22nd November 2018

Sport and Leadership


I have always steered clear of using sporting analogies when talking about business or indeed leadership. I know that some people use sporting analogies often but I usually feel that they don’t work. I don’t see an awful lot of similarities between a golfer hitting a static object towards a predefined, clearly visible target particularly relevant to the all action highly dynamic world of business. The sport that, in my mind would be most analogous is rugby, where two team are battling (literally) to score the highest in a highly dynamic, fast moving, brutal and dangerous environment where individual skill is highly prized but yet takes second place to the collective success of the team. Perhaps one day I will find the time to work on this metaphor a little more.

The power and wisdom of teams

Incidentally two of my favourite books come from the world of rugby. Clive Woodward’s ‘Winning’ which is the best non-business business book, in my estimation, and ‘Legacy’ by James Kerr which chronicles the development of the culture of the All Blacks, from which we can all learn.

However I wonder what we can learn from how sport, in general, lead their teams. I am a huge believer in the power and wisdom of teams and the world of sport is one area where they should be able to model what good looks like. Now I am also aware that there are exceptions to every rule and a number of high profile team bosses seem to display behaviours which are far from exemplary, so feel free to ignore those.

Be clear on your purpose 

Generally winning teams are very very clear on their purpose, whether that is to win the league, the cup or the tournament. Both the boss and the players share that common goal. They are committed to winning together. They are quick to select on form. The only guarantee of a place is continued peak performance. Poor performers are dropped from the frontline team very quickly.

They train and develop constantly, focussing mainly on each player’s individual strengths and the team’s collective power. Players who are performing less well are coached constantly to help them improve and to get back to their peak quickly and to stay there. Each game is reviewed and analysed with brutal honesty. Participants are held accountable both individually and collectively. The very best teams have a culture of looking after each other, developing a constant stream of new talent and bringing out the best in each other. The very best sports teams are more than the sum of their parts.

Forming the best strategy 

They know and respect the leaders but also allow discussion, debate and creativity in forming the best strategy. Above all a great team creates a context within which exceptional individuals can perform to extraordinary levels for the overall benefit of the common purpose.

I wonder if we were to compare our business to any great team in the world of sport, how would we measure up? What can we learn from the way great teams organise and develop themselves that will benefit our customers, our team members and our stakeholders?

One thing is for sure, seeing a great team in action, doing what it does best, is an inspiring and uplifting experience, whether that be in sport or in business.

Keep scaling

Ian Kinnery, Business Coach

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