the ones that kept developing themselves, rather than just relying on natural talent. This is called a ‘growth mindset’, and it’s a positive trait to keep in mind when hiring and giving feedback.

7. Managers need to be able to make tough decisions, both on the pitch and in the corner office. Whether it’s budget cuts forcing redundancies or a team member just not performing despite your best efforts to develop them, sometimes it’s necessary to drop people from the team. And it’s tough, but it’s part of the game.



8. Winning managers can bear the idea of not being liked, but they always command respect. That’s not to say that great managers aren’t liked (for they generally are), but rather that they can handle the idea that people might not like them. This confidence frees them up to work towards the goal in the most effective way, and ultimately brings them the respect of the team.

You’re the coach, and it’s your job to drive your team to greatness, from day one right through to the finish line. So when you’re watching the Rio Olympics this summer, or eating strawberries and cream at Wimbledon, spare a thought for all the lessons of the sporting world that can drive you towards leadership success.

Best regards