From Field to Boardroom - Leadership Lessons

Dame Mary Peters reckons that ‘Humility’ and ‘Determination’ are the main ingredients that make up any leader worth their salt, and with 1 Olympic Gold and 2 Commonwealth Games Gold medals up her sleeve we’re not about to argue. But why should business leaders look to the field for inspiration when it comes to leadership?

Mary Peters and Adrian Logan

There are unquestionable parallels between leadership on the field and leadership in business. Teams and individual athletes work hard to achieve a shared goal, not just for themselves but for their fans, shareholders, funders, for the stability of the future of their sport etc. As fans we get to share in the successes and failures. For businesses the scenario is almost identical… Business leaders work hard to achieve a shared goal for all stakeholders, for the security of the business and their employees’ futures and for investors. In a world where people increasingly want to buy from people they trust, businesses with good leaders demand a type of civic pride from their loyal followers who want to see them do well.

Let’s face it, no leader in sports ever got to where they are by having a fleeting interest in their sport! Instead, they dedicated years of their lives to it, to be the best they could be and to never settling for past success but always striving to do even better. They inspire a whole team of people to do exactly the same. They often say that staff will do anything for a great leader, and just like in on the field, the best business leaders are those who are absolutely committed to making their business the best it can be. They are passionate about the business ethos, the difference the business makes to its customers and to achieving business goals. And, they can find ways to inspire their team to use their skills and abilities to achieve a shared vision and allow them to share in the spoils of success.

Coming back to Dame Mary Peters’ notion of humility… the best leaders in both sport and business are those who recognise that success is not down to one person but to the collective effort of the team. By understanding the strengths and weaknesses of every team member, the sports coach and the business leader can empower their teams giving them the tools they need to achieve both their personal and work-related goals so that every member of the team can feel like they contributed to success.

The best leaders in sports seem to have a knack for great communication. They know what they want to achieve, decide about how best that goal can be achieved and communicate it clearly to the athletes, fans and stakeholders. Often, the decision they want to communicate may not be the most popular and they could face personal flack if things don’t work out as planned. But by effectively communicating the reasoning behind decisions and by involving stakeholders in the decision-making process, these leaders develop credibility, integrity and commitment, making their team more resilient in the process. Doesn’t every business leader want to be able to do just that?!

But the similarities between sports and business leadership don’t end there. Instead, every aspect of sports leadership can be aligned with business. There are only so many positions a soccer manager can use and so many rules to abide by, but the great sports leader still finds room for creativity and innovation. In individual sports only one athlete can do the sport but the good manager takes on and delegates the work load to enable the athlete to focus on what they need to do to achieve a shared goal. And the great sports leader always accepts accountability for the team. Likewise, any great leader in business should be able to identify opportunities for innovation, indeed in todays commercial climate no business can survive without it. They should have the skills to delegate work appropriately ensuring their teams are empowered to work in the best way possible to achieve a shared outcome and the great leader will take responsibility for team failures, working with the team to find out what happened, how they can make sure it doesn’t happen again and develop ways they can be resilient.

To see how you can learn to be a great leader by taking a leaf from the sports industry, book your ticket now for The Business of Leadership, Round 2, at the Junction, Dungannon, on 28th November 2018. You’ll hear from sporting heroes including Dame Mary Peters, Mervyn White, Mossy Quinn and Rory Best. Tickets on sale on Eventbrite.

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