Can a Sports Team Leader Become a Business Leader?

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Can a Sports Team Leader Become a Business Leader?
Bill Richards, Director, Australia

In a world where, everyday, there are constant calls for more effective leaders, better leadership or even leadership, one cannot help but lament on the fact that we have so many great sports team leaders and captains, then why can't they be as good in business.
In other words, can a successful sports team leader become a successful business leader? By 'successful sports team leader', I am talking about a team captain/leader. Has it been done before? If so, by who?

Sports Team Leadership
Andrew Blaine, Business Consultant, South Africa
Exactly who is the leader in a sports team?
- If it is the on-field Captain then he/she must choose the team and lead those chosen.
- If it is the coach, then the same applies.
However, in reality, the team is selected by committee. The coach coaches and decides on the strategy to be employed on the field, and the Captain implements the coach's strategy.
So I believe it is really a case of lead by committee, is it not?

Sports & Business Leadership
Bill Richards, Director, Australia
@Andrew Blaine: Hi Andrew, you may be correct, but whether it's the captain, coach or manager that selects the team, it is the captain that must lead the team on the field. He/she becomes the leader who must get the best out of the team members and have them play as a team and win. I'm sure there are many good examples to demonstrate this point.

Captains and Managers
Andrew Blaine, Business Consultant, South Africa
Hi Bill, I accept your response, mine was, to some extent, provocative.
However, I would offer the comment that the team captain acts more like a business manager acting on the vision and strategy of the coach? If that is realistic, then surely the coach acts more like the leader?
Bringing it closer to home, I would accept that Michael Clarke leads your cricket team but ask whether the same applies to the Wallabies. In my opinion, The Wallabies are led by the Kiwi?

Leadership at the Point Where the Rubber Meets the Road
Tom Wilson, HR Consultant, United States
@Andrew Blaine: In the established rugby clubs, leadership occurs at several echelons, which is also true of business and military organizations. At the point in rugby where the rubber meets the road, on the pitch between the whistles, there are leader/players, with the followers outside of touch. Rugby is an unusual game where whomever picks up the ball, becomes the leader, the guy carrying the side's pennant until possession is transferred. The captain of the side is the designated leader, and he carries an additional strategic burden along with being a leader/player.
It is this capacity for exercising a strategic role during the dynamic of the game that is the most transferable to novel operational venues outside the rugby pitch and club governance. At the same time, the other leader/players on the pitch may not have the strategic capacity on the rugby pitch but excel as leaders in commerce and the professions that they bring to the game as players.

From Sports Leader to Business Leader
VENKATESH, Manager, India
Yes he/ she can in as much as a sports leader has the characteristics of a professional approach, character, open communication, working with a vision and values. These values perfectly fit into what is required of a business leader too.
However the sports leader would have to build certain functional business competencies.

Transition from Military to Business Leadership
Tom Wilson, HR Consultant, United States
@VENKATESH: I agree completely that the acquisition of various business competencies are a part of the transition from a sports environment to the corporate sector. This is also true for people making a transition from a military environment. The problem many military have is the transition to the cultural values of the commercial sector, which is to say, a shift from the Mission, Men, Self ethos of the servant leadership culture to the Me, Myself and I culture of the American corporation.
As I say, the most violated management principle in the American business sector is esprit de corps. Evidence of this is the decline of organized labor from 40% of the working population at its peak to 12% or less currently. Union busting has been a major strategic agenda of the corporate sector since Reagan declared open season on them with PATCO. A union-free economy is a vision the Harvard Business model shares with the Soviet Union.

Sport Team Leader ⇒ Business Leader
V.T. Devassy Thomas, Manager, India
Yes he/she can become leader in business field also. With inbuilt quality and capability of leading the business organisation. Even sport leader will have leadership quality in order to work towards the objectives of business goal/ or sport goal and success. So sport leader or captain can become the leader's in business environment.

Transition from Military to Business Leadership
Greg Johnson, Partner, United States
Tom Wilson's observation is interesting. The words "Military & Leadership" should never be used in the same conversation. It is clearly a oxymoronic reference since military leadership in the US is one of extreme FOLLOWERSHIP. When one exhibits authentic leadership through freedom of thought or action, there are very direct penalties.
I have had former military persons work on my staff and they were excellent managers as long as they were given very clearly defined guidelines and permission to manage in their autocratic manner to some extent. Oftentimes to get them to break out of this heavy handed management style would take an act of war. It's like they are waiting for permission to be leaders.
I am a Vietnam Veteran and have experienced it from multiple positions and perspectives. Because of this strong discipline they make good learners. In essence I believe with proper training that is steep impersonality assessment at the beginning can turn them around as GREAT Leaders. It has yet to take place.

Transition from Military to Business Leadership
Bill Richards, Director, Australia
@Greg Johnson: Hi Greg, some interesting points as it relates to the US military. While I think that many of your points may apply to a lot of ex-military, there are those that do make the transition successfully. Yes, they do find the problem solving/decision making process 'different and somewhat slower' but some are able to look objectively at what they learned and experienced in their military careers and what can be applied to the business at hand. It's about leadership & management on a day to day basis whereas in the military it's about leadership in active operations and management in peacetime. Many struggle with determining the difference.

Sports Team to Business Leader
Greg Johnson, Partner, United States
In thinking about this topic one transitional point jumps out at me - passion.
Sports personalities have a deep passion and commitment to the sport they are engaged in and the preparation to become the best. The sports transition is difficult because the value proposition is very different.
Their passion and commitment is 100% while living the sports life. When leaving sports, the same value and passion seldom remains with them. It would seem that the shift is from fame and prosperity to learning and survival; which is a very different value proposition. This value proposition makes it challenging to become a leader in the real world.
While I see many in the military trying to make the same transition and my observation of them going from an environment of rewards and recognition for being a good follower, I see something very different with sports personalities going from fame and stardom to just another person with name recognition but little else.

