The modern manager: transferring lessons from sport to the boardroom

Sport in all its forms has a significant impact on many people’s lives, but it isn’t always the case that lessons from on the field are adopted by leadership teams away from it.

If you have been following our blog posts, you’ll have noticed how many everyday solutions can be found from a sporting context, another fundamental crossover being the role of a manager, or more loosely, a leader.

Therefore, in this piece, we take a look at learning points from some of the most influential figureheads in sport that can be reflected away from competition.

Understanding your team
Phil Jackson, Chicago Bulls, Basketball

It is no great management secret that we must all be aware of the different individuals in our team and understand how they work best.

Nor is it a secret how Phil Jackson pioneered the Bull’s dominance in the 90s, understanding how his key players not only worked, but complemented one another – Netflix’s documentary illustrates the story of Michael Jordan and his school of hard knocks, to the humble Scottie Pippen, and Dennis Rodman’s wild side.

In an earlier blog, we explained the power of informal networks [LINK] and how we can improve them, but a strong starting point to understand individual personalities in your front office team is by putting them through a personal awareness audit such as Myers Briggs.

These audits not only enlighten employees in why they do things the way they do, but as we found at the other half, sparks office conversation around introspection in the workplace.

Making tough decisions
Sir Alex Ferguson, Manchester United, Football

Senior leaders are paid to make difficult calls. The success of these decisions ultimately comes down to how well the individual evaluated the range of possible outcomes, and which one came to fruition.

Sometimes, particularly in unstable environments, a scenario-based model is particularly useful for determining the best next steps – something Sir Alex Ferguson opted for when he would famously rip up the rulebook.

Signing Leeds United’s maverick striker Eric Cantona to steady the ship at Manchester United was a bold but inspired move, and so was the departure of a prime David Beckham. By selling the winger, Fergie began a process to yet again change the direction of the club heralding in a new era driven by eventual superstar Cristiano Ronaldo.

Caring about all your staff
Lord Sebastian Coe, LOCOG, Olympic and Paralympic Games

We live in a world of constant change; there is no longer a place for command and control static managers who are out of tune with the modern-day. Organisations need leaders who can captivate staff and inspire them to strive for more.

Lord Sebastian Coe did just that. Looking back on London 2012, the chairman of the London Organising Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games galvanised the country to help stage a memorable Games that had a long-lasting legacy.

London 2012 had 70,000 volunteers, empowered as Games Makers. In his moving speech at the Paralympics closing ceremony, Coe revealed how he spoke to two Games Makers called Andrew and Emily, who had their own unique stories to tell.

By stopping to talk to volunteers, thanking them for their impact no matter how big or small, it is clear that Coe held every Games Maker in the highest regard. And by the tear-jerking standing ovation at the Olympic Stadium, so did the rest of the world.

In summary

Jackson, Ferguson, and Coe made headway in their careers and became beacons of light for many people whilst at the centre of attention. In their respective successes, the trio also had many overlapping qualities.

The lessons from these leaders can be implemented regardless of the size of your sports organisation, from understanding what makes your off-the-field staff tick, to thriving for a happy and healthy working environment, whilst making your volunteer workforce feel at home.

Then, like the Bulls, the Red Devils, and LOCOG, your team will be equipped to take on the world.