Leadership in Sports Terms

So many sports analogies, lessons, and philosophies apply to business—and for good reason. To stay on top of your leadership game, I challenge you to approach your work through a sports lens. You may have different departments at your organization, but you’re all on the same team.

To approach leadership in sports terms, you have to get into the coaching mindset. Rather than directing people to do their jobs, think of your role as coaching them to improve their skills, encouraging their passions, and working together for the good of the organization.


Assembling Team Personnel

As a CEO, you’re the general manager of your organization. Your C-suite executives make up your coaching staff, and your employees are your players. Assembling your team personnel requires clearly defined roles, and everyone in the organization has to understand their specific accountabilities. Team chemistry demands that the right people are in the right roles for them. 

Think about the roles on a football team. The strength coach isn’t worried about the team’s travel itinerary; they’re focused on a weightlifting regime. The defensive line knows they have to block, and the quarterback is responsible for executing plays. The same is true in the workplace. Your graphic designer has to know how to brand your team’s collateral while your sales team focuses on closing deals. On great teams, everyone recognizes their individual contribution to something larger.


Encouraging Your Team

The best leaders encourage and motivate people through influence, not power. You can convince somebody to do something they don’t want to do purely by your title, but you can’t inspire people to really care about your team with your title alone. Great leaders support their teams by understanding their personal motivation and helping them evolve their mindset—not by incentivizing or convincing them to do something.

In sports and in business, the best leaders focus on building a team that is willing to learn and grow, and then they guide them through that growth. As the team flourishes, so does the organization. The leader has a responsibility to identify the skill sets, expertise, and resources they need to make their team stronger.


Leading by Example

Applying the coaching model to your business leadership requires that you lead by example, and whether on a sports team or in a boardroom, leading by example means more than just attending meetings and hitting deadlines. You have to model the attitude and behaviors you want your team to embody, and sometimes that means rolling up your sleeves and going to work.

Many sports coaches train right alongside their teams, working up a sweat at practice and studying hours of game film. Why don’t we do that more in business? Next time your employees work late on a big project, you need to be there. You may not have the skills to help, but your presence makes a difference. It shows your commitment to your organization—and it instills that same commitment in your team members. 


Setting Goals and Winning Championships

Whether in sports or business, there’s value in having a common purpose and shared goals. Having a large group work together to define your team’s vision creates buy-in from the team because there’s a sense of responsibility for it. Sharing your vision with your team—not just telling them but including them in creating it—can be the difference between a team that’s there to work and a team that’s there to grow. A team just doing a job and a team with passion. A team punching the clock for forty hours a week and one that goes the extra mile.

Most professional sports teams have one ultimate goal. In the NFL, it’s to win the Super Bowl. In the NHL, it’s to hoist the Stanley Cup. You simply have to figure out what the Super Bowl or Stanley Cup is for your company and create a strategy to win in business. Think about the pride in landing a coveted client, hitting sales goals, or launching new products. Those wins are like regular-season games, helping you build a winning record that will lead you to your long-term goal.


Stepping Up to the Plate

In your role as a business executive, being a coach is more important than being the boss. Leaders who see themselves as a part of the team, rather than the head honcho giving orders, are more successful. When you approach leadership with a coaching mindset, everyone wins.


Questions to Consider

  1. How frequently do you evaluate your team and individual players?

  2. As your organization evolves, what new coaches do you need to add?

  3. Does your team work individually and collectively to win championships?

I’d love to help your team reach its goals. Contact me to learn more about leadership advising, coaching services, and additional resources.