Sport, Business and the Military
Andrew Blaine, Business Consultant, South Africa
There are a number of contributors who seem to be of the opinion that successful sports folk and military personnel are not suited to similar success in business. Greg Johnson refers to the shift from riches and fame to survival and learning while others do the philosophy of "mission, men, self" to "me, myself and I" - whatever that might indicate.
What has been forgotten is that the individual concerned matters, not the stereotype.
If a sports person is able to apply the same dedication and passion to business, there, surely, is absolutely no reason that they should not realise the same level of success.
Further, if a militairy persons can maintain their approach of mission, men and self, the same success should follow. But don't forget the individual and avoid stereotyping where possible.

Sports, Business & the Military
Bill Richards, Director, Australia
Hi Greg/Andrew,
You both raise some very good points. I think passion is a key ingredient for any leader, be it military, sport or business. I have noted over the years the influence what type of sport a leader plays/played tends to have on leadership style and how they adapt to and manage situations. I realise that this is a very general statement, but those tend to play individual sports tend to be somewhat inclusive as opposed to the team sports person who seeks others opinions and expertise. Do you think this is true?

Military and Sports Leaders are Used to Being Players, no Followers
Tom Wilson, HR Consultant, United States
@Greg Johnson: Greg, I hate to start out this way, but "passion" doesn't begin to capture what the term "devotion to duty" reflects in the military psyche. The term "will to win" translates pretty well from the military to the sports metaphor, but the notion that top soldiers get that way by being good followers is an idea you share with Andrew Blaine and it is insufficient.
A problem that military and sports personalities probably share is that it is hard to find anyone in the commercial sector with whom they can identify a consuming passion. Military/sports figures discover the isolation of a culture dedicated to nothing more fulfilling than the individual bank account. At that moment, passion is not nearly as important as self-discipline in setting and achieving meaningful personal goals, but the satisfaction of the larger purpose is largely gone forever.

Team Leadership Foundations
Greg Johnson, Partner, United States
Let me first say that the military leader does not come about in the same manner as the sports high performer. So, to compare the two is not possible in my world because the foundations are very different.
There are some sports athletes that have made fine business leaders in their own sports field. Take the likes of Larry Bird, Wayne Embry, Kevin McHale and Frank Robinson or Dusty Baker have done good jobs as leaders.
The military commentary is based on personal experience like sports. While in the military there was a process whereby if you were in compliance with existing processes, systems and rules you would be successful in obtaining promotions. When we stepped outside of the box with suggestions and testing we were penalized or just hammered with threats of demotion or reassignment. Through my experience this was as system of reward for compliance not acting on a vision.
Success is fueled by our foundations. The two mentioned are very different foundations.

Teams are Teams
Tom Wilson, HR Consultant, United States
@Greg Johnson: Teams are teams. The leadership of military teams and sports teams emerge out of group dynamics, a subject I am sure you encountered in your OD studies. Before 1947, the US Army doctrine was based on the structural yoke of Frederick the Great and the basic unit of the military organization was the private soldier. As a result of S.L.A. Marshall's Men Against Fire, the doctrine of the army was changed to the squad/team as the basic unit of the military organization. Among other things, the US Army Ranger School was created to transform the army culture to reflect this doctrine.
Speaking only for myself, leadership is not measure by promotions or conformity to ideological dictates: it is a response to the presenting issue and is always a process of communication. In the final analysis, the military leader is bound by duty, while the sports performer is compelled by a personal pursuit of glory.

Life After Sport - the Transition of Elite Athletes to New Careers
Bill Richards, Director, Australia
Much has been written and continues to be written about the transition of elite athletes out of their respective sports - the good, the bad and the ugly. We have read about athletes who suffered from depression, some even committed suicide. Yet we continue to struggle with the reasons why and how this occurs.
Are athletes not mentally tough enough to handle the ups and downs that go with being an elite athlete? Are we placing too many expectations on elite athletes during their careers and after? Are we preparing our elite athletes sufficiently well enough for their transition out of their respective sports? What can we do to help these athletes make a successful transition? What do you think?

Depression and the Sport Professional
Andrew Blaine, Business Consultant, South Africa
@Bill Richards: I wonder if the problem, in this context, is not the "professional" aspect. In my youth sport was just that - a form of exercise that we all did, with varying degrees of success, in order to keep healthy. Those who excelled normally worked in their field but, generally, their livelihood was not directly related to their success "on the field", but rather to their ability to share that talent with others.
Today, the stress related to the talent acts directly on the individual and the exorbitant amount of money related to that talent places an, often, untenable strain on the individual. This strain erupts into depression or other serious behavioural problems. Remove the money and the stress will be altered completely and more easy to manage? While this is a pipe dream, the professional should be permitted, and encouraged, to make this choice when necessary?
That is my opinion!

The Value of a Good Education for Athletes
Bill Richards, Director, Australia
Hi Andrew, Good points. I agree that some of the exorbitant amounts paid to some of these elite athletes and the expectations that go along with that have a significant influence of the athletes mindset.
The fact that little time, if any, is dedicated to the development of the 'whole person' and not just the athletic skills does little to help. How often do we see athletes who sacrifice education for sport.
Yet it's the education they will need after the sport! As John Wooden, legendary college basketball coach said; 'The greatest responsibility as a coach is to teach the value of a good education - sport is short lived!'.


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