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How sports coaches use world class leadership to create winning teams

Before I elaborate, I have a confession to make… I’m an ex senior AFL player, now a football coach and more recently, a professional recruiter.

To outsiders, a senior coach is the face of their club, much like a hiring manager is a window to their organisation. They are engaging and genuinely passionate, or as cold as stone.

The strengths of a good coach are universal, but let’s tackle the sport I’m most familiar with – AFL football. Consider the 2016 reigning premiership coach, Western Bulldogs’ Luke Beveridge.

Beveridge walks the fine line between instilling confidence in his players, and holding them accountable for their actions and behaviours.  All the while, he demands exceptional on-field performance.

It is well documented that since commencing his tenure as Senior Coach he has focussed on open and honest communication. He’s built strong relationships with the players, the club, its supporters and a wide range of people associated with the sport, including commentators, the media, and sponsors. These are not unlike the types of relationships we aim for in business when interacting with our clients or customers (who for me in recruitment are candidates), colleagues, suppliers and even competitors in our professional networks.

Much like recruitment, in professional sport, and AFL football in particular, nearly every transaction includes working with the uncontrollable elements inherent in dealing with people. In sport and recruitment alike, those without the qualifications or the requisite experience to pass judgement, often shout the loudest and voice the most criticism.

For Beveridge his clients are predominantly made up of both existing and potential club sponsors and members. These clients have made financial commitments and naturally want to see a return on their investments. In this context a winning performance as a coach could mean a cohesive team, with high levels of morale amongst players, who have the motivation to attend training and associated club events, and are well supported by family. It may translate to increased membership, a higher media profile, greater sponsorship and other opportunities. A winning team is more than match winning performances – think of the otherwise poor practices of the West Coast Eagles circa their 2006 Premiership.

High level sport, in some aspects, is not much different to the corporate sector. We’re juggling all manner of expectations from various parties. There are set timeframes (seasons) with efficiency targets (statistics). In business and sport, we all have to consider best process and methodology. Importantly, just has Beveridge does, we have to establish a culture and live the values, brand and standards of our organisation. Sound familiar?

Some players, as with corporate talent at the top of their game, are hot property.

In other cases some candidates are like promising young players; potential but struggling with form, gaining experience but not quite good enough – yet. How Beveridge manages the pool of talent in his playing group is his greatest challenge, because although he understands the industry and his client demands, his players output and abilities will often predicate game results.

So, would Luke Beveridge be the sort of manager you’d like to have in your organisation? Based on the attributes we’ve explored, I think so. His stakeholder management skills and ability to communicate with a broad range of people and personalities would be a strength. He has the proven experience in implementing a game plan, follows process, allowing him to work efficiently and consistently. Lastly, and I think most importantly, it would be his character and the impact he has on his organisation’s culture. His confident and engaging personality, combined with his strategic thinking, willingness to provide feedback and people management skills would make him successful in a non-sport leadership role. I’d like to recruit him.

Which qualities do you value in a manager? Who would you like to recruit to for your team?

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4 ways an Olympic triumph translates into success at work

It’s a simple formula for athletes in elite sports: focus, preparation, practice and teamwork. Recently I attended a lunch with the Victorian Chamber featuring Australian Olympians Michael Klim, Nicole Livingstone, James Tomkins and Craig Mottram. For them, achieving a lifelong dream by representing Australia and competing at the Olympic Games was secondary to their gold medal winning performances. But the most interesting part of their stories was how they had found new passions post retirement outside of the sporting arena.

  1. Preparation and process

It is very important to keep an unwavering attention to detail during a time of high stress and pressure. Klim spoke of the 1998 Olympics in Atlanta, where he was favourite for the 200m freestyle event. He missed the bus on the way to the pool, couldn’t find his coach and was only able to complete a brief warm up swim – he didn’t qualify for the final. In business, it’s critically important during stressful times that we stick to our defined processes, don’t rush hires or deviate from the norm just to fill a gap.

  1. Challenge and stretch

Tomkins mentioned that he and the other members of the Oarsome Foursome constantly challenged each other to come up with new, innovative ideas that could separate them from the challengers. However it wasn’t up to the athletes alone. They challenged their coach, nutritionist and psychologist to always come up with new ideas. Sometimes all it takes is a fresh set of eyes on a project to change the delivery model, reworking a central piece to pull together all the essential elements of a project. Businesses shouldn’t be afraid to hire from outside their sector or industry if a candidate has an open mind. New talent may give your organisation a ‘shakeup’, offering innovative solutions with the potential to benefit all teams.

  1. Don’t settle

So what happens when you’ve realised the dream and the celebrations are over? Since hanging up his togs, Klim has created the men’s skincare range Milk (a clever anagram of his name) with his family company, Milk & Co. Livingstone has enjoyed a media career as a well-known television host and sports commentator. Mottram recently completed the London Marathon (the competitive bug still bites) and has started his own consultancy business, Elite Wellbeing. Tomkins has worked for nearly 30 years in Banking & Finance, a career he maintained alongside rowing.

  1. Conscientiousness beats lucky

We can all relate to thrill of a win or the inherent disappointment when we fail to reach our goals. Livingstone says athletes make good recruits because they are by nature hardworking, dedicated and committed. I think you’d agree those are common leadership traits too. It’s a buoyant time in the Victorian infrastructure market, so I’m championing the lessons of these Olympians in my approach to executive recruitment.

What have you learned from successful people in your industry? Do you have a success story you’d like to share?

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